April 9, 2015

“Last evening when I was in the trackless woods, the great mysterious night becoming more mysterious in the thickening darkness, I gave up hope of finding food or a house bed, and searched only for a dry spot on which to sleep. … I walked rapidly for hours in the wet, level woods, but not a foot of dry ground could I find.  Hollow-voiced owls were calling without intermission.  All manner of night sounds came from strange insects and beasts, one by one, or crowded together.  All had a home but I.  Jacob on the dry plains of Padanaram, with a stone pillow, must have been comparatively happy.

When I came to an open place where pines grew, it was about ten o’clock, and I thought that now at least I would find dry ground.  But even the sandy barren was wet, and I had to grope in the dark a long time, feeling the ground with my hands when my feet ceased to plash, before I at last discovered a little hillock dry enough to die down on.  I ate a piece of bread that I fortunately had in my bag, drank some of the brown water about my precious hillock, and lay down.  The noisiest of the unseen witnesses around me were the owls, who pronounced their gloomy speeches with profound emphasis, but did not prevent the coming of sleep to heal weariness.

In the morning I was cold and wet with dew, and I set out breakfastless.  Flowers and beauty I had in abundance, but no bread.  A serious matter is this bread which perishes, and, could it be dispensed with, I doubt if civilization would ever see me again.  I walked briskly, watching for a house, as well as the grand assemblies of novel plants.

Near the middle of the forenoon I came to a shanty where a party of loggers were getting out long pines for ship spars.  They were the wildest of all the white savages I have met.  The long-haired ex-guerillas of the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina are uncivilized fellows; but for downright barbarism these Florida loggers excel.  Nevertheless, they gave me a portion of their yellow pork and hominy without either apparent hospitality or a grudge, and I was glad to escape to the forest again.”


Excerpted from ‘Florida Swamps and Forests,’ a chapter in

A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf    (1867)