The Okefenokee Swamp

The Okefenokee Swamp, photo by Wanda S. Duncan

“Vistas were disclosed glade after glade, fringed on all sides by slender files of the cypress. The beauty was exquisite, almost supernatural.”

OKEFINOKEE ALBUM, Francis Harper and Delma E. Presley, 1981.

The Okefenokee Swamp is in the news a lot recently. I take notice anytime I see something about the Swamp, as that particular piece of land—mysterious, rich in biodiversity, haunting, environmentally critical and endangered—is my ancestral soil. I write about my ties to the Swamp in my memoir, “Cracker Gothic: A Florida Woman’s Memoir.” I grew up in northeast Florida, which is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing as south Georgia. Back in September, my weekly email from Bitter Southerner featured a link to an article written by one of my all-time favorite authors, Janisse Ray. Ray grew up in Appling County, Georgia, just north of the Swamp, and her memoir, “Ecology of a Cracker Childhood,” is a book that I count in my top ten favorite books of all time. Unlike my other favorite books, however, hers is the only one that I will purchase and actually give to friends. Everyone should read that book. Southerners should have already read that book.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, photo by Wanda S. Duncan

In south Georgia everything is flat and wide. Not empty. My people live among the mobile homes, junked cars, pine plantations, clearcuts, and fields. They live among the lost forests. The creation ends in south Georgia, at the very edge of the sweet earth. Only the sky, widest of the wide, goes on, flatness against flatness. The sky appears so close that, with a long-enough extension ladder, you think you could touch it, and sometimes you do, when clouds descend in the night to set a fine pelt of dew on the grasses, leaving behind white trails of fog and mist. At night the stars are thick and bright as a pint jar of fireflies, the moon at full a pearly orb, sailing through them like an egret. By day the sun, close in a paper sky, laps moisture from the land, then gives it back, always an exchange. Even in drought, when each dawn a parched sun cracks against the horizon’s griddle, the air is thick with water…the land is so wide, so much of it open. It’s wide open, flat as a book, vulnerable as a child. It’s easy to take advantage of, and yet it is also a land of dignity. It has been the way it is for thousands of years, and it is not wont to change.”

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, Janisse Ray, 1999

So you see, if you haven’t read anything yet by Janisse Ray, it’s probably time. And I would like to suggest that while you are waiting for her book(s) to arrive from your local independent bookstore or from (which supports indie bookshops everywhere), you can begin your introduction to Ray now.

This is the article that Ray wrote for Bitter Southerner last September as a response to the attempt by a titanium mining company to establish an operation on the eastern boundary of the Okefenokee. Ray writes deeply and passionately about the Swamp, recalling that the same struggle ensued in the 1990s, when DuPont tried to set up shop, mining titanium. That attempt failed, but history repeats itself; wealthy corporate interests might move on to another project, another opportunity for profit, but they are back, banking on a forgetful public. There is no need for me to duplicate the information and points of Ray’s essay. I wanted to create this post as a way to elevate the story, and because I care about the Okefenokee. As a bonus, you can hear Ray read her essay on the Bitter Southerner’s podcast, Batch.

I had not heard anything more about the mining issue until earlier this week, when another of my favorite authors, Margaret Renkl, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times concerning the threat to the Okefenokee. Hopefully this link will take you to a gifted, non-paywall version of her piece. If the link does not work, please visit Renkl’s Facebook page, where she has a link there to the non-paywall article. Renkl’s essay sounds the alarm; the window for accepting public opinion about the mining operation closes on March 20, 2023.

Additional information is available at the Okefenokee Protection Alliance. That website will take you to a pre-written email form that you can complete and send to Georgia legislators. You do not have to be a resident of Georgia to register an opinion.

Please read these two articles by two important female Southern voices. Please support the protection of the great Okefenokee Swamp.

Florida Book Club Podcast – Cracker Gothic

Florida Book Club Podcast

Cracker Gothic is featured on The Florida Book Club Podcast – Season 3, Episode 1. Catch my conversation with Christopher Nank, where we chat about dead gators, a swamp monster movie, cemeteries, love, healing, and abounding morbid goofiness. If you are a fan of Weird Florida, The Florida Book Club Podcast is for you!

Historic St. Marys, Georgia

First Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Marys, Georgia

St. Marys is the southern-most town on the coastline of Georgia, situated on the St. Marys River and near the Cumberland Island National Seashore. It is a charming town with lots of history, and is a short drive from the Okefenokee Swamp. St. Marys is the oldest city in Georgia and the second oldest continuously-inhabited city in the United States, having been established by the British in 1787. St. Augustine, Florida, about 75 miles south of St. Marys, holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the country.

Below is a link to St. Marys Magazine, where Cracker Gothic was featured in the latest issue. You can navigate to the article by sliding the bar at the bottom of the screen to “Page 32-33.” I hope you will enjoy browsing through the entire magazine and learning more about historic St. Marys!

St. Marys Magazine – Volume 28

A Swamp Runs Through My Memoir


The Okefenokee Swamp covers almost a half-million acres in south Georgia, spilling over the state line into north Florida. It is a vast and imposing wilderness, and has been a protected National Wildlife Refuge since 1937. Before that, it was also home to Swampers, Crackers, people who were social outliers. My ancestors. The Chesser Island Homestead is a preserved 19th-century Cracker structure hidden deep within the Swamp, open to the public, where visitors can experience what life for Swamp pioneers might have been like. When the Okefenokee became federally protected property, the residents within the Swamp were forced to leave, relocating to nearby towns, deserting the life and livelihood they had known for generations. Some of the Chessers traveled into northern Florida, where I was born, creating my ancestral line back to the Swamp. I did not visit the Okefenokee Swamp nor Chesser Island until I was well into my adult years, but I have come to love and appreciate its beauty, its serenity, and the sense of primeval wisdom that I feel whenever I am there. Connecting back to an actual ancestral home in a primitive place became an important touchstone as I wrote my memoir. These were not people of means or any type of societal stature. But they were resilient and resourceful, much like pioneers who settled in other frontiers of our country: the Appalachian mountains, the far West. I am proud for their blood to run through my veins. I am proud that a Swamp runs through my memoir.