Re: Cave diving out, canopy caving in.
This post brought to you by the unofficial official beer of rogue tree climbers everywhere...
Three years ago, I made my first climb in Cookie Monster. The trip report from that climb can be found here: viewtopic.php?f=4&t=1217
The climb on that hot, buggy summer day was what hooked me on tree climbing. Hunabku must have known this, as he gave me a
whole set of gear for me to take back to school after that climb. Since then, I've developed a lot as a climber, and (at least I think) have really come into my own. So naturally, Cookie Monster has a special place in my heart, and I really wanted to climb him again before moving to New York State in August.
And what an incredible climb it was.
Tropical Storms Beryl and Debby had saturated North Florida and filled our beloved swamp with water again. The water had receded a bit by the time we made the climb, but the creek was still running fast. We started our short canoe trip at sunrise, getting eaten alive by the hordes of mosquitoes resurrected by the rain. In no time, we were winding our way between trees, avoiding submerged cypress knees. Soon we came upon Smokestack, with its century-old saw marks still visible in its massive trunk. Hunabku and I had wondered whether the seemingly precarious tree was felled by the high winds of Beryl. But it stood, its thousand-year-old limbs reflecting in the dimly-lit tannic water. I said to Hunabku, "That thing will probably stand for another two or three hundred years." In truth, we are the precarious ones.
A short distance from Smokestack, it was time to get our rogue on! This means stepping out of the canoe into the waist-deep swamp water. We walked the canoe loaded with our gear to the base of Cookie Monster, being careful to not touch any trees without looking. Why?
That's why. When the swamp gets flooded after a long dry period, all of the wolf spiders that had resided in the leaf litter move up into the trees. Literally EVERY tree has multiple large wolf spiders on it. Right before taking this picture, I had tripped on a submerged cypress knee and caught myself on this tree...about three inches below that monster. The thought of smashing one of these with a bare hand is just too disgusting to imagine. Later in the climb, Hunabku was actually attacked by one of these, and he screamed like a little girl. We'll have to see if that shows up in the video
I let Hunabku do all the work getting a setting, and then he lead-climbed. While he was up working his behind off getting me a setting, I was down on the ground still standing in waist deep water. Then the gator appeared...
Okay, no, not really. The gators were there - you can be sure of that - but I didn't see any, and they're not much of a concern for the rogues. In reality, I was just basking in the glory of beautiuful Florida the way it's supposed to be: Standing at the base of a giant cypress tree, swamp water soaking my legs, and taking in the sweet earthy smell that can be found only in a Florida swamp. For the first time in a long time, I had a deep deep, soulful feeling that I was where I belonged. I used to get this feeling all the time before I went off to college, when I spent many days after school in this swamp or fishing on the nearby creek. It gave me the chance to reflect upon how drastically my life has changed in the last four years, and made me realize with even fuller certainty that "Nowhere in the world will I feel so at home as I do right here."
Breaking through the canopy into the morning sunlight, I was greeted by the wide, gaping hole which every ancient cypress has. Three years ago, I watched Hunabku descend down into that hole to be the very first person INSIDE that 2000-year-old tree. Three years ago, I said to myself "Someday, I'll be able to do that."
Today was the day.
Slowly lowering myself into the Mouth of the Cookie Monster, I was enveloped in ancient Florida. A sustained cool breeze blew up through the gaping hole, drafting cooler air from the swamp floor up into the canopy: natural air conditioning. Reaching out, I became the first person to touch that piece of ancient but living wood. I was filled with a complete sense of one-ness with the land of my ancestors. I could stay there forever.
I can't thank Hunabku enough for introducing me to tree climbing five years ago and giving me my first set of gear two years later, when I started climbing. A rogue since birth, he helped to introduce me to a hobby that reaches down to the very core of my being. I love climbing trees.