I assumed a nature preserve would have marked trails and perhaps even educational signs, however pulling into the parking lot revealed nothing more than a single sign stating, “Cicero Swamp Wildlife Management Area” with only a faint deer path which lead into the forest. Although I love spending time in the woods, being unfamiliar with this part of Syracuse did make me take pause, yet I continued into the trees.
As I headed down the path, I immediately saw a snake blocking the trail. In the short time it took to get out my camera, the snake slithered away leaving me photoless, but that’s when I realized I was getting bitten by mosquitoes. Damn I hadn’t come prepared for this, wearing a very short sleeve shirt for the warmer weather. Fortunately I hadn’t got too far so I decided to go back to my car to see if my essential oils were in my backpack. Bingo! While I didn’t have the bug repellant spray, I did have ‘Purify’, doTerras’ blend that has citronella in it. I rubbed it on all my bare skin and also grabbed a light long sleeve shirt for some additional protection, then headed back into the woods. With no clearly defined trails and the memory of a recent conversation with a volunteer at Clarks Reservation who told us about the three foot Black Rat Snakes that hang out in trees, I was feeling slightly uneasy. However my desire to be in nature far outweighed any fears which slowly faded away the more I continued walking. Another thing that put me at ease was having the phone app called ‘Strava’ that my nephew told me about last fall. It has a wonderful feature that maps exactly where you are. I turned it on and quickly began enjoying the beauty all around me in the large deciduous forest filled with greenery and bird songs. In less than a half a mile the trail petered out at a partially dried bog. I could see from the app that I wasn’t far from a larger body of water, so I went searching for another path that led in that direction. Sure enough there was a slight path I must have missed that veered off to the left and it ended at the confluence of two waterways, Chittenango Creek and a distributary of the creek. The wildlife that had been resting in this area quickly dispersed with my presence, evidence by a big plop sound of a turtle meandering off it’s log into the water, frog legs jumping and a great blue heron taking flight. After surveying my surrounds and no other wildlife left to view, I settled in on some logs to get quiet and listen.
Distributary of Chittenago Creek
Despite years of meditation, my mind still wandered from thought to thought. Being in nature has always been a source of deep peace, connection to spirit & all things which we are apart of. When I’m alone in nature I often contemplate things that have been on my mind to help me get some clarity. I try to let go of needing to know any answers but stay open to what insights may arise. While it is true that it can be very hard to distinguish if the insight was a thought I created or an intuitive inspiration, I trust my bodies’ wisdom. If my body feels relaxed, open and flowing than I trust its intuition, but if my body feels tight and restricted, then I know it’s my ego creating a story. Letting these insights arise and flow as I continued to breath, relax and enjoy the warmth of the sun with a slight breeze gently whisping across my body. Eventually after some time I felt complete and nourished by this simple state of BEing. When I opened my eyes, I saw a small bump on a log about 70 yards away. Using the zoom lens of my camera, I confirmed my guess, that it was a turtle. This common painted turtle seemed to be enjoying the warmth of the sunshine like I was.
A sense of peace and happiness filled me knowing that I had been still enough for the wildlife to feel safe enough to return to their normal routines. In addition to seeing the turtle, I also heard many frogs and birds. My natural curiosity and love of wildlife kicked in, so I decided to follow my impulse to try to find a trail that ran along the distributary section of the water, the direction the heron flew off in. A distributary is a branch of a river that does not return to the main stream after leaving it. In this case, it doesn’t flow into a delta but peters out and just ends. There was no path but I decided to just try to walk along the waters edge. It was pretty boggy and soon was too muddy to continue given my footwear and not wanting to sink in mud, so I turned back. I saw something very large pop out of the water in the distance and assumed it was some sort of water mammal like a beaver, so I decided to stop and sit on a very large tree trunk that crossed the body of water and wait to see if I could catch another glimpse. I sat in stillness taking in the beauty and thought about how swamps are underrated. With the exception of the Everglades National Park, I don’t think people often seek out these natural habitats. Swamps provide a rich source of natural biodiversity and especially with little human interference, nature can really thrive. If you haven’t ever visited a swamp, I highly recommend it, so you don’t miss out in its mystery and beauty. I also contemplated how the thick mucky water felt like a metaphor for lifes’ lessons reminding me that sometimes we must find stillness in the muck till we find the gold that lies beneath. Moments later that large object moving in the water came closer and closer. It was a huge snapping turtle! I had never seen one so big and it appeared to be very old. This time I had my camera at the ready and started filming its movement. At one point it stopped at the waters edge checking me out, then began swimming straight toward me! It was trilling and a little startling at the same time. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was thinking I may be a nice snack. So when it was about a foot from me at the log, I decided to stand up. I couldn’t imagine it would be able to lift that huge body and shell out of the water. With my movement, it submersed itself down under the muck where I couldn’t see it at all. I noted how remarkable that it could stay underneath the surface for so long. I kept looking around to see if it had gone under the log or across the water, but nothing. Then for a brief moment it stuck its head out of the muck and looked up at me, and then went back down. I waited a bit longer to see if it was going to re-emerge but it did not, so I decided it was time to go.
Common Snapping Turtle
I felt so blessed by its presence and the experience in general. I gave it thanks for visiting me. Whenever I have wildlife experiences I always feel like it is a blessing and try to imagine what message this being is giving me. Many indigenous cultures believe in the spirit medicine of animals, winged-ones and water beings, and I too have this belief system. I have felt a connection to turtles on and off in my life and especially lately with living near Fall River which is inhabited by Spiny Soft-shell turtles which I see regularly. Turtles are often related to Mother Earth and Creation. They move “slow and steady” and their shell provides them with protection of their soft and sensitive inner layers. This particular turtle felt very ancient and it seemed to carry a message from my ancestors to keep going, that I’m on the right path and to trust the process without pushing things. When my mother called and I thought she was on deaths door, I didn’t expect to be here for very long, but as it turns out she’s still living. So rather than being frustrated that I’m not home, I am doing my best to enjoy being exactly where I am. Patiently serving my mother and being open to the lessons and growth opportunities of this experience. I pray that I am continuing to heal ancestral karma and strife from my linage as my sister and I vowed to do more than two decades ago. I hope this blog reminds you that no matter what is going on in your life, if you take the time to BE in nature and not necessarily just recreate in it, but actually get still, quiet and listen you will feel how nature heals. Enjoy this video of my turtle encounter.