Lost Lake

June 13, 2014. It’s late morning and I’m parked at South Cedar Creek Landing. There are three bank fishermen near the bridge. I ask if the fish are biting and receive a negative reply. Shortly another response comes: “but that’s really not the point.” Truer words were never spoken. I read a Thoreau quote (surely the most brilliant philosopher of all time, based on the number of quotes  attributed to him) recently that said “many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”

It is warm and getting warmer. I do some bottom netting in a few, shallow, isolated pools south of Cedar Creek and west of Kingsnake Trail. The pools are full of crayfish, in the range of one to two-and-a-half inches in length. I also find a fair number of small aquatic beetles and a few water boatmen with their long, oar-like appendages. One surprise is the number of tiny fish I find in some stagnant pools.  Maybe that accounts for the surprisingly low mosquito count this morning.

I turn some logs and eventually find a handsome pair of three-lined salamanders, Eurycea guttolineata, and later, a single southern dusky salamander, Desmognathus auriculatus. Former DNR herpetologist Steve Bennett and his colleagues have recently examined the molecular make-up of Congaree’s dusky salamander, and the evidence points to it being different from other southern duskies.

Three-lined Salamander Eurycea guttolineata

I end up at Lost Lake where I have a late lunch of an apple and a pack of nabs. I stumbled across this elliptical “lake,” measuring only about 100 feet by 200 feet, quite by accident a few years after I first started coming to the swamp. Then, as now, it has a remote, haunting feel to it, as if you are the first human to ever lay eyes on it. Its origins remain elusive since it is not part of an obvious channel or old creek bed like most lakes in the swamp. You can understand why some folks invoke more exotic explanations for its appearance, such as meteors or sink holes. And if you sit and watch it long enough on a chilly, overcast winter afternoon, or at first light on a summer morning, you almost expect to see a primordial creature rise out of its muddy depths to terrorize the neighborhood.  Indeed Lost Lake could possibly be the one that local author Dr. E. C. L. Adams had in mind with his story about “The Lake of the Dead” in Tales of the Congaree. The exact location of the mysterious lake, somewhere deep in the Congaree, was unknown because the few men that stumbled across it never came back. The shores of the lake were strewn with dead people and beasts; nothing could live there except a few buzzards whose ghastly appearance and sounds only added to the dreadful scene. The buzzards had paths that were used to lure unsuspecting victims on a one-way trip far into the depths of the swamp where they eventually ended up on the shores of the Lake of the Dead.

The old topographic maps actually show Lost Lake as a small circular spot south of Cedar Creek, but it took some years before it dawned on me that it indicated a small body of water. You’d think this stagnant lake, devoid of any current or circulation, would be covered in duckweed, lily pads, and other aquatic vegetation, but it is surprisingly open and vegetation free.

I arrive back at the parking lot at 3:00. The temperature is soaring in the open and the heat withering in contrast to the shady swamp, which, although humid, feels some twenty degrees cooler. It may be too hot for the cicadas as I did not hear a one this afternoon.