Mythical Panther Story

Chapter 5 - Sugar Mill

Tawny has traveled many miles in the past days. She ambushed a possum last night, giving her the energy to move on. She now comes to a barb wire fence and passes through it. then she crosses an open field with short grass. She stops, never having seen an area like this in the swamp. It is long, but a much narrower field then it is long. The grass is different from the muhly grass of the prairies. The grass so short she can see from one end of the field to the other. She lays down, the ground is dry and raised up from the surrounding area, very different from any other area she has ever seen. Only the hard place she has occasionally crossed is dry and long like this, but it was hot and she never lingered there. She now notices at the far end of the field , one of those swamp buggies with large round black legs. This one is quiet and no other animals are on it or near it. She rises and stealthy moves to the edge of the field. From here she can see a wooden structure above the ground on stilts. Below it are odd items on the ground. Being curious she moves closer to where she can see both the buggy and the structure. She watches for a while, no movement, but there is a faint old scent. The same scent she smells when men have passed. Tawny decides to move on in her quest for a den.

She travels on a short distance, crossing an area of short palmettos, this area has the faint smell of burnt. The natural grasses are short and green and the palmettos are thinly branched, with 4 or 5 branches on each plant. All the result of a fire many months ago. There is also a smell that Tawny has smelled before, cattle. Cattle are not one of Tawny's natural prey and are too large for her to kill, so she mostly circles by them when she comes across them. The cattle though, if they catch her scent, bellow, and trot quickly away. The areas that contain many cows, have a predominant scent of cows and this masks the other scents of wild animals, including the panther. Tawny does not see any cattle, but they must be nearby. She then enters a cypress dome, passing through, staying in the shallower area and avoiding the deeper middle. As she comes out of the cypress she is in a thicker higher area of oak trees and ferns. The canopy of the trees creates a dusky level of lighting. Most of the plants here are spindly, growing tall and upwards toward the light that seeps in around the leaves of the large oak trees. The ground is thick with ferns, the low light supporting few other types of plants. The rich loamy soil, created by centuries of decomposing leaf material has an earthy primitive smell. Through the fern jungle is a path, with the foot prints of cattle and here and there other animals, including wild hogs. Tawny continues to explore, she has been in hammocks like this before, but never one so big. She comes to an area that has been rooted up by hogs. This rooting, some are old, maybe weeks old, with ferns upturned. Others are fresher, probably made last night. This is a good sign, a hog feeding area, that is being used a long time. The wild hogs of the big cypress, wander until they find a food source and then they return and return, until it is gone, then they wander again. This large hammock, so large that the food re-grows before it is completely gone, must always have hogs feeding in it. Unless frightened away, they will return again and again, never exhausting the food. This could be a good source of food for Tawny, if she dens nearby.

Tawny continues to explore, she comes to a low swampy area, completely surrounded by the hammock. This swamp has but a dozen cypress trees, but they are big and old, having escaped the loggers cutting blades of the 1940's. This is a cypress dome, completely hidden within the hammock. A source of water during the dry times of the year. Next to this swamp is a raised area, three feet or more above the water of the swamp. A mound of fertile soil, with some trees of a different sort growing there. Not as thick as the rest of the hammock, it seems as though at one time it may have been mostly cleared. Mixed in under the tall oaks and vines, are a few trees of sour orange, grape fruit trees with bitter juice and thick pulp. Next to that a key lime tree, bearing small yellow fruit, with tangy juice, many of them laying on the soil. A fruit so tart, none of the animals of the big cypress eat them. Only man seems to have a taste for this fruit. Tawny sees this area as a den, high and dry, and close to food sources, she circles the  mound and then she continues to explore. As she reaches the northern edge of the hammock, it opens into a large sawgrass pond. Most ponds of the big cypress have shorter grasses and a taller plant that waves in the wind like a flag. Few have the thick sawgrass, that this open pond has. It is vast in length and the width is half the length. A natural fire break for the hammock. This is the reason the hammock has survived these centuries, it is protected from fire on all sides by water and this has allowed it to live and grow. Tawny returns to the mound. She does not notice the glass bottles, that one time contained soda pop. Half buried and discolored by years of laying in the fungus and decaying vegetation, they are almost indistinguishable, having been left many years ago by the loggers that camped on this same mound. Before the loggers, sugar cane was raised here in the surrounding area. The mound serving as the Mill, for the processing of the sugar syrup. Tawny also does not notice the large clam sea shells, only partially exposed, here and there, where a hog had rooted the soil a little bit. Left by the Indians that also camped and lived on this mound over the centuries. Tawny has chosen to den, where others have lived and raised young before. A natural occurrence of chance and circumstances in nature, providing a place for re-creation. Tawny has found her den.

Chapter 6