May 20, 2002 - Cat Island

It's some of mother nature's best handiwork, and most of us never get a look at it.

Virginia Rettig steers her boat through a huge cypress forest. "When you come out here and it's flooded," says Virginia, "it looks totally different than when it's dry." Even if you have been there before, you probably wouldn't recognize the place. It's the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge during spring flood. Cat Island's whole personality changes this time of year, and it's a change that most of us just don't get to see. Rettig is the refuge manager, and cautions, "if you're not familiar with the swamp, you can get lost out here in a heartbeat!" That's why public access is severely limited this time of year, and boat excursions are just not encouraged. But they are a happy part of the job for Virginia, who let us tag along to share some of the rare sights, like a unique view of the world's biggest bald cypress, normally high and dry, a short walk from the road, but on this day surrounded by water ten feet deep. Virginia Retting says, "you see trees differently because you are not seeing the bottom portion of any of the trees. In some areas you actually pass through the mid-story of the forest, which is very unique." At Cat Island you find peace, solitude and beauty that most of us never get to see.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to develop well marked canoe trails in years to come, so beauty like this won't remain a hidden treasure.