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The murky depths of a swamp can hold a lot of secrets — ditched stolen cars, lost treasure, enemies. The thick muck, opaque water, diseased insects and noxious odor of decay and rot swirl together in a concoction that keeps all but the most brave or most mad at bay.

So it was with high expectations that we set out to explore a local swamp a few months ago. Not that were were particularly brave — or even mad for that matter. The long-dry summer had taken its toll on the marsh, dried it to the bone and sucked out most of the hazards. It wasn’t a big swamp to begin with, just a section of soggy ground, a pond and a half-submerged forest wedged between a bluff, a bike trail and a highway. Not a destination, barely a waypoint.

With the drought, the north rim was now a thick a field of purple flowers, and most of what had been under water now resembled a desert. Dusty cracks waffled the ground, which had a spongy spring when stepped upon. There was still moisture buried underneath. You could find it if you dug deep enough.

We found a pair of hubcaps early on, and as we moved on, we located a plastic baseball, then a golf ball, then another golf ball. A small mound of debris farther on caught our eye, and we approached, finding three or four cut milk jugs tethered metal 5-pound plate, the kind one loads onto a barbell. My best guess was it had been a fish trap, fish bait or fish habitat — something fishy.

A shallow spot on the dried mud flat still held water, maybe a few inches deep and five feet across. As we neared, the water came alive, rippling as if blown by a gust of wind. It was actually frogs and guppies, which once fanned out over the marsh and now packed densely into what little water remained. Noticing our presence, they began hopping to the far end of the puddle.

Moving past the frog pond and heading deeper into the swamp, we came to what were once islands, now completely approachable by foot. They were little tufts of earth topped with grass and bushes and popping out of the deserted plain. As we looped back on our way out, we cut through the field of flowers that spread across what had been the shoreline. Not far inside, we discovered an animal skull, perhaps once belonging to an opossum. The bone was bleached white, and the jaw was intact. The kids studied it, figuring out where the eyes and other features had been.

At the end of the hike, we climbed out of the swamp’s dusty remains, not finding any great secrets but getting a rare glimpse of what’s at the bottom.

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