Paradise Crushed

A lush idyllic chunk of the Everglades was transformed by bulldozers and a huge tree-eating juggernaut

A knee-deep pond spiked with cypress knees separates the cabin from the logging road. The decking that formed a front porch has fallen into the swamp. A strangler fig grows over the roof. It's all rotting, decomposing into muck.

Perched outside on the remains of the porch, Bellman points out the red table where they ate dinner, the rusted remains of a box spring, a flowered sofa bed whose stuffing has escaped from gaping holes. "That was a beautiful sofa when Judy brought it in here," Bellman says wistfully.

Weeks after his visit to the old hunting camp, Bellman reflected on what the Fakahatchee had taught him as a young man. The Golden Gate experience educated him about the value and power of property and turned him into something of a rebel. But building the camp and learning how to stalk game silently in the beautiful swamp deepened his character and changed him in ways that resonate to this day. Those are the unforgettable experiences that both he and Denninger fear will soon be unavailable.

From top: The home fries in the early '70s on the boom of the tree crusher they vowed to destroy; Ralph Bellman, graying at the edges but radical still; Bellman and Rudy Lutz's hunting camp in the Fakahatchee; Judy Bellman has made the place look homey
From top: The home fries in the early '70s on the boom of the tree crusher they vowed to destroy; Ralph Bellman, graying at the edges but radical still; Bellman and Rudy Lutz's hunting camp in the Fakahatchee; Judy Bellman has made the place look homey

"It teaches you total accountability, because you can lose your life out there," Denninger says. "If you come to a stop, as I have more than once, within 12 inches of a coiled cottonmouth, you learn there are no guarantees in life. It also teaches you the total insignificance of man on the planet."

He reflects for a full minute.

"It's kept me in my place," he says. "It teaches you about the value of life. It teaches you what taking a life is. It's serious business."

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