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But it's still a kind of idyllic, young-man's paradise, where Huck and Tom would have fit right in.
Several swamp residents -- especially the kids -- swim in the alligator-clogged canal. "As dark as it looks," says Keith, throwing bread balls in the water to attract fish, "when you're way down at the bottom looking up, it's crystal-clear." Just keep your eyes peeled.
Sometimes, a party atmosphere takes over, one that Granny, who raised the twins out here in the middle of nowhere and ran Mack's Fish Camp with a schoolmarm's discipline, may not have approved.
"It's a different breed of cat that comes here now," says Jerry Boswell, who makes his home in the last shack at the far end of the camp, before the road dwindles to a trail that disappears into the bush along the canal. The sun-wrinkled Vietnam vet has lived at Mack's Fish Camp for 19 years. His burly arms sport a few fading tattoos that match his gray ponytail. Still, "unless they shut this place down," Jerry swears, "the only way I'm going out of here is in a box. "
Tonight, Jerry's avoiding the drinking and hollering a few yards from his dwelling. So is Marshall. He's in Miami at a wedding with his wife, Nicole, and daughter, Love Lea Jones, in tow. In the past, Marshall would whoop it up just as much or more than his slightly crazier twin, but now, with a 5-month-old and a business to run, waking up to a road strewn with beer and tequila bottles makes him unhappy.
The two operate on opposite ends of the same energetic wavelength.
Though each is equally knowledgeable about environmental issues affecting their parcel of property in the Everglades and acutely aware of the ramifications of intervention by the government, Keith's conversation tends to devolve into rants inevitably punctuated by "anyway, to make a long story short..." and studded with boasts. "I've never lost a fight, ever," he brags. "I want to fight Shannon Briggs barefoot."
His brother, on the other hand, is more likely to nod sagely during discussion, occasionally interjecting a concise, "Yes, absolutely" or "I definitely agree." But barefoot and shirtless works for Marshall too. Wiry where Keith is hefty and brawny, Marshall appears to use calm to counter-balance his twin's natural aggression. Though both share similar athletic builds, Keith appears untamed, and Marshall -- though flexing a Marine's toughness -- comes off as gentle and soft-spoken.
Instead of canceling each other out, the twins seem to create an electrical spark, like touching battery cables together. When the two are in close proximity -- even outdoors, let alone in the cramped store -- the air sometimes crackles with tension.
"They're definitely mirror twins," Jerry chuckles. When it seems safe, Keith is more likely to let his guard down and drop indiscriminate f-bombs, even as he cautions visitors not to use the word at all. Around his 312-year-old daughter, Brianna, he's extracautious.
For kids -- almost always barefoot -- growing up at Mack's Fish Camp puts them in touch with nature, not Nintendo. Ten-year-old fisherman Rodd Brown bubbles with excitement over the prospect of living out his days at Mack's as well. Watching him pull bass out of the water all afternoon in his stocking feet is a flashback to the kind of idyllic childhoods of a half-century past. Brown, who attends elementary school in western Hollywood, hasn't yet brought many of his school chums out to see the paradise he calls home. "They'd want to come here every day," he observes.
"A lot of people are afraid of this kind of road," Marshall concurs. "Especially if it's close to dusk, they wonder what's going to happen, 'cause you can't see what's down here at the end."
Anyone not put off by the forbidding gravel entrance is inevitably entranced, its residents claim.
"I'll say this," Keith testifies. "Anybody who makes it all the way down that road once comes back." Doogie is one such recidivist. He doesn't do much of anything but sit around with a beer in his hand, but lately, he's become a camp fixture. Not long ago, after he passed out one night, an orange afro wig was placed upon his inebriated head and incriminating photos were taken.
Tonight, after braving a torrent of mid-May mosquitoes gearing up for the summer's feeding frenzy, Doogie stumbles into the store.
"Hey, Keith," he says, "You got any skeeter juice?" As Keith hunts down some Off behind the counter, something inside the pine-paneled walls scratches and scurries. "Swamp rats," he says. "Just as furry and cute as a damn rabbit."
There is no place like Mack's Fish Camp. It feels like an old, sepia-toned newsreel about the pioneer days has come to life. Visit once and it's almost impossible to stop thinking about it, even days later.
"It burns itself into your mind," Rodd says.
Mack's Fish Camp is less than an hour's drive from Fort Lauderdale or Miami but feels far removed in time and space -- like the Twilight Zoneepisode in which Billy Mumy replaced the cornfields around his farmhouse with an endless void, making it the center of a small, self-contained universe. Mack's remains among the wildest enclaves in all of Broward County, a portal back to a time when most of the land down here looked as wild as this. It has proudly belonged to the same family for six generations, and a new crop of young Joneses stands in line to inherit its riches and preserve its singular status. It has been battered by natural and man-made disasters but still looks much as it did 70 years ago. Although it has survived fires, floods, and hurricanes, it still reels from the loss of Nell Jones, the camp's patron saint.