Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ochlockonee River, US 90 to Tower Rd

I was thrilled this morning to find the air a little chilly, as the weather finally has a little feel of fall in it in North Florida (high of 82 today, 92 yesterday; a considerable improvement). To celebrate the cooler weather, I paddled the Ochlockonee solo again today. I put in at my turn-around point last week, under US 90 (Tennessee St.) and paddled N, with the intention of going all the way to the next put in, but I was stopped by felled trees about a mile from the end, and thus stopped short. The launch is fine, public boat ramp under the overpass. As soon as the sound of the traffic on 90 faded the sound of traffic on I-10 became audible upstream. There were men working on the bridge, breaking large chunks of concrete off the railing which plopped loudly in the water beneath them. Despite this intrusion (the sound of traffic), which faded quickly then, this section of the Ochlockonee is actually quite beautiful. After I-10 I never saw another soul until I got back there; there's no development, and it feels very remote. There are lots of willow trees (I think) and cypress, pine, and palmetto (note to self: get a FL flora book). I used my little saw on the leatherman to clear some small paths through the tops of trees that had fallen over the river, but when I reached the point seen below, I called it and turned around. There were several alligators, ranging from small to large, and belted kingfishers, green heron, little blue heron, vulture, ducks, anhinga, and woodpeckers. Wrestling with the trees showered me with little spiders, so I found a sandy beach to de-spider on and eat lunch. There are several sandbars on this section that are good for that sort of thing, which is a nice change from the previous section (US 90 to Lake Talquin). Estimating my turn-around on Google Earth, I think I made it about 4 miles upriver before I turned around, so 8 total, in about 3.5 hours. It was really a nice paddle, despite the the road noise at the start, and it'll be worth putting in at Tower Rd. and paddling down to see if I can work a clear path through with shears and a real saw.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lake Talquin/Ochlockonee River

I finally made it back out on the water today, opting for something closer to our side of Tallahassee than what I've previously done. Lake Talquin (so named for Tallahassee and Quincy) was formed when the Ochlockonee River (pronounced ok-LOK-uh-nee) was dammed, and is thus fed by the river at one extremity, and drained at the other, roughly 15 miles SW. I launched from the quiet public ramp at Coe Landing Rd, about twenty minutes from home, and paddled E toward the river. The most interesting thing about this paddle is that in the space of six miles you're in a lake, a freshwater marsh (where the river opens into the lake), and a blackwater river. I poked through the marshy area (good birding) into the river and went up to the bridge where US 90 crosses, which is about 6 miles upstream from the launch at Coe Landing. I wondered briefly if I would have a hard time getting back through the marsh to the lake, as there are myriad ways of doing it and it's easy to get disoriented (follow the current), but it was no problem. The banks often consist of white sand, but there aren't many places to stop and get out, as they're either high or overgrown with vegetation. The plants in this area are a blend between tropical (palm, palmetto, huge leaved things) and what I was used to in SE NC (pine, cypress, cedar), which is interesting. I saw two small gators and one very large one. As for birds, there were anhinga, cormorant, great blue heron, little blue heron (adult and juvenile), great egret, green heron, osprey, some hawks that circled like vultures (I've got to learn my buteos), white ibis, florida gallinule (common moorhen), and others. There were lots of very large osprey (or maybe even bald eagle) nests in the marshy section worth checking again in the spring. All told I covered twelve miles out and back in about 4 hours.

One of the little guys

Monday, September 7, 2009

Upper St. Marks River

Aimee and I paddled the upper section of the St. Marks River this morning. The put-in/take-out is just beyond the Natural Bridge Battlefield State Park. The spot we used was immediately past the park, but there's a better one just a little further up. The trip is supposed to be 2.5 miles upriver to Horn Springs and back, for a total of 5 miles, but we weren't able to get to the springs due to rather large trees that have fallen across the river. We portaged around the first one (somewhere around 2 miles up), and quickly encountered another. We were looking for a short easy paddle today (thus the choice of this one), so we decided to call it quits and float back. Someone suggested that the hunting club that owns the adjacent land cut a few trees to limit access by paddlers. It's going to take a good bit of work to get all the way through. Next time I'll take a handsaw so I can at least clear some OK portages and deal with brushy blockages, but the trees aren't coming out of there without a chainsaw and a lot of hard work, so I'll let them be. Despite not making it to the springs, we still had a nice time. The river isn't very wide, ranging 15'-35' across, running through remote cypress/pine forest with dense undergrowth (a lot of palmetto). We didn't see any wildlife besides a couple of birds, but there were a lot of animal droppings where we portaged and it was very undeveloped, so the potential is there. I want to see a bear. It's a nice spot for a short paddle, but be prepared for the portages/haulovers. I'm going to wait for cooler weather to thin the vegetation and then see if I can get all the way up. There were lots of spiders strung up in the overhanging branches. Cheers.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wakulla Beach

Paddled this afternoon with new friends, Zach and Ellen (via Brooke), in the marshes at Wakulla Beach, which is a little west of St. Marks. The "beach" is at the end of a long unpaved road through beautiful St. Marks Refuge forest off of the Coastal Hwy. At the end there's a small lot and a sandy water access that's about 40' long. It looks a lot like the Basin at Fort Fisher (for you folks back home). From here you launch into a big shallow bay with numerous marsh creeks and little marsh islands. The water is brownish, but alive with mullet and something else that was feeding on schools of fish from below. We poked into a couple of creeks and then paddled back across the bay. Along the way I saw some gulls, great egrets, osprey, black crowned night heron, and willet. Something bigger than a mullet made a huge splash, but all we saw was the splash, so who knows. On the sand road out of there I saw a big snake, which I'm pretty sure was an Eastern Diamondback Rattler, but I didn't get a photo so I'm not %100. It was at least 3' long. I stopped and stared, but veered safely around him so he could go about his business. It was a pretty short paddle, but entirely worthwhile because they showed me a launch that has several trip options from short forays to as far as you want to go, and I got to paddle with nice people who will hopefully become folks we can trip with regularly.

The rest of the day was spent putting tricolor sage, silver thyme, and garlic in the herb garden, reading, cutting my hair, and hanging with Aimee. Tomorrow we're paddling the short upper section of the St. Marks River from the Natural Bridge to Horn Springs. I'll post the results. Cheers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Guns, Germs, and Steel

Read it. It's quite digestible and informative. Here's my quick synopsis:

Diamond is an evolutionary ornithologist who spends a lot of time in New Guinea. An indigenous New Guinean man asks him one day why Diamond's people, meaning people of European ancestry, have so much cargo (stuff), while his people (and by extension the rest of the colonized or formerly colonized world) have so little. He thinks about it for twenty years, and this book is his attempt to answer the question. In a very simplistic form, his answer is this: geography. Eurasia had the good luck to have an east-west orientation in which there is less climatic variance than is found on north-south oriented continents (the Americas and Africa). Additionally, Eurasia possessed abundant natural resources which included plants that were both nutritious and domesticable, large mammals that were domesticable, and the minerals that could be manipulated into metal tools and weapons. Plants that could be domesticated and were nutritionally rich enough to supplant hunter/gatherer lifestyles led to settled and semi-settled populations and a food surplus. A food surplus frees members of said society from the otherwise constant duty of feeding themselves and allows them to become specialists in other things, which leads to innovation (in things like metal tools, weapons, and writing). East-west orientation means that new knowledge in farming is easy to transmit over a landmass because the climate is more constant and in Eurasia there are fewer geographical barriers (like the Andes or the Isthmus of Panama) to inhibit the flow of information and technology. Settled populations with access to domesticable mammals learn to use those animals and therefore live in close proximity to them, which leads to the germs that infect those animals eventually learning to infect humans too (which is where we get the flu and all of the other modern and historical epidemics). Those humans develop resistance to those diseases. So by the premodern period we have cultures in Eurasia (like the Spanish, English, Dutch, and French, among others) who have the good fortune of centuries, millenia, of information passed along to the from the trials and errors of their ancestors, writing to pass information along with, a host of diseases and resistance to many of them, metals that have been shaped into swords and guns and armor, domesticated horses to ride into and out of battle or to carry information quickly over long distances, and food enough to supply (with varying degrees of success) long open ocean voyages of discovery. Transport those people to other parts of the world, where large mammals succumbed to quick extinction upon the arrival of humans that they hadn't evolved to fear and thus were easy dinners, and were therefore without animal borne disease or resistance to it. Diamond estimates that 95% of the pre-1492 population of the New World was killed by disease before they every saw a white man. They had much less advanced metallurgical technology with which to defend themselves, and thus the survivors of the sicknesses had to contend with guns and steel swords and armor with wood and bone weapons. This is why the Incans were subdued by the Spanish rather than the other way around. Diamond expressly dismisses any notion of racial superiority. He points out that people, the world over, have become adept at surviving and even thriving in the geographical and natural situations in which they have developed. Most of us would die if we were suddenly dropped in the Congo or New Guinean rain forests, where those respective peoples have managed to live for thousands of years.

So that's the meat of it. I just reduced a four hundred page book to a few hundred words, so of course you can poke holes in it. But Diamond makes a good case for his theory while recognizing that he is, himself, spending 400 pages on the whole of human history, and thus necessarily simplifies. On the whole, though, I'd say he's got it right. In any case, you'll learn a lot about the world by reading it.