Sunday, October 25, 2009

In Other News...

...I've acquired a few new things that will compliment my paddling (and other outdoor pursuits) nicely. First, a Camelbak Unbottle, which is basically like one of the popular hydration backpacks, without the straps. Its designed to be strapped to a PFD or the deck of a kayak (where I used it today). I rather like it. At 70 oz capacity, it's plenty for a full day on the water without having to carry multiple smaller bottles. Details at

Second, after paddling today we went to the local paddle shop, The Wilderness Way, which was quite conveniently located just a couple miles from the launch, where I purchased The National Audubon Society's Field Guide to Florida, which should help me ID the random plants and animals I come across in my wanderings. It's an overall sort of deal ("birds, animals, trees, wildflowers, insects, weather, nature preserves, and more"), so not too specific, but enough to get me pointed in the right direction in our new environment. N FL is different enough from NC to necessitate some ecological education.

Finally, I got us both USCG approved whistles, which makes us legal, and safer. I read recently of a Wisconsin man who went missing while kayaking on Lake Superior. He was apparently both skilled and experienced, which should serve as a reminder for the rest of us (

Wakulla River, and MANATEES!

Aimee and I paddled the Wakulla River (pronounced wuh-KUL-uh, or WAW-kul-uh, depending on the prominence of your southern accent) today. The Wakulla flows crystal clear from a massive spring (where there's a state park) to it's confluence with the St. Marks River about ten miles downriver, and then on to the Gulf of Mexico (all water around here goes to the Gulf of Mexico) just a few miles further downstream. We put in at the highest accessible point, which is CR 365, aka Shadeville Rd. Just above this access there is a fence down to the water level which prevents upstream travel (unless you're a fish, turtle, alligator, or manatee). The river is never more than a couple of miles from the St. Marks Bike Trail (which we've ridden and posted about). The bike trail ends at the same place the river does, the Town of St. Marks, which makes for a very convenient bike shuttle. I locked my bike up at the take out (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and then drove back up to the launch. We were on the water a little after ten. There are occasional private docks, but houses are rarely visible, and due to the abundance of manatee on the river, all of the upper section is a no wake zone, so motorized traffic is a non-issue. Despite the minor intrusion of humanity on the banks, the river is beautiful. The forest is thick, the water clear blue-green. It's fairly small for the first few miles with lots of little cypress swamp islands. The cypress and cedars hang with Spanish Moss and palmettos blanket the floor. It's lovely. The next access is under US 98, where a livery operates (I gather that many people fore go the shuttle and put in at 98 and paddle upstream and float back down). After 98 the river opens up and gets pretty wide, which marsh on either side as a buffer between the river and forest. By the time you get to the take-out it's getting downright marshy.

The wildlife was great. There were a couple of broad winged hawks in our backyard this morning when I was loading, which I took for a (very non-superstitious) good omen. Just before we got to the launch we saw a (live) deer on the side of the road. This is a great birding river; we saw double-crested cormorant, anhinga, pied-billed grebe, osprey, eastern kingbird, great egret, great blue heron, little blue heron, yellow crowned night heron, piliated woodpecker, american crow, turkey vulture, misc. gulls, and even a bald eagle circling high overhead (unmistakable white head, black wings, white tail, and HUGE). There was an alligator or two, and raccoon on the banks. The highlight, and real reason for choosing this trip for today, were the manatee. The first ones we encountered a mile or so down from the launch, feeding on grass beds under water (there were two). They seemed completely unconcerned about us floating just a few feet overhead. Every once in a while they came up to breathe, and then went right back down to keep feeding. Another guy was a little further down. He had a tracking buoy attached to his tail and was easy to spot because it floated a few feet behind him when he was close to the surface. He swam along with us for quite a while, practically serving as our guide for the better part of a mile. A few others popped up to breathe once in a while. It was so cool. They were only a few feet away.
Aimee with manatee in foreground. Her boat is 14'6" long.

My paddle blade in the frame, which indicates how close this big guy is.

We finally reached the takeout, where my bike was still safely locked up and untampered with. Aimee hung out and read while I pedaled 8 miles up the bike trail to pick up the truck. It was a nice ride. I'll definitely be doing more bike shuttles in the future. It was a great day on and off the water, and now I'm about to eat dinner (chicken stir-fry) and relax. Cheers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pork Chops

Hot damn! We ate excellently tonight. Dinner consisted of: bone-in pork chops in herbal dry rub, seared and cooked to perfection in the cast-iron skillet, topped with sprigs of fresh rosemary (from our herb garden), apples and onions sauteed in brown sugar and butter, mustard greens boiled to death southern style complete with ham hock, and cornbread muffins (with an egg that came out of a chicken that will live it's whole life less than 30 miles from right here), washed down with Sailor Jerry's Rum and coke. I'm pretty proud of it. It was homey, but refined. If I'd paid good money in a fine restaurant for it I'd be singing its praises. And we ate it all out on the slab, by citronella candlelight.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Graham and Kennedy Creeks

Back on the water today courtesy of N FL paddler and bos'n, Michael ( We had big plans to launch from Carrabelle down on the gulf and circumnavigate Dog Island, a smallish barrier island about 3 miles offshore and 6 miles long, but weather wasn't fully cooperative. The fog was thick and the forecast shaky, so we opted for more protected water in the Apalachicola National Forest not too far away. After discussing the options, he suggested that we knock down two interesting paddles that were a short drive away.

First was Graham Creek, which can be accessed right under CR 65 in the forest. It's a small blackwater (quite literally, the darkest water I've ever seen) creek on the edge of Tate's Hell State Forest that snakes through fascinating cypress/tupelo swamp on its way to the East River and then the Apalachicola River further downstream. The banks aren't really visible (though water was pretty high); there's just a tree-line that forms the edge of the creek. Michael said that when the flowers on the tupelo trees are in bloom you can hear the bees from a half mile away. The only wildlife we saw was a gator. He was big enough and moving fast enough that he made a wake. This one will be worth seeing again in the winter when all the leaves are off the trees and again in the spring when the trees bloom and the bees are in. We didn't go far because we wanted to spend the bulk of the day at the next spot, so we were on and off the water again in about an hour.

The second trip was on Kennedy Creek, another blackwater creek a little further up CR 65 and deeper in the forest. The launch is from a place called Cotton's Landing (there's signage) a few miles down dirt forest roads. Somewhere along the way to the Apalachicola River the flora shifts from the cypress/tupelo swamp seen previously on Graham to cypress/tupelo/pine/willow mixed forest more typical of other regional rivers I've seen so far. Near the mouth of the creek there are a few houseboats. We went into the river looking for sandbars to lunch on, but the water was so high (from all the recent rain in GA) that they were all submerged. We managed to find a spot on the opposing bank where we ate and rested for the trip back. Out and back was 12 miles (on Michael's GPS). A few birds: little blue heron, green heron, great egret, hairy woodpecker, red-bellied woodpecker, piliated woodpecker; I'm sure I'm forgetting some. A good trip and worth another look.

Despite being over twice my age and having children older than me, Michael's pace is fairly grueling. He called our pace today, "a little slow." I thought we were moving along pretty well. He's got a crew of like-minded paddlers that I'm hoping to join for a few trips, if I can keep up. We'll see.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Ochlockonee Evening

I opted for a late trip today after yard and house work. I've been working my way up the Ochlockonee River from Lake Talquin, but I was stopped this last week by fallen trees obstructing the river within about a mile of the next launch at Tower Rd. Tower Rd is very conveniently located for us, about 5 miles away, so I figured I could put in and paddle down, perhaps to the same blockage that turned me around from the other end. I didn't make it quite that far, but I think I was close. It's an interesting little piece of river; there are lots of trees down under the surface of the water, so that the limbs climb straight up and the water flows around them. In places it's almost creepy looking. When I got to the first area that I couldn't really paddle through (it's an easy portage though, over a sandbar on the bank) I worked on it with hand-saw and garden shears and cleared a little, but I realized that I'll need better tools, or more people to help, or more time to really get anywhere with it. The trees that have lain there for a while have had all of their soft wood worn away by the sun and wind and water, leaving just the hardest densest portions. So a branch the size of a forearm looks pretty easy, but it's so damn dense, you've got to work pretty hard to get through. Not wanting to kill my evening huffing and sweating alone in the woods to no avail, I decided to paddle back upstream past the launch to the railroad bridge that's just below Monroe St. where it crosses the river. This also is an interesting piece of river, alternating between long straight sections and twisting meanders. There are some really crazy cypress formations along the rather high banks (partly because the water is low and what's usually under is now exposed). Lots of white sandbars for resting or camping. Because of the downed trees, you can't really put a motor boat on that river right now, so it was very quiet, and I didn't see another soul on the water (but I also didn't cover much area either, about 4 miles, 1 down from the launch and 3 up). Despite the proximity to civilization, it feels pretty remote. I'll use this paddle as the quick and easy one when I just need to get out on the water and think or don't have time for a real excursion.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Old Books

Aimee brought home a couple of volumes tonight (for research in her Victorian Lit class), of Cornhill Magazine, an English publication, from 1870 and 1894 respectively. While those are the dates of publication , it's not immediately clear when they were bound, and thus how old the books we now have in our house are. They are obviously very old though. If they were bound within a short period of publication, which would have been normal, then the books in my living room right now are quite ancient by our standards, and it's remarkable to hold them. The older was published when Ulysses Grant was president. We were in the midst of Reconstruction. The Civil War was only recently finished. As for the second volume, Grover Cleveland was president, Hawaii was not yet a territory, and America was still a backwater. So much has happened while these bound volumes of pulp sat safely on shelves that the world would be barely recognizable to period readers of the time. They have a wonderful musky smell that that feels like history itself, and a satisfying heft. The leather binding is cracked and one turns pages gently, lest they break and fall out. Just think about it for a moment; to hold a snapshot of culture from the world as it was in WW1, no WW2, no automobile or airplane, an America less than 100 years old, cowboys, Indians, the birth of baseball, 40 acres and a mule, and so on. That is an amazing thing.