Monday, April 18, 2011

Slave Canal

Yesterday I tagged along on a trip down the Slave Canal with The Wilderness Way. It is, without question or reservation, the prettiest piece of water I've seen in N FL. Rivers have a funny way of going underground in this area, such that they don't always make their way to the ocean above ground (read navigable for shipping). In the canal craze of the early 19th century some local big wigs got it in their heads to connect the Wacissa, which isn't open to the gulf, to the Aucilla, which is. Thus they cracked a scheme to dig a canal from the point where the Wacissa goes underground to the Aucilla some 3 miles away. They didn't actually get started until the 1850's. As the name might suggest, slaves were used to dig it. Records are slim on info, so no one really knows how many worked or what casualty figures might have looked like, but the work must have been grueling between the swamp, heat, biting insects, and heavy manual labor. They finished it a few years before the start of the Civil War, and then it fell into disuse because the war so disrupted trade in the region.

All that sounds kind of grim, but now it is an absolutely beautiful and pristine piece of wilderness. Put in is at the sound end of the Wacissa (Goose Pasture). The Wacissa narrows and snakes along in its crystal clear fashion for a while until a right fork into the canal (there's a sign, but it'd be easy to miss). From there it's only a few miles to the take out on the Aucilla, but it's a time consuming few miles, as there are lots of logs that necessitate getting out of the boat and dragging over. You could not do this trip and stay dry from the waist down. Luckily the water is pretty clear, sandy bottom, and ranges from 1' to 3' deep almost the whole time. It averages about 15' to 20' wide. The weather was perfect, cool morning, 80's afternoon, breezy, blue skies. The sunlight filtered through the pine and hardwood and palms most wonderfully and the birds were singing and it felt like some remote central American rainforest. We saw a few gators, mostly tiny, but one bigger one, 6' or so, which walked along the bottom right under us. There were lots of gar and mullet, and prothonotary warblers, woodpeckers, owls, snowy egret, cattle egret (out of place), Mississippi and swallow tail kites. It was spectacular and it considerably improved my opinion of N FL.

After such a great day on the water there's not much to do except make a good dinner and drink good wine, which we did. While we were grilling (Buffalo chicken sliders and grilled okra, mmmmm) a barred owl swooped overhead and into a tree not 20' from the back patio and caused a ruckus from all the birds that were nesting in the viburnum. He stayed a few minutes and we ogled him until all those little chickadees and mockingbirds and crows pestered him too much and he flew away. It was really neat. All told a great Sunday. Get out and enjoy the beautiful weather before summer gets here and it gets stupid hot.