Friday, May 2, 2008

day 2: how close do you want to get?

plans got a little scrambled when we found out the horses we intended to ride were going to be at a show instead.

so we packed up some snacks and headed for blue springs, there to canoe on the st. johns river.

i was very excited. i had been training for the past two weeks specifically so that i could endure hours, if need be, of paddling. i wanted to reawaken all the knowledge and skills i'd gathered during 6 years of summer camp, too.

we got our paddles, maps, and a laminated guide to florida wildlife. the lady who clocked us out (canoe rental by the hour) recommended a route that would take 1-2 hours. we disdained the exploration of the tame lagoon as too easy. we wanted adventure! then we promptly got lost looking for the canoe launch.

we launched with pam in the bow and myself in the stern. once we got out of the launch area we headed upstream. we wanted to go against the current while we were fresh so that we could let the water do the work later when we might be spent.

we turned into the channel where several canoes were exiting and spent the next 30 minutes exploring the shoreline in great detail. we heard the mating calls of several gators and tried, unsuccessfully, to get a peek. it took that long for us to realize that we had, in fact, entered the lagoon. it worked out alright, though, as our navigating skills were quite rusty. i felt responsible for steering in the stern, but i couldn't get it figured out. most of the time, i resorted to ruddering which killed our momentum. finally i suggested that we switch positions, so that 'power' could be in front and 'steering' in the back. heh. we managed to complete the switch without swamping, which was a feat in itself.

we saw lots of birds nesting on an islet in the middle of the lagoon. we approached so that i could get some nice pics but the birds did not like it one bit. one dove on pam and she swears she saw another sharpening its beak for battle. hitchcock would have been proud. i was just glad we didn't get pooped on.

we were circling around to start our real journey, when we spied a gator in the middle of the water. we slowly started heading for it as i asked pam how close she wanted to get. it wasn't a choice we had the power to make, however, as the gator sank when we were no closer than about 50 feet.

our exit from the lagoon was a chaotic meandering mess. pam could no more get a grip on the steering than i could. she finally admonished me to stop digging so hard and to paddle casually. what i ended up doing for the rest of the trip was taking 1 stroke for every 2-3 of hers.

we worked our way upriver, nibbling at our snacks. at some point we found a shady spot and just laid to for almost 30 minutes letting the creatures get accustomed to our silent presence. it was idyllic and effective. after awhile, the bird calls increased (i could only identify the rat-tat of a woodpecker) and the turtles returned from whence they had disappeared after being scared off their basking logs. we never did get a good look at any gators, although we heard more than a dozen total. we saw lots of minnows, plenty of birds (a cardinal and possibly a ruby-throated hummingbird), and a handful of turtles. i didn't need the wildlife guide to identify the great blue herons, but i eventually needed internet help to identify the turtles as peninsular cooters.

when we returned to the launch area, a strolling guitarist asked about our trip. when we told him we saw no manatees, he pointed out the floating mechanism in the river behind us. on our way out, pam commented on it and i thought it was some kind of current measuring device. this man claimed that it was actually strapped to the back of a manatee called 'hurricane'. it seemed unlikely, since hurricane hadn't moved in the three hours we'd been gone.


we were both pretty tired when we got home. beautiful days in the sun tend to drain your energy. i found the red wings game and sat on the couch, eventually drifting to sleep, only to wake up to a news story about a shark attack at a nearby beach--the beach where we were supposed to go surfing.

we spent the late evening in the hot tub debating whether to risk the shark infested waters the next day.