Saturday, January 28, 2006

Guest Blogger, ArtistAlice

People say that there are no seasons in Florida, but that’s simply not true. The unbroken summer grows to fit its own seasons: rainy season, hurricane season, tourist season, and off-season. It was during the off-season, a particularly dry month, that I first visited the Loxahachee River. My father and I woke up before the sun, packed a mass of egg salad sandwiches and seltzer water cans into a cooler and headed out west, hitting the highway that soon disappeared into a paved strip lost among swamp. The sun had risen by the time we reached the Canoe Outpost. There were peacocks, strutting and elusive, dotting the grounds around the low buildings and racks of weathered canoes. I found a feather that was fated to be lost in the murky river depths later in the day. We wrestled our canoe into the water, watched by creatures hidden behind the submerged logs and spindly cypress knees. It was not unusual to see a lazy alligator slide from the deep shade into the mossy brown-green water, minding its own business. The scene was reverent; choruses of insects droned content and far away from the shore. We launched the canoe, struggling to figure out the complexities of balancing strokes and rhythm of paddles against the swirling, sluggish water. Left, right, more on the left, quick!

Over the years, since that first visit, I have returned over and over again--when the river was high and violent, with friends in tow. The things I love about the river are always the same: the thrill of an adventure, the sheer beauty of nature, and the joy of sharing the experience with someone. There are two sections to the bit of Loxahatchee that is readily accessible from the canoe outpost. The slow, winding section, passing leisurely through shady depths, and the wide open rushing half, under the bright sun. We opted, the first time, with the water tame and the downstream current mild, to travel to the edge of the wooded section, turn around, and come back. Leaving was easy enough – the water is deep and the river a decent width. But it was a dry month, and we were soon to realize it would not be all simple paddling. We reached the first submerged log with some bewilderment and cautious debate. Attempted to surge over, and failed. Attempted to pull back and maneuver around, and failed. It took chest-deep wading, precarious balance and a great deal of levering and shoving. That was the first of many. We were suddenly early explorers, forging through dangerous wilds, pitting our wits against the landscape and trying to keep the water out of our trusty canoe and out of our egg-salad sandwiches.

But the fallen logs were not the last challenge. It was the dam that did us in. It was a sudden drop, a miniature man-made waterfall made of slanted logs. There was a place to hoist your canoe and carry it on one side, and down a dry ramp to the other side. Ramps, surely, were for those other canoers. We were daring explorers. We capsized. We had to dive for our supplies and hats. The sandwiches, thankfully, survived in the ark of our blue plastic cooler. A few hours later, we took a break, and fished, tying hooks to fishing line, to long scavenged sticks, and casting out. We didn’t catch much. I jumped into deep parts of the river from a fallen tree, exalted at the danger and thrill of falling through the air into murky uncertain water, the cool slimy caress of underwater growth or a fish making me jump.

I have always felt a grand affinity for having adventures, and the river certainly always proved itself to be one. I am a city girl. Even growing up in the small, artsy island village of Key West, I am unaccustomed to landscape without hotels or McDonalds, or litter on the sidelines. The Loxahachee is always perfectly maintained. Maybe once or twice, during all of my visits, have I seen a soda can, or a piece of discarded paper. It is a wonderful setting to lose oneself in fantasy. Sometimes, through the stretch, we would pass houses. And once or twice, a highway would stretch out an overpass across the river, throwing a bar of shadow over the shimmering water, and adding the sound of automobiles to the drone of too many insects. Nothing is untouched by the modern world, anymore, not completely. But I do remember that it was so close I barely even noticed.

The Loxahachee River is protected by the government as a natural reserve. It is cleaned, protected, preserved in its current state. My memories, along with the thoughts and experiences of thousands of other humans, canoers, explorers, children and parents all nestle in the shady bends and wide stretches of green water. My father and I are both a lot older now, than we were then. He doesn’t have as much paddling strength, and I haven’t as much of my old spirit of adventure. But we both faithfully attempt – and try to avoid going when it is too dry, or too overflowing and wild. We leave our city life behind and bask in nature. I remember my adventures, I remember the trees and cypress knees and alligators, even if we only go for a few hours now, not the whole day. In the end, it is not about how much of the river we conquer. After all, the point really is the time spent with my dad and the memories we created together.


yellojkt said...

Florida rivers are so fun to canoe because there is no effort required. They are wide any lazy. Just float and paddle. I have never heard of anyone capsizing in Florida before. Sorry to hear it happen to you. At least it didn't spoil the day.

Karen said...

I've done some canoeing but this essay was written by my daughter, I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear.

My best canoeing experience was in the Everglades with a guy who had recently graduated college with a degree in Wildlife Ecology. He was so excited to be in the Everglades and he knew all about the animals and the mangroves, so it was fun and educational. And we didn't capsize. But we did get lost a few times. Those mangroves really do all look alike!

yellojkt said...

I didn't catch the guest blogger part. I'm pretty clueless. Male obviousness defecit.