Reflections From the Road

There is something about traveling that makes you think about all the other times you’ve traveled, flipping through the trips like pages in a book.  I’m grateful to have had so many adventures over the years – a spur of the moment trip to Puerto Rico, months spent back packing across Europe, rambling through Australia in a hippie camper, hitchhiking in St. John, just to name a few.  Hopefully, there are many more adventures to come.

As for my current adventure, I’ve spent the last 2 weeks or so prowling the vast expanse known as the Ocala, a 385,000 acre wilderness in north-central Florida.  As I’ve discovered like many before me, this area has an abundance of natural springs (much like the Ichetucknee) that bubble up 72-degree water all year long.  Of these, Silver Glen Springs has been my favorite.  Soft white sand covers the floor of the spring, giving the water the pale blue color that one associates with the shallow waters of the Keys – not a pool of water in the middle of a pine scrub.

Across from Silver Glen Springs is the Yearling Trail, a long walk through the scrub out to an island of pines that was once inhabited by a few dozen pioneering souls in the mid 1800s.  (This was the setting for Marjorie Kinnon Rawling’s book, The Yearling, hence the name.)  I spent several hours walking through this scrub, past the sites of old homesteads with nothing to mark that anyone had ever lived there, except a few tombstones in a forgotten cemetery.

It’s interesting to think about people living off the land.  Honestly, I don’t know how they did it out here, as dry and sandy as it is.  My, what a long way we’ve come from that way of life.  Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t take better care of the environment if we depended on it in a more direct way.

I can’t exactly say that I’m living off the land – pretty far from it, I suppose.  But, I do think that having spent the last month camping and being outside nearly all the time has deepened my connection with nature.  Each day, I wake up to the sound of sandhill cranes trumpeting across the sky, filled with wonder about what the day will bring.  And each night, I see the stars between the low branches of the live oak, shining bright and clear against the darkness.  I go to bed feeling tired and fulfilled, looking forward to another day and another adventure.

Silver Glen Springs

Silver Glen Springs

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The Yearling Trail

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An island of pines once inhabited by pioneers in the mid 1800s

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Peace Springs Eternal

I’ve spent the last few days canoeing and swimming in the Ichetucknee River here in north-central Florida.  The river is fed by several springs that bubble up out of the ground, pouring millions of gallons of clear, pure water into it each day.  When I first arrived here, I met a couple of ladies who told me that there is nothing quite like the first time you ever set eyes on the headspring.  They were right.  The strange blue-green oasis immediately gives the impression that is a cradle for the abundance of wildlife that lives in and along these waters.  It simply takes your breath away.

Rob is down for a visit, and we were lucky enough to pick up a canoe on Craigslist for $75.  After several rainy and/or cold days, we finally got out on the water.  There is a peacefulness here that is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.  The water is so calm, and the entire length of the river floor is covered with long grass that flows in the current and gleams in the sun like smooth emerald ribbons.

There are dozens of turtles that sun themselves on logs along the riverbanks.  I’m guessing they thrive here due to the lack of alligators, which prefer dark water over the crystalline water of the springs.  It was fun to watch them plop off the logs into the water as we paddled by, although the larger ones were less afraid.  They stood their ground, daring us to come closer, while heron and egrets kept a watchful eye along the shore.  Occasionally, one of these giant birds would wing overhead, the lightness of their feathers like a whisper on the wind.

There are quite a few bald cypress trees along the river, with their wide, elephantine trunks, and their knobby “knees” coming up for air.  At one point, I was gazing into a stand of them and it seemed as though there was a face looking back at me. I did a double take and realized that there was a face – that of a young raccoon, which blended in with the grey-brown bark almost perfectly.

I think my favorite thing about being here has been swimming in the “Blue Hole” spring, a pristine spot that is only accessible by a short hike.  The blue hole is an underwater cave (where the water comes out), like a huge gaping mouth in the earth.  It’s quite a sensation to swim down into it, drawn in by the unearthly blue.  All around the hole, river grass sways gently, providing cover for fish that glide effortlessly by.

I’ve found myself wondering if these waters were sacred to the Native Americans that used to live here, for it is a profoundly healing place.  After being here, I feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted, and I’m happier and more peaceful than I’ve been in months.

Tomorrow, we will move on to a new spot and I will miss it here, but I look forward to coming back at some point down the line.

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The Conflicted Sky

I’m on the beach in Little Talbot Island, a state park just north of Jacksonville, FL, resting after taking a long walk on the beach, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the snowy owl that is reported to be visiting.  Apparently, I’m not the only one seeking warmer weather, although it is fairly unusual for snowy owls to be seen this far south.

The ocean is slate grey today, trimmed with lacy white foam that pushes and tugs relentlessly at the shore.  It’s interesting to notice the quality of the sand, because it always varies from beach to beach.  Here it is taupe-colored, marbled with an oily black, fine and compact, and scattered with shell fragments that crunch underfoot.

The sky seems to be conflicted today.  Moments ago, the sun was bright and inviting to the west, but choked with clouds what weighed on the horizon.  Moments later, the sun seemed to be winning out, dissolving the clouds into smalls puffs like slightly damp cotton candy.  Then, in a matter of minutes, a dense fog rolled in and covered everything in a ghostly white, while a huge swath of grey sky lifted above the horizon, like a curtain unveiling a bright light where ships could slip through, attracted like moths to the moon.

While the sand might seem different at every beach, the smell is mostly the same – that fresh, salty, damp breeze.  Smell is a funny thing; it seems to trigger a million memories at once, or makes you struggle to put your finger on exactly what it reminds you of.  In this case, I find myself remembering the summers of my youth spent camping on Cape Cod.  I remember how my brother and I would spend hours playing in the ocean and body surfing, not even noticing that we were cold until our lips were purple.

And now, I’m creating new memories.  Who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll smell the ocean and remember this very moment.

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Winter Peepers!

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty hearing the reports of single digit temps and heaps of snow back home.  Meanwhile, it’s 6:00 PM and I’m sitting outside wearing a sweater and a light jacket, listening to a chorus of peepers, their buoyant chirps echoing merrily through the heavy evening air.

If it’s any consolation to the folks back home, it has been pouring rain here for two straight days.  And I’m here to tell you that there is only so much rain a tent can withstand.  Things are a bit soggy over here, but all in all I can’t complain.

I’m camping in north central Florida, right near Ichetuknee Springs, which is a spring fed river with 72 degree water all year round.  It’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere.  The closest town is about 20 minutes away, and even then, there’s not really a whole lot there other than some sad buildings on a forlorn street.  There is a LOT of farmland out here – endless fields of nearly every type of livestock – some fields with cows, some with pigs, some with horses, some with donkeys, some with goats.

The campground itself is down a dirt road (surrounded by farmland, of course), and is oddly charming in an eerie kind of way.  Maybe it’s only eerie because I’m the only one camping here, other than the campground hosts.  But I don’t mind.  I’ve got my transistor radio and a bottle of whiskey to keep me company.

Well, I guess it’s off to bed in the soggy tent for me.  Even though I may be less than thrilled about the dampness, the peepers are rejoicing in it, and that is good enough for me.

Hope you are all staying safe and warm wherever you may be!

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A New Day, A New Year

I got up before dawn today – and in a good mood no less! While I’m not exactly a morning person, the natural rhythm of camping is definitely early to bed, early to rise.  And when you’re camping in a place as pretty as this, it’s hard not to be in a good mood.

I’m in the Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina, a large tract of pine forest and swampland that hugs the coast.  My campsite is on the outermost edge, right along the water, which is this case, is the Intercoastal Waterway.  As I look out from my tent, I see the vast tidal channel (which follows almost the entire length of the eastern seaboard) and on the other side of that is miles of gentle marsh that stretch out to the ocean.

It was chilly when I woke up this morning, and as I climbed out of the tent, I found myself awestruck by the moon, which was perched low in the sky – a gleaming crescent outlined by a soft, ethereal circle.  The faintest glow of dawn was beginning to creep up along the horizon, and the moon seemed to admire her own reflection in the water.

I fumbled to make myself a cup of coffee, and then sat by the water to watch the day begin.  Lavender wisps were brushed over a cerulean backdrop, and the orangey-pink glow of morning began to shine along the edge of sky and land.  It gradually extended upward, pushing the moon out of the way.  And then, just as two herons glided across the marsh, the sun peered over the quiet sea of grass as if to greet them.

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Now, another day has come and gone, and I am in Savannah, GA.  It’s New Year’s Eve, and I can guarantee you that I will not be staying up until midnight.  In fact, I’ll be lucky if I stay awake until 8:00!  I’m tired and weary from traveling, and I’ll be ringing in the New Year here in Skidaway Island State Park, huddled snugly in my tent, sound asleep.

Rob and I traveled here with our camper several years ago, and it’s nice to be in familiar territory.  The park is full of huge live oaks adorned with Spanish moss, which droops lazily from the branches. Saw palmettos grow in and around them, with giant fronds like eyelashes that bat coyly at you as you pass by.  It feels like an enchanted forest, where the woodland creatures speak in slow relaxed tones, and sip mint juleps together in the afternoon.

I can’t say that I have a resolution for 2014.  I suppose you could say this trip is, in and of itself, sort of a resolution.  Mainly, it’s a decision to embark on an adventure, whatever that entails.  Whether or not you have your own resolution, I wish you all the best for a happy and healthy New Year.

Looking out at the dawn from my campsite in SC

Looking out at the dawn from my campsite in SC

A new day along the intercoastal waterway, SC

A new day along the intercoastal waterway, SC

Isle of Palms, SC

Isle of Palms, SC

Isle of Palms, SC

Isle of Palms, SC

Savannah, GA

Savannah, GA