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.