A View From the Top
By Gordon Cherr,
“Sittin’ in the mornin’ sun
I’ll be sittin’ when the evenin’ come
Watching the ships roll in
And then I watch ’em roll away again, yeah.
I’m sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I’m just sittin’ on the dock of the bay
Wastin’ time . . .”
-The Dock of The Bay, Otis Redding and Steve Cropper
The words from this song are drifting lazily through my mind this evening. I am not sitting on the dock of the bay nor am I watching the tide roll away, but the feeling is the same. I am sitting on a high bluff at my campsite, overlooking the nighttime Suwannee River, a few miles south of the I-75 bridge, in what county I am not even certain and who cares? I don’t, that’s for sure.
About fifteen years ago I gave up my canoe and its concomitant backache for a kayak. And while I enjoy running the white water with my paddling buddies (none of them runners), my real passion is solo flat water journeys of several days, alone and away from everything and everyone. Being responsible for myself and no one else. Going slow and setting my own pace. The parallels to ultra-distance running are striking and obvious.
Right now though, I am watching this incredible moonrise. I can’t sleep. Heck, I haven’t even tried to sleep. I pulled onto shore and made my makeshift camp a few hours ago, in the fading daylight. Then a simple dinner cooked on a portable cook stove. Squash, tomatoes, okra, some noodles too. I’ll save the bacon and eggs for the morning meal. A good hot meal at the end of a long day is wonderful and lifts the spirits too. I even splurged and bought a bag of Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies before I left, and eating every one them I feel positively decadent. One large cup of coffee in hand later and I am watching the moonrise over the river.
The Suwannee River runs past me silently tonight, it is early spring, that all too rare time here when it is neither too hot nor too cold, and the mosquitoes are still asleep. I have several times in the past paddled the upper reaches of this beautiful river from where it drains out of the Okeefenokee in Georgia, down to S.R. 6 in Hamilton County. That too is a beautiful experience; the upper portions of the river there are dominated by huge cypress trees and enormous pure white sugary sandbars around every bend and oxbow. The biggest alligator I have ever seen, I saw in the upper Suwannee several years ago as he swam lazily under my kayak. My boat is more than 14′ long and by my estimate this brute was easily longer. And much wider. I can say that I was very glad that he chose to ignore my presence. The river is stained dark brown from all of the tannic acid in the water and it is not clear like the Wakulla River. So, seeing him meant that he was too close for comfort. I did have a sudden impulse to poke him with my paddle to see what he would do, but wisely perhaps (no doubt), I did not follow through. The upper reaches of the Suwannee have wide, flat banks and an accompanying visible array of wildlife which comes down to the river. It is not unusual to come up silently on deer or hogs and many species of wading birds.
But I have never paddled this stretch of the river, from White Springs to the take-out, a boat ramp at the Suwannee River Music Camp. The river banks here are steep and with drought being our predominate weather pattern for six of the past seven years (when you paddle you pay attention to such things), the river is very low. This has further exposed the limestone outcroppings and the sheer vertical walls along the river are quite an impressive sight. There are no end of intricate looking caves and grottos dissolved into the rough limestone layers, and with a little imagination they look like anything you can conjure up, from mosques and minarets to gargoyles and strange staring faces. The steep limestone walls preclude much visible wildlife like deer or raccoon or wading birds from reaching the river in some places here. But I can easily spot turtles sunning themselves on exposed logs and boulders, mostly cooters and sliders I imagine, some yellow ears too. Belted kingfishers are the most frequently spotted birds on this trip, with the omnipresent vultures soaring overhead (of course), a Mississippi kite or two, and several rather boisterous red shouldered hawks, who were not the least bit afraid to make their presence known. A big brown water snake and a rather intolerant looking water moccasin, better left alone. And one huge orange moth flying around me, that I am still trying to identify.
The great thing about kayaking on flat water like this is that it can be absolutely silent. It is just you and the river, several graceful strokes and then a glide, stroke, stroke, glide. It is nearly effortless. The river is shoal from the drought but it is easy to read and stay out of trouble. Without rapids it is difficult to imagine any trouble that you could possibly get into. And an added bonus, I saw several springs issuing directly out of the limestone walls and pouring into the river, normally underwater and hidden from view.
But back to the moonrise. I planned this trip for the full moon and with the weather so cooperative tonight I am not disappointed. There is something about full moons that makes us all a little bit loco. Well, speaking for myself anyhow. I want to think that it is the tidal affect of the moon on the oceans and the fact that some time in the past our ancestors crawled out of the oceans, but we still have so much of the oceans running through our bodies that we feel the inexorable tidal pull of the moon in every cell and every fiber of our being (No, I am not going with that “7 day” rubbish). If the moon told me to take off my clothes and jump into the Suwannee River in the dark, who am I to disagree and argue? Yes, rather invigorating. You should try it sometime. It will remind you that you are still alive.
Let me know when you want to run the Suwannee. We’ll go together. No, swimming in the buff at 2 AM is not mandatory. It is, however, highly recommended.
“Ol’ man river, Dat ol’ man river
He mus’know sumpin’
But don’t say nuthin’,
He jes’keeps rollin’
He keeps on rollin’ along.”
-Ole Man River, Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II