Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Paddling the Silver River

7 or 8 years ago my husband and I found ourselves with a cash windfall and we decided to spend it on a pair of kayaks. It turned out to be one of our better purchases. At first we planned to get a tandem kayak, but friends warned us that we would fight so much that we'd never get anywhere. Then I thought it would be safest to get myself one of those kayaks that you sit on top of so that I couldn't sink it (I'm a worrier). Fortunately, the excellent salesperson at Brasington's convinced me that those kayaks were very slow and heavy and that I'd be happier with a sleek, fast boat so I could keep up with my tall, strong husband. It turned out to be excellent advice and I have enjoyed my zippy kayak ever since and have never had trouble keeping up or falling in. In fact the only trouble we have had is that we don't seem to get out as often as we'd like to. But when we do get out it is never disappointing.

Under the River Archway
Kayaking is a wonderful way to experience Florida. We have so much water here and in a kayak we can travel along rivers, on lakes, in the Gulf and in quiet bays and sounds. I tend to get kind of seasick, so I prefer to stay away from waves and rocking as much as I can, but otherwise, there are a lot of great locations to explore. One year we kayaked in the Pine Island Sound around Sanibel and Captiva and encountered curious manatees that nudged our boats into the mangroves as they nibbled grass caught on our rudders. We explored water trails where we ducked under mangrove roots covered with little fiddler crabs. Another year we tried to take a trip on the brand new Prairie Creek water trail, but were forced to turn back after we found that the trees hanging over the creek were covered with snakes! We thought that they were Water Moccasins, but they could have been harmless water snakes. Regardless, we were not excited about the prospect of a snake falling into the boat with us, so we turned back. But it made for a great story and adventure!

White Ibis and Cypress
The weather was perfect this weekend, cool and clear, so we seized our chance and drove to the Silver River in Marion County. I couldn't believe how long it had been since we'd kayaked there, or anywhere for that matter. In fact, we managed to miss last year entirely. It was a busy year with other adventures, so I don't feel too bad about it, but it was definitely time to get out again. One reason we chose this spot, besides being one of our very favorites, is that the actual Silver Springs that feeds the river was recently acquired by the State Park system. Until this year it was privately operated and going up the river you would eventually reach the fenced boundaries of the private park. Now, no such boundaries exist and you can paddle all the way to the spring, which we did. We put in at Wayside Park and paddled upstream for 2 hours to the end at the Spring. It was kind of cool paddling around the pier where the glass bottomed boats are docked. The water is clear and deep over the Spring and there were some places where the current was pretty strong! The advantage to putting in at Wayside Park is that you are going with the current on the return trip when you are a little more tired.

It was a pretty busy day and there were a lot of boaters in kayaks and canoes. There were a fair number of people in motorized boats, too, which I don't really understand. It's not a difficult paddle, and the water is shallow and narrow in a lot of sections, and it really doesn't seem like the kind of place you'd want a large motorized boat. I'd vote for this section of the river to be motor free if anyone asked me.  But no one asked me, and so the motor boats passed us both directions, over and over. I hate the noise and the exhaust smell and the wake they leave, even when they're being careful. But I guess we have to share the river, and the animals seemed like they had gotten used to it. Still, I'd be happier if they weren't there.

Making Way for Motorboats
The river was beautiful. We saw lots of wading birds and turtles. I think it was a hundred turtle day! There were surprisingly few alligators, and only one small group of monkeys. [For those not familiar with the monkeys of Silver River, in the 1930's Rhesus monkeys were released onto an island in the river by a park vendor who thought they would be an interesting addition to the glass bottomed boat tour. But what he didn't realize is that monkeys swim, and they immediately left the island and settled into the forest along the river where they've been living and breeding for decades. He was right about one thing--it is a huge and interesting surprise to come upon monkeys when you are going down this river in North Central Florida! I know I'm always excited to see them. But they're also kind of scary and I hear that they bite. They have learned that boaters have food, so you need to keep a watchful eye for marauding monkeys if you bring a lunch.] When the light is right, the water is so clear that you can see the fish and turtles below. Alligator Gar and other big fish zip through the eel grass. There was no sign of the feral pigs, deer or otters that we've seen on other trips, or the black bears that signs tell us to watch for along the highway. I did hear a barred owl in the distance. I have not quite mastered the art of taking photos from a moving kayak, while simultaneously keeping my paddle from knocking into something and flipping me over, keeping the camera dry, and avoiding crashing into the branches and alligators. It's always a juggle for me. But I did manage to fire off a few quick shots. I guess I just have to practice more (translation: go on more kayak trips!).

Turtles Basking on a Fallen Palm Tree

Tiny Baby Turtle Basking--It was only the size of a Silver Dollar!

Rhesus Monkey

More Monkeys
At the end of the trip we were tired and happy. The smooth, dark water is soothing to the eye and the sound of the water flowing and lapping against the boat is so relaxing. Add to that the rattling sound of the kingfishers as they swooped from trees to the water and back, the call of the Phoebes, and the raspy honking of the anhingas that perched on branches all along the river drying their wings, and you have a perfect playlist for a relaxing day. "Splash, honk honk, rattle, Phoebe." And there never was a prettier scene than the yellow Burmarigolds blooming in great clumps among the knees of the Cypress trees next to the glowing Red Maples and the fringed Cabbage Palms. It was pure happiness.

Glowing Red Maple Reflections (Acer rubrum)

Burmarigold (Bidens laevis)

Spatter-dock or Cow Lily (Nuphar luteum) 

Fringed Cabbage Palms on the Water's Edge

Towering Cypress

Beautiful River

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