SUWANNEE RIVER: CANOEING
Two days later and 200 miles to the northwest, I launched my canoe.
I grouch now and then of moving to the high desert, sick as I am of Florida’s worsening waters. A reason to stay is the Suwannee River.
The river is clear, tannic, stunning and hurting. “Springs on the Suwannee are all badly polluted,” said Robert Knight, director of the Florida Springs Institute. “They contribute more than 5,000 tons of nitrogen per year to the river and the river pollutes the Gulf.”
My canoe and I were trucked upriver from the town of Suwannee by a prince of a guy, whose diesel rumbles on the cooking oil of local restaurants.
That was Russ McCallister, volunteer fire chief, owner of a logo-printing company and proprietor of Suwannee Guides and Outfitters. McCallister seemed excited on my behalf as he hoisted one end of my canoe to the river and hinted at what would come. “It will look exactly like it did at the turn of the 19th century,” he said.
The river banks, often a quarter-mile apart, are walls of big trees rising from swamp thick with butterflies.
The Suwannee and Canaveral were equally remote for opposite reasons. The beach is vast and exposed, while the river is secluded.
Canaveral is boisterous with roiling waves, and after a time you don’t listen. The Suwannee is intimate and still and you hear everything.
Much of the venture was a serpentine course through the 54,000-acre Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge.
At sunset, while in the middle of the wide river for photos, biting gnats suddenly swarmed. They left after dark.
I slept in spells of an hour or so, waking to the Milky Way, satellites, shooting stars, Big Dipper and the North Star. Long before sunrise, I made coffee, untied and ghosted with the current. The river had a perfume of wet cedar and suggested liquid silk at first light.