SUWAN­NEE RIVER: CA­NOE­ING

Belleville News-Democrat (Sunday) - - Lifestyle -

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.

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