Paddling in the Everglades
Swamplands & Sorcery
By Robert Huszar
Every time I lift a paddle I’m conscious of its magic. Every trip has a touch, while some trips are so drenched with energies that somewhere along the way the entire event sparks to life and takes on a mantle of almost fairy tale character.
So it was during our Everglades paddle. The magic moment occurred during our fourth day on the water. I was traveling with long-time paddler Joe Generic and his son Archie. We had just traveled north, up and around Cape Sable, and were proceeding east on the Little Shark River, traversing it to the interior. Dusk had not fallen but Luna was full and rising on the horizon before us. Suddenly a dolphin broke the surface, leaping free of liquid fingers to momentarily fly framed against the moon, an ancient coin held aloft in almost night.
Generally the mosquitos hadn't been bad except during the nightmare hours when they could overwhelm to the point of madness.
" The Magic Was Beginning !! "
The magic was beginning, it pulsed alive in the darkening sky. We pulled into a nearby bank, preparing for the evening ritual. Joe tenderly tucked his son’s clothing tightly around him and then lavishly anointed him. (Generally, the mosquitos hadn’t been bad, except during the nightmare hours when they could overwhelm to the point of madness. As the light would wane, a low hum would settle in amongst the ever present backdrop of sounds. The hum would grow into an incessant buzzing about the head, followed by the inevitable burlesque of scratching, slapping and cursing. This generally continued until the days misty humidity evaporated and the cool, calm of night prevailed. Be warned, however, there are some spots so infested that even an arctic eve might prove ineffective.) Knowing the pattern I usually declined the dubbing with Toluene, the base of many popular repellents and capable of dissolving nylon in tents and paddling jackets - one can only speculate on its long-term effect on flesh and liver cells - and instead opted for head netting and thick work gloves. As Joe finished the applications, I pulled out the cashews, apricots and chocolate.
"In the blackness all around us the great beasts snorted and splashed, their red eyes laser bright in contrast to the pitch in which they lurked."
A long paddle still lay ahead, and as always, my ever-present hunger was concerned that we stock up on fuel. We munched under the curious eyes of a White Ibis.
Not more then fifteen minutes had elapsed since we stopped, but it was sufficient for dusk to overtake us. As we paddled, the last of the day was consumed and the thickening twilight congealed into night. The moon was huge and luminous and rapidly ascending. Nearby banks were so thick with vegetation that no light could penetrate and the land was consequently lost in its own shadow. There were two discernable features, the bright reflective water, with branches like a tree running off in all directions and the dark, brooding shapeless mass of land scattered alongside.
" ... the great beasts snorted and splashed all around us ! "
As the night cooled, the sun-lazy alligators began to quicken. In the blackness all around us the great beasts snorted and splashed, their red eyes laser bright in contrast to the pitch in which they lurked. The hours of the hunt were beginning.
We had roughly 12 miles up the Little Shark River until we reached the large west south-west channel that would take us across the three-mile wide Oyster Bay to the islands on its south border and the chickee where we would camp. The lower section of the Little Shark River is not part of the well marked Wilderness Waterway, but it is a navigable channel, hence it was dotted with the traditional red and green markers. The trick was finding them in the blackness. We paddled on, occasionally flashing our lights as we searched for markers, and finding instead hidden eyes searching for dinner. After several bouts of ‘light tag’ we grew accustomed to the glowing eyes floating our way in the darkness, which, upon realizing we were not bite size, would turn and vector off in opposing directions. One gator, apparently misjudging the distance, did a quick dive and struck the bottom of my craft with his tail, rendering new poetry to the old line of things that go bump in the night.
As the evening progressed an unvoiced reciprocity became rule. You avoid us and we avoid you. This truce, however, seemingly came to an abrupt end as we rounded a point and a group of approximately forty gator eyes floated from the ebony landscape and moved ominously in our direction.
One gator, apparently misjudging the distance, did a quick dive and struck the bottom of my craft with his tail.
It was a telepathic moment: “Oh no!” and, “Wait a minute, gators don’t hunt in groups!” and, “We better get out of here!” slurred together in one long burst of thought, which echoed through all three minds simultaneously.
So thinking, we gently picked up our pace and slowly began moving past the point were we thought our boats and the carnivores would intersect. But just as the first group of gators emergered from the shadows, it suddenly hit me.
“Wait,” I said, “Look!”
And as the first row of those glaring eye penetrated the brightness of mid river, those gleams that appeared so hungry in the darkness suddenly lost their luster and became harmless bubbles with gentle moonlight dancing softly on their surface.
“Bubbles!!” Archie said in disbelief. Joe and I just laughed as we took the next bend in the river.
'A Salty Dog Index'
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