“I, I wish you could swim…Like the dolphins….Like the dolphins swim
We can be heroes just for one day…We can be us just for one day”
The heavy rain continues in the Everglades in January, courtesy of El Niño. Winter is usually the dry season here, when at times the Everglades actually burn just like a prairie. And with the rain, comes a slug of freshwater pouring out of The Swamp, chasing the snook, redfish, tarpon and other of my favorite quarry–that seek refuge in the upcountry from cold temperatures–back into the Gulf and its saltwater. So, I readjusted my sights and headed out into the Ten Thousand Islands, just offshore of my new home in Chokoloskee, to see if I can change my luck. And boy, did I!
“Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.” –Thoreau
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be on the water at dawn on New
Year’s Day to see the first sunrise of the year…and so I am. I peddle out from the launch point at 6:45 a.m. in my trusty Hobie Outback kayak and head towards the oyster beds just south of Chokoloskee Island, my new home. The oyster beds are happy feeding grounds for fish, birds, and other critters. I am not disappointed. What a peaceful and hopeful feeling I have as the sun peeks over the clouds and welcomes in 2016.
Two backcountry kayak fishing trips in December led me to settle on a New Year’s Resolution: I will seek a balance in all things between exploring the new and cherishing the old and familiar in my life.
There is little that excites me as much as exploring new waters, especially in remote pristine wild areas. What’s around that next bend in the lake or what is lurking in that alluring dark hole in the mangrove tunnel at the S-curve in the creek? The lightly traveled Fakahatchee River that springs from the Everglades near the Tamiami Trail then wends its way to the Gulf of Mexico is a perfect example. The put-in point is just across the road from a popular tourist site—a recreated Seminole Village with thatched roof huts. It is one of the few backcountry creeks I haven’t paddled. Indeed, I have never seen a vehicle or boats at the clearing in the mangroves where you can launch a kayak. Why? The answer seems to be captured in Jeff Ripple’s Kayaking Guide to the Everglades in which he warns this is the toughest, most challenging route in his excellent book.
“Most people cannot see beyond the Tamiami Trail to the heart of this vast region. Many look but few see. Few see the harmony of nature’s creation; few understand the relation of terrain to animals, of animals to plant life, of plant life to water, and of water’s importance to the survival of man, beast, and plants.”– From an historical study of the Big Cypress Swamp
One of the real joys of living in Everglades City is being able to explore hidden wild creeks that flow slowly out of the Everglades, under the Tamiami Trail, then through the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge or the Big Cypress Preserve into the Gulf. The Big Cypress Preserve covers almost 600,000 acres. It is still home to the Seminole Indians who sought refuge here and were the only tribe never to surrender or be subdued. One of my favorite haunts in the preserve is called Halfway Creek, a twisty turny creek deep in the preserve. It gets its name because its mouth is located halfway between Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island. Even on weekends it is rare to see anyone here although less than an hour from the teeming masses in Miami.
There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been,
one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known.
Nothing anywhere else is like them.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglas
That half inch of snow and 25 degree temperature at my cabin in Salida a week ago were sure signals to head south for the winter, so I loaded up my travel trailer and hit the road. Four long days later—Jack Kerouac where are you–I cruised into Everglades City which was basking in a bright sun and 90 degree temps. Nirvana!
After getting set up in camp (I’m still looking for a condo down here), I hit the water the next day. It was another fine sunny day with a nice breeze as I headed out in my kayak to explore the hundreds of islands that dot the waters just offshore in Everglades National Park. Being here is like cruising into another world. I love the high peaks, cool dry air, icy trout streams, and meadows rampant with wildflowers of Colorado. Here I cherish the mysterious allure of the islands and marshes, the incredible diversity and richness of nature—lush vegetation, flocks of birds, scads of fish, and critters like the gators and crocs, and the outrageously Kodachrome sunrises and sunsets that all the moisture in the air generates. Did I mention the Florida Cracker culture—quite an education for a Midwest Kansas boy. This area was the setting for Peter Matthiesen’s highly praised historical novel, Killing Mr. Watson, which is filled with memorable and semi-lawless set of rascals whose descendants still live here. More about that in a future blog.