Wednesday, August 8, 2012
Wakulla is home to a wide variety of wildlife from birds to alligators. This mother ’gator guarded her babies nearby.
Thirty years ago I had an unusual writing assignment.
A Singapore guidebook publisher asked me to drive the entire state of Florida and write a 70,000 word travel guide. Daunting? I was crazy to say yes. But off I went, on a solo six week road trip through Florida. My book won best travel guide of the year and now my one dusty copy lives on a shelf, a distant happy memory. The last place I visited before flying home: Wakulla Springs Lodge and State Park.
On a recent visit to Tallahassee, I was lucky to visit again.
My companion was Katie Kole, who swam as a kid at Wakulla Springs, and now is marketing communications director for Visit Tallahassee.
Wakulla Springs State Park is a 6,000 acre wildlife sanctuary, hidden in Spanish moss-draped Florida woodlands. It's only 16 miles south of Tallahassee, but on the Wakulla River boat tour, it's a whole other universe.
"Welcome to Wakulla," says Ranger Bob, "one of the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs. I've been here 10 years, so I have at least 10 answers."
Our boat drifts away from the dock. Kids and parents excitedly get out their cameras and binoculars.
"Mamma gator with her babies on the right bank," calls out Ranger Bob. Everyone rushes to the right side of the boat to get a photo. Everyone under 30 instantly e-mails their photos to Facebook.
"Cooter turtles, stacked like pancakes on cypress trees," he calls out, as we all rush to the left side for photo opps. Everyone under 30 instantly texts their friends around the world that they just photographed wild turtles.
"Top of that tree, there's an osprey nest with daddy osprey standing guard. On the bushes, do you see an anhinga, drying her wings?" More scrambling to get the perfect photo. The really cool techno kids have already edited their photos, added music, and uploaded their productions to YouTube
This old fashioned riverboat nature tour goes on for an hour, a kaleidoscope of slithering 'gators, shiny turtles, graceful birds, delicate pink swamp roses and romantic swaying trees.
"Did you know 'Tarzan's Secret Treasure' was filmed here with Johnny Weismuller in 1941? And in 1953, 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' was made at Wakulla?" asks Ranger Bob.
Nobody knows these movies but us oldsters.
We put down our cameras, nodding to each other, smiling at those silly old movies we adored. One kid asks "Who is Tarzan?"
"Wakulla means 'Land of Strange Mysterious Waters' Ranger Bob says quietly. "So how about if we have 60 seconds of silence and listen to the river?"
Nature lovers aged 3 to 80 stop chattering. It's still noisy: birds hoot, chirp, caw, tweet. Wind rustles the leaves.
I can't take any more pictures. My eyes are tearing. Thirty-two years since I was here?
Thank you God, thank you Humans, for keeping one of Florida's last pristine places perfect.
"Raise one arm if you feel lucky to be here today," says Ranger Bob. Skinny kid arms and wrinkly sausage arms all go up. Both of mine wave, at the alligators, birds, turtles. We're together again, back in Paradise.