Monday, March 24, 2014
The sun finally shone on us after two days of on and off again rain showers which canceled canoe and kayak treks on the Suwannee River and closed two campgrounds and a festival downstream from us because of flooding. Thank goodness we were high (if not dry) and our site was sandy gravel that allowed the water to soak through. However, we realized how true were the warnings we had read about folks waking up in campers after heavy rains with the jacks bogged unevenly into mud holes. Yes, we read a lot before this undertaking: RVing for Dummies, RVing for Idiots, a couple other books on buying and operating RVs, every book on state and national parks we could get, and on each of the states we'll travel through. Beside those, we have Birds of North America, Night Skies: Constellations and Heavenly Bodies, Flora and Fauna of North America which we've been using as resources as we spot interesting items.
We traveled pretty much alone on the Sopchoppy Highway across Florida, slightly south of I-10, joining in with our new Stephen Foster sing-along CD, songs like Oh, Susanna, Camptown Races, Beautiful Dreamer (which was my first piano recital piece), and I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair. Since our clocks have no hands, we've chosen to take scenic routes along our journey. We drove across rivers with names like Acquilla, Wakulla, and Ochlockonee. By the way, Wakulla Springs is the longest and deepest freshwater cave system in the world. It's limestone formations are part of the Floridan Aquifer which provides drinking water to Tallahassee and several other major cities. The roadsides here were peppered with small, farms surrounded by fields of red fox glove and slash pine forests. Sleepy towns snowed dogwood, Bradford pear, and lagustrum blossoms. The people must be very religious because there seemed to be three times as many little churches as there were homes. But there were no gas stations or grocery stores, only locals with hand-lettered signs selling out of the beds of their pickups: Tupelo Honey, Cane Syrup, Jumbo Boiled P-nuts.
Because of the rains, the swamps and ditches were full; iris stems, cattails, and the arrow leaves of purple pickerel stoond tall while the water lily pads floated beneath them. The trash floated to the surface of the water too. Along one stretch of road bobbed hundreds of beer cans and empty chips and pork rind bags. We saw an old gator sunning among the tupelo and cypress knees, an eagle sail by on an overhead current with a snake in its mouth, lots of turkey buzzards cruising circular currents. A woodpecker hammered in the swamp, but we didn't see him. If you know Jim, all conversations end on topics of hunting and fishing, so his comment was typical: “This is prime land for panther, bobcat, bear, deer, and turkey. Keep your eyes open.” He strained to spot something big as we continued to pass signs marking Bear Crossing warnings and St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge Preserve. Alas, only a scrawny coyote raced across the road. Asters, Virginia button weed, and blackberry blooms crawled the roadsides, and throughout the sleepy little towns Bradford pears and dogwood snow. It was all pretty typical of the rural south until we hit US Highway 319, the Big Bend Scenic Highway, and our first sight of the Gulf of Mexico at Summer Beach, St. George State Park on St. James Bay. For an hour, we wound the deserted twists not more than 50 yards from the mirrored surface of the Gulf through forgotten villages of tired beach houses.
We say the journey is our destination, but for two nights we rested on the white powder sands and clear emerald green beaches (OMG…the color!) of in Gulf Shores State Park and Wildlife Preserve, Alabama. Before, and, before that, two nights on the remote fish-hook shaped TH Stone Memorial Wildlife Refuge on St. Joe Peninsula, a spit of sand and palmettos with the Gulf on one side and St. Joseph's Bay on the other. At night, our site looked across the bay at the diamond lights of Port St. Joe, but was remote and secluded on “9.5 miles of the most beautiful powder white sand beaches in America, named one of the nation's best parks.” A little breezy is perfect for us; without the breeze and the nip in the air, Jim and I know there would be mosquitoes. There were none…no bugs at all and our first campfire. We ate seafood gumbo in Apalachicola. Nights were in the 50s…great sleeping in our king bed. When we first arrived, it was 64, but it was 43 in Charleston and 36 in Charlotte. However, our first full day on the Gulf, temps popped up to 80. We took the binoculars to explore the Wildlife Preserve and Bird Sanctuary in shorts and tees, walking barefoot in surf and sand. Ahhh… glorious!
Gayle Carson, author of Wynds Over Wylusing, retired from CCSD teaching at Wando. She has developed curriculum and taught for Florida University, USC, and City Schools of Chicago as a contractor for the Naval Submarine Base in Charleston. A past owner/operator of a decorator showcase, she has also bred and shown dogs and Holland Lops. Gayle grew up in Mt. Pleasant, married Jim Carson, and raised three children and six grandchildren here. They are avid outdoor people and love boating and water activities. Her hobbies include backyard hobby farming, water gardening, playing the organ and piano, and travel. Jim and Gayle are members of East Cooper Baptist Church, the Senior Center, and various charity acitivities. They are presently on a four month “See America” odyssey in their motor coach with their two pups.