September 13, 2004
I’m always amazed that I can get off the interstate in Florida, drive a few miles to a park entrance, and within minutes be in a world that seems as remote and timeless as any distant wilderness. Endangered species, such as sand hill cranes, bald eagles, and gopher tortoises make their home at Jonathan Dickinson, and the park is an important nesting site for sea turtles as well.
To Paddle, Perchance to DreamThe ranger at the entrance gives us a big smile as we drive up with kayaks on our car. She quickly gives us the low-down on the paddling scene, and it’s clear that she’s speaking from personal experience. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and it seems an eternity rather than the few minutes it actually takes to locate the boat ramp and unload the kayaks. We’re impatient to be out on the river.
There’s little activity late on a weekday afternoon, though a group of children noisily congregate at the playground near the concession area and a few people are launching canoes from the rental dock. Sound carries far out over the water, and as we paddle away from the dock, a young girl’s persistent call for her brother - "Jaaaay-son, Jaaaay-son, Jaaaay-son" - seems to follow us along the bends in the river.
Eventually, she gives up (or finds Jason), and there is only silence, punctuated by the splash of a fish or flap of a startled heron. The mangrove swamp is a mysterious place; among its roots and trunks lurk shy, watchful animals. I catch repeated glimpses of some unidentified brown bird wading beneath the mangrove canopy, no doubt hunting snails or crustaceans. However, the ospreys, with their nests atop dead cypress trees, are easily spotted. I wonder, briefly, if the ibises, egrets, and the other striking birds of Florida would seem as prosaic to me as cardinals and mockingbirds are back home if I lived here, or if they would retain that indefinable aura of the exotic.
Near sunset, we’re heading back to the boat ramp when we’re arrested by a striking evening ritual: dozens of black vultures are coming to roost in the cypress trees, an eerie, but somewhat comical, spectacle as they flap and jostle for position. I’ve seen vultures roosting before, but never in such numbers. We drift over and are greeted by a chorus of testy hisses and grunts, yet the vultures hold their ground. After a time, we slowly paddle away from this colony of carrion eaters and make our way back to the boat ramp, arriving as the last polychromatic display is reflected in the Loxahatchee’s still waters.
From journal Snowbirds in the Slow Lane