Posted by: floridanature | April 12, 2008

Manatees, Limpkins and What’s Around the Next Corner

I rode the St. Johns again last week. I did so not with a kayak, as per usual, but aboard a large covered pontoon boat that was traveling for six days between Sanford, where I live, and Jacksonville, about 165 miles to the north.

The circumstance was an “eco-heritage” tour by the RiverKeeper, an event that’s intended to raise a bit of money for that non-profit—and more importantly, to introduce others to the sublime natural joys of the St. Johns. The folks who sign up for such trips are usually pretty good sports, and after a day or so on the river, they sucumb to the redemptive powers of nature and crank it down a couple of notches. Some are already there, but many are not. Each turn in the river reveals another aesthetic—and the bend itself is great anticipation. As M.K. Rawlings’ cohort Dessie Smith once told us in explaining her affinity for rivers: “I like to always see what’s around the corner.”

And so we go down the river to do so. Aesthetics are guaranteed—the landscape vista of the river is enormous, a relic of the time when wildness stretched from end to end across this warm, sub-tropic peninsula. We stop at Blue Spring on the river, a place where my old spiritual bud Billy Bartram also once stopped, and reflected. The spring was actually blue then, although in the last few years a spike in nutrient loading has done its job well: Algae, stimulated to grow because of the nitrogen, had turned the water green.

Despite its problems, Blue is still a magnicent limestone vent slicing a 45 degree tunnel-like conduit down into the soft rock. At the bottom, the upwelling is enormous, and a wondrous reminder of the power that the earth has in store for us.

And so, during a stop at Blue, we see two manatees, odd this time of the year when the river water is warmer than the 72 degree spring. Maybe they just came in to check it out, see if any of their buds were there. They were easy to spot, on the other side of the run, laying on the bottom like giant gray sausages. Except they both wore electronic transmission collars with little flags so that folks who care about such things could keep better track of their movement. I wondered to myself about waking up some morning with an electronic collar and a little flag attached to me so the official and very serious humans can keep tabs on me. I’m figuring it’s just a matter of time.

We saw limpkins too—first, one actually bathing in the river as it were a behemoth bird bath; and several more, feeding on snails along the shore of sabal palms and sweet gum and cypress. Seeing a limpking is like seeing an otter for me. There’s no accounting for the deep and full satisfaction in my heart to watch them at their special work on this special river.

One of the passengers on the boat begin to zing me because I had been diving in the spring, the depths beyond 60 feet of which are off limits to all but certified cave divers. I’ve had training in that underwater behavior, but it didn’t seem to satisfy her. The woman looked really old and weathered and had a decided crankiness about her. Unbidden, she informed me she had been cave diving for 40 years. And while I wanted to ask her what she had learned about the secrets of nature and hydrology and deep, mysterious places in the rock under us, I realized it probably didn’t matter much to her.

I left the boat soon after Blue Spring, at Hontoon Island, and on the way home by car, thought about the day. Nature can work miracles sometimes, but one must be open to it for that to happen. It seldom can crack an ego that is born from years of real world neglect. And so the boat went on, always searching for what was around the next corner—honoring the only caveat, that nature will calm us. But we have to want to be calmed.



  1. For some reason both of the Manatees/Limpkins entries refuse to come up for me. The others have.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: