Monday, February 18, 2013

St. Johns River - Day 4A

After crossing Lake Washington, our second portage was to be at the Lake Washington weir, or low-level dam. There is an airboat ramp, so instead of doing the portage, we pulled our boats across the ramp and into the roughly 3-foot lower waters on the downstream side. Gus was able to just pull his kayak, but I had enough weight in Ibi I had to unload a few things before being able to get her to move.

Ibi at the airboat ramp at the Lake Washington weir.
Photo credit: Gus Bianchi
The Lake Washington weir or low-level dam.
Photo credit: Gus Bianchi
We arrive at Oak Tree Camp at 3:15. By this time, we were up to 180 gators in our count, but it wasn’t alligators that I was thinking about. James Cabell and A.J. Hanna wrote a book titled “The St. Johns: A Parade of Diversities.” They wrote that flocks of up to 50,000 ibis nested in the area, and their daily diet was countless grasshoppers and upwards of an estimated 40,000 water moccasins. It’s rare that I’ve felt such affection for a species of bird, even if their name is related to the name of my canoe. The water was so shallow in front of Oak Tree Camp that we had to pole through grass toward the shore, but still ran hard aground while some distance from shore. I was wearing heavy rubber boots, but still watched carefully for any ‘bird food’ swimming through the grass. As Ibi was unloaded, I continued to pull her further toward shore until we finally reached dry ground.

Making our landing at Oak Tree Camp.
Oak Tree is a popular airboat stop, so we carried our gear further inland to where we could set our boats and tents among trees so we wouldn’t get run down in the dark. Sure enough, we hadn’t been asleep too long before an airboat came sliding right into camp. We suspected they were out illegally spot-lighting alligators, as they came into camp with no lights on. Once they realized something was in the camp, they turned their strong lights on and flooded our tents with light before turning and moving on down the shore. We could still occasionally hear the report of their .22 rifles as they hunted well into the night.

We pulled our boats far enough ashore to put them and our
tents among the trees.  In the distance is the covered picnic
tables where we prepared our meals.
If the airboat sliding into camp wasn’t bizarre enough, I was jolted out of a sound sleep at 3:45 am by the loud growl and bark of a hunting dog that had his head stuck under the vestibule flap of my tent. After a couple more jarring barks from deep in his chest, I heard two men down by the river calling the dog back to them. Now my wildest imagination cannot figure why two men and a dog would be out wandering about in the swamp at three o’clock in the morning’s total darkness. Weird!



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