We launched the kayaks in the Turner River and set out paddling. As a rule, we tried to stay fifteen feet away from the alligators sunning on the banks so we wouldn’t disturb them.
Sometimes, though, that wasn’t possible when the river was only a few feet wide.
We were warned to give this next gator a little extra space… The guides know him as "One-Eyed Willie" because he’s blind in one eye, and they keep a close eye on him because he’s unusually aggressive toward paddlers sometimes. He is also enormous (and a little grumpy-looking…but maybe that’s just me.)
Thankfully, Willie was off in the weeds when we paddled by and didn’t seem at all interested in visiting.
The guides took us to a cypress dome…a spot in the swamp where the cypress trees grow tall and create an open area among the reeds.
It’s full of Bromeliads, cypress knees, and nursery logs like this one…
A nursery log is a fallen tree that provides a perfect ecological setting for seedlings as it decays. It looks like a big window-box in the swamp, doesn’t it?
We got out of our kayaks and hiked through the water a bit here to get a closer look at the nursery log and some orchids. The mud and debris at the bottom almost sucked off one of my shoes. Back on the broader part of the river, one of our guides pushed our kayak closer to shore. "Look on that log," he said.
These little guys were only a little over a foot long. Our guide said they’re about a year and a half old and completely on their own.
As we headed toward salt water, the river began to narrow, and we entered a mangrove tunnel that required us first to break our paddles in half, then put them away all together, duck down, and pull ourselves from branch to branch.
The mangrove tunnel was full of Bromeliads – the biggest I’d ever seen.
There were fewer alligators here, but we did meet a couple green water snakes along the way.
This osprey was "yelling" at us a little as we paddled back to the boat ramp – I think he was ready to have his river back. We were just thankful to have shared it for a few hours.
Out on the river, it was easy to see not only how special but also how fragile this ecosystem is. We left with a new appreciation for efforts to keep it the magical place that it is.