Sunday, 17 March:

Day Three - Way down upon the Suwannee River!

We began this day at Suwannee River State Park in northern Florida. The park is located where the Withlacoochee River joins the historic Suwannee River, immortalized in song by Stephen Foster. Most of the group opted to take the five minute walk from our campsite to warm showers, but John and Chuck decided to brave the cold showers available at our campsite. They were adequately awake when they were done!

At 1030 we embarked on a canoe trip down the Suwannee River. It was bright and sunny, but windy. Joy and Cristi (the twins) and I rode together, and since they are no doubt the lightest weight of all the group, our canoe kept drifting from bank to bank with the wind. Try as we might, many times we could not keep it going straight. After awhile, we gave up when the wind started to take it, just "crashed" into the bank, and then righted ourselves again. It gave us the opportunity to see the river banks more closely than most of our group, and enabled Cristi to see a brown water snake that she would have otherwise missed.

The water was very dark, almost black in color, not like the rivers we see in Ohio. It is the higher acidity of this water that gives it this color, like tea. There was a lot of light brown colored foam on the surface, much like you would see with iced tea.

We saw lichens and club mosses, swamp lilies, American holly, and resurrection fern, as well as beaver slides and tracks, deer, raccoon, snake and bird tracks too. There were a few turtles sunning themselves on tree limbs along the banks; they dove into the water as we approached. Tami saw a lizard, but her excited yell as she spotted it frightened it away.

After three hours of rowing, we put in at the campground and devoured our lunch. Most of us found our second wind and took off on a hike on one of the park's trails. Dr. Juterbock and Dave pointed out many things we had never seen (and/or noticed) in Ohio. The needles of the longleaf pine trees make them look delicate compared to the trees back home, and softer to the touch. These trees actually rely on the heat from fires for regeneration, and fires are deliberately set under controlled conditions in the park for this reason. We saw reindeer moss (actually a lichen) and different types of fungi: fawn mushrooms, tooth fungus, false turkey tail (which looks just like the turkey tail you drew as a child!), and earth stars. We also saw evidence of a deer bed, where the leaves were matted down as though a deer had laid there. The broken bits of egg shells we found were likely either from a box turtle or possibly a snake. The gopher mounds - called gopher push-ups (not a frozen treat) - were like what you might see on the prairie, but made of sand. A sighting of a red-headed woodpecker made our walk complete.

Dinner was at Pizza Hut, followed by our second trip to the grocery store (more efficient than our first). We are beginning to notice things we hadn't paid attention to before: we saw four types of insects outside the store - a mole cricket, diving beetle, katydid, and a common beetle. There is a spirit about this place that is infectious. The tiniest, smallest, little creatures and plants are powerful in their simplicity.

We were back at the campsite by 2200, the end of a full day for our weary but happy group, considering what wonders await us.

- PG