For “work” today I was tasked with helping lead a group of visitors on a canoe trip down the Turner River. Spend a day peacefully paddling through some of God’s most beautiful creations? It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it…
And was it ever the perfect day for a trip down the river – warm but not stifling, breezy, bright blue sky overhead without a cloud in it. Despite getting devoured by mosquitoes at the launch site (seriously guys, it’s 8:30 am – leave me alone), I knew that it was going to be a great day on the water.
I had canoed the Turner River before, but this time I got to take it on in a kayak – much more manageable. The river itself is fairly narrow and shallow, but filled to the brim with unimaginable flora and fauna. I think of it as a beautifully mystical place – draped with Spanish Moss, air-plants grasping the branches above as prehistoric creatures glide through the waters below.
We set off on the river heading south – towards the Gulf of Mexico in theory – but at the peaceful pace we were paddling, making it to the Gulf was the last thing on our mind. Since my experienced colleague was leading the trip, I got to bring up the rear, which meant I was able to float along leisurely, taking in all the sights and sounds.
As we paddled away from our launch site and under the busy bridge, we came upon our first great opening. It was filled with alligators swimming around and birds of all sorts feeding and flying about – Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Coots, Morehen, Little Blue Heron, Little Green Heron. To observe these birds individually is a fantastic experience, but to wander upon them collectively is phenomenal. The overwhelming beauty of even the simplest interactions in nature never ceases to amaze me.
Though getting to see all the creatures together was glorious, I was excited to paddle onward, knowing that stunning sights lurk around every bend on the Turner River. And i was not disappointed…
As we turned one corner we saw the lovely water lilies in full bloom.
Around the next stood the graceful Great Egret in his showy breeding plumage, just waiting for us so he could show off and take flight.
As we continued onward, we happened upon what I consider one of nature’s greatest paradoxes of ferocity and caring – a momma gator.
To see a creature who’s so notorious for her fierce strength and aggression letting her 1 foot baby gators crawl all over her was both touching and humorous. And to know those tiny harmless baby gators would soon grow into huge beasts is pretty incredible, if slightly scary.
After all of that, my favorite portion of the river still lie ahead – the Mangrove Tunnels. The Mangrove trees, who’s roots protrude from the water like spindly legs, grow relentlessly in the low-lying estuaries and form an arched canopy overhead. Entering into the tunnels is like entering into an entirely different world.
The sun streams through the canopy, hitting the Mangrove roots and making them come to life with a jubilant dance. The air-plants reach their delicate fingers down to lightly comb your hair. Fish frolic just beneath the water’s surface.
And within you spreads an undeniable sense of peace. For there is no rushing through the Mangrove Tunnel. Like a protector of their territory, the Mangroves make sure you go at their pace. And lest you try to defy them, you’re sure sure to meet a Mangrove root, a foot stuck out ready to trip you and remind who’s in charge. But it’s such a very pleasant pace the Mangroves require – who would want to challenge that authority?
The tunnels seem endless, but when they do finally release you, you’re again in a whole different world from the head of the river. Here are the saltwater marshes – open and airy. The contradiction between the enclosed tunnels and the expansive marshes seems ironically purposeful. We don’t paddle long through the marsh before we come to our end and lunch site. Everyone congregates and agree that the trip was amazing – to each in their own personal way.
On the return trip I get to enjoy the majestic experience all over again. It’s such a wonder that in nature we’ve been blessed with systems that are not only effortlessly functional, but also indescribably beautiful. To recognize and appreciate this complex simplicity is one of life’s greatest pleasures.