The Expedition is in its final days. We are camping now on the Suwannee River, ten miles north of the town of Fargo, Georgia. This is the fourth of six days on this water. It is an unplanned for treat at the end of a long journey.
Back in the first week of April we got a call from our friend, David Dorman, wildlife biologist for Osceola National Forest, called us to inform us that a wildfire had sprung up in the Pinhook Swamp. The Pinhook is a vast wetland that butts up against the Georgia/Florida state line. Our original route took us northeast through the Pinhook to Bethea State Forest, then across the state line into the Okefenokee Swamp. Hot, dry weather and steady winds fed the fire over the intervening days. The County Line fire (straddling the Baker/Columbia County line) spread and quickly east, growing to over 35,000 by the middle of last week. The Pinhook and Bethea became non-starters for getting us to Georgia.
Dorman visited us at our campsite on Ocean Pond, just within the national forest boundary. We studied maps and talked options late into the night. Dorman sported a three day old stubble, and his soot-covered clothes and weather broken fire boots were testaments to the long hours he’d been working since the fire popped up. We’d reached Ocean Pond by rejoining the Florida National Scenic Trail near Palestine Lake. We decided to adjust our route by continuing west on the Florida Trail until we reached the Suwannee, which we would paddle 47 miles to Stephen Foster State Park in Georgia.
So here we are, 35 miles in. We began paddling at Turner Bridge boat ramp, six miles or so south of the state line. The stretch of river we are paddling is famous for massive Ogeechee tupelo (Nyssa ogeche) trees. The trees here are bizarre and beautiful at once. The tupelos and pond cypress seem to compete for which can place the most attention grabbing form along these sandy bluffs. The tupelo trunks twist and bulge and fold over themselves in bizarre, buddha-like shapes. Their roots spill out from the trunk and fall toward the inky blackwater in disorganized cascades. The cypress are anchored to the bank by massive, furrowed and bulbous bases, suddenly tapering to a small bole, usually less than 50′ tall. The cypress needles appear almost fluorescent green at this time of year. Pileated woodpeckers work along the stubby tops, and brown water snakes gather among the knees. The knees sometimes take odd shapes, arching horizontally 20 feet from the tree before twisting down to form a clutch, as if to claim the territory. Today Joe Davenport said, “This river is endlessly beautiful. I could devote a whole day to photographing each one of these trees.” It seems to get ever more alluring the further upstream we paddle.
The end is too near.