Thursday, November 27, 2014

Paddling Rice and Town Creek

Click to enlarge
I had come to North Carolina to check on my mother (she is now in a care facility with Advanced Alzheimer’s) and to do some fall fishing with my dad up at Cape Lookout.   The weather promised to be nice, a little windy (which was nice as it keep the mosquitoes at bay).  But after driving up to Harker’s Island and loading down the boat with gear for three days, we got out into the sound heading to Lookout, we realized that overnight the weather had changed.  The wind had shifted and after two waves broke over the bow, we headed back to the safety of the marina.  We could have probably made it to the island, but with a strong northwest wind we would have never been able to fish around the point or jetty.  So, we headed back and instead of fishing off Lookout, we decided to spend the next day kayaking on Rice and Town Creek in Brunswick County. 

Dad sliding his kayak in on Rice Creek
A few years ago I wrote about another trip in which we explored the lower part of Town Creek, boating up the creek from the Cape Fear River.   On that trip, we turned around at the Brunswick Country Park which has a kayak landing.  On this trip, we began at the Wildlife Resources landing on Rice Creek and paddle to the kayak landing at the park, a trip of 12 or so miles (plus a few more due to two wrong turns).   I had paddled these waters in my youth, but the last trip on this creek was over 30 years ago.

It’s a cool morning.  The temperature, which had dropped to nearly freezing overnight, has risen into the low 40s when we slide our boats into the creek at 10 AM.  We started out heading down stream toward Town Creek. The wind is brisk, out of the northeast, which is roughly the direction we’ll be traveling.  There is no current (the tide is rising, but this far up it isn’t much of a problem except that there is no elevation change to create current).  We pass a secluded home on a high bank with “no trespassing” signs staked out at the water’s edge.  I notice what I at first assumed was a weird kind of fungus was growing on some logs in the river, then realized they had been painted pink (maybe it was red and had faded).  I also noticed an interesting tree that had dropped out over the water, and a branch had become a new tree, shooting up and clothed with colorful leaves.  The original top, which hung just above the water, is dead.   We arrive at the confluence with Town Creek quicker than I thought.  Dad’s in the lead and I follow him.  Although there is a branch off to the right, we continue straight into the main channel and take the second right.  We are making good time, or so I think.  Then I notice some more of that weird fungus and that tree hanging over the water and the house…  We’d taken the oxbow to be the main channel.
Notice the cypress along the left bank (the blue thing is a rain/wind jacket)

Continuing downstream, after having paddled in a circle, we arrive at the confluence 30 minutes later.  Here, the creek is larger and there are some trailers parked along the north bank.  Huge flat-topped bald cypress along with sweet gums line the river banks and further inland, where there is higher ground, pines grow.  We hang a right.  I am in the lead and at Morgan Branch (without any current to give me direction) I take a wrong turn and head upstream.  As the stream narrows, I hear the sounds of US 17 and realize that we have again made a wrong turn.  Dad disagrees, but I pull out my new iphone and turn to the map app and sure enough, we are well off course.  We begin to retrace our route.   I notice I am a little lightheaded and assume my sugar may be down, so I pull a small apple and a half piece of pita bread and eat them both as I paddle. 

At 1 PM, we decide to stop for lunch along the south bank, in an area that is state game land.  I check my blood sugar level and I’m at 90, which is low considering my snack an hour earlier.  Obviously, I am burning more calories than I had assumed.  As we eat lunch (canned beans and weanies, crackers, humus and pita bread and a bottle of beer for each of us).  As we eat, several deer including a small buck runs by, not more than 20 yards away. 

Shortly after lunch we cross under a railroad trestle for the government railroad that runs from Wilmington down to Sunny Point (a military shipping terminal).   After the trestle, the creek twists and turns, as it winds itself from a high bank on the north side to one on the south side.  The high banks can be spotted from a distance by the pines, while the area in between them cypress swamps.  A few turns after the trestle, it becomes apparent that the cypress are stressed and the further we travel, we begin to see more and more of them dying so that at the time we are at the landing at the Brunswick County Park, they are all dead.
Boat house beside Town Creek

The river meanders to an extreme.  Sometimes we are paddling into the wind and other times the wind is to our backs.  The good news is that the tide is falling and the current helps, especially when paddling into the wind.  When we arrive at our destination, at 4 PM, we have covered only about 5 air miles, but have probably paddled at least fifteen miles.  It has been a good day.  In addition to the deer we saw at lunch, we saw a few others later in the afternoon.  It is already too cold for alligators, which do inhabit this creek closer to the river, but we did see a number of turtles.  There were several pairs of kingfishers and numerous waterfowl, a few blue herons and egrets. 

Notice the dead cypress.  The take-out launch is to the right

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The danger of hypertension

Cypress along Town Creek
Mom always questioned why I never added salt
nor understood why I felt I received more than enough.
The Army Corp of Engineers gouge the river channels
so larger ships can bring us more stuff
along with salt that moves upstream in the deeper veins.
The cypress that once lined the river and the connecting estuaries,
Spanish moss dangling from their limbs,
also don’t like the extra salt.
They die, shedding the bark as a snake abandons its skin,
only the snake continues to live, at least for a season.
Mom never liked snakes
                though she can no longer acknowledge her fear
                Sitting, she stares and asks no questions.
In time, even the snake will fade from memory,
                but my questions remain.

I was back home last week to check up on my mom and to do some fishing off Cape Lookout with my dad. For background, my mom is now in a care center.  As you might remember as I have discussed before in this blog, she has Alzheimer’s.  Nine years ago, it was confusion and forgetting what she’d said or was doing.  But it rapidly progressed and she hasn’t been able to talk in years nor does she know us.    My dad and I scuttled the fishing as the weather changed and the waves were rough and breaking over the bow of the boat. Instead of heading out into salt water, we took a kayak trip from Rice’s Creek to Town Creek (I’ll write more of the trip and share more photos later).  The trip took us from the pure black water of a Cypress swamp to the brackish water that is causing the death of the cypress.  The photo was taken near the point where the dying has begun and as you can see, the dead and the live trees are beside each other, but soon they’ll all be dead.  When the cypress dies, its bark sheds and the tree remains standing as a bleached out ghost, Spanish moss dangling on the slowly disappearing arms.  Thinking about the cypress and my mom and the changes we are all experiencing, I attempted to write a poem.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Paddling around Wassaw Island

Coming ashore on the south end of the island
The weather was perfect for early November.  The temperature, while in the mid-50s in the morning, would warm up well into the 70s.  The morning skies were clear.  The tides were running high (9.9 feet total) due to the full moon being a day away.  The wind was calm and the waves promised to be less than a foot.  Five days after I had paddled in the Okefenokee, I was ready for another adventure.
click to enlarge (I realize my point to Delegal isn't quite right)
 At 9:30 AM, eight of us gathered at the Delegal Creek Marina with our kayaks and supplies for the day.  Before 10, we were in the water and paddling fast through the creek and into the Ossabaw Sound, heading for open water and the south end of Wassaw Island.  The water from the extreme high gave us an extra push as we made great time, arriving on Wassaw in less than an hour of paddling.

North end of Wassaw
A number of shrimp boats were working the south end of the island and on the point, hundreds of birds of a number of varieties (the most elegant being pelicans) gathered.  Because the surf was minimal on the falling tide, we rounded the point and pulled up on the beach.  Taking a thirty minute stop, we explored a bit, walking around to regain feeling in legs desiring to be stretched after being cramped inside boats.


Leaving the north end of the island, we paddled out into the ocean and headed north.  We figured it would take about an hour and a half of paddling to cover the seven miles along Wassaw Island and that about half way, we would stop for lunch.  Although Rudy (the only guy not paddling a red boat) had organized the trip, he had not paddled this stretch of beach, nor had any of the rest of us, so we had no idea what we would find.  We paddled against a light breeze, watching fishing jump about us and seeing a few porpoises.  At what appeared to be half-way, we headed to shore near what we thought was beached buoy. 
Lunch stop

Checking out what seemed to be a buoy from a distance, we discovered a stack of plastic chairs, the perfect lunch spot.  We all wanted to know if Rudy was going to have someone from a club drop by with wine and sandwiches.  Although the island is mostly owned and is a protected wildlife site, the family that has owned it for over a hundred years and who sold it to for a million dollars (well below appraised values) several decades ago so that the island and marsh would be protected, still owns a 200 acre slice in the center of the island.  These chairs belonged to them.  They also have a home on the island, and we walked down the road toward it, through a tropical looking forest of pines and palms.  No trespassing signs kept us well away from their private retreat.
Road leading to private property
Heading toward Cape Charlotte
After lunch, we stacked the chairs and left the place as we found it and began to paddle north.  The tide is beginning to turn and before I can get my spray skirt in place, a wave breaks over my boat.  I paddle out beyond the waves and remove the spray skirt and sponge out most of the water, then resume paddling north.  As we approach Cape Charlotte, the waves increase in size from what we’d experienced when out in the open water, but they are still relatively tame.  Here, the island is being eaten away by the ocean currents and a ghostly graveyard of former live oaks forest that juts out into the water.  We pass the point and paddle by the ruins of the Spanish American battery and pull up on the sandbar west of the point.  As we stretch out legs, a number of porpoises swim by.  Here, we all have decent cell phone signals so before we head out, we make calls to have people pick us up on the Priest Landing Marina. 
North End of Wassaw

Porpoises playing

I am the last to leave and my lollygagging provides me (and a couple of others) a treat.  As we paddle toward Rommey Marsh Creek, we spot a number of porpoises playing (or mating) in the wrack (dead marsh grass that floats on the water).  As we approach, we see them roll with each other and jump out of the water. Others blow water out of their blowholes.  I only have an old waterproof camera available (my DSLR is safely secured in a waterproof box inside a dry bag inside my kayak).   The waterproof camera is slow and I am not able to get a good shot, but I enjoy the show.  At times, the animals are just feet from my kayak. 

I arrive back on Skidaway a little before 4 PM.   We had paddled 17 miles with 3.5 hours of paddling, but we also had a good tide pushing us out toward the south end of Wassaw and then back toward Priest Landing.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Home Sweet Home

I have shown lots of photos around the island upon which I now reside, but I haven’t shown any of my home here, so let me welcome you to this little getaway.  I love the entry way.  I am not sure what kind of azaleas that bloom in the fall, but there they are.  There are many larger azaleas in the yard and I am sure that in the spring the yard will be wonderful.  There are also a number of large camellias and in a few weeks, they will be providing quite a show (there are 100s of bulbs on each).
Inside, there is a large living area (you are seeing about ½ of it).  Since there is an office with bookcases plus the bookcases at my office at work, plus the bookcases we brought with us, there are more than enough bookcases in this home.  The Harvey Dunn print (The Prairie is my Garden) is one of my favorite.  On the wall to the right is an oil painting by a friend of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.  I insist there be no TVs in the living room (the same goes for my bedroom).  This fireplace is gas.

Divided from the Living Room by French Pocket doors, the Den is quite comfortable.  This is a wood burning fireplace and on the mantle is a lantern that my granddaddy used around the barn when he cured tobacco with a wood fire and would have to sleep at the barns to keep the heat up throughout the night.  The print is one of the Lost Mountain Store.  To the left of the fireplace is the big screen TV and at the back corner of the den is a wet bar!  That was a luxury I never thought I would enjoy.

I find it ironic that now that I am here, where the temperature seldom drops to freezing, that there are two fireplaces!  I would have enjoyed two fireplaces.   In addition to these rooms, there is a breakfast area, a formal dining room, kitchen, four bedroom (one is used as an office and another is being reserved as a hotel room and it is being booked up for the winter by friends from the great white north), and three and a half baths.  Behind the house (with large doors off the master bedroom, living room and den) is a large deck.  This house is more than we need, but I am going to give it a real workout in mid-December when I invite all my staff and their spouses over for a Christmas party (if everyone comes, we’ll have over 30 people here).  

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Paddling in the Okefenokee

One of my bucket list items has been to paddle in the Okefenokee Swamp.  Ever since high school, when I purchased my first canoe, I had thought about paddling the swamp.  Moving here made it a much easier goal and last week I seized the opportunity.  My father, who took up kayaking a few years ago, was visiting.  On Thursday afternoon, we drove down to Folkston Georgia where, early on Friday, we headed out to the swamp’s east entrance at the Sewanee Canal.  We were on the water a few minutes after 9 AM. 
Click to enlarge the photo (and really see the gators)

The first two miles were spend paddling straight down one of the canals that attempted to drain the swamp.  Prior to the late 30s, when the swamp became a National Wildlife Refuge, the swamp was logged and seen as a place where, once drained, the land could be farmed.  But the drainage never worked and since then, the swamp has been allowed to return to its natural state.  We were greeted right away with herons and cranes. It was wonderful to hear sandhills cranes again.  I feared I had left them behind in Michigan.  We were also able to see evidence of the fires that are a part of the natural state of the swamp.   There were terrible fires in 2007 and again in 2011. 
About a mile down the canal, we passed a sign designating the wilderness area boundaries.  About the same place we saw the first alligator swimming across the canal maybe a hundred yards ahead.  We would see numerous such beast, maybe 50 or even more, by the time we called it a day.  But the gators don't bother us.  Most slowly and quietly submerge when we approach, much like a submarine drops below the water at the approach of a destroyer. The dark stained water is the perfect hiding place.  The temperature must have been just cool enough for the snakes to stay hidden as we didn't see a single one.

We first explored Chesser  Prairie, a vast open area filled with lily pads and shallow water.  Mixed in within the lily pads was the occasional brilliant white flower.  Next, we found the portable outhouse (built up on a platform as there is little solid grown in this part of the swamp).  This was important as I needed to relieve myself of my morning coffee. 
My dad with his cooler (he wanted ice in his drinks)


At places, the channel constricted.

That's me in a prairie

We paddled onward toward Coffee Bay, where we planned to enjoy lunch on the shelter there.  The canals became narrower and the gators more frequent.  A few places where we were able to get out of the channel and explore the swamps surrounding the canal, we did.  We see a variety of trees.  Where there is a sliver of high grown, long leaf pines can be found, as well as sweet gums, live oaks and water oaks.  Cypress and juniper are found throughout the swamp, growing in the water.   And Spanish moss, dangling like the Taliban's beard, is everywhere.

After lunch, we headed back toward the landing, taking some time to explore the Mizzell Prairie and another section of the Chesser Prairie We were back at the launch by 4 PM, having paddled 14-15 miles.  On the way back to Savannah, I decided we’d stop at the Folkston funnel and learn about the large number of trains running in and out of Florida (but that will be covered in another post).