Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Florida’s Story as told by River Names

The names of rivers are like time capsules that preserve some pieces of their history. If we dig deeper into those stories and expand on them, we often find they add welcome color and context to stories we might know only superficially from dry history texts. The five rivers on which I guided tours last week offer a good case study

First up was “Waccasassa,” a river that’s name was given by the Seminoles and means, “Place with Cow Pens.” Dig deeper and you’ll learn about the remote, cow-tending operations that were generally called, “cow pens” among early settlers. William Bartram encountered several of these on his 1774 explorations of Florida and Georgia. In Travels, he says cow pens usually included “two or three acreas of ground, more or less, according to the stock, adjoining a rivulete or run of water….” He doesn’t elaborate on the housing situation other than to simply state there was a “habitation.” The residents, despite what one “might reasonably expect, from their occupation and remote situation (were) civil and courteous, and though educated as it were in the woods, no strangers to sensibility and those moral virtues which grace and ornament the most approved and admirable characters in civil society.” (Bonus trivia—“Waccahoota,” the similar sounding name of a relct community off Williston Road, means “Cow Pens,” and refers to a similar cow-tending operation that once stood there. That cow pen later became the home village of Bowlegs, brother of Paynes Prairie’s namesake Chief, King Payne. Those familiar with the Hawthorn area might now have a better sense of the name origin of Cowpen Lake)

Ichetucknee is another interesting Seminole name. I think it says good things about today’s Floridians that many people know this name means “Place where there are Beavers.” What is less known is that the Seminole name of manatees translates as “big beaver.” While I have no proof that the name alludes to a time when manatees were more common in this river, I can’t help but wonder.

Of all the names in last week’s name-rich line-up, “Withlacoochee” might be the least intriguing. Perhaps the most interesting (and telling) thing about this name is that there are two of them. Like Wekiva, it appears “Withlacoochee” was not a proper name for the river, but more of a descriptive that was elevated to proper name status by white settlers.

Ironically, the more modern sounding and clearly non-native name, “Santa Fe,” is actually the oldest name in the lineup. Like so many Florida place names that include “Santa” or “Saint,” this one refers to a Spanish Mission that stood alongside the upper river in the 1600’s; long before the Creeks (later called Seminoles) arrived. I sometimes wonder if any of the resident Timucuas ever asked the missionary about the real Santa Fe, for whom the mission was named. I like to picture the monk shifting nervously, with a deer-in-headlights expression on his face as he tried to explain that Fe was a fourteen year old girl who was brutally tortured and killed for holding fast to her beliefs and refusing to convert to the religion of her oppressors.

Silver River has is the newest name of all these five rivers. When the Seminole Agency was established at Ft. King (later Ocala) the new agent changed the river’s name from the Seminole, “Suailleaha,” which is said to have meant, “sun glistening water,” to Silver River. While there is no record of the circumstances, I wonder if he was attempting to give deference to the Seminoles by giving their name his best English translation. Though, as even the driest, most superficial historical texts make clear, giving the Indians deference was not high on the Indian Agencies “to do” list.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Otters on the Ichetucknee

River otters love nothing so much as a mouthful of crayfish

It was as quiet as one would expect of a thirty five degree morning as we carried boats and gear down to the Ichetucknee launch deck. Aside from my friend John Drum, who was also gearing up for a paddle, the only other sign of life on Ichetucknee this morning was a johnboat that came puttering up to the dock just as our group was launching. The johnboat was loaded to the gunnels with cameras, gear and thickly-bundled people, including scientist and cave-diver extraordinaire, Tom Morris. I knew from previous correspondence with their producer that this was a film crew from the U.K.. They had come to film river otters for a BBC documentary. 

River otters are common on the Ichetucknee. Some mornings, as I am staging my boats for a tour, a group of otters will swim past the launch deck. They begin near the head spring and slowly make their way down the run, diving and poking into every submerged crevice and clump of Sagittaria in their energetic search for breakfast. Aided by sensitive whiskers, excellent underwater vision and a prowess common to many mustelids (the weasel family), they usually surface with a mouthful of food. In other parts of the country, they main prey are fish. But, in the spring-fed rivers of North Florida, they seem to relish nothing so much as a crunchy crayfish. In fact, I often hear the crunching of approaching otters before I see them.

Otter fur is so efficient its skin rarely gets wet
Another telltale sound of river otters is their huffing. When they dive, otters close their nostrils (and ear openings). When they resurface, they blow the water from their nostrils like little construction workers. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize the enthusiastic crunching and bubbly snorts of approaching otters as surely as my dog Murphy recognizes the jingling of my truck keys. And both sounds are a call to action. In Murphy’s case, it means lunge for the door. For me, it’s a signal to freeze.

The best thing about hearing crunchy snorts (I will call them that until corrected by an accredited snortologist) is that it means the otter hasn’t seen me. If I freeze or, even better, crouch behind some cover, I will likely have a grandstand seat for one of my favorite wildlife encounters. Nature rarely gives advance notice—and never so pleasantly as the soft, wet snorts of a river otter.

Such are the moments that have steered many bright-eyed youngsters into  careers with nature. Ask any nature photographer, nature writer, or park ranger and you’ll probably hear a story of an encounter like this. If I asked the half dozen Brits huddled on that boat, I’m sure I would have heard a half dozen tales involving wonderful animals I have only heard about.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Winds of Change

Tree stands atop tip-up mound
As we enter the new year, with Hurricane Irma slowly fading into memory, our local river levels are returning to normal. At this point, the last places where we're seeing remnant effects on water levels are the springs. All the water that was absorbed into the ground in recharge areas is now pressing down on the water table and causing increased pressure on the aquifer. As a result, the springs are flowing a bit stronger than they were before the storm. It’s a nice bonus of the storm, but it will be temporary. In the coming weeks, the pulse of additional water delivered by Irma will level out and the springs will return to their pre-storm levels.

The most enduring effects of the storm will be in the forests. Unlike areas that felt the full hurricane, the strongest winds in North-central Florida were sporadic and only caused pockets of damage. Some of these pockets were large. Much of Gainesville, for instance, had significant wind damage, while other parts of Alachua County felt breezes no stronger than a summer storm.

Damage along our local rivers is spotty as well. Large stretches of Suwannee, Withlacoochee and Ocklawaha appear untouched, while other stretches are littered with isolated fallen trees. Parts of the Ocklawaha and St. Johns river forests had entire stands of mature trees pushed over.
Together they stood, together they fell

To those of our fellow humans who like their nature controlled and their forests tidy, these storm-ravaged forests seem like nature’s train wrecks; tragic scenes of destruction. But here again, we are viewing nature with civilization-tinted glasses (I hear they sit heavy on the nose).
Walk through a storm-ravaged forest with a naturalist and you’ll learn that extensive areas of damage are not considered “destruction.” Ecologists call them “natural disturbances.” Where one kind of habitat (mature, closed canopy forest, for instance) is eliminated, another (sunny glade) is created. In newly opened forest clearings, seedlings can thrive that had little chance of surviving in the shade of a standing forest.

Clearing opened by Irma allows sun-loving plants to thrive

On a smaller scale, each individual fallen tree creates new habitats, new opportunities for certain species to thrive. The pit created by an uprooted tree—called “tree throw”—creates a divot in the ground that will become a small, ephemeral pool after rains. These isolated pools are ideal for certain animals to breed and feed. Another new feature created by the fallen tree is the “tip-up mound” of roots and soil that are hoisted above the ground. Tip-up mounds (which can stand over 10 feet high if it was a big tree) create another habitat altogether. In large, flat swamps that have few bits of exposed ground, tip-up mounds become valuable islands where small plants can thrive. These, in turn, will offer food, shelter and breeding sites for to birds and other creatures. In short, the fallen tree will enhance the biodiversity of the area.

These descriptions are superficial and hardly do justice to the complex (and fascinating) ecology of disturbances and succession in natural systems. But hopeful it’s enough to give you a sense of appreciation for the “disturbances” we will be seeing in North Florida’s forests and along our rivers for years to come. With time, you’ll realize these disturbances and new, sunny glades are ideal places to aim your binoculars as you paddle past.
Fallen trees pave the way to the forest's future

Monday, July 31, 2017

Return to the Primordial Beach

It’s been a fine wet summer and many of North Florida’s lowland rivers have spilled their banks. Sections of certain swamp-lined rivers—Prairie Creek, Withlacoochee and parts of Ocklawaha to name a few—are no longer defined by their banks, but broad sheets of water that simply disappear into the forests on either side.

For many paddlers, high water events stir something inside us that tells us to load our boat and get out there. When the paddling gets gnarly, the gnarly get paddling *.

Topping the list of opportunities brought by a flood is the chance to paddle through low river forests. In normal conditions, we descend the river like spectators who can only watch the forest scroll past. But when a river swells and jumps its bank, it allows us to paddle out into that forest wonderland where we are presented with yet another fine opportunity--seeing our fellow paddlers in a state of utter enchantment.

Next time you’re in a swamp, look around at your companions. There won’t be a day-dreamer in the bunch. Even the most seasoned outdoors-persons are on high alert in a swamp. They—we—move slowly and deliberately, scanning our surroundings with the excited curiosity of children. We are aware of every sound, every scent.

Even the youngest swamps feel timeless and primordial. But older swamps—those whose mature trees create a world of deep shade and warm, sultry air—are primordial to the point they evoke a sense of spirituality in us that often borders on mystical. We are awed by their grandeur. We gaze at the massive trunks of cypress, ash and tupelo rising from the water like the columns of a grand cathedral and our eyes are automatically drawn upward to vaulted ceilings of shimmering green foliage flecked with brilliant shards of light. Elsewhere in the spacious hall, the shrill calls of warblers, flycatchers and woodpeckers take on a penetrating, almost haunting quality as they echo from the high rafters and dark recesses. But, damp, earthy scents and an unbroken floor of tannin-stained water are ever-present reminders that this sanctuary is far older and far grander than anything man has ever erected.

It is this wonderful play of water and wildlife that brings me to the best of all the opportunities offered by a flood; the chance to glimpse the primordial origins of life out of the sea.

Once upon a time, the only living things on the planet lived in the sea. All the land above the sea was barren rock and sand—and void of life. Sometime around 400 – 450 million years ago, primitive marine plants like mosses and liverworts began colonizing that barren shore. With time—lots and lots of time—natural selection allowed some to evolve characteristics that allowed them to remain out of water and reproduce. With the groundwork laid, animals began sending their own pioneering species into the world of air and light. It was the animal kingdom’s first out-of-(water)body-experience.

Those first arrivals were small, segmented creatures that closely-resembled their present day descendants, millipedes and centipedes. For those pioneering species, survival hinged on one important thing—staying hydrated. It was a monumental challenge and one they never quite overcame. To this day, every critter on the planet—including the one that wears hydration packs and buys water for a dollar per pint—works hard to keep from drying out.

From a distance, that first primordial beach would have appeared barren. Only on close observation would you have found a thin, spongy carpet of simple plants, mosses and liverworts rimming the high tide zone. Poking into these mases with a stick (I’m not sure what kind of stick we’d find since there was no wood yet. Hmm!), you might have revealed some of those first air-breathing animals nosing about in its damp, shaded recesses.

Today, compliments of recent flooding, the primordial beach has been resurrected in some of the swamps of North Florida—sort of. Paddle slowly among the cypress, tupelo ash and other floodplain species, and look closely at the trunks, just above the water line. There, you'll find small patches of mosses and liverworts, wicking up moisture from the water below. Crowded onto these welcome sanctuaries of dampness you'll often see gatherings (quite dense in ideal locations) of small animals—mostly arthropods—that look strikingly similar to those that colonized the beach primeval.

With their regular home on the forest floor now under water, dense communities of millipedes, centipedes, sow bugs and rolly-pollies huddle near the water line on the exposed tree trunks and floating vegetation. But, these communities are not functioning in the usual manner. Centipedes and millipedes, creatures usually locked into a deadly predator-prey relationship, are now spooning. Rolly-pollies stand brazenly exposed to predators. And all are lethargic, having lapsed into an energy-conserving stupor as they wait out the flood. They are the displaced refugees waiting to return to their homeland.

Of course, not all of the forest creatures are as nostalgic as human paddlers. Pileated woodpeckers descend on these refugee camps like pirates, gorging on the assorted crawlies they find under dislodged chunks of bark. Other birds--chickadees, titmice, vireos, wrens and other gleaning birds—are joining the feast, wreaking their own brand of havoc. on the vulnerable refugees.

It’s an interesting time, but if you plan on coming out for a frolic on North Florida’s’s forest/beach primeval, I suggest you hurry. Water levels are dropping fast and the snack bar is running out of grub(s).

* As a sometimes-responsible river guide, I should clarify that the flood waters I'm talking about in this article are those found in quiet, flooded swamps, where the water moves slowly, if at all, in a sheet flow through the forests. Flooding in the main channel of a waterway is a different animal altogether. Those are very hazardous conditions, suitable only for expert paddlers. Most significantly, paddling on raging flood waters will not get you into any of the interesting things I’m describing here. You're warned. Now get out there!!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Spiderwort: Blue Tears

At days end, spiderwort bloom dissolves into a liquid blue pearl

When serious-minded naturalists hear comments like, “Hey look, those spiderworts are crying blue tears!” their Terramar® underpants (“for the discerning outdoorsman, with soft spun polyester that stretches with every move and wicks moisture like there’s no tomorrow”) immediately bunch. So, on a recent paddle trip on Steinhatchee River, when our dozen-boat fleet of kayaks drifted past a cluster of deep purple blooms, I considered my words carefully before responding to the young girl's comment.  

Anthropomorphizing—attributing human characteristics and emotions to plants, animals and other non-human things—is usually reserved for poets and the writers of children’s books. But, for nature guides whose job is to facilitate healthy relationships between people and nature, sprinkling a little anthropomorphism into discussions about wildlife can be useful. People like detecting a hint of humanity in the other species in their midst. It’s comforting, but more importantly, it makes those species more familiar and strengthens the sense of connectedness.

I was reminded of this on a recent hike at Cape Canaveral. Our group had just emerged from behind the dunes when we saw a leatherback sea turtle laying eggs in a sand pit. As we stood back watching this miracle, we talked about the challenges this species faces. A turtle expert in our group explained that this species is teetering on extinction, and that the current number of nesting females—estimated to be between 26,000 and 46,000—is about a third of the number in 1980.  But it wasn’t until we noticed a single tear, glistening in the moonlight as it rolled down the mother turtle’s cheek, that the group was visibly moved. In that instant they developed a heart-felt empathy for the mother turtle that dwarfed any emotions stirred by our talk of extinction. Even after the herpetologist explained that the tears were a natural bodily function, designed to wash sand from the turtles eyes in the same way our own eyes gush when sand gets in them, some of our crew couldn’t shake by the notion that the turtle mother was crying.

Another way to help people identify with plants and animals is to show how other cultures and even our own predecessors used them. Pause alongside a sand myrtle bush and start droning about the plant’s anatomy and you’ll soon be talking to yourself. But mention that early oil men believed groves of these bushes indicated large deposits of oil underground, and you’ll find your audience more receptive. Even though the oil "dowsers" have abandoned the use of sand myrtle in favor of more reliable sensing technologies of the nuclear age, for the purposes of nature interpretation, knowing this plant was once the famous “oil bush,” makes it still relevant.

Over the years of studying wild lore, I’ve come to realize that Florida’s wild places are pulsing with such stories. The river banks are lined with species that are currently being used in products with such varied uses as detecting lead and arsenic in the air, removing pollutants and metals from water, detecting landmines (in other countries) and improving windshields. Some are used for everyday products like clothing, shelters and hundreds of medicinal compounds, while others are used for more nefarious purposes like explosives and rifle sights. My challenge these days is resisting the temptation to rattle off the lore of every plant we pass. Instead, I try to direct my "interpreting"  towards only those people who look like they want to hear it. Of course, there are some stories everyone seems to appreciate.

 Back on the Steinhatchee River, I realize my crew is starting to drift away; better talk quickly.

“The “tears” we’re seeing are the remains of the spiderwort’s flower. When the bloom reaches the end of its half-day life span, enzymes begin dissolving it. By dusk, nothing remains but a gob of purple liquid. This was the inspiration for the plant’s nick-name, “widows tears.”

Stamen hairs of a spiderwort bloom tell a story
The group is continues to drift away. But, there’s one more thing I think they’d be interested in hearing.

“These days, spiderworts are sometimes planted near nuclear reactors because they can detect radiation.”

Heads turn and paddles stop moving. A few people start to lightly back-paddle toward the plant.

“In the 1970’s, Professor Sadeo Ichikawa at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, discovered that the blue stamen hairs in spiderwort flowers turned pink in the presence of radiation. Through his research, he refined his technique to the point that he can now detect the amount of radiation exposure like a biological Geiger counter.  By taking daily counts of the number of cells that have changed from blue to pink along the single-cell strands of the stamen hairs, researchers can monitor the levels and changes in radiation.”

A young girl pulls her kayak toward the plant and squints for a better view, “I wonder if it’s crying pink tears?”

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Quiet Man

During World War II, my father was a member of the Danish resistance. He never spoke much about the experience; not even when I tried to delicately steer the conversation in that direction. He wouldn’t go there. Perhaps he couldn’t. Eventually I let it go, hoping some day he would overcome whatever fears or painful memories held him back, and tell me this story. That day never came.

In the 1980’s, as a project for a writing class, I wrote a story based on one of the few stories I knew of my father’s exploits. It told of a dark, misty night when he helped smuggle an old Jewish man and his granddaughter onto a small fishing boat on the northeast coast of Denmark and sent them across to safety in Sweden. He had never met the old man and his daughter before that evening, and throughout the story, says very little to them. When I submitted this story to my writing teacher for evaluation, he remarked sternly, "Why so quiet?" The words stung. Not so much because of the criticism, but because I didn't have an answer. Having my father’s character remain so quiet in the story wasn’t a conscious choice, and yet it seemed right. I didn’t change it.

Several years ago, I visited relatives in Denmark. My father had recently died, so I was eager to hear any stories my relatives could recall about his exploits. Without knowing it, I had stumbled into one of the most important endeavors of my life. Every conversation unveiled things I never knew about my father, and each shed more light on this previously unknown (to me) chapter in his life. I became increasingly aware that I had grown up in the presence of a true hero, a young man who (with his brothers) turned the family home into a secret "fortress" where guns were made and/or hidden for resistance fighters (when discovered, the house was blown up). He eventually led groups of escaping Jews to fishing boats which would then take them to Sweden and freedom. In one instance, he hid a group of escapees in a church attic as German soldiers searched the small coastal village for them. I learned on a later visit that that town now holds an annual commemoration of the event, to this day. In the end, he was caught and sent to prison camp.

My amazement grew, as did a sense of loss at learning there was so much about my father I didn't know when he was alive. So many questions I’d have liked to ask. So much pride I would have liked to express.

My visit was quickly transforming from a relaxing vacation to a personal quest—healthy, healing and somewhat exciting, but also very heavy. And, just as my heart started feeling like it could take no more, a cousin casually mentioned that the prison camp still existed as sort of a museum. I was speechless.

The next day I drove to the little village of Froslev. At mid-day, after a couple of hours searching the beautiful countryside near the German border, I found the camp. My heart was in my throat as I passed though the old, wooden gate and gazed out at scene that was strikingly familiar. I had seen it many times in old photos of Nazi prison camps--dozens of long low buildings, arranged in tidy rows oriented toward a central parade ground. Unlike the old photos, however, this scene wasn’t in black and white. The freshly painted burgundy buildings, with crisp white trim were set off by a neatly cropped lawn of a succulence and greenness that is only possible in cooler northern climates.

As I strolled through the complex, I found that two of the bunkers had been preserved just as they were during the war. They contained a full collection of photos and artifacts of the Froslev prison camp. The curator, a short, white-haired gentleman, whose ruddy complexion made me think he was probably a retired sailor, explained that they had records of some prisoners but, since hundreds of them had come through during the war, chances were slim that he’d find anything about my father. But he'd try.

Ten minutes later he returned, beaming with childlike amazement as he held out an old, tattered slip of paper. I glanced at the name and birth date and knew immediately I was holding my father's admission records into the prison. Speaking over the growing lump in my throat, I asked the curator if I could have a copy. He eagerly obliged.

For the next few hours, I explored the compound and imagined how it would have looked over six decades earlier. I walked along the barbed wire fence, strolled through the bunk houses and climbed the watchtowers; all still amazingly intact. I sat beside the fire pit outside my father's bunk house—saddened at the thought of the lonely moments he must have spent on this exact spot.

Walking quietly through the rooms of the museum, I read the information displays, imagining my father in every event described. Behind the glass display cases were dozens of items fashioned by the prisoners to make their life more tolerable. I was especially interested in the tiny little signatures that the prisoners wrote on any item that could be smuggled out of camp – tiny shreds of paper, cloth, cap linings. I laughed at myself for daring to foolishly hope to see my father's tiny signature on some item. As I made my way down the wall, nose close to the glass to see the tiny signatures and search for his face in the crowds of faces, I moved from one frame to the next when suddenly, l found myself face to face with a photo of my father.
There, in the same long wool coat and dark Fedora hat I had seen in other photos, was my father. He was standing in the barb-wired prison yard with an unknown man at his side. Behind them, the Danish flag flying on a makeshift mast left no doubt that this was the morning of liberation. He was a free man. Yet, he wasn't whooping and hollering like one might expect. His calm, gentle smile gave no clue to the suffering he had endured.

Staring in disbelief – as though looking at a ghost – I labored to breathe as I moved close to study the picture. Blinking rapidly to clear my blurry eyes, I studied the photo for any details that would shed some light about the camp; about the day the photo was taken; about the conditions in which he lived. But mostly, I looked at his face. I looked for clues – anything. And, the only words I could utter, as I stood staring into the kind, smiling face of the 21 year old boy who was my father, was "Why, dad? Why so quiet?"

Thorkild Andersen and unknown friend on day of liberation from Froslev Prison Camp 

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Lore and Legends of Burnt Island

There’s no simple way to get to Burnt Island, the large, brooding landmass in the southeast corner of Lochloosa Lake. For Charlie, the legendary “Poet of Burnt Island” introduced to most of us by J.T. Glisson in his book, The Creek, it was a cypress rowboat. According to Glisson, it was a heavy boat, but it probably served Charlie well as he eked out a humble living fishing for brim and specks and running trotlines for catfish on Lochloosa Lake. The only time his sturdy craft served a more ambitious task was when it carried Charlie on his annual pilgrimage up the Creek and across Orange Lake to the town of Orange lake, where he bought four jugs of wine and a couple of gin. Thus supplied, he would then paddle out into the lake, tie the craft to a floating island and indulge in a glorious, multi-day drunk. (I recommend you read The Creek to enjoy the rest of this fun [though a bit tragic] story).

For Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, it was a horse, a sense of duty and a friend with a poor sense of direction that brought her to Burnt Island. Hoping to get better acquainted with the people of Cross creek, Rawlings accompanied her friend (at the time) Zelma Cason on a two day horseback ride through the countryside to take a census. On the second day, as they neared Burnt Island, Zelma described “fabulous tales” of the “grandfather of all rattlesnakes” and “savage, long-tusked and dangerous” wild boars that lived there. “The place was also a hide-out for criminals who preferred the great rattler and wild boars to the long arm of the law.” Dusk was fast approaching and Rawlings found little comfort in the stories. She was even less thrilled when Zelma confessed that she had missed a turn and they were now lost--on the fringes of Burnt Island! The two ladies survived the ordeal with the help of stout hearts and a full moon. Unfortunately their friendship did not fare as well. When Rawlings recounted the event in her book, Cross Creek, (in the chapter titled, “The Census”) her descriptions of Zelma were less than flattering and Zelma sued.

Today, the island is part of the 10,388 acre Lochloosa Wildlife Conservation Area that surrounds much of Lochloosa Lake. Land access to the island is little better than in Rawlings day. A simple LWCA sign alongside State Road 301, near Grove Park, calls attention to a small dirt road entering the forest. Here, I would advise all curious nature lovers to answer your primal attraction to such wild places and turn in. Following this rough dirt road, you’ll thread through pine plantations and mixed hardwoods before crossing a small dike—the umbilicus that connects the island to the mainland. Continuing on, you’ll soon come to a quiet, oak-shaded park and fishing pier. Beyond this little park, the road continues another quarter mile through the dense mixed hardwood hammock, becoming less drivable with every bend and finally surrendering to the forest where it morphs into a walking trail.

The best way to reach Burnt Island is by kayak or canoe, launching from the village of Cross Creek on the beautiful little stream for which it was named. Leaving the creek, the cypress forests end and marshes slowly give way to the vast open expanse of Lochloosa Lake. The brooding, deep-green tree line of Burnt Island looms in the distance. As you skim past floating meadows of spatter dock and cattails, water birds of all tribes move about. The island grows larger and the trees become better defined. Reaching the island, you find a huge cormorant roost, so popular that the trees are chalky white from years of discharge. You pass the site of old Charlie’s shack. You can almost picture the tin Prince Albert can he nailed to a cypress tree for people to pick up money and his notes requesting supplies. You see a movement in the forest shadows and could swear it was a wild boar. A breeze rustles the maidencane, or was it the sizzle of a distant rattler?

Gazing up into the tall pines, you are reminded that not all of Burnt Island’s wonders are of the past. A pair of bald eagle nests—both visible from a single vantage point—remind you that this is still a wildlife Mecca. The fuzzy little heads we see poking out of the nests in late winter remind us that some of the island’s greatest marvels are yet to come.