The towering cypress on the left occupies an eight foot diameter half a mile from Pages Dairy Road in Yulee, Florida. The oldest known cypress in the world (burned in 2012 by a meth addict) was seventeen and a half feet wide and approximately 2000 years old, so this conifer has at least a millennium on any awkward biped rowing below its baobesque branches.
New growth hints at futility.
A year ago this month I discovered a white, spherical flower growing beside a narrow creek. Seven months later I bought a used kayak, and now I meet buttonbush all the time along lakes and rivers.
The island above wasn’t the first destination. But during that first trip to Lake Hartwell back in early May, it was the most curious.
Before throwing the kayak on the car and driving to the Georgia/South Carolina border, this satellite image (later doctored somewhat) offered an aerial glimpse of endless nooks to navigate. The image was captured during the 2012 drought, which is why every verdant land mass sports a tan outline.
Most public access areas around Lake Hartwell were designed and constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers, including the upper and lower incisors of the Pac-Man shape to the west gobbling-up islands dotting South Carolina’s shore to the east. The plan was to paddle from Long Point Recreational Area (Pac-Man’s maxillary central incisors), to Elrod Ferry (mandibular central incisors).
After an hour’s drive through pastoral Madison County, I spoke to a man sitting on a log at the water’s edge between two arched fishing poles. Pointing across azure chop, I asked, “Is that Elrod Ferry?”
“Yeah, just across there.”
“And the South Carolina border?”
“See the dam? South Carolina’s on the left. Georgia’s on the right.”
It took around forty minutes to reach Elrod Ferry. Once across, I looked back at the man on the far shore and thought, “Why not paddle across state lines for the first time on water?”
To the naked eye (and novice paddler), the distance between Elrod Ferry and South Carolina was a bit misleading, but clear water and tangerine shore made the trip well worth the energy.
Buttonbush sentinels (sans buttons in early May) took root around the slippery bank. I hiked inland through a stand of pine, then up toward the dam.
Couples and extended families with panting dogs walked along the dam under blue sky. A bearded man encased in a black leather vest like a sausage below a matching wide brimmed hat prosthelytized to a group of bikers seated on granite boulders repenting and sweating in the sun. Three red tailed hawks spiraled above the strangled Savannah River below. I walked back to shore.
After stacking, the nearest island was next.
Former downy residents’ homes proved spring renewal.
Violent fauna left manufactured remnants.
Three weeks after the paddle to South Carolina, I returned to the lake and put in at Hart State Park Outdoor Recreational Area (not the most creative name, given that the county, lake, town, dam and outdoor recreational area are all named after Nancy Hart, who assasinated seven men during the American Revolution – why not “Gallows Park,” or “Whig Dump Woodlands Boat Ramp?”).
A tiny chunk of land occupied by mica, sweet gum, buttonbush and five abandoned goose eggs rests a few hundred yards from the boat ramp.
Geese, hawks, great blue herons, striped bass, crappie and bream share Lake Hartwell with drunks on jet skis, pontoon and bass boats during spring and summer months.
Let’s hope the Canadian avian couple who produced these perfect orbs seek more privacy for their babies next year.
Click here to watch a TED talk by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloud Appreciation Society’s founder. Keep looking skyward…
Aquatic wanderlust began developing around puberty. Oblivious to the primordial black water flow beneath Highway A1A, my friends and I started crossing the bridge over Lofton Creek in 1992. A couple older brothers with cars finally convinced us devout skaters to give surfing a go, so whenever waves broke on Amelia Island, we loaded up the surfboards at the crack of dawn and piled into Bill’s orange VW Vanagon (with the pop top camper), or Gabe’s brown Buick Station Wagon (with our favorite rear-facing “way back seat” to make faces at cars behind us). Fugazi’s “Repeater,” or Bob Marley’s “Legend” blared from open windows while we envisioned rare perfect waves at the end of the familiar 40 minute car ride. Bleary-eyed, we noticed little else along the way.
Landlocked in North Georgia now for almost two decades, I surf only a few times a year, but kayaking has become the surrogate sport. After a few hundred trips across the same bridge, Lofton Creek (not the Atlantic) was the first destination when I migrated home to the coast this summer.
Paddlers slip boats down the Melton Nelson Boat Ramp into a prehistoric world (more so once out of earshot from highway traffic). Many of the haunting spanish moss draped cypress trees that give the tannic water its signature sweet tea hue are over 500 years old. Paddle north to meet a cypress that’s been growing for over 2,000 years.
Viridescent pickerelweed clumps subtly announce narrow entrances to Lofton Creek’s labyrinth (where wayward paddlers easily get lost).
A sole cardinal flower rises above pickerelweed.
Southbound, the hardwood forest gradually transitions into salt marsh soundclouds.
Canopy submits to blue sky.
Click here for more views from this paddle.