Tag Archives: Canoeing

Riding the Tide into a Salt Marsh

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We did something I have wanted to do for a long time. We rode the incoming tide from Levy Bay to the big pool at the intersection of Chattahoochee St in Panacea and Highway 98. There is a channel that winds through marsh grass swamps, sinkholes with springs, and some forested areas. The land is privately owned so you can’t leave the water but you do get to see some forest along the trip. We started at the Levy Bay landing which is a public boat dock. The marsh turns into impassable mud flats at low tide so we arrive one and half hours before high tide. By the time we had the canoe down and everything set up, we had one hour until high tide.

The tide rushes into these narrow channels at a brisk pace. You have to pay careful attention to avoid getting stuck on sandbars or hitting oyster bars. There are also lots of obstacles like fallen trees, remnants of old docks, and debris. Additionally the channel itself has many deep pools over springs where you simply can’t see the bottom in the brownish water. So we rode the tide in. In places it was like mini rapids. Always a strong flowing current fast moving to ride. The water is topped with foam, full of all kinds of bits of debris and detritus and it abounds with all kinds of crab holes along along the muddy banks of the marsh grass. We saw mullet, smaller fish, a string ray in black about 18 inches across the wing tips and many birds, especially egrets, cranes and vultures.

We did not bring our camera. We have used the rice trick (putting the camera in a bag of rice to dry out) once already after a canoe trip and while the camera recovered, the calendar never worked again so my pictures always come out marked as having occurred on 2013 date the camera got dunked. It was a good thing we didn’t try to take pictures. Riding the tide in those narrow channels at quite a good clip while avoiding all the potential places to spill was challenging enough. If you look at the picture you can see near the end of the route one very large and very deep pool. It was a real pleasure to come charging in there at top speed and find ourselves in this huge relatively calm place. The volume of water there is so deep even the incoming tide makes only a small impression. Though the water was clear we could not see the bottom making me wonder if maybe there is a smaller version of the Wakulla spring in the deepest place.

We rested a bit and then took the final small channel to the egret pond next to the highway. That was our goal. We see that pool every time we drive to the beach and I really wanted to find out why it always has at least three white egrets in it. We arrived at top speed out of the channel to find ourselves on a flat mud basin. The egrets were intently feeding and barely looked up, as if canoes with humans arrive here all the time. They had certainly had no need to worry since we were firmly grounded on smelly mud.

We unstack ourselves with much heave ho-ing and worked our way back up the channel to the deep pool. The tide was already ebbing. By the time we crossed the deep pool the rush of water had ended so we leisurely wended our way across the pool and then back up the channel. As we arrived in sight of our truck the tide began to turn and run back out. We rode the reversed current the last few hundred yards.

Being a prairie girl and not accustomed to the ocean, the tide fascinates me. The marsh breathes the water in and then breathes it out. The grass and creatures that live on the shore line have adapted to thrive in the rhythmic rise and fall. The marsh’s rich detritus is carried out of the marsh with the tide and feeds the wildlife at the bottom of the food chain. Farther and farther up the food chain larger and larger creatures wait at the mouths of the channel and then at the mouths of the bay ready to eat. The marsh is the food source of many creatures in the bay.

The marsh also serves as a nursery for much of the sea life. Many fish swim into the bays and lay eggs and then swim out. The fry hatch and grow in the shelter of the marsh feeding on insects and the like until they are finally big enough to ride the tide out. The endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles feast on blue crab in the bay for two years or so before continuing their slow migration back around the gulf to their breeding places. The mud flats, like the final place we saw all those egrets, is its own feasting place for these and many other glorious birds..

One of the unfortunate things that has happened in Florida is that many of these nurseries and feeding places have been filled, levelled and now have shopping malls and hotels and houses. Wakulla has been blessed with acres and acres and acres of coastal wetlands that protect and nourish the Gulf. There is a tale of this area that says a very rich woman once asked naturalist and writer Jack Rudloe how to best help sea horses. He told her protect the marshes on the coast because the marshes feed the reefs just off shore where the sea horses live. And so she bought six miles of coastland marsh and she does nothing with it except protect it in order to protect the sea horses.

The world needs more such wise women.

Rushing River Ontario Provincial Park

Rushing River is arguably the loveliest and most popular of the many lovely and popular provincial parks in Ontario. I say that because for many local families camping and going to Rushing River are synonymous. Due to this, you simply can’t get in during summer without a reservation. The location is what makes the place so special. Dogtooth Lake is a lovely lake with deep clear cool water, perfect for water skiing, or tubing. Where the lake narrows and empties, it creates a river that goes over many small rapids and past many deep pools as it eventually finds its way to Lake of the Woods. Beyond that the water will enter the drainage system to Lake Winnipeg and from there to the Hudson Bay and the arctic ocean going north.

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My grandson Luke with part of the first rapids in the background at Rushing River. (Picture by Anne Marquez-Hunstad)

In several places small beaches with fine sand have formed in calm spots, perfect for a toddler to splash in, especially in late afternoon after the sun has warmed the otherwise briskly cool water in the little bay. There are also natural wild places which challenge the strongest swimmer with water reportedly 25 feet or more deep, sheer cliffs of 5 metres that you can run and jump off into very deep water and giant rock islands you can swim to and then crawl up and sit in the sun to warm up or use as diving towers. It’s also a perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. Inflatables are practically required here. Big red booms crossing the top of the rapids in the swimming area keep the inflatables and their passengers on the proper side of the rapids.

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Dick and my son Alan and Luke and Noah help haul the canoe and the inflatables from the beach back to our campsite.

The river does indeed rush. It also gurgles, splashes, tinkles, roars and thunders depending on where you stand. The lake is set in granite rock of the Canadian shield and there is little in the way of soil. Scrubby pines and spruce cling to sheer drops and granite faces. Extensive woods on both sides mean abundant wildlife, especially birds and game fish. While out walking the dogs near the water’s edge I saw a trout that must have been four or five pounds lounging in a shallow pool. This is a place where when they say put your food away because of bears, they are not kidding.

 

The park encircles the area where the lake narrows and the includes the first two sets of rapids. The individual lots range from huge grassy pull-throughs to tiny little spots on granite where you can barely fit a two man tent. There are four campgrounds and they also vary. Two are right near the rapids and have showers and flush toilets, playgrounds, and all amenities. Two of the campgrounds are further away from the rapids wrapping around the lake. Lots of the roads are paved and there are steep hills and flat areas making it perfect for my 11 year old grandson to go biking with his BMX type trick bike. There are several trails to walk, from the easiest flat type a toddler or someone in a wheelchair can manage to long demanding trails of several kilometres. One day when my husband and I felt the need for a time out from the delightful constant demands of the children, we took the lower rapids trail which is partly stairs and wooden paths but it still a very wild and demanding to walk. Since it was late summer, hints of fall colour were already present. The wildflowers were spectacular and we saw a beaver munching in a pool. Dick did take a spill and got all muddy but he was unhurt. We traveled with one son, his wife and their two sons and one other grandson. We also made one afternoon trip into the city of Kenora which is about a half an hour away and is right on Lake of the Woods. Kenora has fancy hotels and lodges if camping is not your schtick.

We had such a wonderful time we want to go again every year and get the rest of the family to come as well.

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Visiting with the grandchildren means endless rounds of ball chasing, wrestling, lots of delicious normally off limits dropped (and occasionally snatched) food like hot dogs and bacon strips and marshmallows. Fred also loves swimming and at Rushing River there were lots of places he could swim without worrying about gators or sharks even though the official beaches are off limits to dogs. On our way home after the trip, Fred checks the air and sighs a big sigh. He had a wonderful time but we all arrived home simultaneously exhausted and refreshed.