Monday, July 30, 2007

Mysterious Waters

The “Upper Bridge” – that’s what they call this spot where I’m waiting for my friend, John. John, inventor and photographer extraordinaire, is bringing his specially-outfitted jonboat – think, “007" – tinkerings, extensions, and gizmos welded here or hidden there. The Wakulla River beckons to me with a boundless shimmery promise of adventure and mystery lurking in the lovely gardens in her currents flowing below me on this crisp March afternoon (click here).

Just three nights ago, I was at “the Lodge” for a meeting, and boated from the head spring... watched the last Hooded Mergansers on their journey north (click) and the shy Black-crowned Night Heron emerge from the reeds as evening approached (click) . Anhingas struck their famous spread-wing poses (click). Soon, puffs of clouds sailed across the darkening sky overhead (click). And later, flickering through a veil of cloudcover, the full moon filled me with awe (click). The Wakulla, meaning “Mysterious Waters”, heralds adventure.

One of John’s missions – or at least an excuse to be here – is to find a picturesque midstream cypress tree that can be lined up in a predetermined way with chosen stars of the winter night sky. He has long envisioned this photograph. We are scouting out possibilities.

Now afloat, we are assembling the johnnypod, a fifteen foot-high tripod on the bow of the boat. From atop this perch, the river takes on the bird’s eye perspective... that of a flying bird, as we cruise downstream. Approaching a fleet of kayaks, the paddlers gawk at our contraption. Never shy, John launches into conversation, quickly connecting dots and finding the mutual acquaintances with this group of Nature Conservancy employees. I snap away from my arial vantage point (click).

Turtles bask on fallen trees. Alligators are a signature sighting along the Wakulla. Sometimes they even share a log with the turtles (click). A wood duck passes cautiously (click). A cardinal alights on an overhanging branch (click). White ibis scare up from the reeds (click). An osprey calls out and lifts off from her nest (click). She circles and I follow her with my lens. Suddenly she drops and I lose her momentarily (damn!), missing her catch her dinner. Ah, there she is again, fish in tow, now headed downstream to a favorite dining perch (click). I “fly” over the river behind her.

Wait, it’s our dinnertime too. We stop (literally), locking the boat to the river bottom using long poles through sleeves welded to the boat. When making a photo using a long exposure, swinging around on an anchorline just won’t work. This jonboat becomes a grounded platform right on the river in such times of need. I might as well describe a few of her other unique features: she can house a roomy tent atop a large carpeted foredeck, even with the johnnypod set up overhead. She has spacious, dry, secure storage beneath the platform. There are other compartments carefully packed with tools, camping needs, foul weather gear, and emergency supplies. All this in a boat that is small and light enough to launch anywhere you can back the trailer to water’s edge. John breaks out a Jetboil stove, soup, cheese, crackers, and a bottle of wine. What lacks in garnish and cutlery is easily made up for in ambiance. We are serenaded by frogs, cicadas, and birds. The sunlight has dimmed to a golden glow (click).

Heading back upstream, from atop the johnnypod, I look back. John steers gracefully around the snags and curves with his outboard throttle extension pole. He looks very happy. Here he is (click) – my last image before climbing down to water level. As we race against light, I lie on the bow platform making photos of the river ahead (click). I experiment with long exposures and movement. Whoa! I like this one (click).

We are close enough to the ramp now to relax. The ancient midstream cypress has eluded us... no matter. We drop the “anchor poles” and watch the stars and bats appear. The bats are swooping all around us... no wonder, the mosquitos have risen from their secret dayrests as well. The temperature plummets as the darkness envelops us. We call it a day...a magical day on the Wakulla River.