Friday, April 29, 2011

Moonrise-Sunset at St. Marks

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April 17 the full moon was scheduled to rise at the same time the sun was to set.  I drove to St. Marks on a clear-sky evening... well, except for the no-see-ums and skeeters - they were thick in the air.

Armed with a new compass and info I'd researched online, I set out to predict exactly where the moon would break over the horizon.  One of my beloved sculpted snags would serve as my global line-of-sight.  Wow, was I impressed when the moon came up in exactly the right spot!  This could be a powerful tool for future photos.

I was there early enough to need distractions from the biting bugs.  Here is another snag catching the last rays of the sun.  (The weird background colors just happened that way.)

Behind me, the sun was creating a fiery horizon behind the pines.

And just before moonrise, a pair of grackles posed briefly on the perch on which I has my lens focused - making easy my favorite shot-of-the-evening (above).  The moon popped faintly into view a couple minutes after the birds left, and rose into the bowl of the snag.

As the light fell, I made a few more images, including one with another grackle... and then packed up for home.  But as I was driving out, a silhouette scene in the western Afterglow stopped me.  What a beautiful place in which I live and love!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pictorial Ode to an Old Friend

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Visited this venerable pine along the Florida Trail many times over the years. The tree was massive and exuded presence. Saw the tree last week and it had died. A recent burn decorated the trunk. It still commanded plenty of beauty and awe. I felt grateful to have known the tail end of the tree's long life.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Devon Creek Canopy

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Arching over our heads from both sides, cypress and tupelo create a gorgeous canopy as we paddle up Devon Creek.  Author, photographer, and friend, Doug Alderson remembered this little creek -- off of Owl Creek off of the Apalachicola River -- from a visit here 30 years ago.  Doug is the Florida Paddling Trails coordinator for the Office of Greenways and Trails -- namely, he is probably Florida's chief paddling trailblazer.

 We launch on this exploratory paddle to find out whether this might be a destination for other paddlers or not.... and WOW, is it ever!  At the high water level this evening, the mouth of the creek is obscured by tree branches, but research had lent some GPS coordinates, so we plunge into the floodplain and soon find the channel.  The amazing canopy, winding path, and mirrored water surface lead us through a spectacular tunnel of green light on a circular skeleton of dark limbs.

Birds of the swamp -- dominated by the bright yellow Prothonotary Warbler calling "Sweet...sweet...sweet" -- escort us.  Turtles and frogs perch on low branches.  Tupelo "knees" form hoops instead of being pointy like cypress knees.  This one pair of tupelo knees appears to have "tied the knot".

 Cypress trees are always great subjects, offering such unique sculpted shapes.  Below are three photos of cypress. The first, solid and healthy, near the one spot we are able to stop on dry land.

The next, a fan of splintered wood reaching for the sky.

Third is Doug's photo called "Cypress Angel".  He sees this contorted living tree twisting up, over and down again, wrapping around itself.  At it's ragged tip is one healthy branch feathering its bright green needles around the tree's waist.  Despite the challenges of the busy elements of swamp and dappled sunlight, he captures the Angel in the tree.  Well done, Doug!
Finally, on our way back to our put-in, the sun dropping rapidly toward the horizon, an arch of trees along Owl Creek captures a burst of magic light on the far shore.  One final photo and the adventure ends in perfection.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Wakulla County Slave Canal

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The story goes that slaves were made to dig a small canal connecting Alligator Lake to Otter Lake through a series of sinkholes and ponds in an attempt to drain Alligator Lake for planting cotton.  Like the draining of the Everglades, the Alligator Lake scheme failed, but the remnants of the canal are still there, now traversing part of the Panacea unit of St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.  My friend, Bob Thompson, knows these woods well and took me along on one of his favorite hikes - the canal - earlier this week. 
Our first stop was a Live Oak Boneyard, an oddly-clear area in the woods, except for a standing trunk and old "bones" of the long-dead live oak tree. The place felt of ancient reverence. A quarter mile away, we stopped again to admire two old tree trunks, mysteriously aligned, with their root-butts facing each other.  Too heavy to have been moved by hands, and no evidence of having grown in this spot, how and why did this pair come to lie here like this for so many decades?
More evidence of man's habitation in these woods, we found two catfaces along the canal-bed. "Catface" is the name given to the scarred base of a pine tree after turpentiners had been draining the tree's sap for years.  One was a totem-like standing stump of hard resinous lighterwood.  The other had fallen, but still had its metal funnels and sculpted face.

These are dry times, so we were hiking in swamps that could be more than 5 feet underwater in wet times.  Beautiful cypress and black gums rose from the leaf-laden swamp floor.  The black gums all seemed to be hollow with hobbit-like doorways.  I marvelled at their eerie dancing legs.

We experienced snake camo first hand when Bob nearly grabbed a stick next to a neatly coiled diamondback.  If you are not snake-phobic, be sure to click on the thumbnail here so you can better see the intricate beauty in the pattern of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.  Later we spotted a gray rat snake stretched out along a gray log, invisible to the hawk or owl that might make a meal of it.

The canal itself was a marvel that stretched through miles of forest and swamp, sand and mud, roots and rocks.  This was the results years of monumentally hard labor. Nature has largely reclaimed the canal, so that now it is just a monumental trail engraved in the forest floor, offering a beautiful walk through history and nature.