Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tooth Peace

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The Peace is a river of fossils. It's waters meander through phosphate-mine country east of Tampa, Florida, from Bartow to the Gulf of Mexico.  I found hundreds of fossilized shark teeth there back in my South Florida days while canoeing, camping, and exploring the Peace River’s honey-colored waters and white-sand beaches.  My prize tooth back then was about 2 1/2 inches long.
Early this month, John Moran and I revisited the Peace River, accompanied by a massive megalodon tooth (giant shark) John had borrowed from a museum.  Photographing the tooth in the Peace would honor the ancient history of both fossil and place.  I had brought my Canon G12 with its underwater housing in hopes of maybe combining the mysteries beneath with the scenic beauty above in a half-in and half-out of water shot.
Launching our paddlecrafts at Zolfo Springs this fine morning, I felt a rush -- being off on a new adventure in this place of my youth.  Six hours later, we were barely out of sight of the bridge where we’d put in. We’d become caught up in moment by moment photo ops and the day slipped away.  John may have made one keeper of the tooth but there were many other eye-catchers as well in the creeks, turtles, palms, and birds.

When reality kicked in  – namely 23 miles to go in the next two days  – we decided to paddle into the moonlit night.  Submerged snags kept us focused (on not tipping over). 
Finally, we set up our tents around 10 pm and fell asleep to the serenade of flowing water and hooting owls.  At dawn's crack, I discovered we were surrounded by at least a hundred vultures.  Felt a bit Gulliver-like.  The birds scrambled to the trees to watch as we emerged from our tents.  Food?

As the day unfolded, I searched for the right setting to photograph the tooth:  shallow water, palms in the background, sunlight coming from about 45 degrees off my back (so my shadow wouldn’t be a problem.)  This seemed so simple and yet proved elusive.  Finally, late in the day, the shot lined up and I felt excited by (hopeful) success.
We were beat and ready to stop when the rain began.  Setting up camp in the rain is no fun so we opted again to paddle on into night.  As hunger peaked, we knew we needed at least a dinner stop.  Luckily, by the time we had eaten, the rain had pretty much stopped so we stayed the night.  By morning, the weather was gorgeous again.  I saw an otter by these turtle-shaped rocks.  And many birds along the way.

Our final short day was relaxed because of all our night paddling.  Rocky banks had replaced sand bars. A few artsy shots at our nap-stop finished the trip and soon we were pulling our boats out at Gardner.