Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holmes Creek

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Floating through the early morning mist, it is easy to imagine how a few renegade Ivory-billed Woodpeckers could defy detection in the vast and mysterious swamps and tributaries along the Choctawhatchee River. My heart opens in the magic and awe of sunbeams slashing across the frosty polar smoke backlighting big cypress trees and flashing fall colors in hazy pastels.

Rather than the now-mythical woodpeckers, we are more simply in search of Florida’s hidden Fountains of Youth, intimate crystal blue springs too remote for most eyes. Having launched in pre-dawn darkness on Holmes Creek, we are picking our way downstream watching for side creeks, especially spring-clear tributaries.

Having turned up a promising waterway in growing light, John and I soon come to a very wide shallow section, confirmation that we are entering Mill Lake, and on the path to two named and countless smaller unnamed springs. The water is so low that we almost immediately grind to a halt on the thick mud lake-bottom and wonder if we must give up.  Twenty feet to our left, a slightly different color to the water suggests an extra inch or two --  enough to float us?  And how do we get there? The pole plunges down into bottomless mud without giving us any push. No nearby shore, no way to walk. We’re stuck.

With a paddle and shifting our weight around the boat, we make it to the slightly deeper water and freedom. We wend our way through the subtle channel, finally reaching deeper water at the far end of the lake and continuation of the creek.  Poling, paddling, and motoring upstream again, one last bend reveals a beautiful headspring called Washington Blue.  Still early and misty, we make a photo and vow to return when the sun is higher in the sky. 

We had passed another fork on our way to Blue. Where might that lead? This tiny clear creek is barely wider than the jonboat.  Surprisingly, we travel a long way upstream until becoming totally blocked by a large deadfall.  The sun is bright and air warmer -- John is overtaken by the need for a nap. Cameras in hand, I wade further upstream coming upon a lovely cypress showing off fall color.  Here it is twice – first from the viewpoint of a deer come to take a drink, and then as viewed by the the bass lurking in the big tree’s shadow.

Hiking another half mile along the stream, we reach a 2nd large headspring.  Friend, George Willson, who knows these parts as well as anyone, later identified this from the photos as Potter Spring (and the other as Washington Blue – we had them mixed up.)

An even smaller brown-water creek entices us to explore further upstream. Luckily so. We come to a gorgeous bathtub-sized spring beneath a huge tupelo tree, multiple seep springs flowing out of the bank, and bizarrely-shaped cypress knees and rooty-based trees. By the time we get back to the boat, the sun is low again.  So much for re-shooting Washington Blue. 

Next day, we are exploring the area around Millers Ferry Road.  Abstract watercolors lay at the foot of fall-colored trees in the still water of an enticing side creek. Shallows soon force us to abandon the boat.  On foot, we follow the flow through swamp and tangle. Massive cypress and bizarre stilted trees rising out of old stumps provide the “breadcrumb” landmarks we’ll need to get back.

After lunch and a hammock nap, we find a lovely spring right on Holmes Creek. Not knowing its official name, we dub it Jagged Ledge for its sawtooth rock shelf. The day is glorious.

Our final morning. We launch our canoe and kayak upstream from Cypress Spring. Another group of paddlers has just shoved off.  Holmes Creek sweeps us into its currents and pretty soon we are veering off right into the large clear spring run. Wow. What a place.  I’ll let the photos speak to its beauty. 

Homeward bound, we are fortified and fulfilled by our long drinks from a delicious sampling of Holmes Creek’s Fountains of Youth.