You Fell Hard for Salt – by Dorsey DeMaster
Date: April 21, 2021 Author: Dorsey DeMaster
My friends and kayaking compadres coerced me off the saltwater today. I told you about Brenda and Steve in a previous blog (Six Degrees of Separation), but to refresh your memory; Sense of humor & zeal for adventure like no others I have met before. Add to the recipe Brenda’s friends and cool science gurus Cindy & Charles, as expected, this kayak trip would be like no other.
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This was my first good ‘dip’ in the Florida swamps since I started paddling the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail (aka CT) last fall. During my first year in Florida (2018) inland rivers is all I paddled. Since then, it’s been pretty much nothing but salt.
You Fell Hard For Salt; It is a passion like no other…that nourishes and feeds the soul.
We met early in the morning at a boat ramp located on the Santa Fe River. Let me tell you about accessing water and boat ramps in Florida…you will drive down roads you never thought were possible…long sandy roads that the locals use to borrow a cup of sugar from their neighbor. And you will see the ‘Real’ Florida. Not the Florida, full of bill boards, you see driving on the interstate.
This ramp was located near Bell, Florida, estimated population just shy of 500. When I drive through towns like Bell, my curiosity is always sparked; how was the town was established and what keeps people there. Wikipedia tells us Bell was founded in the 1890s, named after a beauty contest winner, Bell Fletcher. In the early 1900s, a railway was built, passing through the town on its route between Starke and Wannee. Bell is an agriculture community, full of farmers (so many watermelon fields!) and ranchers (there was a loose cow in the middle of the road on our way there)…I highly suspect this town contributes to feeding America.
When we arrived, the Santa Fe was high with three-quarters of the boat ramp underwater.
With several high-pressure systems hanging over Florida, it’s been hot the past several weeks. No rain, so almost a dry hot (by Florida standards) with heat indexes into the low century mark. When considering the paddle, a place to cool off/dip was high on our wish list, but none were available. So, it was a nice surprise as we stepped into the water to load our kayaks to feel very cool water. I checked the USGS data for that day; the Santa Fe was 76 degrees. A big difference from the current temperature in the Gulf of Mexico – 91 degrees.
Kayaks and gear loaded, we launched. Initially our course took us south less than a mile so we could stick our nose (bow) into the Suwannee River. While the water level was high, marks on the cypress trees indicated water levels had gone down several feet. Her current gently nudged us back towards the Santa Fe River for what we came here for. Exploring the swamp and her big cypress trees.
Brenda locates and guides us into our first entrance, which quickly transformed into a ‘doorway’ to another world…Instant awe and energy shift. And for the next sixty minutes, there was silence. No one talked…as we navigated our kayaks between the cypress trees like a tapestry needle between warps on a loom.
The 76 degree water temperature & canopy of the swamp kept us cool. Sometimes the forest growth was so thick, it would force us to exit and return to the Sante Fe River. Brenda finds and takes us into the next doorway.
More silence…intense swamp music. Frogs. Cicadas. Faint wisps of cypress and muddy water in the air. I imagined we were retracing the same tracks that the Indians paddled their dugout canoes.
You Fell Hard For Salt; Every synapse in my body is firing. These synapses have neuroreceptors that are sodium channels….go figure.
Another forced exit to the river, then we eagerly reenter at the very next opportunity. At this point I’m reliving my childhood; a sense of exploring, eyes wide open, new discoveries. Spiders as big as your hand and thorns of honey locust trees, each one making you think twice about where you placed your hands. The cypress trees became a playground, as we fit half our kayak into the opening of one trunk. Laughter, as we peep through holes of massive cypress trees. And echos of “Marco-Polo” as we lost sight of and tried to find each others kayaks.
After several hours, we were hungry and wanted to get out of our kayaks to stretch our legs. As we made our way to a nearby boat ramp, I recalled my first year in Florida when I kayaked from the Ichetucknee to the Sante Fe. Today, the back roads, combined with not being in charge of getting us to the boat ramp (other than driving) I had no sense of exactly where we were. So, it was a surprise that made me giggle when we turned our kayaks towards the boat ramp…one I had been to in 2018.
After a culinary conglomeration of garlic bread, protein smoothies, and a watermelon-cantaloupe mix, we paddled back in the direction of our launch site. We reenter the thick canopy of the cypress swamp as Brenda kept urging us to go “More westerly” allowing us to go deeper into the swamp. This time, it was like walking into a cathedral in Europe; Majestic. Spiritual.
You Fell Hard For Salt; I lie awake at night reliving every intoxicating moment and like a drug addict, imagining when I can get my next fix.
Our kayaks cut through thin floating carpets of luminous duckweed, clearing a path as we quietly paddled through natures museum of fine art. There were tree formations like never seen before. One in particular, which we named ‘Swamp Queen’ was a combination of cypress knees against a pallet of a decayed cypress stump. She was clearly the spirit in charge of watching over this magical section of the swamp.
As we returned to the launch sight, I thanked Brenda for coercing me off the saltwater and for another adventurous/laughter filled trip. She said “You Fell Hard for Salt” and had to give me something to remember the next time I’m kayaking the salt/CT.
A wise (I didn’t say old) friend taught me that when your kayaking, that’s reality. Then when you pack up your gear, you return to the man-made reality. Institutions. Necessities for living your day-to-day life. After returning home, it’s the normal routine; clean and put away the kayak and gear. Days like this, when I plan the weekly menu, we cook something easy. Tonight was leftover night.
Then suddenly, in the middle of eating dinner, I broke down sobbing. I don’t know where it came from, and please know that the leftovers were delicious, but I was overtaken by it. Comparison: It was the same soul sucking heartache that comes when you lose your best friend or your dog. It rips at your soul and takes your breath away. Crocodile-sized tears (no pun intended).
You Fell Hard For Salt; My heart exposed, my soul aches to experience it again and again.
Swamp magic? Every kayak trip provides you with many gifts. Let each one, whether salt or swamp, peel away the layers you have built up over the years. As each layer is peeled away, nurture it with the smell of briny marshes or cypress trees in the swamp. Let it happen. Let go. Even if you don’t understand it.
I fell hard for salt, where deep in the shallows, Shakti is raw and moves through you like the tide. Its part of the human experience. It can be difficult to articulate and it’s ultimately defined by the energy, connection, and meaning we live and breathe each day. Our best experiences are serendipitous, shared, and free.
You Fell Hard For Salt; Its’ the greatest fall of my life.
Special thanks to kayak buddies & story/photo contributors Brenda Anderson and Steve Cournoyer.
The author and Lendal Ambassador Dorsey DeMaster embraced kayaking after retiring from 38 years in aviation. She lives near Crystal River, Florida.