(Part Two of our adventures in northwest Florida.)
… Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by … Robert Frost
We would have been perfectly satisfied to remain aboard our comfortable houseboat, well, probably for the rest of our lives, but that’s another story. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the living area provided views up the creek, down the creek, across the salt marsh, of the mouth of the river, the bridge beyond which lay the vast bay, the endless blue sky (after that first night!) – why would we want to leave? When we did venture away from our dock to explore along the coast, the scenery was so spectacular we didn’t want to return to the confines of the boat. What might be around that next curve of shoreline? I suspect Gini and I were both explorers in another life. It was inevitable our souls united.
My brother suggested we escape the magnetic forces of the coast to wander for a day in a little different environment. The Apalachicola National Forest covers over half a million acres spread out north and east of Apalachicola. There are at least three major rivers flowing through the forest and myriad creeks, lakes and natural springs. It has the largest remaining stands of longleaf pines and wiregrass in the country, an ecosystem which used to cover the majority of the southeastern United States. Most of the roads are not paved, many require four-wheel drive and there just aren’t many humans out here. Our kind of place.
There’s no substitute for local knowledge when traveling in unfamiliar territory and my brother is as much an expert on this area as one could hope to find. He pointed out Tupelo trees which in the spring will blossom and attract bees which will produce my favorite honey. Out of the way bayous, a road which dead-ends on the shore of a beautiful bay, evidence of recent bear activity, a pitcher plant prairie, a rare flower. And where to have lunch. Just because we were “away from the coast” didn’t mean we were “far from the coast”. So my fear of going a day without fresh seafood was unfounded. You know you’re in the right spot when the “good ‘ole boys” pull up in their swamp buggies and mud-splattered pick-up trucks. Throw in the hound dog wandering through the broken screen door and rips in the vinyl seats and all that’s left is to order a glass of tea and figure out whether you want grouper, shrimp or crab.
Our last evening of a memorable vacation was highlighted by a Bald Eagle drama we watched unfold from the upper deck of the houseboat. The eagle used a channel marker from which he could spot schools of fish. We watched him fail to snag dinner three times. On the fourth try, he latched onto a striped mullet but I think the water was deeper than he anticipated and the fish may have been larger and heavier than he thought. As he attempted to take flight with the fish, he couldn’t become airborne, probably due to soaked feathers and the weight of the fish. Not wishing to fail again , he turned toward his channel marker perch and began “swimming”. As he reached his perch, he realized he couldn’t fly up that far with his fish. Spotting a tree branch in the shallow water, he hopped onto it with his prize only to be dumped back in the water as the branch was not stable. The eagle finally had to let the fish go or risk drowning as the tide was rising. Without the extra weight, the bedraggled bird flew to his perch and hoped the humans aboard the passing shrimp boat hadn’t witnessed his disgrace. We did, but we won’t tell.
Moving away from the coast, we encountered vast marshes, creeks and bayous winding southward.
At the end of Sand Beach Road, one would expect to find – no sand and no beach. Plenty of shallow water and grass.
From Sand Beach, looking across East Bay, we could see the long bridge which connects Apalachicola and Eastpoint.
One of the main rivers flowing through the forest is East River.
Even in late fall there are plenty of wildflowers blooming throughout the area, such as this Narrow-leaved Sunflower.
Along Graham Creek we found Tupelo, Cypress, Oak, Maple, Bay and other tree varieties.
Florida Lobelia and False Foxglove added splashes of color to the prairies.
My brother found a fairly rare wildflower known as Largeleaf Grass-of-Parnassus. It’s only been observed in four counties in Florida.
Carnivorous plants abound in some areas here attesting to a healthy bug population. Pitcher Plants seemed to be everywhere at the same location we found the Grass-of-Parnassus.
This type of Pine savannah used to cover the entire southeastern United States.
The Bald Eagle is a mighty hunter, but even the best of us don’t always bring home dinner on time.
One more outstanding sunrise greeted us as we prepared to head across the Apalachicola River toward home. Among the items we packed for the journey are some very special memories.
We made it home safely. It took a few days for our bed to stop “rocking” with imaginary waves. We’re looking forward to returning.
Enjoy your search for a natural place and come back for a visit!
See more birds at: Paying Ready Attention (Check out Wild Bird Wednesday.)