Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Giving Tree

Adam Sittler, a swamp-stomping yankee in training

Adam Sittler planned to visit me for only a few days before flying down to Honduras and Belize. Due to health complications, however, he's been forced to stay in the Florida Keys for three weeks (harsh alternative, I know), completely foregoing his trip to Central America. While I was at work during the week, he found the energy to accomplish many things which I'm embarrassed to say that I've neglected to do in my year and a half of living here. To name a few, he's driven down to Key West, he's read a book on a private beach, he's captured invasive pythons with my herpetologist friends, and he's collected exotic chameleons outside the Everglades resulting in a surprise assault of SWAT-geared police officers with guns drawn at 1:00 in the morning (great story).

When Saturday came, the pressure was on to find a place worthy of our weekend all while keeping up with the caliber of adventure Adam already established. Not that I was willing to involve the police, but we all wanted to get our heart rates up. I must say that I have the coolest, most positively enabling friends, because when the only idea I came up with involved driving 3.5 hours to a place I'd never been before, arriving at dark, and paddling for who knows how long until finding a place to hang a hammock, I wasn't met with any "what ifs" or "I don't knows...". Instead, both Sittler and Adam Chasey jumped on the plan (or absence of a plan, rather) without hesitation.

Sunset over the Tamiami Trail 

When Sittler got out of his last doctor's appointment at 3:00 PM we picked up Chasey and headed for Fisheating Creek. After loading up kayaks, hammocks, and enough photography equipment to rival a national geographic expedition, we set out on the road. The sun was already setting over the Tamiami Trail and we were still two hours away from our destination. Passing the endless agricultural expanses we watched the sugarcane fields blazing in the distance which added to the looming uncertainty of our trip. It felt like a scene out of some Cormac McCarthy book.

Sugarcane fields during a controlled burn

We finally arrived at the park by 8:00 PM and unloaded the boats and gear, staring out into the darkness with only the twinkle of starlight and alligator eyes reflecting on the water. The only form of compass we had was the knowledge that there was a tree somewhere along the creek where we could set up camp. That's it.

Kayaks stocked to the brim, we set out around 9:00 after waterproofing everything

With so few expectations it's incredible how overwhelmed and surprised you can be. I'm a big proponent of planning, but an even bigger advocate of spontaneity. Navigating with our headlamps we were only allowed partial glimpses of the landscape and the winding creek obscured each turn with anticipation. Bald cypress trees, denuded from the cold winter, lined the banks. Their spindly knees reached out into the black water, some so large you could paddle beneath them. Every tree could have been the tree we were looking for.

That's what we kept saying at least, until we found The Tree.

The Giving Tree, as I call it, during a 2 minute exposure, illuminated with flashlights

There was no mistaking that this is where we were meant to camp. A white sand beach, exposed from the dropping water levels, offered front row seats to what would become a two-hour endeavor to illuminate the iconic cypress and its fortress of knees with flashlights while our cameras recorded the ensuing madness. By 1:00 AM we exhausted ourselves and our batteries. As the adrenaline wore off, we started feeling the cold gnawing at our toes so we sought refuge in our sleeping bags. The temptation was too great to ignore, so I climbed up the tree and hung my hammock between two branches, dangling like another epiphyte. Just before going to sleep I considered the headline in the morning paper, Camping trip comes to a gruesome end as young man is empaled on cypress knee. Perhaps that's what it would take to have my photo on the front page of the Palmdale tribune, but thankfully, my normal sleeping acrobatics subsided for the night.

Another camping trip added to the list of unforgettable adventures.


  1. Sweet work man. Fisheating is becoming one of my favorite places. I went upstream but hope to visit this tree soon.