Friday, February 4, 2011

Mystic River

Bob Key in the Florida Bay

Across the aqua greens of the Florida Bay a winter horizon brews up an ominous front. The water is unusually calm considering the rapid shifting of these tectonic clouds, easing the bouncing bow and the clank of our anchor. Still rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I start considering the adventure ahead and my excitement builds. Passing mangrove islands, our wake leaves a fading trail northbound to Little Madiera Bay and the mouth of Taylor River. 

Tillandsia clings to a mangrove branch on Taylor River

Three days out of every month, coworker Adam Chasey and I make the hour and a half trip to this restricted area of Everglades National Park as part of our research. One of the most intact and directly undisturbed areas in the park, Taylor River is a truly magical place. Only accessible by boat and following a seemingly unrecognizable path, the brackish water carves through mosaic mangroves and empties into a series of small lakes. Along the banks of these cold winter days, American crocodiles, an endangered species, bask in the sun ignoring the hum of our motor.

American crocodile on the first lake of Taylor River

Boating along, schools of mangrove snapper and snook dart from underneath prop roots while anhingas clumsily fall into the water to evade our foreign vessel. The cacophony of herons and egrets overpower our motor as we enter their secluded communities. Upstream, small spherical boils break the water's complexion followed by the exhausted sighs of a manatee coming up for air.

A manatee breeches the water's surface as it comes up for air.

Soon the river narrows and disappears into a dense wall of foliage. Full speed ahead, Adam points the bow at a small cave-like hole shrouded by rogue limbs. Bracing for impact, I wince, but instead we plunge into what's known as the Long Narrows. He brings the motor to a soft hum and opening my eyes the sky is gone and the adrenaline surrenders to wonderment as we start drifting through a prehistoric passageway. It's as if we pulled off the interstate at rush hour and immediately exited onto a wooded country road. Moccasins as thick as my forearm sit on top of the water waiting for their breakfast to swim by. 

Water moccasin or cottonmouth as it's also called, waits in the prop roots of a mangrove for food.

Sound, as well as time, seem to be trapped here. Ever since the oceans receded and our enigmatic state emerged, water became the writer of history. For decades we have tried to manipulate and coerce this aqueous renegade to bend and flow to our needs without much consideration as to what happens downstream. As our understanding of this complex system grows I hope we will realize the biological wealth that this incredibly diverse area offers and strive to protect it on all levels. We must acknowledge that in the heart of the Everglades, the pulse of life is indeed a mystic river.

"Mystic River" a new print available through

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