The Silver River in central Florida is one of the most beautiful paddles I’ve ever done. Aside from being home to multiple troops of nonnative rhesus macaques (which I wrote about here), the place is awash in bird and reptile life. Huge cypress trees and their knobby knees stud the shoreline. Ghostly Spanish moss drapes every branch. At this time of year, white spider lilies sometimes sprout near the base of the cypress trees. The water is crystal clear and shocking blue. Many turtles are visible swimming through the long, graceful eel grass.
From the moment the boat slips into the water, there’s an overwhelming sense that I’ve just entered a fairyland. Places like this are rare these days – hell, they were rare five hundred years ago – and so I am not the only one who wants to be there. There are always others on the water. Although I’ve never felt crowded on the river, I know there are days when there are enough people on it that quarters might feel very close.
My preference when I’m paddling a beautiful stretch of water is to hear the sounds of nature rather than the sounds of humanity. It’s not that natural sounds are always more melodious – anyone who has ever heard a heron’s vocalizations knows that nature is not always a classical concerto. It’s just that I’m always hearing the clanging of humanity, and I want something different when I’m on the water.
Unfortunately, that was not going to happen on the Silver River on the afternoon we spent on it. We were about a mile downriver from the spring vents when we found ourselves on the water with two old men in kayaks. There is nothing inherently ridiculous about an old man in a kayak, of course. I hope to be an old woman in a kayak someday, after all.
But these two were a case. They were each paddling on opposite sides of the river, and would periodically scream at each other when they wanted to communicate. These were clearly men in desperate need of hearing aids.
I watched as one of them, shirtless with a thatch of snowy white hair, examined something in the water. The other one, a gray-haired man in a light blue shirt, paddled his kayak over to the shore and immediately got the bow stuck between two cypress knees.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALT!” the white-haired one yelled, his voice bouncing off the cypress trees like a pinball.
“WHAT????” Blue Shirt screamed back.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING OVER THERE?” White Hair yelled. “DO YOU SEE THIS ALLIGATOR?”
I turned around in the canoe to cast a “Can you believe this?” look at Travis and saw the vein in his temple start to bulge a little. I began to giggle. These two were so annoying they were funny.
We paddled faster to try to outpace them, but they seemed to appear around every corner, splintering the air with their screamed banalities, and slapping the water with their paddles. We rounded a bend in the river to find them talking – loudly, natch – to a couple of people at a boat launch. They looked shocked at something they were hearing. Seeing us paddle by, White Hair addressed us in his customary yell.
“HEY THERE! DO YOU ALL KNOW YOU HAVE TO TURN AROUND AND PADDLE ALL THE WAY BACK????”
I didn’t even have to look at him to know the vein in Travis’s head was pulsing again.
“No,” he snarled under his breath. “I thought the river went in a circle.”
“Yes, thank you!” I replied before he could. We paddled on, rapidly.
Around one bend, we found a great blue heron hunting in a patch of pond grasses. I gasped in delight and raised my camera, trying to balance my composition with the slight movement of the canoe. Just as I was about to trip the shutter, I heard it.
The heron squawked and took flight. I caught him just as he passed, culprits in the background.
And that, I’m afraid, is life on the river.