Florida Journey.

My first name is really ‘Derek’, but I use my middle name Vincent’ for my writing. Below, I write an experience using my first name and third person point of view.

***

Derek and Hal paddled through the narrow canal under the bald cypress and oak trees with moss, like long wizard beards hanging from the dense branches.

“I hate living in Florida,” Derek said, swatting a mosquito away, sweat running down the sides of his face, shirt sticking to his back.  “One-hundred-degree heat indexes, storms, floods, and mosquitoes. Why do I still live here? That’s what I ask myself. And don’t get me started on the politics.”

“Because you love me,” Hal said, shooting Derek a grin as his kayak slid by Derek across the glass clear water.

Derek returned a smile.

“The rivers, beaches are amazing,” Derek said. He brought the canteen to his mouth and tilted beer down his throat. He wasn’t supposed to have alcohol in the park, but the ranger s didn’t bother to sniff the canteen. He also had a camel pack of cold water like Hal did. ” I must’ve explored a dozen or so rivers.”

“There are dozens more,” Hal said. “Then the beaches.”

“Yep,” Derek said, liking the enthusiasm rising through his voice. “I love me some water.”

Derek splashed water as he paddled alongside Hal. The two drifted around a corner in the creek. Three turtles bathe on a log.  Derek and Hal had to swerve around a few branches reaching over the creek. Paddling further, they came to a tree that had fallen over the creek. The two climbed out and as a duo, dragged their kayaks one-by-one over the log and continued the hot journey.

Their kayak journey brought them under a tunnel of giant elms and oak trees, and palm trees.

“What a diverse wilderness,” Derek said.

“Yes it’s.” Hal looked over at a small and white sandy beach to the right, where rocks and orange and lime-green weeds scattered the bank. Beyond that, like most of the surrounding, thick forest stretched miles in every direction. “Do you think this is what Florida used to look like?”

“Gator!” Hal pointed over at another sandbar. “Get your camera ready.” He sounded as if he’d discovered a species that was supposed to be extinct, and now he had found it.

Derek raised his camera to snap a picture.

“Damn it,” Derek said as the current took his kayak gliding passed the gator before he was able to take its picture. “I’ll have to turn around and try again.” Muscles burning in his arms and shoulders, Derek turned the kayak around and paddled back. This time he was able to snap two pictures of the gator.

“I’m guessing it’s a ten-footer,” Hal said, pulling ahead of Derek. “You get it?”

“Got it.”

Derek and Hal kayaked further up the creek and around another bend in the route. Watered roared in the near distance.

“I hear the rapids,” Derek said.

“Sounds like a waterfall,” Hal said with some apprehension.

“I don’t know of any waterfalls in Florida.” But whitewater in Florida rivers was like having a panther sighting-it was very rare.

Hal glided away quickly ahead, a new energy.  He disappeared around another corner of trees.

Derek hauled the kayak over to a bank, or basically a patch of plants and tall grass, where he primed his camera. The richly smell of earth and grass clippings drifted up through his nostrils. In addition to majestic beaches, rivers and springs, and forest, Florida has a scarce number of rapids, and Derek was going to capture himself floating and bouncing along the water.

Voices came from further down the stream, just beyond the rapids and where Hal disappeared.  Derek didn’t pay them any attention, pressed the red record button on his camera, and went to push off the muddy bank with the paddle. The paddle stuck in the soft mud. Through the trees and plants, laying in the bog was an alligator.

Heart beating faster, Derek yanked his paddle from the mud. Trembling hands, he pushed off a short log and managed to start down the rapids. He glanced back but couldn’t see the gator within the bush.

It was ridiculous holding his camera to record rolling down the roaring whitewater, a moment from flipping over.

The kayak spun around and backwards it drifted into branches.

“I think he meant to do that,” a boy’s voice came from just beyond where the rapids ended. People stood on a wider bank of white sand, watching and talking as Derek drifted backwards down the whitewater.

A boy, who was with what looked to be boy scouts, and a tall man, waded out with another boy. The two took a hold of the kayak and spun it and Derek in the right direction. With a raise of his paddle and a thank you, Derek drifted away through a narrower section of the creek, where palms and other trees provided shade and relief from the sun’s rays.

Hal’s kayak was banked on a beach of sand to the side.

“Are you okay?” Derek asked, floating passed him.

“Yeah,” Hal said, facing the forest. “Just watering the creek.”

“I’ll wait for you a little further down.”

Derek kayaked between tall palm trees that were protruded from the clear sporadically. A soft shell turtle lay camouflaged in mud. Sweat running down his face, Derek managed to wield his camera out and take a picture of the prehistoric beauty. Florida was popular for its turtle population, and Derek had already captured more than a dozen on camera since venturing the creek.  The reptile extended its neck from its shell, looking at Derek as continued downstream short distance before finding a calm place in the water where the kayak floated slowly, almost coming to a still. He waited for Hal to catch up. Birds chirped. A light wind swooped in. The sunlight spilled through trees.

Water splashed behind him as Hal glided up next to Derek, and they paddled on.

“You know I can’t think of any nature or water like this,” Hal said. “that I’ve enjoyed. I have to admit Florida does have some beautiful water.”

“This is one of my top kayaking routes.” Rarely was a pristine place with wildlife and nature discovered in the sunshine state. “It’s away from the crowd and off the beaten path, as the saying goes.”

Hal pulled ahead as Derek stayed back taking pictures of fish swimming through the water.

“Otter,” Hal shouted with so much excitement it jolted Derek from his concentration on the fish. Adrenaline rushing, Derek paddled faster, camera ready.

The otter swam underwater. The creature pulled itself from the water and stood up as it looked at Hal and Derek. Before vanishing deeper into the forest, the otter slide and pulled itself closer to watch Derek, as if expecting its picture to be takem.

The two kayaked into an area where the branches and trees no longer bent over the creek, where high sunburned grass stood on both sides.

“I think this is where the gators like to hangout and bathed,” Derek said.

“Great,” Hal said mockingly, but with a hint of amusement in his voice. “Thanks.”

“Looks like a gator made that path,” Derek gestured at a path that threaded through the tall grass.

“Okay, don’t pee here.”

A gator, croaked unseen somewhere in the grass. The creek opened up more, no wider than a two-lane highway.

Derek jumped as thunder clashed in the sky. He looked up to see a dark-gray cloud hovering over the creek. Rain drops pinged his legs and arms.

“Great another lovely thunderstorm,” Derek said, the same time jagged white lightening streaked the sky in the too close distance.

“How much further do you think camp is?” Hal asked, shouting over the noise of raindrops splashing the water.

“I’m not sure,” Derek said. “We’ve gone at least over 5 miles.”

Thunder crackled and rain fell more rapidly.

‘Let’s get the hell out of the water,” Hal suggested.

The option between staying a target for lightening on the water or taking the chance to resort to the river bank where a possibility of a gator sighting waited was not an easy one to make. Derek agreed to take venturing the high grass. Electrocution did not sound like a pleasant way to die. And at least they’d have a chance to spot a gator and stay clear of it. Lightening gave no chances. It’d be boom and done. The statistics in Florida of people dying from lightning strikes and floods was high, but Derek didn’t recall the exact number.

“Damn storms,” Derek said as he beached his kayak beside Hal’s not much further downstream. “Another reason I despise Florida in the summer and spring.”

“Let’s find a tree to get under,” Hal said, stepping onto the soft mud. Derek did the same. They stood both gazing about the tall grass.

“Over there,” Hal pointed to trees beyond the tall grass.

They slowly threaded through the high grass. Derek’s heart hammering against his chest, scared of walking upon a gator.

Derek’s and Hal’s clothes were drenched by the time they reached a massive oak tree to take shelter from the rain.

A flash of lightning reminded them of the danger still hovering over them.

“At least we’re in the wilderness getting stormed on,’ hal said with a tired smiled. “If I’m going to die from lightining, I’d rather it be out here than some place in the city.”

“I choose neither one.” Derek could think of other, less painful ways of dying. But in nature, away from the crowd, in the cool rain and lack of mosquitos…

Derek sat back against the large oak tree next to Hal on the damp ground of leaves. He scooped of rich soil and rubbed between his fingers. It felt refreshing to his hands. He looked up through the branches. Water glinted off the Spanish moss. The gray cloud slid slowly west; very slowly.

“We’re all going to die,” Hal said.

‘Now that’s a morbid thing to say,” Derek said.

“But it’s true.”

“Obviously. And we don’t know how or where.” Derek never thought of the inevitable fact so much.

“Nope,” Hal said. “But if I had a choice, if I could know when—”

“You’d choose immortality,” Derek said.

“Do you have any beer left?” Hal asked.

A smile crept across Derek’s face.

“Damn, I left it in the kayak.”

“But you have your camera?” Hal asked, smiling.

Derek pulled the camera from around his shoulder, extended his arms with the camera held in his hand. “Come on, we’ll never have a selfie like this again.”

Hal scooted closer to Derek and Derek snapped the picture.

“Is that called a selfie, if you’re taking a picture of two people?” Hal watched as Derek scrolled to the picture of the two of them with their hair wet and slicked back. “I thought selfies are only when one person takes a picture of himself.”

“I don’t know,” Derek shrugged. “Call it a double take.”

He nodded his head, a calm smile held on his face.

“Well.” Hal stood and stretched his legs and arms in the air. He yawned. “You ready to head back?”

The rain had weakened to a sprinkle, and the sunlight struggled more through the gray sky.

Derek stood.

“Let’s go,” he said. “By the time we get to camp, the others will have lunch ready.”

They hiked back the way they came, the way where gators were less likely to be.

“What’s going to be our job at camp if they cooked?” Hal asked, sliding into his kayak.

“Eat.” Derek pushed his kayak into the water and climbed on. “Then cleanup, which is what eating is.”

They paddled their way to a railroad track that bridged over the creek.

“We’re here already,” Hal said with excitement. “Do you think the others stuck around through the storm?”

“No,” Derek rested his paddle across and let the kayak drift across the crystal clear water on its own. He enjoyed the smell of rich earth and a cool breeze brushing against his face. “What if Florida was cut off from the states and became an island?” Hal said. “Would you like it better then?”

“I’d have a reason to make my long kayak journey back to the states.” Derek found Hal’s island concept interesting. How would Florida be different if it was an island? Heat and mosquitos were liable to stay around.

The sound of voices came from the near distance. Two of the voices sounded familiar.

“That’s them,” Hal paddled faster. “I hope they have some cold beer.”

“Of course they will.”

“Just a minute ago you said they’d be gone,” Hal said.

“I didn’t really know what I was saying.”

The sound of friends where surely to be a place for memories, surrounded by trees, next to water, and the rich sounds and smells of nature.

“This is why I haven’t left hot sticky Florida,” Derek said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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