The Sun burned through the fog just in time for our launch on the black smooth waters of the Withlacoochee. Dave and Eileen were continuing their role as tour guides; this was their secret favorite paddle and alligators were assured. Osprey and Ibis greeted us at the start. Vultures circled and little herons waded among the cypress knees. The hardwood trees were starting to bud out, but there was not a single insect except a half starved dragonfly.
The main river has cabins upstream and a friendly bank resident pointed out the only gator we would see all day. Then there was this guy, but not nearly as grisly as the white crosses mounted in trees at several turns, Memorials to drunks lost to nighttime air boat crashes, he confirmed.
But there was the more whimsical...
Downstream, we entered preserve land and paused for lunch.
Gum Springs rises nearly 5 miles from the river and braids its way through lowlands seldom over a foot above water level. We entered Gum Slough not sure which braid would take us upstream. We weren't prepared to hurdle or hack our way through blow downs, but we got lucky. We wound through passages that doubled back and overhung our boats, but there always seemed to be a way. The water ran clearer here, less time for the spring water to pick up the tannin stain characteristic of swamps. Meanwhile every turn showed us glimpses of wildlife -- hawks, Ibis in flocks, a huge owl repositioning away from our voices, little yellow warblers and many more too shy to give us a long look. It was tranquil, mildly adventuresome and deeply satisfying to be in such a beautiful place with perfect weather and good friends.