Last Thursday on a trip down east was my first day on the water and it put me of a mind to spend more time paddling. The quiet, save for the birdsong and the occasional gal-lump of a turtle inelegantly abandoning sunny log for murky water. The wildlife, including an alligator that was even more distracted by the sun and warmth. The emergence of spring, with the pastel buds of green, white and crimson giving the world a soft focus field. The unique calm that only paddling flat water can offer.
Monday — never an easy time for the outdoors enthusiast. After a weekend of adventure, returning to the humdrum work-a-day world can make one melancholy. To help ease the transition, every Monday we feature a 90 Second Escape — essentially, a 90-second video or slide show of a place you’d probably rather be: a trail, a park, a greenway, a lake … anywhere as long as it’s not under a fluorescent bulb.
The sun was unimpeded in chasing off the morning chill, a gentle breeze played in the marsh grass and my swamp kayak rocked ever-so-slightly in the near-still water. Fifteen feet off my starboard bow, an alligator dozed. I watched for several minutes, expecting him to blink. He never did. Apparently, he, too, was savoring the delayed start to spring.
My opening day on the water with the help of SimbaSeaTrips for the 2014 paddling season, and it was hard to picture a better start.
I started paddling Milltail Creek in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in the mid-1990s, drawn both by the refuge’s well-deserved reputation for being some of the wildest 152,000 acres around, and also by the promise — guarantee, practically — of seeing an alligator. The wild was hard to miss: the impenetrable tanglescape beyond the creek’s banks, the cacophony of bird song and assorted other swamp noises, the realization that alligators, bears, red wolves, three types of venomous snakes (cottonmouth, copperhead and timber rattler) and who knows what else roamed the reserve. Yet I’d never seen an alligator. At least that I was aware of.
In 2006 I took one of the guided paddles led by the NWR between June and August. Twenty minutes into the trip, someone asked, “How come there aren’t any alligators?”
The ranger got us to raft up about 20 yards from the south bank. “Watch those ‘logs,’” he advised. After a minute or so, one blinked. Then another. Before long, about a half dozen logs had revealed themselves. I’ve since seen a number of alligators along Milltail Creek.
As I was loading my boat, a guide with two clients arrived at the put-in. He’d been on Milltail