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Articles Lodging on the Santa Fe River, Alachua County, Florida


March 2011
            We’d been mostly floating down the Santa Fe River from the 47 Bridge about an hour when I suggested we take a rest stop. On a Thursday in March we don’t see many other boaters; it’s peaceful that way.
            What’s interesting are the various currents created by underground springs and shoals. On some stretches we’d have to paddle or just languish at the speed of a caterpillar, because the water’s deep and the river is wide. Other waters swirl in the excitement of springs whirling the dark water in circular patterns. Our kayaks might twist as if in Poe’s Maelstrom without our directing them against the corkscrew currents. The most fun are the “rapids,” so to speak, here in Florida. The limerock pan is unbroken and near the surface, so the clear amber water rushes, lapping back over itself in tiny riplettes giving us a little rush. It’s as close to white water as we come on the Santa Fe River.
            An hour into what turns into our six hour “paddle,” more a float, we already have experienced all of the currents, with more of the same to come.
            We are standing beside a fallen tree on one of the many still wild places along the river bank when a canoe with two young men comes meandering along. One is seriously tattooed, the other with a shaved head. Why do I think “Deliverance” immediately?     Actually, before one spoke, I had been sitting on the decaying tree trunk. “Seen any snakes,” he calls. Automatically, I stand up, knowing where those slinky guys like to hide…or live. 
            “Hadn’t thought about them,” I wince.
            “They start to crawl out about this time of year, when it’s warming up.”
            “I guess so,” I reluctantly acknowledge snakes in the woods and river.
            Like a car you pass again and again on a long Interstate Highway journey, because of their and our stops and starts, we did the same on the river that day. I’d see them pull into the bank and poke at it from time to time; then we’d lose sight of them for an hour. Wonder if they were catching ‘nakes?
            No, we didn’t see any along our long, tiring trip. I forgot about them.
            While closing up for the old river house, my cell phone rings. I’m in an animated conversation with the mother of my grandchildren, when I stop and…yes…shriek.    It’s my first response when I see one, or when I feel one under foot in the dark of night.
            I get my daughter all excited too, she, 3000 miles away in the still cold Northwest. “Call a neighbor. Do something.”
            I hold the phone close to my ear as I creep closer, open the screened door to the porch perched high above the river. It’s there, creepy, slinky, and frightening as always. Of course it doesn’t think so; it’s just there, but still, I wonder why it is 11 feet above ground on my screened porch. What in the world is it looking for?
            “I’m just trying to see its color. Yikes, diamonds on its back…long and slim…sort of graceful, like a blithe teen age girl who isn’t quite mature yet. Muted green/gray colors.” I’m trying to see if it’s poisonous, but I don’t really know snakes that well.
            My defense is to move away…sort of like an ostrich burying its head in the ground. If I don’t see it, the snake isn’t there.
            But then…where is it?
            I move to the other side of the house, calm out of sight of the snake in my house.
            We finish our conversation, I relating all the snake incidents…like seeing one crawling down the bathroom sink pipes during a flood, screaming, and then…not seeing it. My son claims, “It’ll find its way out.”
            The worst thing is not knowing where the critter is…so I tiptoe around, peeking warily in all the corners…and don’t forget to look up too.
            I creep back to the porch, and ahhh…no snake. Then, I cross the balcony into the old house and see, under the bunk bed, I see it sliding slowly across the floor into the dark corner.
            I leave the door open enough for it to get out. My hope is that while I’m gone the snake will find that mama mouse who creeps around the house while I’m asleep. When I open the drawer, there she is, year after year…or maybe it’s her offspring’s offspring…having made a nest by chewing a hole in my shorts and shredding the fibers into a soft pile. 
            I could bring the cat, but maybe the snake will do the job…and then, full, the snake will leave. 
            It’s not exactly like a hired assassin.

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