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

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Dark Ichetucknee Waters

by Virginia Seacrist

July 17, 2013

I pull the lawn mower out of the trailer before opening the house, having come to my Historic Cabin on the Santa Fe River to mow paths in my natural landscape, for one thing, but of course to escape rainy days and nights, humidity, and city heat, primarily. By July, if I'm not at the confluence of the Ichetucknee and Santa Fe Rivers, I've had enough Florida summer. Repetitive weather forecasts drive me to stand neck deep in the clear, blue Ichetucknee waters at least every few hours. That's the only place I feel solace from these increasingly brutal summers.

When I open the French doors to the upstairs balcony, my eyes widen and my mouth drops open. Having pulled the lawn chairs half way towards the house only 10 days ago, away from the river already level with my shallow bank, I am ignorant that daily and nightly rains produced yet another flood here. Like glass painted with silver, our Santa Fe River becomes a mirror. Today white clouds, blue skies, and green cypress needles are doubled in what had been a ribbon of clear water. Now it's an enormous puddle of black, sluggish river. My yellow hydrobikes, tied to a tree on my bank, now float half an acre into the lake-like river. I can barely distinguish top rungs of chairs, with the table umbrella sticking out of an invisible table. Potted plants just blooming...where are they? Great limbs dragged to the fire pit float randomly about. Anything that floats either has washed downriver, or is lodged in unexpected niches.

“OMG. Flood,” I text to him, who with me only days before sat on the bank reading poetry, and we floated downriver amidst others doing what we do best on this most gorgeous of first magnitude springs.

Relinquishing the idea of a refreshing swim in pristine waters, instead I pull on my river shoes and garden gloves. With these frequent, unexpected floods, finding practical ways to clean up is by trial and error. Sometimes I let the muddy floors dry into dust, then sweep them away, but other times I let furniture dry and have to power wash it to remove those tiny water lives which create a fern-like pattern.

I'd already pulled one white vinyl chair to shore, brushing my hand over the slats to remove river grit. Now my garden glove manipulates each crevice and curve before I spray each chair, top and bottom, as the river grit invades every space. Grit becomes a muddy smear, but clear water rises it clean.

Next I tackle the boats deeper in the river. After only 15 years, I finally learned not to tie boats, especially hydrobikes, to tree roots. Not once, but many times, water pressure has broken the sturdiest root, releasing my boats into the current. Pressure can also break the rope; whatever is the weakest link, water pressure always wins. Only days after buying one beautiful canoe, I returned five days later to find all my furniture and new canoe washed away. A neighbor caught my kayak, asking a small ransom for his benevolence. Hydrobikes tied together were found bends away. Some of us are slow learners, but lately I'm tying all boats to tree limbs with plenty of rope for them to float up or down. Regardless of my new vigilance, my knots lay underwater at the joint of a branch, and I'm treading water trying to manipulate key into lock. I've had a boat tied on a trailer float away, catching itself on a neighbor's dock. That release was in February when I had to plunge into frigid waters repeatedly until I cut loose the boat from that trailer, which was able to sink under water.

Flash floods and record rainfall challenge us who live in the flood plain, where climate change continues to produce OMGs in amazingly close sequence these days. We'd better get used to it.

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