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


The last day of March 2010 brought temperatures warm enough for a swim at sunset in the Santa Fe River. Our long, long, cold, cold winter finally seems to be over. It’s time to rake winter away and plant flowers. I was taking a look at the delicate and ephemeral white rain lily carpet across the river in the Suwannee River Water Management (SRWM) area, looking for patches of those tall, sturdy yellow daisy-clusters when I saw it: my dock.
Docks are nothing but trouble…well, not nothing, but in the flood plain of a volatile river most docks have problems.   So, I’ve never wanted a dock, but sometimes one comes floating by and I borrow it.
You see them as you boat by: docks broken loose, docks with trees on them, punctured pontoons holding docks askew, 4x4s in cement filled buckets holding up docks high and dry, docks rotten and falling into the water. If you can’t afford to build a really good metal or properly anchored dock…well, just wait until one floats by.
It’s spring here at the river. Wild cherry trees have broken into white blooms and sport red cardinals. Humming bird wings can be heard looking for nectar and for the feeders to be filled. One flew up to and circled me on my balcony chair, probably because of my red shirt. Our male otter braves the shoreline on his morning breakfast search. His splashes and the crunch of that little fish he caught disturb the mourning dove coos.
Our Santa Fe River reached a flood stage we can tolerate, because it didn’t cover the road or encroach into our houses this year. This was a flood that oozes up when the Suwannee pushes its waters back, even darkening the Ichetucknee for about a mile up. As the river drops, the fishing is good…leaves insects in the muck for the fish to eat near the shore…I guess. Maybe that’s why the otter comes up almost to the house morning and evening, like the fishermen who, in flood time, boat right beside our windows.
Sometimes the flood doesn’t ooze slowly up and drown your campfire while you’re sitting there watching, but it rages like the wind makes a tornado, furious and fast. That’s when the flood comes from the source somewhere far away like Georgia’s Okeefenokee. Those kinds of floods surprise us, and we come from the city to find our lawn furniture and boats swept downstream. That’s when the docks float by.
Other times we just get too much rain and the water rises like it fills a swimming pool or a bucket.
A flood can come up fast and go down fast, like filling a bath tub and pulling the plug…maybe six weeks from start, crest, to back in the banks. Or it can come up slowly, stay up high for nine months, then, just as slowly drain away. Those floods give you time to get your stuff out of the house, move your car you keep there just to pull your boat and trailer. These floods don’t scare you.
I’m no scientist, but that’s my observation living here on the river now for 15 years. At first, like in the big flood of ’98 that came slowly and lasted 9 months, we newcomers to the river panicked. We hired men and trailers to carry out our stuff and had sobs and notes of terror in our voices. But it was exciting. After we’ve been through five or six floods, we stop putting beds and refrigerators downstairs…well at least until a year later, when we forget the hassle of floods.
After about the tenth flood in a dozen years, we start putting out the “For Sale” sign when flood waters that covered the road have receded for several weeks. We live with the stench of drying muck, hose out the downstairs, repaint, and we’re tired. But then, we take down the signs two or three months later, because, living on the river is a way of life some of us like.
This flood of 2010 wasn’t so bad. Even though I’d left the boats untied and the lawn furniture in flood water’s way, they somehow stayed put. Asked to stay away to help another for the second winter month, I do remember asking someone to tie up the boats…I did think of that. I did receive a call too, from my only neighbor, while I was having lunch 3,000 miles away: “We’ve seen water gushing from your house now for a few days. Guess the pipes froze. Want us to go turn off the pump?”
I didn’t hear about the flood though, so I was surprised when I drove up to see water up to the wall of my house… not inside, mind you…just up to the wall. Dark flood waters obscure what’s underneath, unlike when the river’s in its banks and is translucent.  Then I can see shadows of fish on the bottom from my balcony above and beyond the river. I didn’t know if my furniture was under there or downriver somewhere, but I did know my dock was gone. I’d made a little bridge of it, since it was broken and in pieces. I did notice it wasn’t there.
One February day was warm enough to launch the kayak to survey just how far the Santa Fe had pushed its tanic waters into the Ichetucknee. I wasn’t looking for it, but as I passed the park, I did see part of my dock. Without leaving the Ponga, not the sleekest of kayaks, but maybe the most stable, and certainly the cheapest, I attached a rope to the 6’x2’ piece of dock. That day the gods were against me: the wind at my face and the current too, as an hour passed before I could tow that submerged piece of rotten wood back to my property.
This effort just proves that when you have something, you don’t want to lose it. Attachment is one of the causes of suffering, you and I both know. I never built a dock, but this one had floated by a few years ago and I nabbed it. All broken up and nasty, I felt obligated to use it somehow.
Two months after that rescue, as the Santa Fe is oozing back into its banks, like a balloon with a pin hole leaking out the air, I spy another piece of my floating dock. “Well, looky there,” I say to the dogs who always accompany me, one swimming beside and the other riding atop the hydrobike. “Wonder if I can get it back home.” Knowing it is mine because of the black and white nylon rope tied to the hole in it, which ties it to the tree, I tumped it end to end across the muck where the yellow and white spring flowers bloom, floated it across the slough, turned it end to end up the ridge to the river’s edge. Hydrobikes are useful flood boats. On top of the yellow pontoons you can put your dog, your cooler, your shovel, and yourself. From the end you can tow stuff, even a 4’x2’ piece of rotted wood turned with its edge against your way.
These days the gods are with me: why else would I spy my piece of dock lying where I never go except to look at the spring carpet of flowers. So, with the wind at my back and the sun in my face, and with relative ease, I retrieve something I don’t need, but which floated into my life. Now, I have to take care of it.

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