A Unique Exploration of a Florida Crown Jewel
02/26/2013 78 °F
I am soaring through the wild blue. Superman is envious of my perfect form. The landscape below is interesting. I pass over huge bowls of limestone, their bottoms flat and sandy. I speed up as I glide over the lip - a victim of physics. The grasses on the sides of the rock reach out and try to grab me as I hurl along inches above their emerald tips. Then I pass over another rim of different rocky bowl. It is as though I’m filming one of the dramatic aerial scenes with an I-Max camera. You know this scene: The camera soars along a rocky mountain range before narrowly skirting by several jagged peaks and over the valley far below. The effect leaves the viewer thinking they are truly flying, though they are sitting firmly in their seat.
I am NOT sitting in a seat. I AM flying! A surge of tingles erupts at the base of my neck spreading downward through my body to the tips of my toes. I forget about everything, and start a series of lazy barrel rolls. My face holds a wide madman’s grin. This is as good as it gets.
Suddenly, I realize I have done one barrel roll too many. My intake is clogging and my engine coughs at the sudden moisture build up. I thrust myself upward and break through the surface of the water with a choking gasp. I force the water through my snorkel with a gust of breath that clears the airway. I pause for a moment to ease my breathing and take in my surroundings.
I’m bobbing along the Rainbow River in central Florida. It may be the most beautiful river I have ever seen. I think this is because of my choice of exploration technique. Snorkeling a river is far more intimate than other modes - kayaking or canoeing cannot compare. You can look at a beautiful woman, or you can make love with her. Which would you rather do?
Snorkeling reveals the underwater realms in their awesome hidden splendor. Now, I realize not all rivers are equal. Many rivers have terrible visibility-a condition of their hydrology, surrounding lands, trees, and geology. This is not my problem today. The Rainbow River has superb water clarity. The limestone beneath the river filters the water before releasing it by hundreds of springs. The springs on the Rainbow move so much water through that the entire river purges itself every four hours. This is a watery dream.
The water is relatively warm, holding through the winter months at 72 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m wearing a thin wet suit, fins, snorkel and mask. I’m comfortable enough, though slowly getting chillier as the day goes on.
The river holds a steady one knot current. This doesn’t sound like much, but when soaring over those grassy rims of bedrock the flow enhances the feeling of weightless flying. I’m STILL grinning about it. This is a drift dive. This means the river current carries me downstream and I won’t be ending where I started.
The riverbed is beautiful. The main channel rises and falls. There are deep holes and shallow grass beds. I swim over steady sandy slopes and level bedrock. It is an interesting landscape unto itself. The swaying grass is mesmerizing. There are sunken logs and trees to explore, the hiding places for snails and turtles. The underwater springs percolate through the sand and bedrock, often changing my speed as I float over them. Some of the springs were large “caves” that I dove down to explore.
The wildlife under water is tolerant of me. I watch two different types of turtles. They held still for a minute before paddling off to hide in the dense grasses. One of them was a good-sized slider; its bright lines along its head and tail were very vibrant in the bluish clarity.
I love interacting with fish under the water. I didn’t bother them at all. To them, I was just a very strange ungainly fish (to be fair, I have no idea what a fish‘s opinion of me is). There are small schools of bluegills swimming around me. I wiggle the tip of my index finger at them. Sure enough, one of them stops, turns around, and looks at me face-to-face - mere inches apart. It slowly swims up and gives my finger a quick peck to see if it was edible. Realizing it isn’t, it swims off. I did this to other bluegills, and had two fish come up to me and peck me on the eye of my goggles. It was so cool!
I also saw a large gar in one of the deeper holes. The gar is an interesting looking fish with a long narrow crocodile like snout. It had beautiful one-inch spots on its body, to aid in camouflage and artistic delight.
The dive is over and I pass my gear up to the dive captain before climbing up the ladder. I sit down, dripping water, and shivering. I reflect on my day and smile.
One of my philosophical mantras is, “Go with the flow.” Well, today, I did just that.