Looking at a diagram of Upper Myakka Lake is like looking at a digestive tract. The Myakka River flows into the north and east corner of the lake as a narrow, esophageal channel emptying its contents into a wide and accommodating stomach. On the south and west end of the lake, the Myakka resumes its river form again and passes from the lake like a healthy duodenum.
My plan entails putting the boat into the stomach and paddling a short distance to the duodenal channel and following the course downstream. A concrete weir spans the bottleneck where the river leaves the lake that, depending upon the time of year, can be either exposed above the water or submerged. The water level today is more than high enough to paddle over the little dam, yet low enough to keep any motorboats from the two-mile stretch of river between the lake and the bridge.
Carrying the boat along the riverbank toward the sloping boat ramp, I spy the floating head of a gator in the open water between the bank and a grass island. By now, enough has transpired for me to look upon it with a certain amount of equanimity. Sure, it isn’t the same easy feeling that a snowy egret invokes, but at least I’m not going to hyperventilate over entering the river.
When I paddle past that approximate spot where I saw the leathery head, the animal is not there and I try not to give it much mind. With all the moorhens floating in the reeds like morsels of Chokoloskee chicken, why would any self-respecting alligator be remotely interested in a floating piece of polyethylene?
Past the weir, the water funnels to a singular channel and causes a little uptick in anxiety. The sudden change from wide water to narrow water feels claustrophobic. Visibility is choked off by the marsh grass and I’m suddenly in much closer quarters with whatever is undoubtedly lurking back there unseen.
There’s a simplicity in times like these that negate any need to over think or multi-task. Regardless of the width of the water or things real or imagined, the only thing that needs to be done is steer the boat and work with the current, so I paddle on and just keep moving.
The river vacillates between opening up and being choked off by the grasses and funneling into passageways. The narrow passages are maddening. I keep the paddle pulling through the narrows, eyes darting left and right, just waiting for a gator to emerge. There are bands of boat-tailed grackles on these grass islands flying hither and thither and perching on the stouter stalks. I get mesmerized staring at the smooth heads of the tawny females, thankful for their steering my mind away from its phantoms.
It was bound to happen. Why would it be any other way? I recall writing something in another post – something about being on some trail or in the bush or in some water and having something go down that at the moment makes you declare that the most adventurous thing you’ll ever do again is tie your shoe, but then after the fact you look back on it and are ready to go again. Must…remember…this.