Ocheesee Venture Part I: Ocheesee Pond
By Nic Stoltzfus
Earlier this month, I invited a few of my friends from coastal Florida to come up and spend the day with us in the backcountry of Florida. I had invited seven of them–Leslie and Kent Kolovich; their daughter, Maddie; Joan Vienot; Karen Boudreaux; and Pat “Sheewho” Cummins–to paddle Ocheesee Pond and then go visit my aunt’s dairy farm, Ocheesee Creamery, in the afternoon.
Ocheesee Pond was recently added to the Florida Greenways and Trails as a paddling trail. However, calling it a pond is a bit of a misnomer–at around 2,000 acres, it’s more like a lake. It’s a beautiful paddle–the tea-colored pond is covered with cypress trees and, on previous paddles, my dad and I have seen all kinds of wildlife: osprey, owls, woodpeckers, turtles, to name a few.
My friends arrived around nine in the morning; a summer thunderstorm tailed them on their way from Panama City. My mom and dad suggested that we head over to the pond and begin paddling before the storm caught up with us. The ten of us quickly loaded up in our vehicles and made our way to the pond. When we arrived, the wind was whipping the water, and the sky was bruised black and grey. Thunder boomed and brackled, and the air was cool. My mom checked the radar on her phone and said that this band would soon pass. We stood on the edge of the ramp and waited.
There was a man sitting on the embankment beside the ramp with his feet and a fishing pole dipped into the water. I walked up to him and said hello. He eyed me suspiciously. “Y’all been here before?” I told him I was from Blountstown, and that I brought some friends from Panama City to paddle on the pond. We made small talk, and he told me that he caught a small three-foot gator while fishing off the side of the ramp. “He ate my cork,” he said in a syrupy accent. “There’s other gators further back, too. Big ‘uns.” I raised my eyebrows at that. “Might not wanna swim outchyonder.” I thanked him for his advice.
By that time, the blackened band of storm clouds had blown further east, so we pushed our kayaks and paddle boards into the water and began paddling. No one was in a hurry; the pace was nice and slow, everyone was enjoying the scenery. A gentle breeze blew through the Spanish moss draped over the cypress branches, and it was the coolest I had felt outside in months.
We paddled into a cypress dome, and it began to rain again. We sat there surrounded by the steady sound of rain and the sweet smell of blooming water lilies. The overhead storm cleared its throat and spat rain harder towards the ground. The falling liquid smacked the brims of our hats and the surface of the water. The wind picked up, and we shivered, drenched.
The rain finally lightened up and a few patches of blue sky appeared. When it stopped raining, my mom checked the radar again and said that another storm was coming through–this one more intense than the previous two.
We paddled back to the ramp, past wood duck holes and wasps’ nests, past cypress knees and and submerged stumps; we paddled, us adventurers ten, soaked with rain and joy and wonder.
Photography by Joan Vienot
Video Production by Leslie Kolovich