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
Standing Up for the Planet by Bob Purdy
World Paddle for the Planet Day is coming up on July 25TH!…
We can do this, the operative word being WE! I AM ASKING FOR YOUR HELP! I AM ASKING YOU TO SHARE WORLD PADDLE FOR THE PLANET DAY WITH YOUR FAMILY, YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR NEIGHBORS, YOUR COWORKERS, YOUR COMMUNITY GROUP! I AM ASKING YOU TO CONTACT YOUR LOCAL MEDIA AND LET THEM KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING! I AM ASKING YOU TO SHARE WPFTPDAY ON SOCIAL MEDIA! I AM ASKING YOU TO SHOUT FROM THE ROOF TOPS, “WE CAN TAKE CARE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING ON THE PLANET”! I AM ASKING FOR YOUR HELP TO TAKE WORLD PADDLE FOR THE PLANET DAY VIRAL!…
I am asking you to “Pick a change you want to see in the World, paddle for it on July 25th, then commit to that change until it becomes reality”. Join me on the Shuwap River in Enderby, Beautiful British Columbia or wherever you live on the Planet and paddle starting at noon! Pick your own change, or hop on board with my change for this year, “Changing direction from harm to care”. Let’s join together in massive numbers to send a “Wave of Change” around the World!
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, “WE CAN DO THIS”!…
My name is Bob Purdy, I am the Standup PaddleSurfing, Elder in Training from Paddle for the Planet. I have paddled every day since January 1, 2011 to “Change the Way we live on the Planet”.
Environmentally “Climate Change” is a hot topic, no pun intended. There is not a part of the Planet that has not seen extreme weather events, droughts, floods, storms, short intense weather events, some kind of abnormal activity. We humans continue to promote environmental harm by our refusal to take responsibility for our part in these weather events and other activities like resource extraction, deforesting, overfishing, pollution and more. We humans continue to promote social harm by our active or passive participation in wars, poverty, hunger, abuse, racism, addiction and more. We humans continue to promote economic harm with our belief and support of a capitalistic system of control that is out of control and borders on the psychopathic.
By far the number one comment I get from People everywhere I go is “I am only one person, what can I possibly do to make a difference”? What I have learned that I as one person can do can be summed up in two words, “Take Care”! Every single person on the Planet has the ability, the responsibility and the need to make decisions. Every single one of us makes a host of decisions during the course of a day. Here is what one person can do. Every time you make a decision ask yourself this question, “Is what I am about to do, the decision I am about to make, going to promote harm or care”. That’s it!
Does buying that bottled water promote harm or care? Does gossip promote harm or care? Are your relationships promoting harm or care? Are you taking care of yourself or promoting harm? Etc. Etc. Etc.
I am a fairly simplistic person, to me harm is bad, care is good! I don’t know too many people who prefer harm over care. Harm feels bad, care feels good. In my simplistic way of thinking and being the path seems obvious, find the harm in the challenges we are facing and replace the harm with decisions and actions that promote care!
That is what World Paddle for the Planet Day is all about. We live in a time and place where instant change can and does happen. All it takes is all of us! Can you imagine how much we can change if we all get on board and promote care over harm? I can, it’s what drives me to paddle every day to “Change the Way we live on the Planet”.
The Paddler’s Planet with Christian Wagley
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It’s a hot Sunday afternoon on the summer solstice, and with the sun at its highest in the sky above I take a ride to a rural swimming hole on the Perdido River along the border between Florida and Alabama. Parked cars line both sides of the road leading down to the water, hinting at the scene ahead.
The descending road levels out on a flat floodplain along the River’s banks, and the view before me makes my eyes grow wide. It’s a beehive of activity, as a couple of hundred people are in the River and along its banks–swimming, fishing, picnicking, lounging—enjoying a Father’s Day afternoon.
Young children wade gingerly through the shallows as parents hold their tiny hands. Older kids leap into the River from the sandy banks and bob their heads beneath the water, always coming-up with smiles on their faces. Grandparents sit in folding chairs beneath the shade of trees, watching over it all.
The shallow River flows clean, tinted brown by the natural tannins that seep from vegetation as rain drains through hundreds of square miles of mostly forested land upstream. While I doubt that anyone enjoying the cool water is thinking about it at this moment, there’s a beautiful relationship between the River and the surrounding forests that makes this entire scene possible.
The warm moist air rising from the Gulf of Mexico helps to fuel over 60” of rainfall per year along our coast, making it one of the wettest areas of the country. When storm clouds drop their load over a native forest, so begins a series of amazing interactions between rain, forest, land, and river.
The falling rain first strikes the leaves and branches in the tree canopy, which can be 100’ in the air among the oldest of the longleaf pine trees that once dominated the coastal plain. Depending on the intensity of the storm and density of the canopy, around one-quarter of the rain can be absorbed by the forest canopy where it then evaporates back into the sky.
What does move through the canopy has been softened, falling more gently toward the ground. On its way to the forest floor the rain reaches an understory of small trees, shrubs, and grasses that further absorb the flow.
The remaining rain finally reaches the forest floor, where a dense carpet of leaves, pine needles, plants, and decaying organic matter soak-up the water and hold it like a sponge. The upper layers of soil and leaf litter teem with a rich diversity of microbes, fungi, and other life that cleanse the water of pollutants like sediment and nutrients, before it filters slowly into the ground where it flows underground into nearby rivers and streams.
Looking out on the river that day, I watched people frolic in water that had fallen as rain weeks and even months ago, slowly delivered to the River clear and clean by the undeveloped forest upstream. In using the river they were most certainly embracing the wonderful natural system that ensures that waters run pure.
Wherever we live, the waters we love to paddle depend on what’s upstream. Healthy waterways can only stay healthy by keeping most of their watershed intact, in its natural state of forest or grassland. The more we understand and embrace this, the more we can work toward preserving the large areas of land that must stay undeveloped to protect these waters.
As paddlers that means looking many miles upstream and advocating to preserve lands in parks, private preserves, and well-managed timber and grazing lands. And to steer new housing and development into already developed areas and more compact patterns that use less land—urban areas where we can leave the car behind and do a lot more daily travel by bike, on foot, and with transit. It’s the big-picture approach we have to follow in order to save every favorite little swimming hole and stretch of waterway all across the land.
Excerpts from Laudato Si’
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Last Thursday, the pope released his first encyclical. Its topic was a somewhat unlikely one: climate change and the continued destruction of our planet. For the figurehead of the largest Christian denomination in the world to deliver an encyclical, one of the highest-ranking documents a pope can issue, on environmental issues is not something to be taken lightly. Furthermore, Laudato Si’ (whose title is inspired by poetry from Saint Francis) is addressed not only to Catholics, but to “every person living on this planet.” (Section 3) At 184 pages, it is about the size of a novella, and it reads like a college textbook throughout most of it. However, there are some moments within the encyclical that are quite inspiring and resonated with me. Here, I share them with you:
If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled. (Section 11)
In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the more hidden areas where the disposable of society live. (Section 45)
Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (Section 49)
Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions. (Section 137)
It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature. (Section 139)
We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment. To be serenely present to each reality, however small it may be, opens us to much greater horizons of understanding and personal fulfilment. (Section 222)
Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (Section 223)
Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life. Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances? Many people today sense a profound imbalance which drives them to frenetic activity and makes them feel busy, in a constant hurry which in turn leads them to ride rough-shod over everything around them. This too affects how they treat the environment. An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence “must not be contrived but found, uncovered”. (Section 225)
We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it. We have had enough of immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty. It is time to acknowledge that light-hearted superficiality has done us no good. When the foundations of social life are corroded, what ensues are battles over conflicting interests, new forms of violence and brutality, and obstacles to the growth of a genuine culture of care for the environment. (Section 229)
Saint Therese of Lisieux invites us to practise the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms. (Section 230)
Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world. Love for society and commitment to the common good are outstanding expressions of a charity which affects not only relationships between individuals but also “macro-relationships, social, economic and political ones”. (Section 231)
The color tells a story by Christian Wagley
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It’s a fine day for a sail as I rise in the early morning darkness to catch a ride on a friend’s sailboat for a daylong voyage into the Gulf of Mexico. As I sip coffee and gather my provisions in the morning silence, I relish the thought of sailing in a single day from bayou to bay to gulf, and observing the colorful changes along the way.
We motor out of the slip and leave the dark and sheltered waters of the bayou, entering the larger Pensacola Bay. The moon sets in the western sky and the first light of dawn appears in the east. Once past the narrow channel we turn the engine off and let the sails fill with a gentle wind.
We sail toward the pass, a narrow channel between two barrier islands that follows the route of the old river that is now a drowned valley some 50 feet beneath us. Sea level was much lower 18,000 years ago, and the river once flowed many miles farther before it reached the Gulf.
Approaching the pass the calm bay waters begin to churn as the opposing forces of Gulf and bay meet in the constricted channel. With each ebb and flow of the tides, huge volumes of water push through the narrow pass and collide in a dramatic turbulence.
From the upstream watershed of 7000 square miles of land comes the fresh water that falls as rain, filters through forests and pours across streets and parking lots, and flows down miles of streams and rivers to the bay. And from the Gulf come briny waters carrying the dissolved salts and tiny larval creatures of the sea. These contrasting waters mix in some places and stratify in others, and here at the pass they hit head-on.
The whitecaps and foam on the surface clearly show the epic battle of waters taking place, but it is the color of the water that draws my eye above all else. The bay waters are a dark blue stained brown by loose soil and tannins—compounds dissolved from tree leaves and other plant parts. The Gulf waters are an intensely clear green, looking even greener in colorful contrast with the bay.
The differing colors offer a great lesson to paddlers in observing the many waters we encounter. Brown water could be carrying mud, or naturally-occurring tannins as rain filters through forests. A brown color can also come from tiny plant plankton (called phytoplankton) that tint the water. In general, these darker and browner waters tend to carry more nutrients and support more biologically productive natural systems.
Where waters are an intense clear blue they often indicate more of a biological desert, as sunlight reaches through clear water with little phytoplankton and all but the blue wavelengths of light are absorbed. Green waters often lie in between, as areas where moderate levels of nutrients feed phytoplankton containing chlorophyll that color the water.
But color is not the whole story. Many of the most troubling chemical pollutants and pathogens introduced by humans are invisible to our eyes. Mercury, PCBs, chemicals that drip from cars, viruses, and bacteria are causing harm in many coastal waters and yet can only be seen through laboratory analysis.
The color of the waters we paddle tells a story, and one that we should all know and understand better. But color is not the whole story, and so we have to continue to support scientists and citizens who collect water samples and monitor the waters we paddle. Only by having the complete picture of the health of our waters—observing the changes we see as paddlers, and acting on the recommendations of scientists who see what we can’t—can we restore and protect the waterways we love.