A special place

"If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is a special place where I spend my afternoon."

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Florida Seafood Festival

   This was the year of the 49th annual Florida Seafood Festival in Apalachicola. It's the largest maritime festival in Florida and every year, tens of thousands of people come to Apalachicola, at the mouth of the Apalachicola river, to join in the fun. Apalachicola is about twelve miles northwest of St. George Island, on highway 98. 

     Some "local flair"
    There was too much to see in two days to get pictures of  everything. And I spent most of my time watching the people. But hopefully you'll get a good idea of what the festival's all about and see enough to know that a good time was had by all.

   Of course, there is a king and queen of the festival. King Retsyo, son of Neptune, is the guardian of the inland waters, the bays, and the estuaries. He also protects the natural resources, and the seafood industry. (Retsyo is oyster spelled backwards). And the queen will travel to other festivals to represent this area and the seafood industry. They're also the grand marshalls of the parade.

"Keeping it Green"
The oyster eating, and the oyster shucking contests, are the most popular events of the festival and bring in thousands of people. There's only a couple dozen contestants, so that leaves a lot of  people to cheer them on. The competitors aren't in it so much for the $100 prize money, as much as they are for the bragging rights. The only rule for the oyster eating contest is that the oysters have to stay down. A serious competitor can keep down around 250 to 300 oysters during the competition. There's a few more rules for the oyster shucking contest. If you mutilate the oyster, you're done. If you nick the oyster, or get a piece of shell in it, you lose points. The goal is to shuck 18 perfect oysters in 2 minutes.
Strolling around under the old oak tree
   When you look at the arts and crafts at the festival, it's easy to see that the people in this area are extremely talented. Pottery, jewelery, paintings, plants, and anything you can think of made with shells, fill the booths lined up under the huge oak trees.  
   And then there's the booth for the local taxidermist, also there to show off his talent. But, this taxidermist only stuffs crustaceans, and lobsters are his specialty. I doubt you'll see that at many festivals up north.   
  One of the very special events of the festival is the "blessing of the fleet". Several clergy, along with the king and queen of the festival, bless the line of vessels that parade down the Apalachicola River.  Shrimp, oyster, and recreational boats, come from across the country to be blessed and protected  from the harms of the seas, and given hope for a good bounty.
   So, add in the Red Fish Run (a race of about three miles around Apalachicola), the blue crab races, live country entertainment (Lee Brice), the rides on the midway, and of course, the best seafood you've ever had, and you've got everything you need for two great days on the river.
   I'm sure the fifty year celebration will be a festival not to be missed. It's hard to imagine how they can fit much more into Battery Park. But, it was hard to imagine someone eating 300 oysters at one time too. But they did it!   

"Kick back and enjoy the fun"

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Trip on the Wakula River

"Enjoying the warmth of the sun"

    Kayaking on the Wakulla River was the best trip of the summer. It's not the most recent, but I hadn't started my blog when I went on this trip. My latest kayak trip down Depot Creek, was fun, but not much to write about. Except the three miles we paddled on the intercoastal before we got to the creek. Let's just say I was ready for some easy paddling!

Kayaking on the Wakulla River

   The entire Wakulla State Park is about 6,000 acres. This includes a spring, and the eleven mile long Wakulla River that was created from the outflow of the spring. The river then flows into the St. Marks river, and travels a short five miles to the Gulf of Mexico.
    The four acre pool, or spring is the largest and deepest spring of the five that are in Florida. It's the main attraction for the park, but you have to take one of the tour boats to enjoy it. There's no cost to enjoy the river. You can go canoeing, kayaking, swimming and sport fishing any time. And there are several places along the river to put your boat in, depending on how far you want to paddle.
    Both sides of the river are thick with tupelo trees and old cypress trees with spanish moss hanging from the branches. And the undergrowth of the forest is thick with hundreds of other native plants. It's the beauty of the forest and the uniqueness of the spring, that made it the perfect backdrop for Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan movies in 1938. The Creature from the Black Lagoon was also filmed here.
    There was a lot of wildlife in, and along the river. We saw turtles, snakes, and a couple alligators, all out sunning themselves on a beautiful afternoon. But the most exciting wildlife came at the end of the trip. A mother manatee and her calf were in the shallow water where we were going to take our boats out. The manatees take refuge here mostly between April and November before traveling down the coast to warmer water. Manatees need to be in water that's at least 68 degrees in order to survive. The water around the spring stays at a constant 70 degrees making it a favorable environment for the mammals. The loss of warm water areas, and colliding with boat propellers, are the two biggest threats to their existence..

The "playful" manatee

   The young manatee showed a lot of interest in me and my green kayak and swam under my boat several times while making a squealing sound.  It definitely acted like it wanted to play. And the water was so shallow in that area, the calf couldn't help but bump up against the bottom of the kayak when it swam under it. It was an unbelievable experience for me. I was lucky to get a shot when it came up to get a breath before going under my boat again.      While the calf was playing, the mother stayed close by. But her level of curiosity wasn't nearly what the youngster's was. You could see the white spots on her back that were scars from colliding with the propellers on a boat.

    I met another character on the river that day. A man taking a three legged dog for a ride in his canoe. The man was convinced the only reason the dog had befriended him was to get rides in the canoe. He said the dog didn't really belong to him, but no one else had claimed ownership either, so a friendship was born, and the dog seemed very happy with his new caretaker. The dog would sit on the riverbank everyday, by the canoe, waiting for his new found friend, hoping they'd be going for a ride. And the man said he was always more than happy to oblige. Sometimes, after the trip was over and they were back on shore, the dog would stay in the boat and take a nap. The man admitted, there were other things he could have been doing that day, but decided the chores could wait until another time.
    I love the way these people think. The days are enjoyed, not wasted. And their priorities definitely seem to be in order.
Best friends

      It was a wonderful day on the river. And it was a trip I look forward to taking again very soon.