Lake Bradford was our backyard for 12 years. That's where the kids grew up, learned to swim, and came to love nature as much as I do. Where the Junior Museum (they considered an extension of our backyard) was a short bike ride or paddle away. Where the sunset reflected across the lake through silhouettes of the cypress and tupelo trees. From where we could paddle up a long and winding canoe trail through narrow cypress-lined creeks that connected our lake with Lakes Hiawatha, Minnehaha, and Cascade, and into wild swamps of the Apalachicola National Forest. Paradise right on the edge of Tallahassee.
I have paddled these waters countless times over the past 35 years, and though I now live in woodsy Wakulla County (south of Tallahassee), I still return to visit the Chain of Lakes several times a year including every October 1st. That is the day our son, Daniel, died in a boating accident while fishing there in front of our home exactly 15 years ago. Fishing is what he most loved. He was almost 12. It was a time of inexpressible grief and enormous adjustment, but also a time of great lessons and gifts - about priorities in life and love and death - from a boy whose vivacity and generosity had never been in short supply, even in death. For many months after his death, we had unexpected visitors come to our yard from the lake for what seemed like condolences - the kingfisher who took up fishing from Daniel's "secret spot" on the dock for weeks, the bald eagle who lifted a giant bowfin from just beyond our cypress while Marley and I watched, the white squirrel who took up residence in our live oak by the lake, the otter who hung out under our dock for days... to name a few. All rare or first occurrences.
So with reverence and a tender heart I pay homage to Lake Bradford and the Chain of Lakes, and through it, I also honor the memory of my beloved son.
Daniel and Marley, best buds
We saw times of flooding...
Fire Ant Island
And times of drought...
Crystal Sue Jeff and Jupiter hike the paddling trail.
Lake Bradford and beyond is where Crystal and I had our first date - paddling and a picnic. A place and activity that bond us still.
A prime place for photo-adventures. Not long after John Moran and I met, I took him there. We both got portfolio shots and became fast friends. And from his deep well of knowledge and experience, I began receiving invaluable teachings about "seeing outside the box", about lighting, and about impeccability of composition. Below is my version of Double Tree - a shot John spotted, and through which he showed me the value in spending a couple hours or more making a single photo.
John setting up his Johnnypod at the double cypress
Needless to say, I have found the chain of lakes a place of heart and healing, and one of boundless beauty which I sometimes am able to capture through my lens.
Sail on, Son Daniel, and thank you for teaching me so much.