Upper FEC near Venus, FL
Fleeting memories are all I have left of paddling on Fisheating Creek (FEC) with our dad when I was a boy, but, because of that experience, the Creek has always held a place for adventure and wildness in my imagination. I've since been back many times - camping, paddling, slogging, even working - and would like to share a few of my photos and stories.
Thlothlopopka-Hatchee is the Seminole name for the Creek, which translates to "the river where fish are eaten". The area has been inhabited by humans from as early as 1000 BC! Where is this place, you ask? Smack in the middle of the lower Florida peninsula, FEC flows directly into Lake Okeechobee. Wait!? Isn't Lake O is surrounded by a dike with carefully controlled-flow canals for inlets and outlets? Yes, but there is one break in that system - Fisheating Creek - which flows freely into the Lake from the swamps and marshes to the west.
Susan Cerulean on the upper FEC
When I was shooting photos for Florida Fish and Wildlife, Susan Cerulean and I spent nearly a week exploring the full length of FEC - the Creek and surrounding land having been acquired by the state and protected as a Wildlife Management Area. At the time, the water level was low. We spent a good many hours dragging our kayaks down a shallow trickle in parts of the swamp.
Fortunately, there were deep spots along the way where we could paddle, but also where the alligators accumulated. We came to one short stretch of deepwater - a gator hole - where we had to paddle a gauntlet of alligators. Many slid into the water ahead of us and disappeared into the dark tannic water, but this youngster swam right over to investigate me.
Some adults held their ground.
More shots from along our journey...
Adrift on FEC
Touchdown. Swallow-tailed Kite
Air Plant Abloom
Black-crowned Night Heron
This Black Vulture was not far over my head as I paddled beneath. I felt like I was being sized up as potential soon-to-be carrion. What might the wild miles ahead have in store? You get the clear picture below -- the typical water level is at the line across these "trees in the swamp".
After an arduous passage, we finally paddled the last leg through Cowbone Marsh, sighting a few limpkins along the way. The real treat, was the "welcoming committee" as we reached the Lake... a small flock of American White Pelicans flushed very near us as we came into view of Big O.
Okeechobee at last!
There's a great campground near Palmdale right on Fisheating Creek. Once on a trip to the Everglades and Keys with John Moran, we stopped for a couple nights to explore parts of the Creek. Here I am with my all-purpose adventure boat that has a large shooting/camping deck, a kayak rack, bike rack, ample dry storage for cameras and camp gear, and even hardware to attach the johnny-pod (a 15 foot ladder tripod designed by Moran).
FEC from the campground
On another trip, Crystal and I camped along the Creek.
Picnicking after a swim
Glide of the Great Blue
Favorite Campsite along FEC (not Campground)
Pond Fracture (closeup of pollen and oils on pond in above photo)
Once, when I had lagged behind (to make a photo no doubt), by the time I caught up, Crystal asked, "did you see that fish on shore?". No, I hadn't. What fish? It looked alive? We turned around and paddled back to the spot. There, 20 feet from the water, in full sun, "stood" a fish! Literally standing. It looked and felt prehistoric... like we were witnessing evolution on fast forward. What the...?!
Dawn of the Dinosaur
Other than flinching a bit when I approached, the fish seemed perfectly content soaking up the rays. Its gills and mouth appeared to be "breathing" in the air". I later learned it is a sailfin catfish, one of the renowned "walking catfish", but I had no idea they could be this comfortable on land.
On another working trip, my daughter Marley came up from Immokalee and camped with me at Fisheating Creek. And so, we circle around. As my dad inspired me, paddling at Fisheating Creek when I was young, so was I able to inspire Marley. (She, of course, grew up camping, paddling, and exploring the Florida Wilds with me, so she already had the spirit of adventure in her by the time we made it to FEC. And lucky her, she lives nearby the Creek and lots of other protected Florida wilderness.)
Sunrise Meadow Knees
Fisheating Creek Dawn
Lake Paradise Bromeliads. (a wide spot in FEC)
I've told the tale of these two alligator photos before... how I learned that imitating a small animal at water's edge could draw a gator to me like flies on... well, you know. Then standing tall stopped him dead in the water. Crouch-stand-crouch-stand, I felt like I had a remote control for that gator's motor.
There you have it - another place and reason to cherish and protect our wilds. May we all be good stewards of the remaining wild places and their flora and fauna, so that our children's children may look in awe and find solace in Nature as we do now.
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