Key to Kayaking in Florida

February 16, 2017 Florida Keys, Kayak, road trip 6 Comments

…it doesn’t always have to be epic

With a pair of incredibly dull telemark skis resurrected from a dump and a love of the mountains, I found myself ass over teakettle heading down a chute, my jacket filling with snow, coming to a most ungraceful stop at the bottom of the mountain to cheers from the patiently awaiting party. I was completely out of my league, but that was backwoods British Columbia, and I was younger then and yes, it was epic.

What does this have to do with kayaking? Year’s later, while I still don’t know any better, I have come to a realization that not everything has to be grand to be worthy of a great adventure.

mangrove_island

A tangle of mangroves

This winter, Barry and I went on an abbreviated trip to Florida. Traveling along the overseas highway we reached our base at the not so touristy Big Pine Key where we had rented a very last minute apartment. Our first day included the compulsory sunburn (never said I was any wiser) during a leisurely walk on the beach at Bahia Honda State Park. Arriving back to the apartment we realized we were sharing it with some long-time residents – a sticky-footed and well-fed gecko that occupied the bedroom, and a family of roaches that lived under the kitchen sink. Who wants to cook anyway when you can easily get a cheeseburger in paradise?

palm_tree_beach

Shelter under the Palm

Without an agenda, we drove down to Summerland Key where we put-in at the end of a road. Being familiar with how tides can create challenges for kayakers, we were keen to get there at high tide. It didn’t seem to matter this time since there was only about a foot-high tide, besides, as is typical with our explorations, we edged closer and closer to the shallows, running aground on the soft sand and occasionally finding ourselves sitting on shelves of tangled grasses.

We quietly paddled towards the numerous shorebirds and hawks perched on the mangroves and watched them stab at skittish schools of fish. Our paddles scared up juvenile nurse sharks and stingrays, forcing them to dart off in the opposite direction. We meandered in the shallow and sheltered waters fringed by mangroves, as if floating over an aquarium stocked with tropical fish.

fishhawk_bscully

Great catch. Photo Barry Scully

Most of the time we paddled in 6-inches of water – and if it wasn’t for all the jellyfish bobbing on the surface, we could have walked. Half way through the day, I realized I was wearing my lifejacket. It seemed kind of silly, but in the words of a wise friend, “not as silly as drowning in 6-inches of water.”– Where was that voice of reason 25 years ago?

keydeerOn an early morning run, to moderate the effects of all those cheeseburgers, I was surprised at a nonplussed buck standing by the side of the road, which at 3-feet high looked more like a lawn ornament. Big Pine Key is home to the endangered key deer. These miniature herbivores are a subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer and are a highly protected species. With all the signs and warnings on the roads, hitting a deer with your car would have been as sacrilegious as running over a cow in India.

A walk through the Key Deer Refuge showed evidence of the effects of hurricane Wilma in 2005. The storm surge flooded the area with salt water and left behind the skeletal remains of slash pine trees. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the remaining pine rockland stands represent less than 3% of their original extent. The bare trees were perfect perches for the bald eagles, but a troubling reminder of the rising sea levels.

baldeagle_bscully

Perched. Photo by Barry Scully

Down the road from our apartment was a large blue freshwater hole set in the pocked limestone. The resident American Alligators appeared to be patiently waiting for handouts at the edge of the observation platform – clearly accustomed to people feeding them.

aligators_begging

Waiting for handouts

While we only spent a couple of days kayaking in the keys, the last-minute nature meant that I didn’t have time to do infinite Internet searches for the best places to eat, sleep, walk or watch the sunset. I didn’t have time to read every disgruntled review that was sure to color my perceptions. This trip was wonderfully unplanned, and it allowed us to discover an area that subsides largely on tourism in an uncharted way. We sampled a few different restaurants and resisted buying the obligatory mile marker t-shirts (what’s with that?), drank cheap beer and didn’t worry about where to catch the best sunset. And in case you’re wondering? Sure, Key West was nice and most certainly a bit of a spectacle, but the sunset at Key Deer Refuge was epic!

sunset

Sunset at Key Deer Refuge

Nice lens, get in the truck

10 things I learned from my daily photo challenge

Its been one month since I started the daily photo project – challenging myself to take a photograph a day that I felt was interesting enough to post online. While this project has been far more challenging than I anticipated, it has also been very rewarding.

I generally find top-10 listicles annoying, however, I am willing to make an exception in the name of efficiency. For those who hate lists, sorry – and for everyone else, here are the 10 things I learned from my daily photo challenge:

  1. Macro photography takes a lot more finesse than I originally thought.

    The shallow depth of field is both a feature and a challenge. Pinpointing a focal point and a close consideration of the backdrop are essential to creating a good composition. Macro photography also gives me an opportunity to view objects much closer than I typically would – revealing the unexpected in the otherwise ordinary.

    day-2-macro-raindrop

    Rainy day macro shot

  2. Expect the unexpected.

    Nine out of 10 times I would have a photo-worthy subject in mind, whether it was a decrepit building or a picturesque bridge. But sometimes, because of lighting, people or just serendipity, the proposed subject turns out to be less of a feature than the unexpected find. A fish stranded on a rock, a lone plant unfurling in the forest, or a light bulb embedded in a tree are all lucky captures.

    fishleaf

    Fishy Leaf

  3. From the extraordinary to the ordinary and back.

    Photographer Oliver Curtis points his camera in the opposite direction of some of the world’s most photographed landmarks to capture an equally gripping image. Instead of another image of Tiananmen Square, Curtis turns his camera to the spectators taking photos of the mausoleum. While Greenville, SC doesn’t have subjects as epic as the Pyramids of Giza or Christ the Redeemer, it does have some quintessential icons that are oft photographed. Take for example Taylors Mills – a one-time factory for bleaching, dying and printing fabrics that is inherently photogenic. Hoping to avoid a cliché, I took a more abstract approach to a close up of peeling paint on a window.

    day-4-peeling-window-paint

    Peeling the layers into the past

  4. Nice lens, get in the truck.

    There is no way around it; I am going to be conspicuous. Whether I’m parked on the side of the road taking a shot of an abandoned mill, or walking in the woods with a telephoto lens, I am going to get noticed, and someone almost always comments about the size of my lens (usually with a “wow, that lens is bigger than you are”). Clearly I’m not invisible so instead I’ll have to come up with a few good one-liners.

    telephotolens

    Maybe it’s the bright red jacket?

  5. Not every day is going to be exceptional.

    While this project was supposed to be fun (mostly), I took it on with the same commitment and dedication I would any other assignment. With that comes a certain level of stress in my need to deliver on expectations. However, not every day is going to bring exceptional results – sometimes a play in light, a long shadow or a single flower will have to do.

    day9-tulip

    Flower power

  6. Elements of Style.

    I approached this project with the desire to expand my photography skills and revive my curiosity. I was also hoping to help define a style. It is so much easier to find a market as a ‘landscape photographer’, ‘portrait photographer’ or the illusive ‘lifestyle photographer’. Instead I find myself wandering the landscape, capturing anything and everything that appealed to me. There are, however, a few elements of style that keep repeating themselves. Patterns, shadows and light play feature prominently in my images.

    steps-in-snow

    Stepping out

  7. Learning the ropes, again.

    I have been shooting a Canon DSLRs for more than 14 years, and you would think I would have figured out all the ins and outs of the camera. But to be perfectly honest, I’ve always prided myself on being what I call a guerrilla photographer (Guer-rilla, not Go-rilla) for the impromptu nature of my captures. This meant that I didn’t always pay close attention to the camera’s settings, preferring the ‘f-8 and be there’ approach. But when it comes to macro, wildlife, or come to think of it, any sort of photography, closer attention to the camera settings has some big benefits. The dials on my camera certainly got a good workout.

    day11-hawk

    Red Shoulder

  8. Discovery.

    Every abandoned building, rusting water wheel and shuttered mill has a history that has brought me a deeper understanding of my surroundings. Photography for me is also a way to document the seemingly insignificant relics of the past that are being bulldozed to make room for a more monotonous landscape. There is nothing wrong with modernity, however, by erasing these run-down relics, we also condemn them to our cultural amnesia and slowly unravel a rich tapestry of knowledge. The Primitive Baptist church down the road reveals the cultural significance of its inception, the shuttered textile mills a significant reminder of the division between rural and urban America. To date, two of the buildings I’ve photographed have been dismantled – and that’s just in one month.

    day22-newrymill

    Newry Mill

  9. Falls, falls and more falls.

    While I’ve always loved waterfalls, I’ve also found them to be particularly challenging to photograph. How do you capture the magnificence of a waterfall in an image without it becoming cliché or boring? Confronted with so many waterfalls, I’ve found that a steady hand, a pair of rubber boots and long exposures are the answer. The challenge is to take something exceptionally beautiful and capture it in an enduring image.

    day28-rainbowfalls

    Rainbow Falls

  10. Get out there.

    I confess, this project has also challenged me to get out there – to stretch out beyond my comfort zone in terms of photography and creative growth. As this challenge comes to a close, I notice that there are some elements in my photography that are strikingly absent. None of my photographs taken this past month have any people in them. This is really ironic since the majority of my past work has included people in them. Perhaps my next challenge is to shoot more people.

    ishootpeople

    Last shot of the month!

Link to Daily Wander for a full photos from the daily challenge project.