Friday, May 15, 2015

St Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park

I'm riddled with cooties this weekend (I've got an upper respiratory infection), so I'm taking this time to update the blog instead of feeling sorry for myself.

Ok, I'm feeling sorry for myself, too.

I have one of those Florida State Park passes (thanks, sis!) that allows me free entry to all Florida State Parks, so I took my dog kayaking around St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park in April. I wanted to see the sunrise, so I got up extra early, packed up the van, woke up the dog, and hit the road. 

The park is only accessible by boat, which means it's hardly ever crowded. There's a convenient kayak/canoe launch directly across from the park's main docking area. I got there at 6:15 AM -- and saw the sign that said the launch site wasn't open to the public until 7:00. Seriously?! If it weren't for the other people waiting in the lot, I would have cheerfully flouted the rules with a swish of my ponytail.

Once the launch was "officially" open, I lugged the kayak down to the bank, got Duchess settled inside, and we began our journey.

The sun was still shimmying above the horizon when we took off; I'm glad for that. I paddled across the often-choppy waters of the Intracoastal Waterway without incident -- though I did hear the distinctive sound of a marine mammal surfacing to breathe behind me one time. I didn't catch a look at the culprit.

I dipped my paddles quietly, creeping alongside the mangrove-studded shoreline. I eyed the fiddler crabs who eyed me right back from their mangrove root perches, and listened to the characteristic "snap-crackle-pop" sounds of the mangrove forests. 

"Wait... what?" you ask.

No, really. I always assumed it was the crabs who made those popping sounds, but recently my curiosity got the better of me, and I did a bit of research. The popping sound comes from an odd little critter called the Pistol Shrimp. From Tropical Topics newsletter (July 1994):

"A characteristic noise of the mangroves is a loud crack or pop produced by the rarely seen pistol shrimp which inhabits the more fluid soils in wetter parts of the mangroves. The sound is produced by the animal snapping its enlarged claw which contains a unique peg and socket arrangement. It is thought to be a territorial signal and/or a noise made to deter predators."

The more you know....

Yup. That's a pelican.In the spirit of exploration, I let the numerous mangrove alleys guide me along for a while. I know the area well, and I had my map and compass, so I had no fear of getting lost. The sun traced an arc over the trees, and the birds started going about their business. Brown pelicans dive-bombed for breakfast in comic fashion, and egrets glided from their roosts with silent grace, their breeding season plumage ghosting behind them.

Dawn relinquished its tender grasp on the preserve and gave way to the bright morning light. I aimed the kayak toward the water trail that wove through the park; I only had a few hours to spare before being forced to flee the unforgiving Florida sun.

In the shelter of the mangrove islands, the water rested like a blown glass table top. It made for a delightful paddling experience. I spotted a few Belted Kingfishers (a favorite of mine). After a while, Duchess felt confident enough to climb up onto the prow as I paddled on.

The waterway narrowed and the clearance under the kayak became shallow indeed. I had to duck my head and skim my paddles on the water's surface to navigate one channel. It sounds exhausting, but it was a blast.

That narrow channel opened up to a shallow "lake" between the mangrove islands. At this point, Duchess elected to hop out of the kayak and stretch her legs. I laughed at the spontaneity of her slow, deliberate wade through the shallows.

I let Duchess have her fun in the sun, and finally called her back to the kayak. I had to step out into the disgusting, foot-sucking muck in order to get her back in the kayak. It was an ordeal, I won't lie, and the kayak was filthy afterward, but Duchess had fun. I think it's important for a dog like her (prone to nervousness and anxiety) to have positive experiences with things that are still new to her. It's a big confidence builder.

Once we reached the far side of the "lake," I began to hear the distant thundering of ocean waves. I paddled faster, looking for the break in the mangroves that contained the path to the beach. I found it a few minutes later, and dragged my kayak onto a root- and leaf-carpeted bank. 

Duchess hopped out of the kayak, shook her body as was her custom, and darted off to explore the immediate area. I recalled her to my side, grabbed her leash, and together we walked up to the beach.

The beach did not disappoint.

A sprawling expanse of undeveloped ocean-side beauty, there are few beaches like it on the Florida coast. I took a stroll back and forth along the beach, wiggled my toes in the sand, inspected the rocks and shells strewn about, and finally laid out my yoga mat by a massive piece of driftwood and did a few sun salutations.

It was glorious.

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