Mortal Coil

Freaky encounters with Mother Nature.

My most memorable canoe trip took place back in 1988 along a Florida Panhandle waterway called Holmes Creek. The fascinating flora and fauna, the sunlight striking the water amid overhanging cypress trees, turtles gliding off the bank and swimming silently away, a large snake sunning itself lazily across a fallen branch at a bend in the river—yes, Mother Nature had certainly painted stunning scenes that I would remember forever.

Even as the stubborn current and a lack of coordinated paddling between myself and my companion carried us slowly, inexorably toward our eye-level encounter with the large water moccasin, I couldn’t help but think “This is the Florida I love.’’ And when our cursed rental vessel finally struck the branch sideways, toppling the 5-foot-long snake into the rear seat that I had frantically vacated 2 seconds earlier, I realized how truly primitive our La Florida could be. The ice-cold water that met me and my paddling partner  as we jumped into the creek—after briefly considering trying to flip the angry reptile out of the canoe with an oar—also delivered a refreshing wake-up call about just how unlucky two people could be.


It took just a few minutes to drag the canoe to shore, take a photo or two, dump the snake out, and pledge to drink ourselves silly the rest of the day. Yet we were excited at the thought of what other “Old Florida’’ excursions might lie ahead—preferably ones that wouldn’t scare the living bejeezus out of us. That’s why I’m excited about this month’s “Florida: Pure and Simple’’ travel package crafted by Gary McKechnie and Nancy Howell. Yes, there are paddling excursions, but also opportunities to enjoy remote beaches, pristine springs, small-town shopping, dining hideaways, cozy lodges, fascinating history and more. Granted, one of the getaway spots, Wakulla Springs, was the filming location for the 1954 classic Creature From the Black Lagoon. But I’m sure he’s gone by now. 

Elsewhere in this issue, there’s my account of a “New Florida’’ excursion, a trip aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship, where the wildlife is limited to characters like Chip and Dale (and the food is out of this world); Greg Dawson answers questions about the Florida heat and the estimated temperature of hell; Joseph Hayes reviews Slate on Restaurant Row and gives a rundown of whiskeys perfect for Father’s Day (or perhaps for consumption after an exciting wilderness canoe trip); and Kristen Manieri profiles prolific artist Jeff Sonksen, whose bikeway fence-painting project has been going on for years—but really is just getting started. 

Finally, we present our semi-annual wedding guide, nearly 50 pages chock full of information about everything from bridal dresses and accessories to memorable honeymoon locales. We’re talking Tuscany, Anguilla, Peru, and other exotic places. I didn’t see a North Florida backwater on the list.

Speaking of which… that water moccasin in the boat? After comparing my photo with those in a book (no Internet available—1988, remember?), I determined that the creature I nearly wore as a necklace was actually a brown water snake. Non-poisonous but nevertheless a nasty sort capable of inflicting “slashing, ripping bites’’ when provoked.

I love Florida. 

Categories: Column