There is no finer Florida activity than following the Suwannee River around the North Central part of the state. While not as mighty as the Mississippi, the Suwannee has its own strengths, not the least of which is the fact that it is found in rural areas. Tremendous opportunities exist for sudden and stupid braking of one’s vehicle. Here, the Suwannee runs under US 27 at Branford. I first saw the Ivey Memorial Park in June of 2008, when I crossed the bridge on my way to Gainesville from Mobile. I’d never been in Florida before and I was feeling exceptionally cranky. My home was 3,000 miles away and I had just spent a couple of hours with logging trucks bearing down on me as I cut through back roads from Tallahassee. I’d stopped at a rest area, only to step on fire ants, and when I tried to sneak my overheated dogs into the ladies’ room for some water I was confronted by a prison warden of a bathroom matron who threatened to have me fined.
Then I saw the river. This was a highpoint of my cross-country trip. I realized that I hadn’t put much thought into the whereabouts of the river despite knowing the complete lyrics to the song, or whether the river was even real. It’s kind of like “My Old Kentucky Home.” Does anyone think this is a real place? And Stephen Foster, who wrote the song, was pretty guilty of writing colorful fiction.
So there I was, staring down at the river as I sped my SUV over the bridge, when it dawned on me that “Swanee” was a contraction of “Suwannee.” There was nothing else to think here but “Gee whiz.” This made me very happy and I drove the rest of the way to Gainesville with a banjo on my knee, where it interfered with my ability to make right turns.