Back in the heat of summer, Mr. B. and I took a river trail through the Silver River State Park in Ocala. The trail was one of those easy lopes that the serious hiker would likely find laughable and that I found doable, until I ran into a yellow rat snake as I tiptoed through a grassy section. It was the only time I’ve seen a snake on a trail, yet it made me backburner the park’s other trails until I could start wearing my heavy-duty hiking boots again.
Now that summer is just an overheated memory, I suggested to Mr. B. that we try the swamp trail in Silver River. It’s 1.9 miles roundtrip and it ends in a boardwalk. The river trail we’d taken earlier was really nothing more than a path to a kayak launch. The swamp trail turned out to be a decent hike along a leaf-covered path of various widths. Now here is where a year makes a huge difference: I marched on ahead on Mr. B. I marched quite a bit ahead of Mr. B., because Mr. B. was fiddling with his camera, trying to find the auto-bracketing function. I marched so far ahead of Mr. B. that when I called out “Hello?” into the dense hardwood hammock I heard a thready little “Hello!” back.
The trail came to a boardwalk that crossed a nice little swamp, no doubt home to cheerful cottonmouth families and snap-happy alligators. I realized as we walked deeper into the woods that my fear of reptiles had been replaced by a fear of coyotes. This was due to a front page article in the Gainesville Sun that warned of the coyotes’ presence within Gainesville city limits; the article reawakened a dormant fear of mountain lions I’d had since the days when I used to live in California canyons. The lions were a real threat in two of my old neighborhoods and on the trails in the hills above my house. For whatever reason, mention of coyotes reminded me of living in the canyons and of smelling the mountain lion’s distinct whiff of civet. I recalled how I smelled this civet one night as I walked up the hill to my home; it was a hot and feral smell that made me wonder how far away the cat was from me as I brushed past a clump of bushes.
The Silver River is a glorious waterway fed by the artesian spring at Silver Springs tourist attraction. It is home to large alligators, a variety of birds, and wild Rhesus monkeys. It’s a prime spot for kayaking and boats can be rented at the State Park.
At the end of the trail, we stood on the boardwalk over the edge of the river and listened to thumps from the woods–things falling, I imagine–and experimented with our cameras. We’d arrived a beautiful and remote spot where we encountered only one other couple, and then we had the spot to ourselves. Small fish swam in the reedy waters beneath and Great Blue Herons waded or flew by. The Asian Festival and its stresses seemed months, not weeks, behind us, although we did get around to speculating on what to do with certain areas next year. That’s the secret to our success: We spend a year talking the thing out in an unhurried manner.
We walked back on a different trail, and as we neared the parking lot I spied a small sign advising that the very venomous Eastern Coral Snake inhabited the woods. Well, no kidding. Thanks for the gentle reminder, a far cry from the one around the corner from my house at Kanapaha Park that makes it seem almost a fait accompli to tread on a cottonmouth. I took a picture of the sign and then we walked back to my car, admiring some rubber matting that looked like bark in a children’s play area and happy to have the leisure time to do so.