A Shake-Down Paddle on the St Johns River

Note: Written in 2011, just before thru-paddling the St Johns River.


Starting Point: Lake Washington Park
End Point: Oak Trees Shelter
Daily Mileage: 8.35 miles
Time: 3 hours
Total Mileage: 8.35 miles

Hi, my name is Matt Keene, and I have an addiction.

I am addicted to sound.

Not that god-awful clamor that fuels your towns, invades your suburbs, and fills your homes. No, I am addicted to the real stuff. The stuff that, no matter how hard you try, you have been unable to synthesize.

The sounds begin with that barely perceptible wind as it dances with the grasses on the river’s edge. Then it is joined by a soft chorus of crickets clinging to those grasses in the narrow boundary between water and sky. It is a zone that is not quite terrestrial and not quite marine. It sways with the fluidity of the water and yet in places seems thick enough to stand.

It is in this zone that exist pockets of sounds that are startling in their beauty. They have the ability to penetrate your ears and carry you back thousands of years in their primordial bliss. They are rookeries of life where the birds congregate in church-like sanctity, fluttering atop beds of vegetation, isolated by their curtains of dancing grasses and singing insects. It is a moveable feast for the ears.

And all the while I found myself entranced, my paddle swinging like a metronome, each blade dipping into the water, the water droplets slipping off the paddle and chiming on the surface of the water as they reunite with their self, their moving body flowing north, always north. Yes, I am addicted to the sounds.

And now I found myself betrayed by the sounds of the night. My body has become used to the electrical hum of central air conditioning, the mechanical resonance of water moving through pipes. My body must be the one who has betrayed me – for what is more terrifying, the harsh clatter of modern living or the raccoon that crunches tender earth as it moves through the night? These sounds have become foreign to me, deeply buried behind the fog of civilized living.

I feel my soul opening up to them – the mosquitoes hum, the barred owl’s call, the fire’s crackle.

I feel my spirit being caressed by their covered memories, and as I walk to my tent on the edge of the woods, I close my eyes and listen to the pads of my feet reuniting with the sounds of the earth they’d forgotten how to make.

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