Strokes of genius

Summer Guide:;;For non-consumptive appreciation of the natural world you can't beat the view from a canoe. The quiet motion of a well-paddled canoe permits approach and observation of wild critters you never see while clomping along a foot trail, mowing the lawn or skydiving.;;Moose, lynx, beavers, pronghorn antelope and seals have watched me drift by over the past three decades, and closer to home there are wonders aplenty. Gators abound in Florida lakes and streams; slider and softshell turtles, too. You may spot a water snake basking on a branch. Between migrants and residents, the bird population is dizzying. Limpkins wail like banshees and peer through the reeds, glossy and white ibises dip and squawk along the shore, a parrot colored purple gallinule carefully treads the lily pads and, overhead, screaming bald eagles steal fish from ospreys, or dive to pick off a coot in the weeds.;;By day, acrobatic tree swallows bugnap through invisible swarms, replaced at dusk by squeaking bats. You are bound to see raccoons washing clams and may spot deer, bobcats or wild pigs, which dart like scared rabbits. Otters will bob up, examine you briefly, then race ahead to play in privacy. Panfish, blushed red with spawning colors, guard nest depressions in the shallows. Peaceful manatees frequent spring runs in cool months. Along the Silver River there are even troops of monkeys gone wild, allegedly after a Tarzan movie shoot at nearby Silver Springs.;;Florida's flatwater streams are an easy paddle up and down, making them ideal for bird-, bat-, beetle- and bobcat-watching. You can tote binoculars, cameras and guide books without fear of capsizing and wrecking the lot. Many of our waterways run through parks and preserves, and because this is a tourist destination for myriad birds, every season has its visual treats. When the warblers move north, the spoonbills arrive from the tropics.;;And the gators. It may just be me, but there is still something about a 14-foot long muscular gnarled lazy scaly reptile grinning at me from the bank that says, "Wild, man. Wild!" ;;Sidebar: Top 5 day trips;;5Wekiva River, Wekiva Springs State Park Short drive to a natural wonderland. Otters, wood storks, maybe a black bear. Take I-4 east to SR 434, west to Wekiva Springs Road. Rentals available. (407)884-2009;;4Juniper Springs, Ocala National Forest Busy but beautiful, a great place for beginners. Crystalline water in a semi-tropical forest. Take I-4 east to U.S. 17 north to SR 40 west. Rentals available. (904)625-3147;;3Silver River, Silver River State Park Travel further west on SR 40, past the big Oklawaha bridge and the county boat ramp on left. Go upstream on the right fork. Monkeys, turkeys, wild pigs. Further upstream, see tourists in glass-bottomed boats(!). Rentals available at local marinas. (904)787-7402;;2Econlockhatchee River, Big Little Econ State Forest Between Geneva and Chuluota on Snowhill Road (Seminole County Road 13). Take U.S. 50 east to SR 419 north (near Bithlo) to Chuluota. You will have to carry the canoe about one-fourth mile from car to water. Consequently, very un-busy. Slow, dark water stream, extreme seasonal variation in water level. A barred owl (three-and- a-half-foot wing span) swooped inches over my head there. UCF students and other wild creatures wander unfenced. Rentals elsewhere on the Econ. (407)366-8063;;1My secret fave It's about two hours from O-town. Exit I-4, turn left, straight on through town, 23 miles out turn right, 14 miles down turn right, five miles down turn right again, two miles down turn left, three miles down turn left. (Distances are approximate.) Launch at a dead end between two old cottages, go upstream or down. Utterly fantastic. Paddle for hours without seeing another human bean. Eagles, limpkins, gators and snakes. See you there!
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