The forest on our property in Martell Township was once a fairly diverse mix of white pine, American elm, sugar maple, black maple, red, white and bur oak, black cherry, basswood, ironwood, hornbeam and butternut. The native Americans intentionally burned the area for thousands of years, favoring bur oaks and savanna vegetation. Early European settlers logged and cleared much of the land, suppressed fire and grazed the woods with cattle, sheep and pigs. Much of the area became pasture and cropland, leaving some large spreading bur oaks, basswood and sugar maple trees.
Although we have all the Apostle Islands on our "bucket list" to visit, we often return to Stockton Island. Last week Wednesday our boat got a workout powering into stiff northeast wind and waves. The "Lake is the Boss" T-shirt logo applies when the wind is from the north and east. There aren't many safe overnight anchorages in the Apostle Islands when the wind is from those directions. Presque Isle Bay on Stockton Island provides fine shelter from the north and east winds.
Carol and I decided that we like Cedar Key, on the Gulf coast of Florida, so we made an offer on a house there for our winter retreat. After clearing lots of snow early April 4, we left our home near River Falls and headed south. The roads were covered with snow and ice as far south as Des Moines, Iowa. It was a relief to drive on dry pavement. We visited friends near Columbia, Mo., and Pensacola, Fla., on the way to Cedar Key.
"Till last by Philip's farm I flow To join the brimming river, For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever." from Alfred Lord Tennyson, "The Brook" Spring is a great time to be out on or along rivers. Brimming with snowmelt and spring rain, rivers are up, sometimes out of their banks and into their floodplains. Fish are migrating to spawning places, young muskrats are searching out new territories, beavers are out scratching around in the middle of the day, songbirds are migrating through and wood ducks are nesting in hollow trees.
Carol and I are retired now and have looked forward to longer escapes from winter for many years. Tired of the polar vortex conditions this winter, we went to Florida before Christmas. We enjoyed many days fishing out on the water and hiking in the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the "Nature Coast." The Gulf Coast of Florida in January isn't very warm much of the time. It froze a few nights and the locals were chilling.
After six weeks in Florida where it was unseasonably cool but pleasant, Carol and I returned home and had to acclimate to winter again. Now we are heading back south to Belize where we have gone on winter breaks nearly every year since 1990. We look forward to temperatures in the 80s, sun, trade wind rattling the coconut trees and seeing our Belizean friends again. Of course I'm writing this with great anticipation after another below zero morning outside walking the dog and getting in firewood.
There's not a lot to do in Suwannee, Fla., that doesn't involve going out on the water and fishing. Each evening we consult the tide chart to see when the low and high tides will be the next day. We are staying on the Suwannee River-side of town so our dock is in fresh water. The tidal range is 3-4 feet. The first night we were here, our boat was pinned under the dock on a rising tide. When I went out to check it at night, water was nearing the starboard gunwale. I pried the boat out from under the dock and it flopped back to its normal floating position.
Large floodplain rivers and salt marshes are among the most productive ecosystems in the world. There's an explosion of life where the Lower Suwannee River meets the sea on the Big Bend on the west coast of Florida. The historic Suwannee River flows about 246 miles from the Okefenokee Swamp on the Georgia-Florida border to the Gulf of Mexico. The Suwannee is one of the wildest and most undeveloped river systems in the country. It meets the shallow Gulf in a broad salt marsh estuary with two main outlet channels and dozens of tidal creeks, sea grass flats, islands and oyster bars.
Although we aren't freezing our faces off in Cedar Key, Florida, the northern Gulf Coast is rather chilly for this time of year. Air from the brutally cold north has found its way here. High temperatures are barely into the 60's with colder days forecasted for this week. Water temperatures in the shallow sea here have fallen from 68F last week to 54F yesterday.
We loaded the truck and boat in a snowstorm on Wednesday last week and drove on slippery roads south to Rochester, Minn. We lost the snow cover in Iowa. A 30 mph tailwind from the north chased us down to Hannibal, Mo. It was still cold with a north wind the next day when we stopped for the night in Elvis's home town of Tupelo, Miss. Pine branches were down near Meridian, Miss., where several inches of wet snow fell earlier last week. A cold north wind followed us south to Pensacola, Fla., where we stayed with friends on Perdido Key.