By Herb Hiller
An adventure on Florida's paddling trails awaits at Pellicer Creek in Flagler County
Falling into Pellicer Creek made the day doubly memorable, but if getting wet was all I had wanted, swimming in the Atlantic or splashing in the heated mineral pool at the White Orchid Inn & Spa would have been far less troubling.
The shock locked in impressions I had been forming: that Flagler County has compressed nearly 100 years of changing Florida into the last 25 and acutely captures the state's contrasts.
Land and sea juxtapose sharply in Flagler. Coastal Flagler remains largely open and informal. It provides Florida's third best surfing area. You can walk the shore for miles with nothing to block your view of the sea.
Only a few miles inland, fields of potatoes, sod and soy extend to the horizon.
Here, too, the sharp contrast exists between traditional county seats and modern retirement cities. In a county of more than 90,000, the county seat of Bunnell, founded in 1880, numbers about 2,100. Grannies drive up to convenience stores blue-jeaned on Harleys. Long johns flap on drying lines.
Less than 10 miles away is Palm Coast, founded a century after Bunnell and home to more than 25 times its number. Here people have their poodles groomed, check the Nasdaq and Dow while kibitzing with fellow retirees and, in season, attend performances of the Great American Songbook National Tour or Almost Elton John & The Rocket Band at Flagler Auditorium.
The coast supplies its own contrasts.
From south to north along A1A lies Flagler Beach, residential and closely guarding its open coast with a shore road of unfancy tourist haunts. Just north in Beverly Beach, two RV and mobile home parks crowd the shore dune. RVs give way to Humvees in wealthy Hammock Dunes.
I was sorting this stuff out lately when I canoed away from the landing at Faver-Dykes State Park onto brackish Pellicer Creek. The wind was at my back as I paddled upstream this Florida paddling trail. Jumping mullet supplied the visible wildlife. A few houses showed up, their docks at the ends of boardwalks over the marsh, typically with a couple of lawn chairs.
Big "S" curves opened and closed the way along the creek, everything at first distant, then close-up, then distant again. Osprey nests hung in the crotch of trees.
The quiet scene changed sharply around one big curve of the river.
A cluster of houses rose up a high grassy bluff. The largest resembled a barracks with a long screened gallery. All had docks, some under water and abandoned. A sign at one house read "No trespassing. Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again."
I sat absorbed by this place, here imaginably longer than it was, a town approachable only by water in a time before roads, dating perhaps from Bartram canoeing an idyllic late 18th century moment on the St. Johns; from Thoreau's week paddling the Concord and Merrimack; from adventure writer Kirk Munroe barely 100 years ago starving and desperate for any way out of the imprisoning marsh that closed in big Lake Okeechobee.
An hour later, what I thought would be an easy downstream return on this Florida paddling trail turned into a hard paddle as I determined to beat the wind at its own game.
That wind took the long empty bow of the canoe as a sail. Get the bow into the wind and, if I lost my point for a moment, it was gone, blowing me left or right, swung around facing upstream again.
I would have to back-paddle into a lee and poke the stern of the boat into the needle rush, let the bow swing alongside, then push the stern out wide. I'd set off again, edging toward each next "S".
I'd move out, lose again, back paddle, and start all over.
Except one last time when I pushed too hard from the rush. Gone the balance! Over I went! Gone the tape recorder! I shoved the canoe up on the marsh, dug in the muck for the machine. I was in four feet and very cold. I soon quit.
Funny that the last half mile I put everything out of my head but what I wanted to remember. I beat the wind. Like my recorder in the muck of Pellicer Creek, Flagler impressions stuck.