Now, as we paddle to our first site, we continually scrutinize the maps and compass readings to avoid a wrong turn. It's one thing to run up and down the Waterway with a powerboat if you miss the proper channel, quite another with a canoe. We need to be right every time.
Initially, the Turner River is nothing but a narrow river of grass. I dub one section Vulture Valley because of the large number of the carrion eaters that accompany us for a short way. They fly ahead, wait for us to catch up, then move in front of us again.
If I believed in omens, this ugly escort would have me paddling back to the highway and abandoning ship. Instead, it's almost morbidly fascinating to get this close glimpse of vulture culture.
The birds are left behind when the river begins to tunnel through a winding canopy of big mangroves. Mangroves and mosquitoes often go together, but not today. From the Turner we go into Chokoloskee Bay where we pick up our first official channel markers.
Nearing a place called Cross Bay, we hear what at first sounds like a fast approaching sheet of rain. It is overcast, but the clouds seem too high to precipitate such a downpour. As we draw level with the mouth of Cross Bay, I see one of the strangest sights I've ever witnessed in the outdoors.
Scores of ducks--perhaps a hundred or more but it's difficult to tell because they are so far away--are flapping their wings on the water. Apparently, they're corralling a school of baitfish. As the circle narrows, the birds begin to feed in a frenzy.
The slap of duck wings on the water sounds like a cascade of distant shotgun shells. Then the ducks explode off the water, circle over the bay, and disappear south. I am speechless. I knew dolphin performed such intelligent maneuvers, but ducks?
We paddle easily until we near our camp site at the Lopez River. The tide is against us and it's all we can do to shove the canoe forward with our paddles. For 45 minutes we dig fast and deep, exhausting ourselves by the time we reach camp. We're going to hurt tomorrow.
A couple from Michigan is already at the out intended site, one of the largest, so there is still plenty of room. They, too, witnessed the ducks herding fish, so this group effort isn't something we've imagined.
To Part 4