Tag Archives: Live Oak Production Group

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part IV: The Hump

January 11th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

1543300_628952130474300_1612389760_n

Cypress stump on the Dead Lakes (Photo: Joey Dickinson)

Monday, December 9th: Day 5

I still felt like crap. The last two days were hard, slugging days of 20 miles apiece. By now I was tired, grumpy, and desperately wishing for hot food, a hot shower, and hot ladies. Preferably perfumed ladies. Low on morale and cologne, I smelled, the guys smelled, and I wanted to see clean faces for once. I talked to Dad that morning and he promised today was going to be a light paddle. Good—a light paddle. Expectation set. I can do this.

We met up with my mom at Gaskin Park in Wewahitchka—she came with bountiful goods—fresh chocolate milk from my aunt’s dairy (I call it “chocolate crack.” It’s just that good), homemade Christmas candy, and frosted doughnuts. A sugar lover’s wet dream.

I did finally get to use a bathroom here. I walked into the bathroom happy for a pleasant experience other than using the woods and…oh no…this was terrible. The bathroom was dirty and had remnants of Sunday night excess splattered over the toilet seat. I gagged in my mouth. But I wanted to use the toilet. So bad. So, I pulled out my wet wipes and cleaned off stranger’s vomit and took care of business. Ahh. Nice. I went to flush and…nope. After being spat on and shit in, the toilet was being uncooperative. It rebelled and refused to flush anything down. I slowly backed away, a criminal. “What have I done?” I screamed existentially. Embarrased, I left the toilet in shame and headed back to the group heavy in heart and light in bowels.

Mom was dressed in her work clothes ready to head to the E.R. after leaving us. I was happy to see her again and visiting with her boosted my spirits. I was ready to get out on the water and, restless, I grabbed Joey and the two of us began kayaking Justin wanted to see the Dead Lakes today, so we were going to take a detour off of the Apalachicola into the Dead Lakes via the Chipola Cutoff.

A bit on the Dead Lakes: The Chipola river flows through the Dead Lakes on its way toward the Apalachicola river (Locals call the Chipola the “little river” and the Apalachicola the “big river”). You know the scene from “The Lion King” where Simba and Nala visit an elephant graveyard? This is a cypress graveyard with tons of dead cypress trees all throughout the lake. It is haunting and majestic—a hidden treasure of the Florida panhandle. Also, it is a great fishing spot and locals guard their spots jealously.

Joey and I were the first to begin the trek into the Dead Lakes. It was an easy paddle and a welcome diversion from the last two grueling days. Sun out and light paddle—now that is my kind of kayaking! We made it to the Dead Lakes and the others caught up with us there. I looked around: Rippled bark whispered stories of old and Spanish moss swayed in the breeze. The fading afternoon light caught in the crevices and corners of tattered tree-skin. Branches arced heavenward and trunks flared downward deep into the murky depths. Hard to describe in a word. “Ancient” is a good start.

Web_Riverview_1104

Wind through Spanish Moss (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

2013-12-09 11.16.41-1

Exaltation (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

From here we turned back around towards the “big river” through the cutoff. As soon as we hit the cutoff, though, I knew we had a problem. Uh-oh. The current. The current! That is why it was such an easy paddle into the Dead Lakes—the current from the main channel that was funneled through the cutoff was pushing us in. Now, to get out, we had to push against it.

For five days I had been paddling with the current—this was the first time I had to paddle against it. Two miles against the current. I hadn’t prepared mentally for this challenge, so I was caught off guard. I would paddle for about five minutes and stop. I’d drift back about half of what I had paddled. Oh no—this wouldn’t do. I grabbed on to a branch and gathered my thoughts and mustered courage—damn it! I had gotten myself in here, I will get myself OUT! I began to paddle, deep strokes twisting my lower back with each one for increased torque and power. Usually the last, I passed Joey and my Dad. I stopped once to eat a Slim Jim and half a Clif bar and continued. I was upset because I had been promised a slow day today—how could it be?! Today was the hardest day yet! I paddled and paddled—for ages. I would make a bend, thinking it was the last, only to see another after it. Finally I saw the last bend and made it out into the main channel. I laid my oars on the kayak and drifted for a bit—I spotted Justin on the side of the bank waiting for us. The five guys on the canoe powered through it, so they were long gone. I pulled over and stopped next to him. We waited until Dad and Joey made it out. Tired and whupped, we ate lunch in silence. Later we caught up with the guys at our campsite.

That evening Dad and I chatted a bit. He said Justin, Kristian, and him had been talking and there was going to be a change of plans. Originally, we had planned to go for 9 days. However, Dad had bracketed for one day that was only four miles and a few other “light” days. Kristian wanted to run the river again on Dad’s powerboat to get a smooth shot of the river in one stretch for better photo quality. They agreed to lop off two days and end the expedition on Thursday, December 12th, instead of the 14th. Dad informed me that on Friday, He and Kristian would head down the river. Someone would come pick him up in Apalachicola and they would come back Friday night. Saturday morning everyone would head down to Apalachicola for a “end of the expedition celebration” and from there we would go our separate ways. I thought that sounded good. I said goodnight to the crew, went to my tent, and fell asleep immediately.

Web_Riverview_0913

Justin and Elam talking (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part V: Baptism

The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part III: Adjusting to River-Time

January 10th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

1596322_628952090474304_756252008_o

Danny spearfishing by the posts (Photo: Joey Dickinson)

Saturday, December 7th: Day 3

12 miles today. I woke up this morning, unzipped my tent, and looked out. Another foggy morning, this time the 10,000 ghosts concealing the cliffs from view. We ate breakfast around a smoldering fire and, as I drank my coffee and watched the fog lift, a motorboat pulled into the sandbar. It was my Uncle Dan Yoder and his friend, Rick Wise. Best friends, the two of them were out on the river for a cruise and stopped by to see us. They supplied us with water and friendly conversation. As we loaded up and headed out together I quipped, “Uncle Dan, how ‘bout I throw you a rope and you can tow me today?” He laughed and then sped up and headed out of sight. It was cloudy today with promise of rain. With the Highway 20 bridges in sight, droplets began to spit and spatter on our jackets. Oh dear. Winter rain can be cold—and you can’t simply go indoors when you’re on an expedition. I enjoyed watching the rainfall and listen to it patter and plop into the river, the age-old cycle of water joining water. After 7 miles of paddling we stopped at Neal Landing in Blountstown where my mom, Esther, met us for resupply. We stretched our legs, used the bathroom, and refilled our water.

Web_Riverview_1023

Dan Yoder (far left) chatting with the guys (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

2013-12-07 11.44.36-2

Our “river angel” (Esther Stoltzfus) meeting us at Neal Landing (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Web_Riverview_1034

Esther and Paul chatting (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

I think here would be a good time to make a quick note about facilities along the river. In short: they are sparse. This is a beautiful river to travel, but for kayaking and slow-moving rivercraft, there aren’t many points to stop and camp or resupply. Take Neal Landing in Blountstown—it is a great site, but there isn’t a campsite nor restrooms nearby. Boaters don’t need such amenities. But for people wanting to kayak down the river with access to some modern amenities like toilets or showers, these would be a welcome respite. Also, camping sites are sparse. Sure, you have the primitive camping site at Torreya or the site at Ft. Gadsden, but you must make reservations. I’m not complaining, because I was quite content with how things turned out, but some kayakers may not be interested in such a rough schedule. Just a thought.

At Neal Landing my mom came bearing gifts—Peanut M&Ms, beer, jerky, and love. After three days with guys, it was great to see a lady with a smile and no B.O. We chatted for awhile and one of my cousins brought his family out to see us and chat for a bit. Locals were out headed down the river as today was Saturday and prime fishin’ time. One of my middle school lunch ladies was heading down the river and she asked where we were headed. “The bay? You serious? Nic, I knew your dad did crazy stuff, but not you! You be careful, hon!” I smiled and waved.

By the time we were loaded up on gear and warm conversation the rain had stopped. We paddled some more and stopped at a sandbar for the night. After the long paddle and the rain I was tired and headed to bed as soon as I set up my tent and ate dinner.

Sunday, December 8th: Day 4

Okay. Today was our second very long day. We had two twenty mile days. Yesterday was one, today was the other. The plan was to go far enough down to stop at the sandbar closest to Gaskin Park in Wewahitchka as my mom was going to resupply us the following morning. The weather was fair, cloudy off and on; my mood was likewise. Cold from yesterday’s rain and tired from the long paddle, I was grumpy. Furthermore, everyone else was paddling faster than me, and I soon was the caboose. Already insecure as the least experienced paddler, I complained to dad when we arrived at our campsite that he had left me behind and, rather dramatically, I explained that, “I could have died of exhaustion. These things happen, you know.” I was pissy and wanted to go home. I didn’t spend much time around the campfire that evening, not interested in being around a bunch of happy, laughing guys and soon went to bed. I turned over to sleep and trusted that I would feel better in the morning.

2013-12-10 07.33.13-1

Kristian with a smile and a cup of Joe (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part IV: The Hump

The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part II: Getting to Know the Guys

January 9th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

Web_Riverview_0794

Morning mist by the old and new Highway 90 bridges at Chattahoochee (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

2013-12-05 09.18.30

The Crew 

Front row left to right: Joey Dickinson, Justin Riney, Paul Veselack, John Ruskey, Elam Stoltzfus, Daniel Veshinski, Nic Stoltzfus.

Back row left to right: Mark “River” Peoples and Kristian Gustavson (Photo: Dan Yoder)

Thursday, December 5th: Day 1

The plan was to meet at the Chattahoochee Landing at Clyde Hopkins Park right behind Jim Woodruff Dam where the Apalachicola River begins (the dam holds back the water from Lake Seminole, the terminus of the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers). Dad, Joey, and I prepped our kayaks. Justin showed up and began to assemble his paddleboard. The last to arrive was the crew from Below the Surface. And out of the truck stepped two…three…four…five guys! There was Kristian Gustavson and Danny Veshinski from Below the Surface. The other three were Paul Veselack, Kristian’s stepdad and crew medic; John Ruskey, founder of Quapaw Canoe Company in Mississippi and builder of the canoe the guys would be paddling; and Mark “River” Peoples, assistant and fellow river guide with John at Quapaw. I was surprised—our crew was larger, but, as they say, the more the merrier!

Web_Riverview_0826

Justin tightening the screws on his paddle board (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

On my way to take a final nervous leak before heading out, a local stopped me and asked me a few questions. He sat in his faded jean-hued Chevy pick-up, some model from the ‘70s with a confederate flag plate on the front. He was wearing an old ‘Bama red shirt, blue jeans, and an air of sour discontent. “Son, just what the hell is going on here?” He asked me. I told him, “Well, we are headed down the Apalachicola River down to the bay.” He pointed at the canoe. “What the hell is that thing?” “It’s a handmade canoe from Missisippi; those five guys loading it now are going to paddle it down the river.” “Huh,” he gruffed, “I don’t understand. They got all this shit in their ca-new rait there and these five guys—that’s a lotta weight! How they gonna float down the river in that? It’s gonna sink. It’s gonna sink.” He pointed a gnarled finger at the camera resting on top. “And that cam-ra? It’s gonna flip right over. Buncha dum-asses.” At the time I was also rather skeptical as to how this canoe was going to float those hundreds of pounds of gear and five big guys but, hey, I had my kayak so I didn’t have to worry. I said goodbye, finished my business, and prepped the rest of my gear for the upcoming trip.

Web_Riverview_0831

Checking out the canoe (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

We took a group photo and started off. A few local onlookers, skeptics, friends, and relatives waved us off. Here we go! 109 miles in 9 days! My stomach still turned a few flops, but as soon as I hit the water—yep, this was the right thing to do. It’ll be okay.

Web_Riverview_0839

The maiden launch of the “Grasshopper” (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

The first day we kayaked around 11 miles. It was a beautiful day out; cool and sunny— perfect paddling. We passed under the I-10 bridge. All the cars and trucks zoomed by overhead as we lazily dripped by below; bay-bound on river-time. Our first night we stopped at a sandbar on the east side of the river. We were all still getting to know each other and our gear, so it was a time to stretch our muscles out and prep for the longer days ahead. A bit of a campfire chat, and then we all headed to bed.

Friday, December 6th: Day 2

Today I woke to a spooky foggy morning on the Apalachicola. 10,000 ghosts had descended on the river; one translucent white congregation. I felt great that morning and hurriedly ate my oatmeal and slurped down my coffee, eager to get out on the misty river. I packed my tent and got on my kayak and was the first to head downstream. It took the guys in the canoe longer, so I had about 2 hours by myself before they caught up to me. I passed the Torreya house on my left and was headed around Ocheeseee Landing (close to where I grew up) and there were some folks out on a houseboat and I talked to them for a bit. “Mornin’!” I yelled over at them. The husband and wife pair stared at me a bit trying to figure out just what in tarnation this figure was. “Mor-nin’,” they greeted me. “Where ya headed?” they asked me. I chirped, “the bay!” The old man grinned a toothy smile and chuckled, “boy, you watch out for them gators, ya hear? You’re a one-bite snack on that rig!” “Yessir!”

As the morning waned on the fog-ghosts lifted back to the heavens and the day cleared. Gorgeous. Just gorgeous. I told the guys when they arrived that they couldn’t have picked a better time to be on the river. I have lived in the Apalachicola river valley my whole life, and this was the most beautiful fall that I have ever witnessed here—I guess it must have been because we had a cold snap early in the fall but, whatever the reason, the leaves were magnificent this year. The red maples were a violent crimson, the sycamore a brilliant yellow, and the cypress a deep ruddy red. By now most of the leaves had fallen, but one could still witness the shadows of a stunning fall.

Web_Riverview_0947

Red maple overlooking the river (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

Web_Riverview_0935

The Grasshopper and Her Merry Crew (Photo: Nic Stoltzfus)

Around lunchtime the rest of the crew caught up to me. We stopped at the base of Torreya State Park and hiked up to the top of the bluff. We chatted some and looked over the river perched up high; a sunny winter day. We crawled back down and headed onward. In the afternoon for a few hours the wind pushed us back but soon, out of breath, subsided. Late afternoon we arrived at our campsite for the night: Alum Bluffs. Out of the whole expedition, this was one of my favorite spots to camp.

2013-12-06 15.59.03

(From Left to Right) “River”, Paul, Kristian, Danny, John, and Justin in front of the bluffs (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Sure, the mosquitoes and bugs are a little annoying, but the view is great. The sandbar is on the west side of the river facing the bluffs on the east side of the river. It is a view that most wouldn’t expect to occur in Florida—but there it is. A yellowish-white sheer cliff, a smaller and yellower version of the famed Cliffs of Dover, juts out into the river.

John Ruskey climbed to the top of the cliffs and howled a deep river-man howl. I grinned as I snapped a photo of him at the top—this guy is truly a river-rat. That evening we made our campfire and sat around, drank a few jiggers of whiskey, and listened to John play the guitar. With a glass slide on one finger he seduced the guitar into singing in ways I had never heard—a twangy bluesy-folksy sound that was new to my ear. A riverman’s lullaby. I wanted to join in so I began to softly clap my hands. Danny tapped his right foot in the sand. All nine of us sat around the fire mesmerized by the music, warmth of the fire, and companionship. Crickets joined in the chorus and the occasional owl screeched. River music.

2013-12-10 07.31.02-1

A bluesman and his guitar (Photo: Elam Stoltzfus)

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part III: Adjusting to River-Time

Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part I: The Unwilling Member (Me)

January 8th, 2014

By Nic Stoltzfus

December 5th-14th, 2013. What is significant about those dates? For many, those 9 days are just part of the string of days preceding Christmas; putting up the Christmas tree, lighting the second advent candle, and generally getting ready for the holidays. But, for me, during those nine days something extraordinary happened. I was part of something mythical, like sighting Halley’s comet: something rare that only happens once or twice in a lifetime.

After I returned from Japan, one thing that my Dad said he wanted to do with me was go on a paddling expedition on the Apalachicola River. Why the Apalachicola? I grew up in a small hamlet a few miles north of Blountstown about three miles from Ocheesee Landing and the river was my playground. Also, it would be an opportunity for us to spend some father-son time together.

Unbeknownst to us at the same time Justin Riney of Expedition Florida 500 was planning on paddling the Apalachicola River in mid-December as one of his final paddles in Florida.

In October Dad, Joey Dickinson (our great intern and editor extraordinaire), and I were filming the World Paddle for the Planet event in Walton County. There, we met Justin Riney and, over the course of the weekend, Dad mentioned he and I were planning to paddle the length of the river as a father-son adventure. Justin said that he was also planning to go and Dad, being the welcoming feller that he is, suggested the three of us do it as a joint venture. Justin agreed and this started the dialogue of our December project.

As we continued our conversations, Dad mentioned to Justin how cool it would be if Google would come down and document the river with their cameras. After a pause Justin said he would make a phone call. And thus entered Kristian Gustavson of Below the Surface. His company is subcontracted with Google to work from time to time on projects such as this one.

I counted the members of the team: Justin, Dad, Joey, myself, and two members from Below the Surface. 6. Okay. A good number for an expedition.

Thanksgiving came and went. December jingled forth. I started to get restless at nights with my mind ever repeating the same doubt: Could I do this?  I had only gone on six kayak trips—and four of them were in the past month. I was still a little shaky on entry getting into the water. Each trip was less than two hours apiece—how was I going to do 109 miles over nine days? Two of those days were going to be looooong twenty-mile days paddling from sunup to sundown. My mind was playing tricks on me and I was being torn down by negative mental models. “You can’t do this.” “You are an amateur.” “You’re not in shape.” I would wake up in the mornings and my stomach would be flipped, and I would take three Tums and a glass of water before eating breakfast. Gulp.

Tomorrow’s blog: The Apalachicola Riverview Project, Part II: Getting to Know the Guys

Forests Across the Panhandle

By Elam Stoltzfus

12/10/13

ForestSunset

Forest Sunset

http://vimeo.com/user15709098/review/73464147/e9a22ddb0b

A 90 second video sponsored by WUSF on forestlands in Florida

I love hiking through the woods. Whenever I am walking through the piney woods of northwest Florida it is a chance to slow down and observe. It a place of sanctuary, a vista to rest my mind, and a spot to communicate with the Creator. Just padding through the forest with my Australian shepherd, Buddy, and a camera is relaxing, and I can take pictures at my leisure.

ForestPalmetto

Recently I learned about how to manage woodlands.  My wife and I own 20 acres of old forest in the Florida panhandle. Part of the forest had mature pine trees and needed to be harvested.  So…how could we harvest the pines without destroying the integrity of the land? The chief of the cutting crew told me that we would do a “seed cut” of the lumber; this means that they left some mature pines standing and, if burned within a few months, new growth will start to come next summer.

Here in northwest Florida large tracts of forestland, although primarily planted commercially for timber harvesting, have other benefits: they are a refuge to wildlife, protect river watersheds, and provide a natural filtering system to purify water. Many tributaries to rivers begin in a forest area flowing through marshes, creeks, and swamps.

CreekAlum

One of my favorite places to hike through is the Apalachicola Bluff and Ravines Preserve north of Bristol, (locally known as the Garden of Eden).  It is a three mile hike to the top of Alum Bluff which stand over 130 feet above the Apalachicola River.  The trail skirts several steelhead ravines, unusual terrain for Florida. In the spring there are blooming dogwoods, azaleas, and other stunning forest flowers.  Fall brings an array of colors, fall flowers and the unique smell of autumn.

ApalachAlumBluff

Spring at Alum Bluff

Just north you can find Torreya State Park. With a series of hiking trails, a river overlook, and a nice camping area, this is a great place to explore.

One of the greatest gifts you can give this Christmas season is take your friends and family outdoors to hike, go bird-watching, and discover what is in your backyard. Memories are gifts that last a lifetime; get outside and connect with nature.

Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park

By Elam Stoltzfus

12/3/2013

Web_KP_4212DSC_0110

http://vimeo.com/user15709098/review/74485360/f887438bd1

Link to a 90 second interstitial sponsored by WUSF

Travel north from Okeechobee for about 30 miles and you will reach the Kissimmee Praire Preserve State Park. It is a large tract, 54,000 acres, that protects one of the largest remaining stretches of Florida dry prairie and is home to an array of endangered plants and animals. From the entrance it’s a long drive into the park headquarters and the campground, at least 5 or 6 miles.  We usually don’t compare Florida’s landscape to the great plains of the Midwest, but Kissimmee prairie is grassland as far as the eye can see.

During the production of the documentary Kissimmee Basin: The Northern Everglades this area became one of my go-to places to film wildlife. The preserve offers excellent seasonal birding opportunities and is home to the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow, as well as the Crested Caracara and Burrowing Owl.

KBNE_54_10402 14464501

Early one morning, just at sunrise, I was traveling the main road in dense fog; I spotted a group of white-tailed deer foraging in the grass.  In the herd was about 5 bucks with several sporting large antlers. This was a documentary filmmaker’s dream with the glow of morning light, soft fog, and tranquil deer.

Later that morning I filmed a short segment on the endangered Florida Grasshopper Sparrow.  This was a rare occasion to have the opportunity to document one of Florida’s most endangered birds.

KBNE_54_10392 14420908

One of the best ways to get out on the preserve is take the swamp buggy tour with one of the park rangers.  The ranger provides an is an excellent commentary on the landscape of the Kissimmee river basin, the vast trail system, and first-hand accounts on how the preserve is being managed.

Another great thing to do at the preserve is stargazing. The Kissimmee Prairie’s remoteness makes it one of Florida’s premier locations for stargazing.  This is on my bucket list to capture a series of time-lapse images of the stars across the prairies.

KBNE_24_06652 08485400

During the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 the team trekked and camped at the preserve.  After a grueling day, four grubby explorers were grateful for a camping facility with hot showers, electricity and running water.

With lots of things to see and do, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is definitely one of my top ten places to film and photograph in Florida. I hope you take time to explore and experience this unique landscape of Florida.

Turkeys, and Bears, and Deer—Oh My!

By Elam Stoltzfus

11/26/13

TurkyDeer

 http://vimeo.com/user15709098/review/74485361/ef04936e06

A 90-second video sponsored by WUSF featuring turkey, bears, and deer

In autumn many hunters take their bows, guns, orange safety vests and other paraphernalia and head into their mecca, the woods, to scout out the perfect location to nab a prize buck or turkey (it’s illegal to hunt bears in Florida).

As a young buck, I hunted white-tailed deer in the southern tier region of New York.  When I picked up a camera, I traded the gun for a camera.  Hunting with a camera includes the art of stalking: studying the species and understanding the social patterns of the creature.

Web_FWCE_Deer_01

Here in northwest Florida, white-tailed deer are prolific. After a hearty lunch of corn, some of our furry-tailed neighbors like to swing by my house for a dessert of roses. My wife’s roses are her pride and joy. She loves sharing roses with her friends—and not her furry friends. It is an ongoing battle to outsmart the deer: we have tried everything from an electronic water sprinkler—called a scarecrow—to white plastic rope that you spray with stink-spray to ward off Bambi, to even marking our territory by asking me and Nic to pee around the rose bed. Oh my.

Turkeys take skill to stalk and observe; they have keen eyesight and notice any movement.  Behind our house is a tract of 30 acres of woodland—recently we have observed 7 turkeys coming through to forage and roost.  Trying to film turkeys is a challenge, and if you can get quality footage of a turkey it is a great accomplishment.

Web_FWCE_BlackBear_02

Florida black bear is a species I don’t have much experience with.  I continue to learn, observe, and read about the Florida black bear. Once, while up in a tree stand, I observed a mother bear and two cubs looking for food.  They were on a constant lookout for any new smells and unusual movements; it was fascinating to just watch them.

All these species are signature wildlife in Florida.  Turkey, bear, and deer can be observed in many areas across the wilds of Florida.