When I was in middle and high school, I had a friend named Jean. Her family had a cabin on the Chassahowitzka River, long passed down through several generations. They liked to spend long weekends at the cabin, a two-room structure without electricity or running water, and Jean and her brother were often allowed to bring friends along.
I was fortunate enough, several times, to be one of those guests. I was fascinated by the little cabin. It was a completely different environment from what I knew of travel. Launching from a local boat ramp, the cabin was only accessible by water. Watching Jean's mom brew coffee with an old percolator. Making faces at Jean from our bunk beds. Looking for alligators off the dock at night with a flashlight. Going scalloping in the nearby Gulf of Mexico. I loved visiting. I don't think I ever realized that the 'Chessawhiskey,' as I knew it, was part of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, or that I wouldn't visit it again after we graduated high school.
We lost Jean in a car accident in 1998. I'm still close with her family, and my own daughter...Olivia Jean...reminds me daily of what a special friend Jean was. I've gotten several invitations to go to the cabin with her family. However, I can't imagine it being the same.
Chris turned 30 last year. To celebrate he decided to go paddling down the Chassahowitzka River, and he invited us along. There are many natural springs that feed into the river, and Chris wanted to go see as many as he could.
We launched at the same boat launch used by Jean's family. It was strange, vaguely remembering what it looked like over 20 years after my last visit. Once we got under way, we were quickly treated to a sight: Otters! Playful otters, about 5 of them. They were very curious about us, but they kept their distance. We watched for quite awhile.
We paddled on and saw several springs. We did some geocaching as well. Our final destination on the river was a place commonly referred to as Miss Maggie's Crack. It's a spring set way off the main river, and it's like a secret party spot. We weren't there for partying, exactly, but we still wanted to see it.
The waterway became more and more narrow, the trees thicker. Eventually we had to abandon our boats and walk the rest of the way in shallow water. And then, there it was:
We only spent a little while at Miss Maggie's. Just enough time to soak up some cool spring water and then eat our lunch. Then it was time to drag the boats back out and make the return journey to the launch.
Our trip that day brought back so many memories for me. Parts of my youth I wanted to share with my family...the joining of my younger memories with what I was currently seeing. The desire to visit with Jean's family again and make a visit to the cabin, which I realize now probably meant more to me than I ever realized. I am really so very grateful for the time I was able to spend there.
I can't wait to go back.