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Root Beer River


Question: Which of the following songs were written and composed by Stephen Foster: "Oh! Susanna," "Camptown Races," "Old Folks at Home (Suwannee River)," "My Old Kentucky Home," "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair," "Old Black Joe," and "Beautiful Dreamer?” Answer: All of them. Revered as the “father of American music,” Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park is named in his honor and memory. There is even a carillon system installed in a tower where his songs can be heard throughout the day.

What a great place to stay. I forced myself to get on the porch swing (sarcasm). It was hard, but it was almost time to say goodbye to the cabin. I added my entry to the guest-book and we packed up the car and did one more “dummy check.” We headed straight for the Suwannee River.

I had never seen a blackwater river before. Quick lesson: tannins from the vegetation seep into the river making it a dark and transparent body of water. My eyes saw root beer, not tannins; it was definitely root beer. With its source in the Okefenokee Swamp, the Suwannee River winds its way 246 miles down to the mouth of the Gulf of Mexico. If one was feeling so inclined you can hop on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail where you could follow the current to the Gulf of Mexico, paddling, biking, horseback riding, with the comfort of hubs along the way to stay overnight, eat and bathe. It sounds like something else to put on the list of things to do.

There was yet another alligator post but no alligators to be seen. I have to be the only person around here that thinks they are being mocked by these signs and gets disappointed that I don’t see any of these so called alligators. The only life on the water to be seen were lots of insects skimming the surface and jumping fish. The Cypress trees grow on the sides of the shoals with such majesty, standing tall and poised and wearing long Spanish moss. While we left the Suwannee River, we had a chance to hear the tower toll. Enchanting. As we were leaving the park, right at the entrance there was a pick up truck pulling a fifth wheel trailer. Thomas pulled up behind it and parked so I could return the cabin key to the office. Once I got out of the car, I hear the shrill of a loud scream. It was such a horrifying sound. I assumed the worst about what may have caused it. I was almost afraid to look ahead near the trailer where the sound came from. For sure something tragic happened. Maybe they accidentally ran over their dog that had gotten loose or the young girl was just informed that someone had died. Than it dawned on me once I saw nothing to confirm my assumptions that this young preteen girl may just have a severe case of youthful histrionics. The father appeared to be talking briskly to another young girl as if he were reprimanding her. I get back into the car and we drive further up to the entrance so I can take a picture of the park sign (which I have since accidentally erased). By the time I happen to look back in their direction while taking the picture, the girls must have gotten themselves together. They were walking together, with lots of distance between them, but nonetheless together with their parents to take a picture. Boy, if that scream scene was any indication of how their trip was going, it’s going to be a long day on the road.

Outside of the entrance was our next stop at the Springhouse on the bank of the Suwannee River. This tall, gazebo shaped structure used to be a natural spa believed to hold therapeutic powers. It was considered a health resort from the mid-1800s through the 1950s and hosted many visitors. Even with the quiet and peaceful sound of the blackwater river pooling inside of the structure, it was very easy to imagine how it could have sounded when it was once teeming with happy souls in their woolen bathing suits, as pictured on the information board.

One more stop in the Suwannee River area lead us back to a place Thomas made note of on our way into the park. Thomas remembered seeing trees planted in the middle of bodies of water. The sign at this pull off read the Suwannee Farmer’s Market. It was a large asphalt parking lot butted by these two fairly large lakes. The lakes were surrounded by tall trees blowing in the wind dressed with their lacy Spanish moss shawls, with trees deliberately planted in their centers. What a peculiar sight. It looked like the area was flooded area because one normally doesn’t see these types of trees in water.

As if the trees in the middle of water weren’t strange enough, when I walked towards the edge of the water, I noticed a large bluish grey snail shell on the shoreline. It was almost the size of a small orange and someone was still inside. I scanned the rest of the shoreline and there were snail shells everywhere in all shapes and sizes. It looked like the water receded and left them all high and dry. What happened here? Such an odd and beautiful place.

Onward and upwards. No time to ponder the plight of the snails and random trees; time to get going. We must head north and towards home. The next stop was going to be a visit to Congaree National Park. During one of our many chats while driving, we began talking about the National Park system. I pulled up a list on my phone and read through the list to Thomas and we found Congaree National Park in South Carolina. Congaree National Park was stated as being one of the tallest deciduous forests in North America. Another destination not on our original itinerary, but why not? We were going that way anyways. The plan was that we would stop at Congaree National Park and drive a few more hours north and find a hotel for the evening. Thursday, the following day, we had planned to meet my parents, sister and family at Virginia Beach, Virginia for the end of their beach house weeklong stay. Thomas navigated the distance in between which landed us outside of Raleigh, South Carolina for the evening. This way we would have only a 3-hour drive to get there in the morning.

The sun was starting to shift and turn the sky pink, as we got closer to Congaree. These trees are TALL! The pictures we took didn’t capture their true height. I’d imagine glancing at the tree from bottom to top would be the same motion as glancing at a giraffe from toe to head. Incredible. We walked around some more, but the mosquitos were fierce and we did not stay outside too long. However, I would love to come back when I had more time and deet to explore the many trails to see any of the Bald Cypress, Loblolly Pine, American Beech, Water Tupelo, Pawpaw and American Holly trees reaching for the sky. Truth be told, we were trying to catch the sunset ever since we laid eyes on it and briskly left the park.

Thank you Donald V. Forgione (Director, Florida Park Service) and Jerri French (Florida Park Service) for being so obliging with the schedule and so kindly providing such wonderful accommodations at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. I hope to come back soon and see an alligator. But from far enough away.

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