Paddling the Suwannee

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When a person has lived in Florida more than half her life, she surely should seek out the site of the state song, the Suwanee River, just as sure as she should seek seashells by the seashore. "The Swanee River" (Old Folks at Home) by Stephen C. Foster was adopted as the official state song in 1935, replacing "Florida, My Florida," which was adopted in 1913.

Unlike Foster, who never actually saw the river he made world-famous, I journeyed to White Springs in the northern edges of the state to kayak the river Aug. 18 in a rented sit-in kayak from American Canoe Adventures, which offers 213 miles of canoeing and kayaking, equipment rentals, vacation information and transportation.

Big Shoals, the state’s only whitewater rapids, is among the company’s trips when the water levels are right, but the owner generally recommends that people portage around it.

In the two hours and eight miles that Cody Gray of Suwannee River Valley Marketing Group in his Hobie kayak and I paddled along the tannin-colored water of the Suwanee, we saw two five-foot alligators and several waterfalls, reflecting the large amount of rainfall and almost daily afternoon showers the area has experienced this summer.

A light mist hung over the river around 8 a.m. creating an alluring mystique, and delightful 73 degree temperatures kept us merrily padding along. Some rustic homes sit along the river’s edge, and one can imagine the tranquility those homeowners enjoy. Only herons and other birds chatter here. However, the Suwanee passes by the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and at 45 minutes after the hour and throughout the day, one may hear the 97-bell carillon sharing Foster’s songs.

A kayaker also may see the octagonal building that enclosed sulphur springs that beckoned to visitors in the early 1900s with its alleged ability to cure ailments such as rheumatism. Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Ford visited the springs. For more information, visit www.aca1.com, especially for canoe or kayak rental or trip planning assistance, or call 386-397-1309 or email AmericanCanoe@mail.com.

For information on the Stephen Foster State Park http://www.stateparks.com/stephen_foster_folk_culture_center.html.

Suwanee River melody and words by Stephen Foster, 1851

First verse: (There are two additional verses): Way down upon the Swanee River, Far, far away That's where my heart is turning ever That's where the old folks stay All up and down the whole creation, Sadly I roam Still longing for the old plantation And for the old folks at home

Chorus: All the world is sad and dreary everywhere I roam Oh darkies, how my heart grows weary Far from the old folks at home

Words subsequently were changed to: O brothers, how my heart grows weary, Far from the old folks at home.