We woke up early (and cold) in our tent on Friday, April 6. It was my 9th soloversary (I like to remember the anniversary of quitting my job and starting my own law firm; it’s also my late maternal grandfather’s birthday), and we had a very difficult-to-book ranger-led canoe trip scheduled for 10am. But first, we ran to the restroom and to check the inside of my parked car, our youngest following behind nervously.
The reason we were interested in the inside of my car at sunrise at a national park campsite in South Carolina is that my youngest won a Betta fish she named “Blueberry” at church several years ago, and it goes with us on trips that don’t involve airports, so we’d wrapped its bowl in scarves and left it in the car, hoping it didn’t freeze to death in the 40-something overnight temps. Oh, and the fish barely had any water, because its bowl got kicked over on the drive down from Jamestown while riding in the back seat floorboard.
We slowly opened the car door, fearing the worst. My bride and my 7-year-old kept concerned expressions fixed on the little plastic bowl sitting behind the gearshift as I unwrapped the makeshift insulation. We looked at Blueberry, who was sitting motionless at the bottom. I raised its tank to my face to get a better look. It wiggled. Blueberry was alive! My 7yo daughter beamed. I started the car and cranked the heat so the fish could warm up and my phone could charge.
We struck camp and reloaded the car, ate Jody-provided eggs and bacon, and headed to the visitor center to get junior ranger workbooks and learn about Atlanta’s closest national park before meeting our guide down by the water. One of the first things we learned after dragging our canoes into the woods to the edge of the river was that we’d just begun snake mating season, so we should expect to see lots and lots of snakes. Snakes in trees above us that might drop into our canoes. Snakes on logs that we’d float by. Snakes swimming through the swamp in the waters we were about to navigate. Lots and lots of snakes (including the venomous cottonmouth spotted earlier that week).
Our guide was right. We hadn’t paddled long before we saw our first snake, a non-venomous water moccasin lying on a tree branch that would be about 6” above our heads as we approached it to float underneath. Luckily, it stayed put.
We learned about the various vegetation, birds, reptiles, and fish in the national park as we paddled with the slow current. The temperature approached 80, but the huge cypress trees’ canopy kept us cool. It was beautiful, serene, and quiet–a peaceful conclusion to our last day of spring break 2018.
Eventually we came to a large fallen tree blocking our path, so we turned around and headed back, passing all the snakes we’d seen before, including a couple who were actively mating during mating season. Out of respect for their privacy, I did not take a picture of them, but I did snap one of this lazy guy, who was still mateless in mating season.
See him? He’s lying along the top of the lower log in the shadow of the upper log. He’s not small.
Eventually, the tour ended, and we went back to the visitor center for the children to get sworn in as junior rangers at yet another national park (and for me to get another passport cancellation!).
Then, it was time to hit the interstate and head back to civilization in Atlanta. We’d traveled over 1000 miles, saw 6 national park properties in 3 different states, and learned about nature, the Civil War, and our nation’s colonial times before it was an independent country while keeping a small fish alive and maintaining familial affections while in close quarters every day and night.
This was a great week.
Another magical family trip! I know it seems like we do a lot on these road trips (because we do), but I never feel like we skimped on very much. We could always have done one more hike or stayed five minutes longer in the visitor center, but on the whole, I think each place we see really stands out in my memory. And that alone says a lot about how cool the National Parks are. <3