There’s nothing like kayaking down a lazy river, and South Carolina’s Salkahatchie is a true gem.

The Salkahatchie is a free-flowing, blackwater river, meaning that its water has a light, tea color due to the tannic acid of decaying leaves. Abundant wildlife and numerous wading birds rely on those tea-colored waters for their survival. Growing from both banks, a dark green, overhanging canopy of hardwood leaves provides the perfect shade. Lastly, the Salkahatchie has exposed the roots of those hardwood trees.

Once, I was paddling downstream on the Salkahatchie, when a massive shadow passed down the entire length of my kayak from stern to bow. At the same time, my peripheral vision caught a large brown object passing over my head. I quickly looked up to see the huge wingspan of a gigantic, brown bird. It flew downstream and landed on a branch scarcely extending out over the river—just thirty yards ahead.

Unable to identify the bird, I stopped paddling to prevent spooking it. Then I reached for the camera stored outside of my right thigh. After peering through the camera lens and zooming in, I was still unable to identify it. So I returned the camera to its storage place and allowed myself to continue floating downstream. I barely used my paddle to maintain a straight course—all the while eyeing the big, brown bird. Seconds later, I found myself floating a mere twelve feet directly beneath it.

Oh wow! It was an owl!

He sat there—totally oblivious to the bonehead in a kayak—spinning his head almost completely around. The large, round, dark eyes on his flat, human-like face scanned the Salkahatchie.

Once again I plucked my camera from its storage hole and raised it to my face, but I was unable to snap a picture. That photograph would’ve been a beautiful close-up—but this one branch was perfectly positioned between me and the owl. Dang!

I set the camera down in my lap.

Still barely floating downstream, I kept my eyes trained upon the owl while reaching out with my right hand, intending to grab a tree’s root and stop my downstream travel. At the last second, I glanced down to check the roots, and it was a good thing that I did. Sunning himself right where I intended to grab was a water moccasin—a poisonous snake.

Yikes! I yanked my right hand back.


Realizing that nobody would ever believe this story, I quickly snapped a photograph of the snake and then looked back up.

The owl was gone.

  • * * Sigh * * *

  • J Scanlan

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