Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Rescuing Mom

Head Waters of the Spring From Florida State Park Website
     Or How I Saved My Mother From Drifting Out to Sea.

     Itchetucknee Springs State Park is four miles northwest of Fort White in the northern part of Florida. The bone-chilling crystal clear water entices kayak and canoe enthusiasts as well as the hardy souls who ride the current in huge inner tubes. Our family was no different.

     My brother was perhaps seven and I was fourteen the summer we stopped at Itchetucknee for a tubing adventure. In 1972, about the time we were there, the head spring was declared a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior.  It was easy to see why it was a popular place. The frigid water was just the ticket on a sweaty humid Florida summer day. 

     Dad rented huge inner tubes for all of us from a little beat up wooden shack near the side of the road on the way to the head spring. My brother and I perused the selection of innertubes as if there was a world of difference between any of the tubues in the mountain of rubber piled up beside the store. We debated whether or not it mattered that the number painted on the side of the tubes in bright yellow paint was a low number or a high number and if so, who got to choose the higher number. After finally making our choice, or more accurately, after Dad pointed to four and said, "We'll take those" we stuffed them in our Volkswagen van and headed to the park.

Florida State Parks Website
    Squealing and grimacing at the cold, we made it into the water and the family set off. The trip was long and slow as we meandered with the current.  We could see clear down to the white sand bottom and the fish that swam below us. The bottom was visible no matter how far down it was from our feet. The river gently turned us from one side to the other as we talked, laughed and splashed each other just to hear a scream. From the moment we entered the water, Mom cautioned us to keep an eye out for the landing beach.
Florida State Parks Website
     As you would suspect, the waters of the Itchetucknee attracted people to its shores way before the 50s and 60s when college students discovered the area and tubing became a big deal. There was a Spanish/Native American village in the area called the Mission de San Martin de Timucua. Built in 1608, it wasn't even the first. There appears to be evidence of humans in the area thousands of years ago. There was even a little town of Itchetucknee by 1884.

    After stopping on a nice sandy beach for lunch, we resumed floating, and my mother once again started warning us of doom if any of us missed the landing beach. "You'll just float out to sea. I don't know where we'd be able to find you" she'd say. Hours later, we saw the beach approaching in the distance. (See "Tube Take-out Point" on the map below.) My Dad, brother and I paddled our way toward the shore and slipped out of the tubes to stand on the mucky bottom. We then turned around and watched as Mom floated by with a look of panic on her face. She was heading toward the wetlands and the Sante Fe River. She was heading out to sea. I turned and looked at Dad who was looking at Mom and just shaking his head. My brother yelled, "Mommy! Mommy! Where are you going?"

     Junior life guard that I was, I bravely dove in the water and swam to her rescue. I grabbed the side of her inner tube and started trying to pull her to shore. Suddenly, the idea that SHE was the one who had missed the landing beach she had been warning all of US about for the last several hours struck her as funny and she started laughing. So, I started laughing. My father stood on the beach next to my starting-to-panic little brother, hands on his hips, with an I-can't-believe-this expression on his face as my mother and I shrieked like banshees celebrating New Year's Eve as we slowly drifted down the river.

     I couldn't tell you how far past the beach we got before we calmed down enough for me to swim her to shore. I did finally manage to bring her in, though. It was quite some vacation and the memory of Mom floating past us still causes snickers among family members.

     I went down the Itchetucknee River a few times after that while I was in college at Florida State University. The water never got warmer. It was always clear to the bottom. But I never did get to pull anyone else out of the river.
Florida State


  1. You are a heroine! That's a great story ~ I can't believe you'd go in frigid water like that, but Florida does get hot. Then again, the Pacific is pretty darn cold, too and I go in it all the time. Tubing is one of my favorite things to do. Next time we go to Florida we'll have to check out the Itchetucknee River. I'm so glad you all are able to laugh about the story now, I bet it was scary at the time.

  2. Oh, Tameri - I wasn't that much of a heroine lol. It wasn't very deep there and I think we would have run into a bridge before we got too far. I hope you do get by there next time you're in Florida. It's temporarily closed to tubing due to low water levels, but canoes and kayaks are ok for now. Check their website before you make plans to head there. I know you'll love it. Just don't forget to watch for the landing zone!