I had been driving since 6am that morning. The endless flat of the drive down 95 was wearing on me, and the only thing keeping me energized was that the sun was starting to set. I could see hints that the clouds and color would be right, so I was looking through my gps for spot to set up my camera. The first exit off the highway led to an abandoned building that would have been interesting, but trees and powerlines blocked the view. The second exit likewise proved fruitless. It was only as I was about to cross Lake Marion that I saw a small side road leading to the waters edge. With the color already starting to form low on the horizon, I knew it would be my only shot.
I arrived at the end of the road and was greeted by a seemingly endless abandoned bridge. Unfortunately, it pointed in the wrong direction for the sunset. It was then I noticed a dock stretching out into the water, a perfect foreground. But it was behind a barbed wire fence in someone’s backyard. I looked towards the small house, hoping that someone was home so I could ask permission. I nudged the gate and it swung open slowly. Nobody was home…so I borrowed their dock for a few minutes.
I finally arrived near Okefenokee at 9pm that evening. Pulling off the side of the road, a light drizzle started. The weather forecasts had been erratic, but one thing seemed clear. Saturday was going to be my lone chance for clear conditions; Sunday and Monday would likely bring rain and wind, or worse.
I woke early to catch the sunrise on my way into the park. Odd roads of dirt and sand would lead into the brush, and I would drive down them hoping to find a shot. Finally, as the sun started to rise, I settled on a location and hopped on top of my car to find the right framing.
Finally, I headed into the park. Loading my gear into the canoe, I could see little pieces of the sun sticking through the clouds. It was still cold, probably in the low 40s, but it felt warm compared to the frigid conditions I had left in DC. As I paddled along the canal, I was amazed at all the formations of the trees and their reflections in the water. I started shooting video, and then more video, and then even more. I shot for what felt like hours, even if it was really only 30 minutes. I paused briefly from shooting the reflections in the water to isolate a bird perched along the shore. It kept allowing me close and closer, until my canoe was only a few feet away.
And then finally, I cam upon the alligators. The first one I almost missed, he was hiding in a small patch of grass as the pond opened wider. I struggled in the wind, and as the only paddler, to set up a good shot. The second alligator was easier. The sun had broken through the clouds, and he was warming himself on a shallow island near the water. I gave chase to the third alligator, slowly following him up a narrow channel until he stopped in a lily patch. The fourth and fifth and sixth alligators had their own stories too. I passed countless gators along the canal on the paddle back; a boy scout troop was helpfully pointing out each one as I passed them. Amazingly, it was only 3pm, though it felt like I had spent days out on the water shooting. I retired for the night, the daunting task of sorting through all the video ahead of me.
Sunday was a very different day. I arrived to the park before sunrise, but, with thick clouds in the air, there was no repeat performance of the prior day to be found. It was cold, significantly colder than the day before. A stiff breeze blew across the water, and it seemed that the sky was waiting for just the right moment to burst open. The local forecast had tornado watches predicted for the evening, so I knew I would only get a brief window in the morning before conditions worsened. I shuffled along the boardwalk and trails, looking for anything that would grab my eye. Like the day before, I shot and shot and shot, minutes seeming like hours as my endless fascination with the trees continued. Finally, I had to head home, the long flat drive ahead, and this time with no promise on a sunset across the lake.