By Anne Haw Holt
Today, in autumn, the river is dry under the Ashville Highway Bridge. In early spring I spent more than three quiet hours in the bow of a friend’s canoe, wandering among the channels, wide pools and small bays created by the overflow. I snapped photograph after photograph of water birds, the pale new leaves of rampant undergrowth and gently greening cypress forest.
In the hot Florida summer, from Lamont south to our landing near the lost town of “Cash Money” we paddled a wide, strong and full-flowing river. The water sometimes tumbled and rushed over rapids, cutting into high banks. We found fallen trees blocking our canoes, forcing a portage through the underbrush alongside the stream. Once we pushed lightened canoes across a partially submerged log. Wide-winged birds flew off into the forest at the sound of our paddles. The sun sparkled on water rippling over hidden stones and swirling around cypress knees.
The Aucilla disappears underground near Goose Pasture. Rushing, it dives into the depths of a limestone labyrinth for somewhere between four and five miles. The water intermittently surfaces through windows in the rock to create tiny ponds and graceful lakes, some with floating islands made of lily pads. The “Aucilla Sinks” are bordered by a well-known hiking trail.
Near Nutall Rise the water comes back to the surface where it is joined and augmented by the spring-fed Wacissa River. From there the Aucilla flows wide and deep to wander around Ward Island, curve into Apalachee Bay and race out into the Gulf of Mexico. On the far side of Apalachee Bay, hidden in the sawgrass, we found the narrow channel of the lost Pinhook River.