Floating on a fall day

8AM at the Romain Retreat landing on November 20, I was looking at a glassy Intracoastal Waterway, and feeling the irritation of no-seeums. I set off with the outgoing tide (low at 12:40PM), without wind but with faith that the predicted light east wind would arrive. Paddling into Andersonville Creek, following the group of ibis and solo great blue heron seen earlier flying east, I heard the distant sound of the Bull Island surf.  It was steady paddling under a cloudy sky, with moments of a light wind moving Kingfisher along closehauled. At the Shark Hole, things changed with the onset of a steadier wind,  and the sun bursting through to light up the confluence of creeks. With the bay opening up to the east, I took the creek to the southwest to make our passage to the island via the ferry route.
Bearing off around a point in the marsh, I banged my boom into a PVC stake driven into the creek bottom about 10 feet off the creek edge. Past this obstruction we sailed freely but now against the tide, and I continued to paddle. The sun had lit up the marsh, glowing with that sublime autumn golden hue. We made the turn into the ferry route, and then another turn took us into a creek requiring tacking. The fire tower on the island was visible over the marsh in the distance, and directly to windward. The breeze had become steady enough to put the paddle away and just sail. The winding course brought us to the wider extension of Bull Creek, and finally a tack into Summerhouse Creek and the dock. I passed several fishermen near the dock, and dropped my sail for the landing.
Larry Brown, the captain of Island Cat, came over and grabbed my bowline to assist with my landing. He recalled our last meeting earlier in the year, and my having strong winds that day. His group of passengers was already exploring the island, and I soon joined them. I headed out on the island roads, making a few turns to arrive at Alligator Alley. At that point, a wood stork and turkey vulture soared overhead, with another bird of prey much higher aloft.
Numerous shrubs along the first pool (Pool 2) were covered with cloud-like bunches of white.

This shrub, Baccharis halimifolia, commonly known as sea myrtle or grounsel tree, occurs everywhere in South Carolina except the mountains. The white bunches are not flowers but achenes, the small dry fruits containing single seeds. In places the wind-dispersed seeds were coating low pine branches, and elsewhere the white flyers were floating in the air. These clusters of achenes were bursting, and like myself seeking a wind to sail away.

In Pool 2 two alligators were sunning, and lathered with a green coating of duckweed.

Farther along, about ten alligators were gathered with the same green covering. Near Pool 3, two alligators without duckweed on the Jacks Creek side were gathering the warmth from the sun.

I headed toward the Boneyard along Lighthouse Road, and began to pick up a few more mosquitoes. I ran into a couple coming from the opposite direction, and stopped to ask them about their day. The young woman had her head covered with a hood, and their mosquito discomfort was evident as they continued ahead with a brief reply. My comment that the mosquitoes can be much worst (last fall) probably did not provide any solace. They appeared to be heading to the dock to make the noon ferry back to the mainland. I saw some more people from the ferry, and directed them on their maps to Alligator Alley when they inquired about where to find alligators.
Where the trail starts heading to the Boneyard, I took a close look at a mature toothache tree.

It was armed with very large thorns, and I recalled learning about the medicinal quality of the leaves here. The path was tunnel-like with trees providing a canopy, and a view to the blue ocean in the distance.

Jumping down to the beach from the tall scarp, I found a smooth ocean with barely a hint of wind. Other people were among the trees and wide beach as low tide approached.

I began the walk south, passing through the skeleton forest. I made a side trip to briefly explore a brackish wetland passing through the maritime forest with an opening at the beach. I climbed over a large tangle of bleached logs to take a closer look, and the edges of this narrow wetland had a wall of cabbage palmettos.

South of the Boneyard, the dunes were absent or seriously eroded. Shrimp trawlers worked off in the distance on the glassy sea. At the entrance to the Beach Road,  the beach width was about a hundred yards.
The walk back along the Beach Road had fewer mosquitoes than earlier near Jacks Creek. A great egret stood on the dike over the impoundment.

Near the Dominick House I ran into a couple that had inquired about alligators, and they were impressed with seeing an alligator up on the dike. At the picnic area another man seen earlier was successful in spotting his first alligator, and recounted how he had seen crocodiles when in Australia. Back at the dock, I saw again the couple who were harassed by mosquitoes. They had missed the noon ferry by five minutes. I offered them some repellent, but the woman asserted to her boyfriend “I am not going back on the island”. They would have a long wait before the last ferry at 4PM.
They cast off my bowline as I began the return sail, thankfully with a light but steady SE breeze. Island Cat had come around into Summerhouse Creek, and I sailed toward the creek edge before jibing, leaving the channel for the larger craft. We hailed each other in passing. Cloud cover had come up with the wind, and the world was transformed into tones of gray. Periodic exhalations punctuated the creek’s calm, and the dolphin finally appeared within my vision. With the wind at our back, we ran back through the creeks, reversing the outward bound course. The tide was still quite low, and in the stretch before the Shark Hole we paralleled the creek bank, full of untouched oysters in the intertidal zone. In rounding the point into the main section of Andersonville Creek, I once again hit the same stake smacked earlier on the outgoing sail, knocking it under my boom. We finished at the landing, dropping sail and coasting into the dock to the call of a resident kingfisher. Once on land, no-seeums provided a greeting.