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St. Martin Aquatic Preserve
by Niki Butcher from her 2003 Summer Newsleter - The Muck-About Journal

As our airboat skimmed across the shallow waters of Salt Creek, the aluminum sky made a mirror image in the smooth water beneath us, the sky and water merging together at the horizon. With earmuffs covering my ears to protect them from the noise of the airboat, I couldn't hear any sounds. Without sound the flight through the water seemed unreal. Surrounded by silver sky and silver water, it was as though I had escaped the bounds of the earth and was flying in a soundless eternity.

We were at the St. Martin Aquatic Preserve, which is located near Crystal River in the 'Big Bend' area of Florida. It is one of the Preserves chosen for the PBS documentary on the Aquatic Preserves of Florida. Chad Bedee of the St Martin Aquatic Preserve took several days of his time to be our guide as we traveled through the Preserve. Clyde, Elam, and I met Chad at the boat launch in the Preserve, along with Kate Santich and Steve Dowell of the Orlando Sentinel Newspaper. Kate was writing a story on Clyde for the newspaper, and Steve was the photographer for the paper.


L-R Chad Bede, St. Martin Preserve; Elam Stoltzfus,
Live Oak Production Group;
Kate Santich, writer Orlando Sentinel; Clyde;
and Steve Dowell, photographer Orlando Sentinel

We traveled down Salt Creek, past marinas and county aquatic educational facilities, until we were out into the broad open area of Salt Creek. After traveling for a while in what seemed to be a silver other-world experience, Chad turned into "The Narrows", a winding waterway through marshland. On each side of us, as far as our eyes could see, was nothing but golden grass with small islands of Cabbage Palms interrupting the smooth straight line on the horizon.


It didn't take long before Clyde saw his first picture. We docked the airboat on a beach of oyster shells, loaded the camera backpack, and headed for the point of land jutting out from the little island where Clyde had spotted a wonderful old dead tree.

Cedar Driftwood

Oyster Shell Beach
As we walked back toward the airboat, Clyde spotted another photograph…a half dead cedar tree surrounded by oyster shells. The texture was incredible, and a great opportunity for using the full breadth of detail that can be captured with an 8x10 negative.

Everywhere we looked we saw photographic opportunities, but the sky was getting darker and darker. The silver was slowly turning dark gray. With the light fading fast, Chad decided to give us a quick tour of the Preserve, so that we would have a better idea of where to return to the next day.

As Chad shared his own special places with us, Clyde saw another picture. It was also a dead tree, but this one had cactus in front of it. Clyde has taken a lot of pictures in Florida, but he has never taken a picture of a cactus! He couldn't resist. Once again, he hopped out of the boat and set up his camera.


Cactus in the Narrows

We ended the day having dinner with Kate and Steve, while Kate interviewed Clyde and Elam. The interview lasted late into the evening as we discussed our connection with Elam and the Aquatic Preserve project, as well as Clyde's life in general.

To read the article: "The Everglades - "Passion in Black and White" in the Orlando Sentinel http://www.orlandosentinel.com/features/lifestyle/orl-livclyde042003apr20,5996204.story?coll+orl-living-headline

The next day we met Chad at the dock once again, where we were happy to see a small sliver of sunlight. We headed into the Kings Creek area. Yesterday Clyde had decided that in order to do a proper job of photographing the grass, he needed to photograph from a ladder. He had asked Chad to bring one with him, and Chad did. As we traveled down Kings Creek, both Clyde and Elam were seeing potential pictures everywhere. The creek was narrow, so it made for intimate photography. Elam began first; filming as Chad slowly guided the boat along the creek.


Next, it was Clyde's turn. He found the spot he wanted, took the ladder into the tall grass and set it up. Elam climbed out of the boat to help him with the ladder and photo gear. Clyde used the ladder as his tri-pod, set the camera on top and focused the camera, taking the picture looking down onto the grass and creek.


Kings Creek

Almost immediately after Clyde was finished the sky clouded up again, and we were left without any light. It was perfectly still, and the light was wonderfully even. It was exactly what we would need if we were in a forest or swamp, but not what we needed out in the grass. So, we put the camera away, and joined Chad & Elam while they filmed for the rest of the day. Chad took us to a rookery where we had an excellent time watching birds, preening, nesting, and feeding their young while Elam filmed them. It was a great afternoon.

Early the following morning, in a dense fog, we joined Elam at the Citrus County School Marine Science Station. The educational facility had a very tall tower that looks out over the grasslands of the Aquatic Preserve. The hope was to get clouds rolling across the sky, with grass and water beneath. Ah, the best laid plans of mice and men…tsk…. Needless to say, that isn't what happened. Instead of bright sunshine with wonderful clouds, the fog was so dense we could hardly see the grass at all, let alone the water or sky! We spent the morning waiting for the fog to lift. When it finally lifted just enough to see a little bit of what was in front of us, both Clyde and Elam began photographing.

The fog persisted, so we cut the trip short, packed up and headed back to the swamp - home sweet home. However, we are anxious to return sometime during the summer when the weather is better. There are countless photographic opportunities just waiting until we return.

St Martins Marsh

To read more by Niki Butcher visit clydebutcher.com - Big Cypress Gallery website