It’s the last that distinguishes the Ichetucknee from ordinary streams. There are other gin-clear rivers in Florida (the Rainbow near Silver Springs, the Homosassa in Crystal River), but none as beautiful—though be sure to go on a sunny day, because, as anyone who has snorkeled in the Caribbean knows, the colors of what’s underneath the water depend entirely on the sunlight above.

I’ve gone down the Ichetucknee in many circumstances over the years: I’ve gone down with a beautiful young Berliner just diagnosed with HIV, hiked the woods around it with a dear positive friend who would not go in because he was afraid of germs. I’ve floated down with just one person and in a group, camping it up and falling utterly silent. In fact, one’s mood almost always changes as you go, starting out chatty, ending up contemplative, as your tube or raft or canoe takes you down like Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott. You need not make a move; the current will carry you. The Ichetucknee always takes you out of your life, your problems, your self, and if by the time you get out, you’re wet, cold, hungry and want a shower, you’re still changed—no matter what your motive for going.

The day I went down with my friend from New York this July we passed a cohort of loud young men climbing out on a tree limb to jump into the river, and when we got on the little train that takes you back to your car, the handsomest sat down behind us and started engaging us in conversation while complaining of a headache, and pretty soon I realized he was drunk. Moments later a park ranger came up to his group and said they’d inspired 15 complaints that afternoon, and suddenly one was reminded how complex the transition to manhood is—though why anyone would get drunk to go down the Ichetucknee is beyond me. The Ichetucknee is a return to innocence, to Arcadia, which may have been, I think, what was bothering the handsome young man with the headache.

Tags: Travel