Kayaker shares his fondness for the Panhandle’s Yellow River

September 12, 2009

Rich Brinkley on Boiling Creek which feeds into the Yellow River.
Ritch Brinkley on Boiling Creek which feeds into the Yellow River.

Old Yeller

This writing is indeed a confession to my great affinity for one of America’s most unsung wilderness rivers – the mighty Yellow – which pulses through Northwest Florida from the Alabama line down to the Gulf of Mexico.

For five years I lived within a hundred yards of her banks, and quite often found myself compelled to stride down to the edge and peer into her ever-passing currents, mesmerized by the hour.  This wide (sometimes deep enough to swallow an abandoned pickup and other times pinky finger shallow) artery is as wild and undeveloped as any river of such size in a developed country.

As I understand it, this pristine area is chiefly due to two factors: the presence of the world’s largest military reservation (Eglin Air Force Base), and the purchase of large tracts of land on the opposite bank by paper companies from an earlier era.

Nevertheless, the trappings of “civilization” so readily apparent along most waterways-the ubiquitous golf courses, vacation cottages, motorboat slips, etc. are nowhere to be seen for vast stretches of the untouched Yellow River. That characteristic makes my nature-loving heart go pitty-pat. I love to fantasize about life along its banks in earlier periods.

For most of my adult life, I have pursued a reversed realization of H. G. Wells’ “Time Machine” in the only way I know how-by stepping into places where the clock has missed its moorings.

While perusing an area for early retirement, I remembered, with fondness, the paddling sojourns that began in graduate school in central Florida, and turned my attentions to the Sunshine State.

You may recall comedian Jerry Seinfeld’s response to his parents when  the sardonic entertainer suggested Florida as their retirement residence: “After all-it’s the law!”

Well, the law for Los Angeles-based me was vast opportunities to practice my longstanding avocation-flatwater kayaking.

I noticed the slogan for Milton, Florida was “Florida’s canoeing capitol” and the first week of October 2000, I arrived with the intention of camping around for a month during which I would choose a permanent paddling home.

I spent five years near Holt on the Yellow River, and now I live four hundred yards from Navarre’s white sand beaches.

The musings of the mighty underdeveloped river continue to seal my reverie forever. Probably my favorite repeat paddle is Boiling Creek, which feeds into-you guessed it – the wide and pristine Yellow. I

Where but a great river could one find an abundance of things to quell hunger pangs, flora growing along its verdant banks, fauna gathered nearby to satiate their thirsts, foragings aplenty to build shelter from the elements and clothe one’s body?

Give me a river-keep over your skyscrapers, golf greens, strip malls – I can e-mail Google for anything I can conjure up a need for via the “information superhighway.”

RIch Brinkley with Beniet his beloved Pappion on board his Poke Boat.
Ritch Brinkley with his beloved Pappion, Beniet on board his Poke Boat.

So, if its serenity and pantheistic splendor you crave-let’s throw in our watercraft and head, not for the hills-neither for the dales-but pell-mell for the river. Call me Yellow. And make mine wet. And wild.

– Ritch Brinkley, one with boats

About the author
Ritch Brinkley is a retired film actor who chose the Florida Panhandle purely for its flatwater paddling opportunities and lack of commercial congestion. He wrote a film column for The Beachcomber for several years entitled “Before the Lens,” and is best remembered for the decade he spent as “Carl,” the lovestruck cameraman on CBS’ “Murphy Brown.” He was unduly influenced by Anthony Quinn’s cry to Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”: “I am a RIVER to my people!”