“I’ve never seen a chicken cross the road before.”
Sitting at an outdoor margarita bar and lulled by tequila and palm fronds floating in a warm tropical breeze, I wasn’t expecting one of the great mysteries of the universe to be solved before my eyes, much less be given the opportunity to capture it on film, or in megapixels, or however you express it these days.
As I looked up, a rooster escorted his missus across a busy (or what passes for busy in Key West) intersection while traffic screeched to a halt in all four directions. The perfect picture opportunity passed so quickly I didn’t even have time to reach for the camera case.
“So he did want to get to the other side.” And I’d only had one drink. Or was it two?
Thus was our Florida Keys experience typified in one small incident. The tornado watch and hearing tales of alligator-swallowing pythons on our way south weren’t the half of it. Driving off the southern tip of mainland Florida onto Key Largo begins a journey into never never land.
Abundant wildlife appears to pose for elegant and humorous photographs alike. Photos of laughing gators, a pelican at the helm of a speedboat,
a flying spider (his fine web disguised by the bright blue sky), a snowy egret waiting patiently for a haircut as he poses on a barber’s chair,a great egret waiting patiently for lunch standing on a railing outside his favorite restaurant. Click to enlarge pics. He’s in all three:
Can you see him?
There he is!
“And he’s real picky,” I heard the waitress say. “He likes shrimp. He won’t eat clams or anything fried.”
We watched a pelican swallow a whole crab but it wouldn’t go down his gullet. He ucked it up a couple of times and attempted to re-swallow it, but without success. The outline of the hapless crab shows clearly in the photograph in a bulge in his neck.
What’s this thing in my neck?
Get it out!
A cormorant, balanced on a stake with his wings held out to dry, dropped his head at the last moment as I snapped, looking shy as though I’d caught him just stepping out of the shower.
Great egrets stalking their dinner are bathed in evening sunlight, turning their feathers flamingo pink.White ibises flocked in a dead tree at sunset formed a brown and gold sculpture.The bald eagle, perched in a distant cell phone tower next to its nest, waited for me to go back to the trailer and read my camera instruction book so I could return and zoom in on it digitally.
Full optical zoom
Full digital zoom
Even sea life was considerate enough to swim into shallow water to be photographed clearly from above – blue fin crabs in attack posture,
and brightly colored fish – as the photographer is too squeamish to swim amongst them.
Not wishing to sound too much of a sissy, Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish – beautiful cobalt blue bubbles of sting – were prevalent as I tiptoed through the shallow water with my camera in hand.
Come back soon! There’s more!
N.B. If you recognize that restaurant please allow me some artistic license. It’s on the Gulf coast, not in the Keys.
As we sit foolishly on our deck chairs waiting for a tornado to sweep us away, we fear our Japanese neighbor with the tent hasn’t understood what the park ranger told him until he starts to unwind a hank of heavy twine to reinforce his tie downs. His tent is held in place by feeble looking orange string looped around the shin high perimeter fence. He needs to tie down his big dog and himself. Will the tent hold up to the ferocity of a tornado? I think not, but I doubt our trailer will either.
It’s thundering now. The sun has gone. The patch of blue sky has drifted past and closed up. In its place are gouges of black. A sooty grey has replaced the fluffy white band of cloud. Thunder rumbles on and on like a case of bad indigestion.
The ocean is lapping calmly at the shore no more than eight strides from where we sit but with the disappearance of the sun the water has turned a murky menacing color. By contrast, the ocean on the distant horizon beneath the threatening slate clouds is a striking turquoise, lightening to a pale aqua as it reaches some shallows. Peaceful colors. Sinister colors. Mixed messages. What should we make of all that?
The wind speed has notched up and air cooled down, raising goose bumps on my clammy skin. A black fist of cloud has thrust across in front of us. The thunder, though not loud is more insistent. A pelican has coasted to a halt and settled on the water to keep his eye on us. Has no one told him to go home and batten down the hatches?
We watched and waited. We walked to the camp showers and came back and waited. A few spits of rain sent us scuttling inside the trailer, where we’d at least be dry for a bit if not safe, and we ate lunch and waited.
Three squalls came through in quick succession, each time closing the visibility at sea to zero, pummeling the roof for a few minutes, buffeting our trailer and then rolling the rain curtain benignly away under a black squall line.
It’s all over now. Nothing much happened. The storm didn’t even clear the air of humidity.
Our neighbor from Tokyo, we discovered later, had a slightly more memorable experience. In his preparations with the twine, he had secured his tent on the windward side. The storm and wind veered from the opposite direction. While we had been munching happily on tuna fish sandwiches and potato chips, he spent a whole hour dangling from the overhead struts of his tent, suspended beneath it like a marionette on a string, in an effort to stop it taking off to Oz.
“ . . . high winds . . . 12:00 . . . headed this way . . . possible tornado . . . till 3:00 . . . some heavy rain . . .”
I stared wide eyed at the park ranger on the beach talking to our neighbor. “Did you get all that?” he asked when he turned my way.
A tornado watch! We were aware that the hurricane season is over at the end of November, but a tornado season? Checking a Florida disaster website, I discovered that there are two tornado seasons in Florida. The summer season ends in September and the Deadly Spring Season (yes, folks, that’s what it’s called) starts in February. Where does that leave us in December?
It leaves us on a tiny scrap of land called Long Key, where one could sprint – if one was capable of sprinting, and there wasn’t a mangrove swamp, a high fence and Route 1 in the way – from the Atlantic to the Gulf of Mexico in about 20 seconds, providing us no protection at all from devastating winds and seas.
We have quite sensibly put away everything that could become a deadly missile – deck chairs, firewood, table, shoes, lethal flip flops – but our near neighbors, each only 20 feet away, are more blasé. On one side, I can see a rake, a flashlight, a dead plant in a pot, bungee cords dangling, buckets, hoses, chairs, mats and a miniature Yorkshire terrier on a very flimsy lead. On the other side is a tent that will take off like Dorothy and Toto when the wind gets up.
We are sitting outside, facing the wind, waiting to see the twister skip across the ocean.
Well what else are we going to do? Hide in our tin can of a home?
A hazy sun tries to break through but fails to make a shadow. I’m looking for ominous signs in the grey tufted sky. The air is warm and humid. A spot of rain makes me want to jump and run but it may just be salt water carried on the stiff breeze.
Black frigate birds floating overhead, their slender wings and bodies in perfect silhouette against the pale sky, seem not to move a muscle as they are carried downwind. The cormorants, more energetic flyers with their shorter wings and chunky bodies, flap ferociously into the wind, making very little headway.
It’s nearly 12 noon. The tornado hour. The wind is picking up. And yet a patch of blue sky is making its way towards us. Are tornadoes lurking in the wide band of innocuous fluff beneath it?
What a cheery and welcome greeting at the end of a truly awful trip. We drove from Ocala, Florida through teeming rain missing the view of Lake Okeechobee altogether, along mile upon dead straight mile of road through sugar cane groves in the
Everglades (and past the curiously out-of-place-looking Domino Sugar refinery, puffing and stinking on the horizon) and arrived on the Interstate in Fort Lauderdale in time for a frenzied rush hour on Thanksgiving Eve.An RV blocking the drive of the city campground – forcing us to stop in the middle of a busy road, left turn indicator blinking – had been turned away. The driver slunk from the gate and gave us a desultory shrug as if to say you’ll be lucky before he climbed back in his camper to drive off. We had reservations.
The campground gate commandant smiled, moved two traffic cones and waved us in from across the road. “Washington! What a beautiful state! Do you live there?” He’d spotted our license plates. Thus began a lengthy question and answer session about how we arrived in the United States, why we lived in Washington for a time and why we now have no home.
“That’s fantastic! What’s your favorite place?” and he and Jimmy discussed the merits of Utah, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, Montana, California, Washington, Colorado and just about every other state and landmark west of the Mississippi.
The park ranger was either very friendly or just having a slow day and needed some company. His peaked cap tried to hold down an explosion of grey curls. The smile on his weathered face was genuine.
“We’re a bit surprised by the heat and humidity this late in the year. Is that common this far south?” I asked him.
“Nah. It’s pretty unusual. We’ve usually had a cold snap by now. It would wipe out the mosquitoes but they’re still around.”
“Oh great. They’ll come after me. They love me,” groaned Jimmy.
“Yeah, me too,” he commiserated.
Excellent, I thought. Two deterrents for me.
“We saw our first iguana here about this time last year,” Jimmy told the chatty ranger.
“Yeah, they’re getting to be real nuisance.”
“Are you allowed to control them?” I asked. That’s squeamish speak for kill them.
“No, but they did take an eight foot alligator out of the pond two months ago.”
“Eight feet. That’s pretty big,” I said faintly. A glance at the map we’d been given showed that the pond referred to was only yards away from our campsite.
“We noticed that the ducks were disappearing and wondered why, then somebody saw the alligator. When they caught it they had to kill it. It would come back you know. What with the duck banquet.” Jimmy and I were grimacing at this point and unable to think of a suitable reply. “It’s bound to happen. The park is surrounded by water and they come down the canal.”
We’d just driven the length of the North New River Canal, or alligator speedway it would seem, that drains south from the Everglades and feeds into Fort Lauderdale.
“Then there are the snakes.”
My mouth dropped open. “What kind of snakes?”
“Oh people have them as pets and they get too big.”
“What kind of snakes?”
“Then they flush them down the toilet or just throw them in the waterways.”
“What kind of snakes?”
“They’re not native to here.”
“WHAT KIND OF SNAKES?”
“Now here’s a story they will tell around here for years to come,” he continued gleefully, his grey ringlets springing out madly. “Did you hear about the python that fought the alligator in the Everglades? A 13 foot python and a six-foot alligator. They say they were pretty evenly matched. The python swallowed the alligator whole then exploded.”
We laughed just to humor him and drove off to find our campsite. We questioned being back in Ft. Lauderdale where the wild life had proliferated so and the ground rumbled underfoot like an earthquake every time the main line Amtrak train passed 50 feet away.
But if you put your fingers in your ears to drown out the traffic noise from the busy road into the city center, choose a moment between the frequent trains thundering past and looked in a direction so as not to see the many RVs, the tarmac road and the plumbing and electrical hookups, you could imagine that you were in the deepest jungle. Palm trees and palmettos, lizards and parrots lent the site a tropical feel.
It was quite magical in the middle of a city.
Thanksgiving Day’s excitement was a massive explosion that seemed to be within feet of us. The shock wave went right through me, reverberating in my chest cavity. I thought we were under attack.
A few minutes later, a helpful neighboring camper saw us looking around and cycled up to us to explain. “The electricity will be on in about half an hour. I work for the electricity company. I called my friend and he’ll be right out. A squirrel took out the transformer.”
They have commando squirrels as well?
Convenient that an electricity trouble-shooter was on the campsite. Not so handy for the squirrel.
That python did swallow that alligator whole. It happened in 2005. There are estimated to
be 100,000 giant Burmese pythons in the Everglades. At an average length of 15 feet there were 284 miles of big nasty snakes with easy access to our trailer.
I’ve been nominated for a Sunshine Award! I’ve never thought of myself as someone’s little ray of sunshine. Himself thinks it’s hilarious. Don’t think him unkind. You don’t have to live with me.
My nominator, Joanne took the trouble to research the award so rather than reinvent the wheel I will pass on her words to you. “It is an award given by bloggers to other bloggers who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogoshere.” (Questionable punctuation is mine.)
I am to nominate up to 10 blogs – hard to keep it down to 10 – and think of 10 vaguely interesting things to say about myself – horribly difficult.
I’ve read these types of lists on other blogs and admired the author’s imagination, ability for introspection, self-knowledge and sense of humor. I panicked and blanked at the very thought of it but here goes:
I was The Alien in England for 30 years but I feel like an alien in my own country now. I’m told things move on. Get over it.
I am the only person I know who likes cottage cheese. Isn’t that riveting?
I love words but fear my vocabulary is shrinking.
I’m sure I lived in France in a previous life.
I miss family and friends in my adopted country of England. And my garden. But the garden thing obviously isn’t on a par with family and friends.
I never take myself seriously.
I cooked on a charter yacht in the West Indies for two years. Walter Cronkite chartered that yacht. I can still hear his voice as he read to us each night.
I am easily moved to tears. Too easily. It’s annoying.
I can’t think of a single favorite food. I love everything I eat. I deserve to be fat(ter). As it is I always have that elusive 10 pounds to lose.
I am fascinated by the lives of my blogging friends around the world, most of whom I’ve never met.
My blog nomination choices are a combination of travel, RV travel, photography, history, poetry and humor. I am following dozens of blogs and would like to list them all and have agonized over choosing just 10.
Please visit these blogs and prepare to be amazed: