4/23/17: Food for Thought

Joe and I have occasionally visited my sister and her husband at their home in Naples, Florida for a few days. We had lots of adventures. Here’s one, which happened at the dawn of 2013.. 

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Ignorance is never bliss. 
- D.B. 

Fascinating Florida can be so- alien. Some of its wild residents aren’t even a little awed by humans’ self-declared splendiferousness. They’ll do their best to consume bumbling tourists,like us, snicker-snack. 

Even certain fowl have tendencies. 

Joe and I were exploring the lovely grounds of Thomas Edison’s summer home (now a museum) in Fort Meyers when we stumbled upon a giant egret intently stalking two middle-aged women, who, with their backs turned, were admiring a ten-foot tall shrub’s perfumed flowers. The snow-white bird, armed with a long, pink bill and a snake-long neck, leaned toward them on hinged broomstick legs, froze for many seconds- then moved a step  closer- froze- then inched closer- until the nearly five-foot tall avian was right behind them, poised to attack. We held our breaths-The chatting women turned to move toward us, still oblivious, while we stood a little distance away, voiceless, in disbelief. 

But, oddly, the egret continued to maintain that rock-still, forward-leaning stance and blinkless stare as the ladies strolled our way. If I hadn’t known better I’d have mistaken him for a statue. 

Not one feather moved. 

(An aside: fascinating fossil evidence suggests T-rex and birds are more closely related to each other than either is to the alligator. Remembering that, I suddenly viewed this bizarre scene from an eons-old perspective.) 

When they got closer I stabbed my finger toward the avid avian behind them and said, weakly, “That huge egret was about to attack you, I think…” The ladies glanced behind them, not in the least alarmed. “Oh, that’s just Tom, a fixture here. He loves to creep up on visitors to provoke reactions. To save face when museum volunteers like us aren’t terrified, he’ll continue to hold that posture for a while.” 

She smiled. “Actually, he wouldn’t waste his weapon; we’re far too big to be stabbed, flipped and swallowed.” 

The ladies, realizing we were out-of-state visitors, told us where to spot some spectacular Floridian fowl. “You should visit Trafford Lake, just west of the little town of Immokalee. Most tourists don’t know about it, so you’d have it to yourselves. It’s quite a large body of fresh water in the middle of nowhere, but only thirty miles inland from Naples. Don’t miss it. The bird life there is incredible.” 

Oh boy, a nice freshwater lake. Maybe we’d wade, as the weather was very warm and humid. Plus, we’d have a chance to observe birds up close and personal; our high-powered binoculars are equipped with image-stabilization control. What a difference that makes! 

After lunch we found isolated Trafford Lake and, incidentally, passed a large lion-colored panther loping along the edge of thickly treed forest just off the road across from tidy Immokalee, home to many young families. We drove past at least four elementary schools before turning west onto the narrow, dead-straight Trafford Lake Road. 

Two miles later, it ended. The attractive lake, with no human habitation visible anywhere along its edge, shimmered in the afternoon sun. 

Huh. Developers blanket Florida. Why weren’t they crawling over every acre, here? 

A tiny, dusty park offered a few scrubby trees and two picnic tables. Thick wilderness surrounded the lake as far as we could see. We parked, and padded to the edge of a small, shrubby bluff. Lovely! I’d shed my sandals and go wading. I was hot. 

Wait…What was that, about 200 feet out- a big log? One that size could decimate an unwary boater. I raised the binoculars, focused, and gasped! A huge alligator floated out there, still as death. Oh, God- another… and two more! Shocked, we jumped back about three feet and looked down. An eighth of an inch of soil supported a few struggling strands of chickweed and crab grass; underneath that- sand. 

Sand crumbles. 

We became instantly allergic to this bushy little bluff, and all of Florida’s freshwater lakes. 

A wide wharf at the far end of the little park extended a good distance into the lake. The generous roof at its end offered afternoon shade, so we walked out there and looked around. Alligators were everywhere. 

IF we hadn’t possessed binocs--- 

IF I’d waded--- 

Gulp. 

The Edison ladies were right; the birds were marvelous. Dozens of species flourished here. We saw birds preening on shrubby treetops, or hunting on long legs, or drying their multi-colored wings on the lushly foliaged edge of the adjoining twenty-foot wide canal, which bordered the long, dusty road and emptied into the lake. (These canals are everywhere in Florida.) But I was still alligator-shocked, and couldn’t concentrate. Joe, a hardier soul, wandered close to the canal to take photos of a gloriously plumed bird perched on some reeds on its far side. He checked first, of course, for snakes and alligators; except for one small clump of foliage at the waterline, that hardpan sand was devoid of life. 

Suddenly, a little splash! He looked down. A twelve-inch long alligator was swimming away from that clump of vegetation. Uh-oh! Where there are babies, there are mothers! (Alligator mothers are extremely aggressive when protecting their young.) Joe hastily retreated to higher ground. Now we focused our binoculars on the canal, starting by the lake and scanning to about a quarter mile down the road. There! A massive, partially submerged alligator, easily fifteen feet long, was just feet away on the other side, basking amid lush foliage. She watched us without blinking. We knew she could move like lightning. 

We’d be easy to eat. 

She’d eventually poop out the binoculars. 

Somebody would finally notice my sister’s car… 

More ‘gators lined the canal’s opposite bank near her, sunning themselves. One swam lazily down the middle, leaving no wake. 

Here’s the thing: there were no warning signs anywhere. Not one. The Edison volunteers hadn’t said a word about alligators, but had boasted only about the wonderful birds. 

I know, I know. Go ahead and say it. 

‘You dumb clucks; you’re not in Michigan anymore! This is Florida, home to alligators, water moccasins, panthers, and other assorted predators…’ 

Still…the residents knew. 

The point is, WE didn’t. (Have tourists ever mysteriously vanished while poking around in Florida?) 

Hmmm…I do wonder about those (absent) developers…

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