We’ve been in Florida two months now and we’ve had a lot of people tell us how much they love it, a lot of people tell us that they have moved away only to come back. Well, I’m here to tell you that the only charm of Florida I’ve felt so far is that it keeps trying to kill me.
In Nebraska we watched for the deer running across the roads at night and listened to the coyote’s wail to the moon. In Okinawa we avoided the many MANY sea urchins, the sharks, the poisonous lion fish. But then we moved to Hawaii, where there is lots and lots of wildlife but really very little of it can kill you. We watched for foot long centipedes and sharks. The end. And actually, really, with the sharks we just waited to see other people start to panic and then we’d leave the water.
But here, we were quickly shocked us out of that placid enjoyment just in our own yard. Ant nests everywhere, wasps on every house corner, the snake that lives in the corner bush that Lincoln named Winnie the Pooh, a friend’s warning of extra itchy chiggers.
But we became really aware of it on our first bike ride here, when we headed just north to the Green Swamp. Turtles (tortoises? I haven’t lived here long enough yet to be able to tell the difference) sunned themselves on the east side of the trail, where the falling sun cut through the swamp.
We almost ran over snakes on the trail, undulating blithely across as though there was nothing that could harm them. I’m no snake person, but the one we saw that took it’s own sweet time to get to the other side looked remarkably like the Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake, which makes the list of most dangerous snakes in Florida. (I’ve been researching. With Winnie the Pooh in our bush, I have to.)
We passed a good many signs warning people not to swim in the water, and spending most of the time in between wondering who saw that green water and thought, “You know, that little rivulet that flows green under the bridge and spreads with stank into the cypress trees is EXACTLY the sort of swimming pool I’ve been missing my whole life”.
Then we came up to the third or fourth bridge and saw what the signs promised and *why* we weren’t supposed to get in that water.
I had seen alligators before in the wild, on an Everglade tour with my grandparents when I was maybe twelve. Thirteen? I don’t remember. I did remember the cocky, loud tour guide, who told all the same jokes to all the same boats, I remember being aware of that even at twelve. And I must have been twelve, now that I think about it, because he kept singling me out because Nebraska had just lost to Miami in the National Championship (Nebraska girl problems: measuring years and days by football games. The people who grew up with me know what I’m talking about.)
Anyway, this view of the alligator was closer, and she was bigger, and she was right off the path and we thanked our lucky stars we hadn’t agreed to let Lincoln bring his bike, because he goes about the speed of a very. slow. turtle. walk, and we stayed right where we were while I took a couple pictures, marveling at her size, wondering what was on her mind, and in general acting like exactly the sort of people who have never met an alligator in the wild before. And then, in just one split second, she was gone. (The other way, luckily.)
Joe and I blinked, and looked at each other, and looked back, and felt put in our place by Florida just a bit. Hawaii slowed our reflexes a bit, and we hadn’t realized it. We had to step up our game.
You’d think I would have learned that broader lesson, but I guess I just kept the ‘run from alligators’ lesson in my brain, because yesterday at a friend’s house, I saw an extremely climbable tree and exclaimed to Lincoln that we should climb that tree! Because I am a fun, nature-loving mom, and like to do things before I see what all is involved.
So I climbed up, and pulled him up, and we discussed the merits of each branch to get up further when I suddenly wondered if my foot was on fire. It turns out it was not on fire, but I had directly stepped in a fire ant hive (nest? commune?) and they were already swarming their way up my leg.
I yelled, essentially threw Lincoln off the tree at my friend (who we learned has excellent reflexes) and jumped down to the hose. I directed the full force of the hose on my leg, tore off my sandals, and felt surely that cooling stream was quite enough, turning off the water, only to look down again and find five or six little ants with their little stinging tentacles still embedded in my skin, and some of the already hosed, drenched ants starting to revive themselves somehow on the pavement and head back towards my ankle, like some sort of tiny, red, zombie hoard.
Five minutes later, I was sitting on her couch, dripping wet sandals, a swollen ankle, and again the reminder. I’m not in Hawaii anymore, where things are placid, beautiful and tame. Here, we have to work for it a little bit, watch for it a little bit, hose away the things that try to kill you first.
And always, always, run a little faster from the alligators.