I couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present this year– an unforgettable paddle trip with the family down Fisheating Creek! Actually, I did ask (beg) for it, and finally got my family (including my 83-year old grandfather) to reluctantly leave the comforts of home for the wilds of Florida. They were skeptical at first, but as soon as they layed eyes on the droopy cypress trees and hot pink spoonbills, they were smitten. They were so enraptured with the beautfy of the creek that having to portage kayaks, sneak by unhappy gators, and sacrifice iphones/cameras (next time my brother and his fiance will use a dry bag) didn’t phase them! It’s hard to explain how special it was to share my love for the great outdoors with my family, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story. Get out there!
Archive for December, 2011
Ahhh, winter in north Florida! Gotta love it – NOT! When your career involves being in the water up to your hooha 95% of the time – winter cold water is not your idea of a great day in the field. So, when I had to stay in G-ville (Gainesville for those who aren’t from here), it was just peachy when Little Kristen and I heard the weather report included 10 degree temperatures AND LIGHT RAIN.
Our mission was to survey/recon a section of the Santa Fe River. This was supposed to be a beautiful site and a super experience. Limestone lined river, clear running waters, beautiful Florida canopies. Instead – we arrived on site in 20 degree wet weather.
We dragged Big Red, our open hull kayak I bought off of a buddy for $50 and we used like an old mop, down to the bank. The water was black and deep and it looked freezing. We donned our neoprene chest waders and loaded up to get ready to survey in unknown depths of water in horrible weather conditions.
I know I have mentioned Kristen being 5’2″ and the water was up to her chest – and black – and cold. Even in neoprene – freezing water is freezing. We worked our way to the location she had chosen. We began to set up. Part of the beginning is Kristen placing pin flags on the tops of banks. These banks were pretty high and rocky. She had to climb up steep rocks and then splash down into the water and do it again.
As soon as we got ready to begin the survey, it began to rain. It was very frigid. It had risen to 22 but we were freezing. We called John to see if we could still survey in the freezing rain – all the while hoping he would say that the equipment couldn’t handle it. He said that it would be fine! It might be fine – but we were not.
I ripped a hole in my waders climbing up a steep rocky bank and water leaked into my waders all day. Kristen was exhausted, I was frozen and the rain was still coming down – into our waders! The bottom was rocky and it was difficult to walk because you couldn’t see the bottom. I got my boot caught many times.
he funny thing is – it was beautiful. It was so different from central Florida Rivers. I marveled at the rocky formations. I loved the nakedness of the limestone in the rain. The canopy was amazing and plants I didn’t know were all over the banks. I couldn’t wait to look them up. (nerd)
“But Jacque, weren’t you miserable and upset? Didn’t you want to quit?” Hell yeah! But something happens out there. Just when you get to that point – the point where you want to turn around and refuse to go on, you see something. There is a small something just ahead that you have to see. It’s worth the mud, the dark water, the scratches, the risk. You get there and you realize later that it really wasn’t so bad. It was worth it – and you would do it again – and again – and again.
Each time I enter black water, crawl into dank mud, reach my breaking point I know that I can go further – because i have so many times. It makes life’s trials and tribulations seem petty. It makes office gossip disappear, it smooths wrinkles, it increases blood flow to your heart and mind, it gives you super powers – it is a drug! I am addicted….
“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” -Baba Dioum
When I first read this quote painted across a wall of the South Carolina Aquarium, I stopped dead in my tracks. I was struck by how much this quote described my life not only as an environmentalist striving to protect ecosystems I had learned about and grown to love, but also as someone who just loves to learn. Think about it… anytime you invest money, energy, time, whatever, don’t you hold a greater interest in the outcome? I can think of many times I’ve been places (forests, museums, aquariums) where I had no clue what I was looking at. But then I opened a field book, read a placard, listened to a talk, and it completely changed the experience from walking around blindly to knowing and, more importantly, caring what I was looking at.
So here’s a little challenge! The leaf below is that of a red maple. A red maple is a common tree species in the United States. Its leaves have five points (the bottom two of which are much more subtle) and red stems. Florida isn’t known for it’s fall colors, but this particular tree’s leaves turn red at this time of year.
I know this little piece of knowledge seems insignificant and even silly, but I am confident that, in some small way, it will change the way you look at the world around you. So next time you are driving down the road and see a red tree amongst all the green and brown (in Florida at least), you will KNOW. You can only imagine what a dorky car ride it is when Jacque and I are pointing out plants!! And we love every minute of it :)
It was here. In all its thundering rage it screamed through these woods. It tore the oaks from their ancient strongholds and threw them about as if they were straw. The banks are littered with piles of rotted leaves and those things untethered. It was full of the storm and rushing to the ocean it forgot to take care. It scoured thalwegs and lifted minnows from their beds. It’s path is sore and broken. This wound won’t heal. The scar will be raked into the very ground. Sand piled on live things. Delicate creatures in the grasses look worn and scared. How will this wood mend? How dare the River rage over this shadowed haven.
I know, I know, you are already freaking out and saying, “But Jacque, how would things get in my pants?” Stop! Trust me on this one, they will. Bad part is, all sorts of things will get in your pants that you don’t even realize are there until it’s far too late! I have compiled a list of Those Things Which Will Definitely Get In Your Pants – and ways you might deal with them when they happen. It is not, by any means, a complete list. The possibilities are quite endless as are the solutions to said things in your pants problem.
As with all Chicks with Ticks manual entries, we are not responsible if you neglect to follow our suggestions. We would, however, like to hear what happens when you don’t!
Things Which Will Definitely Get In Your Pants – and ways you might deal with them
- Very spiky seeds – simple, reach into your drawers and pick them out when they occur. Please take a good look to make sure these “seeds” don’t have 8 legs!
- Ants – these little f-ers sneak into all sorts of cracks. Even tucking your pant legs is no guarantee….just grab the section of pants they are in and squish. There is a side note here – if these are carpenter ants – take off your damn pants! You don’t want that kind of bite down there! I don’t care if anyone can see you – screw them – they don’t have carpenter ants in their pants.
- Chiggers – duh – everyone seems to know about chiggers. Sad thing is – i didn’t until last year – and it sucked….there is nothing you can do, trust me. You will suffer for a week or two – trust me.
- Weeds – All sorts of weeds will get in there. Mostly you won’t notice these until you go to a real inside bathroom or undress. No big whoop – just dump them out. Remember to wash your hands!
- Beetles – Hell yes they do!! No matter what you say, I know this from personal experience. I also don’t appreciate the fact that Kiran wouldn’t help me take off my friggin pants. I didn’t care that we were on a bridge! That was gross….I still get a chill…it was a big beetle. TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS…get assistance if you can – I freaked out and couldn’t even get my zipper down.
- Giant Water Beetles – these are VERY different from standard beetles. These have a most horrible sting. Too late if they sting you – better do whatever you can to get them out of there.
- Sticks – I still have no idea how the hell sticks get in my pants…..I really don’t know what to say about this one….just get them out.
Special note: When you go to a gas station after being in the field all day, and sit down to go potty, if you realize that all those stings and itches on your behind were from the ants mentioned above, DO NOT SCREAM OUT LOUD – people in line will stare and it is quite embarrassing….and Kiran will tease you for years.
My pant legs wet with early dew, or is that late rain? We are almost to the creek in Myakka River State Park when I begin making those typical mental catalog entries when I sense post-flood conditions. I notice rafted debris up in the saplings. I see freshly dropped sand that the creek has played with and tossed aside carelessly as it rambled out of its banks and into the forest. Some half crazed wandering storm that grounded and misbehaves.
I am hefting my gear to the same spot i have hefted it for years now. The familiar sandy bank of a very small creek that I love dearly. I place everything just so – almost as if it were the first time of the many. I blah blah blah to Kristen as I always do and she always lets me because she loves me and knows me. She knows every thought comes out of my mouth because there is simply no room in my head for anything more than the million tangents that are tiddly winking around in there at all times….
Flooding rains have come late this year and I am eager to see what the flow will be. The waters have subsided but everywhere is the look that something naked and wild has run past. It raked its wet fingers across the landscape and nothing went unscathed. I think I hear small mammals rustling about complaining. I take one last look at my spot. The spot my body has taken up for years….
SNAKE…I say this out loud of course because of the tangents and blah blah blah….Kristen says “Where”, and I say, “Right there!” What I mean (since you were not there and do not know where I was pointing) was right where I usually sit….on the snake….the pygmy rattle snake.
Wow, it was so small.It was so still. It was so in my spot where my rear goes. Immediately we dance around laughing. What would the nurse say? How would Kristen get me out of there when it’s on my butt? All the “suck the poison out” jokes are funny….for a minute.
I realize that the rattlesnake is offended that I want my space. I try to shoo her away into the forest but she resists. She knows, too, that great things happen when you occupy that space. She knows how good it feels to sit there. My feet just reach the creek while I work. The leaves always occupy my fingers. She snake is reluctant to relinquish what I know is the perfect view of the creek.
She leaves, pouting, and rattling that she will be back. I look, once more, at where she has been. A small curl of danger rises from my space. That’s when I realize how very lucky I am….In so many ways!
Once upon a time, in a land far, far away (near DeSoto County), there once was a beautiful land filled with streams and cow patties. A small team of nerds (Kristen, Josh, John & Jacque) were going to travel to this land to study the land and all its beauty. The merry team of nerds would collect fish, measure the streams, count things and generally frolic around making much of muddy wriggly things while smelly disgusting.
It came to pass that Nerd Kristen, Nerd Josh, & Nerd Jacque were working on a lovely tomato (without the e) farm one sparkling clear day. They frolicked in ditches filled with glorious wonder (and maybe some invasive species and mass levels of herbicides and fertilizers). They laughed and played all the live long day in the tomatoeee (didn’t quite know how to get you there) haven there in the county of DeSoto.
It so happens that there was a big strong property manager. He warned the Nerds to leave the premises early lest they be trapped FOREVER in a pit of doom (which really meant they would be stuck on the farm). The Nerds giggled for they knew a great secret. They had a magic gate key! They would be able to frolic and laugh and handle strange creatures until the sun sank on the glorious horizon.
So it was that the Nerds spent their day lounging on stream banks marvelling at the amazing creatures and their native realm. It was just before dusk when the Nerds lifted their little chins to the sky and decided to journey back to their Knight’s Inn to retire for the evening.
Lo, the gate was locked just as the strong property manager had warned. “No matter,” Nerd Kristen said,”we have a magic key!” But when she tried the key in the golden lock – it did not open. Try as she might, the lock was stuck and the key was useless. CURSES!!!
Nerd Josh is a resourceful apprentice and thought immediately of many fun ways that the team might open the lock. He thought of magic, of calling the elves (which were hours away), of breaking it with his will (and a few misused tools). He thought of crow bars, and cursing.
Meanwhile, Nerd Kristen continued to be sad and hungry. Nerd Jacque began to look about for fun things to do while they came up with a plan. Nerd Josh thought to look for sources of entertainment and eventual food. The nearby ditches provided endless hours of fun for Nerd Josh and Nerd Jacque. They caught fireflies and frogs, lizards and bugs and laughed and played well into the night.
A lone magician (dressed like a security guard) came from far away to help open the gate. Lo – the lock would not budge….who had warded the lock as well and what might they be hiding? Maybe they knew how fun it was to frolic in the fields of tomatoes and ditches of frogs. They had tried to warn the team of Nerds.
It was well past ten when the team’s hero came. The strong property manager rode in on his horse (truck) and magically broke the spell on the lock (yeah – of course he had the right key). The team shouted with glee (but the property manager did not – he was kind of grumpy). The manager left and the Nerds began to load into their magic carriage….but Nerd Jacque had lost the secret Toyota key. The key of all keys! She must have lost it while chasing frogs. The Nerds began a wild hunt for the secret Toyota key.
Jacque giggled as she remembered exactly where the secret must be laying. She was admiring a small lizard and thinking how lovely it was to be locked on a tomato farm at ten at night when the secret key must have slipped from her pocket. She immediately strolled to the very spot she had been sitting. Wouldn’t you know – they secret Toyota key was there – gleaming in the moonlight.
Nerd Kristen had passed into a deep state of grumpiness. Starvation and despair had taken her over and she was like a demon gone wild. how could the team find sustenance for her? They had such a long journey back to their Knight’s Inn. Nerd Kristen’s spell broke long enough for her to call the magical desk clerk at Knight’s Inn. Kristen
demanded I mean asked nicely for them to order some pizzas.
The team arrived to warm pizza, cold beers, and a wonderful tale to tell….the moral of the story is – you should never trust a magic key without trying it first or bring some pizzas to feed the demons.
As you might expect, we see a lot of wild things. I mean wild in every sense! We see wild flowers, wild animals, wild people, wild encounters, wild weather, wild places, and just wild things in general. It’s hard to imagine, but I much prefer wild things to anything else.
Somewhere along the path we lost our fears of most wild things. We forgot about the scratches and the thorns. The dangers were just dangers. We became more in tune with what we were doing. We became in tune with each other. We became in tune with nature. We became wild things.
It wasn’t apparent just how wild we had become until I got laid off recently and was removed from the wild places for a while. Don’t go sniveling now about that – it’s a story for another day. I look back, even right now, and it’s hard to believe we had become that wild. It’s a little scary actually and a lot exciting. I can’t wait until the day I truly become wild….through and through.
We stopped thinking in terms of us in a wild place – instead the wild places were comforting. It was as if we couldn’t breathe, grow, think, or operate if we didn’t go into the wild for a while. We would mope in the office. Send emails about our next adventure. We would talk about only how we couldn’t wait to get out into the wilderness. It seemed only natural that we should want that.
What I didn’t realize was that the transformation was much more complete than I could even know. We had grown roots. That reached in the soil when we exited the truck. We touched plants as we walked and smelled things. We didn’t talk as much. We just were. We knew some of these wild places well. We started taking a lunch and exploring. Sometimes we would lay in the weeds under a tree and just listen and talk quietly.
We started talking about things we didn’t want to. We started sharing pain. We started letting out those things in us that needed space – wild space. We talked about life and death. We relived moments best forgotten. We let leaves stay in our hair as we cried and screamed out those things that hurt us or made us feel angry. We vented. We gave it all to the wild things….and they absorbed us and our hurt. They absorbed our sorrows and our tears fell on fertile, willing soils. We became freer, lighter and more eager to let things out.
Next came the joys. We laughed and sang more. We connected in our work. The work was better and so were we. We knew more, we lived here. We felt things that needed to be done. We realized how happy we were out in the wild. We loved the wild things. We wanted to stay here. Every day it became more difficult to drag our gear into the truck. I would touch one thing more before raking myself out of the grass. We became something amazing.
I can’t say when or where exactly. I only know that we became less of what most people are and more of what most wild things are. We were something new and old. We weren’t just working. It became personal and we became passionate about our work. It stopped being work. We stopped just working. We started feeling it, breathing it, and it coursed through us like the blood through our veins.
It would have been so easy to keep going. One day, just keep walking into the woods. Grab handfuls of grass and leaves and just lie down in the mud. Float downstream and laugh at the fish watching the wild girls float by. There are days I wish we would have kept going, kept floating, kept breathing…Kept going wild.
Well, as Chicks with Ticks, we travel a bit sometimes. It’s not as glamorous as one might imagine. We are usually on a budget and we love adventure so, put those two things together (cheap and stupid) and you get – CHEAP MOTELS and LOCAL FOOD.
This can work out to be amazing or really horrific. We have found some little gems in south and north Florida in the way of food and lodging. In fact, here are some little known tidbits for the budget traveler that just might get you started on the road to cheap crazy adventure….
- If the motel in High Springs has the name of a car in it – STAY THERE! I know, you are saying, “Jacque, that place looks weird”. I don’t care what you see – the Cadillac Motel is the bomb and the rooms are huge. It’s frequented by divers and the owners are amazing. Best prices – very sparse but roomy lodging – good service.
- If the restaurant looks like a family owned convenience store in Arcadia – EAT THERE!! Best Mexican food in town! I would drive there right now to eat if it weren’t 10am!
- If you spend a lot of time in Arcadia, like we love to do, then you will need another choice for dining – if the name sounds like a cheap version of surf and turf (fish and cow) EAT THERE….best escargo I have had in my life and portions are HUGE.
- If you need to stay in the rather risky town of Arcadia for a while (like a whole week) – Knights Inn – STAY THERE….heated pool, service is amazing, continental breakfast, wifi, and if you get locked on a tomato farm until 10pm (another story altogether) they will order your pizza so it’s ready when you get there.
- I don’t care where you are – Hardees has the best burgers….Thickburgers keep you going all day!
- High Springs downtown has a sweet fancy local restaurant I highly recommend for your “good” meals. All others should be eaten next door to the Cadillac Motel – the shiny diner is delicious and portions are huge – slow service but who cares!
- It’s hard to be away from your family when out-of-town. It does soften the blow to have a safe, friendly place to stay. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have a good, cheap source of beer close by either. So look for Kangaroos….beer prices are great!
- If, and don’t think this won’t happen to you, you have to stay out-of-town unexpectedly and you have NO CLOTHES THAT ARE DRY, CVS sells underwear – trust me on this – and you know you have a good field partner when she will buy them for you while you are wrapped in a motel bed spread naked!
- Did I mention that you will need some basics? A deck of cards is invaluable. You never know when a poker game will get you some change or solitaire will keep you quiet so your partner can do her crazy research in the same motel room.
- If possible – CAMP!! That’s right, do it. We have stayed at some state parks and Myakka River is the bomb. They have nice cabins that hold many and cost little. Full kitchens and bathrooms make your stay more comfortable. If you can’t get a cabin – tent camp for a day or so if you can. Trust me – this will be worth the story. We have done it and it was both amazing and horrifying….PREGNANT FIELD PARTNERS HAVE NO TOLERANCE FOR TENT CAMPING SOMETIMES!! Also, when possible, bring your family and extend the trip.
Be adventurous but don’t be stupid. Make sure you put as much recon into where you stay and eat as you do your sites or trips. It is fun to find something unique and cost-effective. Character in lodging makes it more exciting and you will probably have a story or two. We will be going out-of-town soon for a week and I look forward to the weird places we will get to see!