Tag Archive: alligators


Repost – Ancient Landscapes

Once connected by an ancient land bridge to the deserts of the southwest, the Lake Wales Ridges State Forest boasts some similar species that were later trapped in this area when the ice receded. The wave action and shallow waters created a most unusual landform which is still visible today from the air.

Hiking out of the scrub and into the cypress dome was quite surprising.

What you will find on the ground is equally interesting. In the midst of shallow grassy marshes, there are two cypress domes. I know – that’s crazy right – cypress domes don’t belong on the ridge. Well, they are there. And they are gorgeous. Of course they differ from the swampy cypress domes in that they rely on water travelling underground through seepage rather than flowing over the surface.

Just standing in the middle of the dome after hiking through scrub habitat dominated by white sand and scrub oaks – sharp things and arid conditions – I looked around in total wonder at the soft ferns and mucky loam I was standing on. This seemed to me to be a very unique kind of forest. I felt lucky to be taking photos while my field partner Kevin rejoiced in the beauty as well.

It’s not hard to admit that we feel fortunate to be able to see these places. Truth is, everyone can as they are part of the Lake Wales Walk In Water WMP and are totally publicly accessible. You can even bring your horses and camp! IMGP0082  http://www.floridaforestservice.com/state_forests/lake_wales_ridge.html

As always, these areas are home to some very special plants and animals. Even the soil can’t be disturbed. Please enjoy with your eyes and take no prisoners!

IMGP0092
The transition from upland scrub to cypress dome!

 

Most of you think that this is a page for women by women. Sure, it can be. I am definitely a woman! But we work and play with and around men also. In fact, we have a following that is strictly male and they are The Honorary Members of Chicks with Ticks. They even have their own logo! That’s right – they rock. We love our men!

Anyway – Tyler, my field partner for the day, and I were headed down south to Grasshopper Slough. Nothing special about that, except that we LOVE Grasshopper Slough. It’s on private land that is maintained about as well as any conservationist could ask, even though it’s a working cattle ranch – we love the way they alternate fields, manage forestry, and generally have a love of the land. It makes our job easier.

We got to the stream and it was about 2 feet deep. Now, I had been coming to this spot on this stream for years….mostly alone. I had Tyler today which is sweet because he is like my ninja man….studies Buddhism, meditates, is smiley, and an amazing friend. We got to the stream bank and I put my junk down where I always do. Then…something wasn’t right.

I told Ty (yeah – sometimes I call him Ty) that something wasn’t right. I scanned the area and make sure nothing is gonna eat us and then go about my business. I felt like I was being watched. I’ll tell ya it really creeped me out because there are some very large gators upstream from our site. Anyway, I laughed it off and then asked Ty if he minded being my ninja guardian and walk through the water to the gauge with me – which is sooooo not me because the water is only 2 feet deep and I go there all the time alone. Silly girl.

So, he remarked that was weird but that he would, of course – after all he is my ninja guardian. And he did. We came back with the logger (measures the level of the stream) and I sat on that bank and just looked at that 18 foot wide, 2 foot deep brown tannic stream and thought that I was crazy for feeling the way I did. I was being unreasonable. I told Ty I was being girlie! So, we did our thing and left.

We returned a week later to the same spot to do the same thing. I felt the same way. I might have even felt a bit worse. Something was there. I told Ty that I thought it might be a turtle or otter and I was just sensitive. We started work and I continually scanned the stream (spotted) as Ty went into the stream to measure flow. I still felt uncomfortable. I can’t explain it. I asked Ty to be careful.

I turned to scan the stream one more time. I saw something in the deeper pool just upstream of our site. I couldn’t say what it was so I asked Ty to stay out of the water until I could identify it. This is one of my safety protocols! I hoped to see a large fish or piece of wood floating. I turned away to set up planning to figure it out once I was finished.

Tyler – Honorary Member of Chicks with Ticks & Ninja

I started opening my laptop and setting up the equipment as usual. For some reason, I looked back over my shoulder at the stream just where I had seen the “something”. Headed straight for Ty was a huge gator. It was moving fast and even making a wake. I bent back and grabbed a stick as I yelled to Ty, “Gator, big gator, out of the water!” I splashed the stick around and the gator turned toward me and slowed.

Oh my. At this point, I have to tell you how bad it was. Ty was supposed to be out of the water, right, because I asked him to. Instead, he was bent over pulling grass so he could use the doplar equipment we use to measure flow. This meant that his head was at the surface of the water and the gator was about 5 feet away when I spotted her. You can imagine how we both felt. Now Ty is on the other side of that stream. We had to get him back on the side with me and the truck with a gator in the middle! I tell you what. That gator was every bit of 9 feet and the stream only 18 feet across.

That gator followed us as we walked up and down the stream trying to find a good place for Ty to cross. It snapped at anything we threw. We decided that the marsh upstream was our best bet as I could swamp the truck halfway and at least he wouldn’t be stranded, just the truck would be. He hiked down and I drove. I didn’t see Ty. He didn’t come. I started to panic. I had driven the truck deep into the mucky maidencane marsh. I climbed out the window and stood on top of the truck. Where the hell was he?

I didn’t see him for what seemed like forever. All of the sudden, I see a figure in white (Ty) crouched down sneaking through the grass. Well, let me tell you, he looked like gator bait all bent over and easy to eat. I yelled for him to make himself big and run to the truck. I realized how close we had come when he collapsed in the bed of the truck next to me.

We laid there for a long time cursing and reliving the moment he almost got eaten. We still relive it. It was the most intense experience I had ever had and it changed me for a long time – changed us for a long time. Hell, it even changed the way we worked for a long time. I was afraid. Afraid that every pool had a gator in it ready to eat my field partners. I had never been afraid. Wary, cautious, yes, but not afraid.

Actual photo of gator that almost ate Ty!

That feeling passed, at least mostly. I still think about it when I stand next to that creek. The gator? Oh, a trapper came back a few weeks later and shot it after he roped it. He said the gator didn’t act right. He though it was crazy. I don’t know much about that – I only know that it’s not there anymore.

I only know that I haven’t felt that same feeling I felt the week before the gator almost ate Tyler! I do get that feeling every now and then at other sites. Sometimes it’s everything I can do to make myself go where I need to go. Sometimes, I don’t go at all.

You hear about sixth sense. You talk about intuition. I trust mine. Sometimes I look into that murky water and think I am going somewhere I know I shouldn’t go. I am entering a world that doesn’t belong to me. I am intruding. Most days I know I will be forgiven. I know I can pass without paying a toll. Some days I wonder when my time will run out.

Taunting us from outside our window...

Jacque and I were moping around the office the other day, wondering why we were more unmotivated than usual. And then it hit us: we had spring fever, a BAD case of it. Not only had we been stuck working on projects that required us to be in the office rather than in the beloved field, but we had also just pushed our clocks forward giving us an extra hour of daylight. Yet here we were, trapped in the artificial light of the office. So we decided to do something about it. We vowed that the next day we would spend our lunch hour (also known as “Lunchingtons”) actually going OUTSIDE.

Murky waters

What a novel idea. Our office does, afterall, sit right on the shore of Lake Bently, a little lake that we had completely taken for granted as it stared at us through our office windows for YEARS now.  While its water is more green than blue and its shoreline is highly developed with storm water drains jutting out every few hundred feet (it has a high LDI for any limnology nerds out there), it is home to birds, gators, fish, and even otters! So why not call it our home as well, at least for an hour?

Happy Jacque!

The excitement of our looming adventure got us through the morning grind, and at noon on the dot we grabbed our lunch (that Jacque had deliciously prepared) and our craigslist-purchased kayaks and off we slid into the murky waters. Within moments we were in another world. Just yards away stood our office building, staring back at us with its mirrored windows, hiding the sterile lights and jealous faces of our co-workers (actually, they probably just thought we were crazy). We paddled happily towards wood ducks and pelicans and ibises and limpkins and cormorants and ospreys and turtles and cypress trees and butterflies. We soaked up the sun and felt the breeze on our faces.

We returned to our offices 59 minutes later, refreshed and more than a little stinky. But we didn’t care. We had cured spring fever, at least for an hour. Do you have any tricks for curing spring fever? CWT would love to hear about it!

Family With Ticks!

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!

Go Gators! (by Kristen)

Anyone who works or plays in the swamps of Florida has a tale or two about encounters with gators, snakes, or some creepy animal. And we all love to share those tales, like war stories.

I was in a creek with John once (remember John the mentor?). It was a small creek, six feet wide and one foot deep at most, and we’d been in it a dozen times or so. It was the kind of place you wouldn’t ever think anything large could live in. As I walked down the middle of it, which was easier than navigating the vegetated banks, I was stirring up a bunch of sand in the water column (there’s some nerdy terminology for you!). I was coming around a bend when all of sudden a ray of light pierced the sand trail and reflected off of something dark and strange in the water just a couple of feet away from me. My instincts told me to get out of the creek and onto the bank, so I immediately hopped out. As John and I watched the sand clear, a six foot gator was revealed, resting completely under the water! I am not exaggerating when I say that if I had taken one step further I would have stepped on its head, as the glimpse that I had caught was of its back or tail (I can’t say for sure).

What's that gator doing in that tiny creek?!

This encounter turned my world upside down for a few days… I mean, I never thought I’d have to worry about gators in a tiny little stream. I kept replaying the moment in my head over and over again thinking of what could have happened to me if I had taken one more step, if I hadn’t been watching the sand, if the light hadn’t caught the scales at that exact moment. Could I have lost a limb? Could John have gotten me out of the middle of nowhere if I needed rescuing? I still cringe when I think about it. Nothing bad had happened, BUT IT COULD HAVE. And it could have been REALLY BAD.

The weird thing is, I wasn’t with Jacque when she had her experience at Grasshopper Slough, and she wasn’t with me when I had my experience. But our gator encounters actually happened within a week of eachother. Even though our specific encounters were different, we went through the same emotional turmoil together. We feel so lucky to have felt that sixth sense and to have trusted our instincts. We feel lucky to be able to share our tales today.

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