Archive for January, 2013


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.

The creek was long. You all know that. The creek was wide. The day was passing and the water was gross and we were working hard to get the survey done without messing it up and praying we would never have to come back and redo it. Funny thing about daylight and this chapter – both have an ending.

Some of you might be disappointed that the ending is coming. Some of you might be sitting on the edge of your seats. Well, what began to happen changed, forever, the way I would look at what we did. We had completed the survey and were packing it in when I noticed that the sun was beginning to go down behind the cypress trees in the distance.

The silhouette of the black tree line against the orange ball that was the sun was both beautiful and awful. Immediately I said to John that we should hurry. John, once again sharing words of wisdom and horror, said that we were lucky we didn’t have a flashlight – that alligators were nocturnal feeders and that the eyes lined up on the banks would scare us to death. John is such a comfort.

John – Our Mentor

I wondered to myself if he meant to say that out  loud. John knows more about working in swamps than we do but he also has a story about getting bitten by a moccasin that we don’t. You see, we were chest deep in nasty water pushing the canoes filled with equipment upstream as the sunlight faded. My initial reaction was to call my husband.

Usually Scott doesn’t worry too much about me – or at least that’s how it seems. I was more worried that I would not make it whole back to the canoe launch. I was really scared. I called and told him what was going on and that if he didn’t hear from me in an hour – I just wanted to let him know that I loved him and to kiss the kids for me. I wondered, as I hung up, if he had taken me seriously. I wondered why I decided I could do this. I also wondered how much life insurance I had.

The funny thing about darkness is that it is just that. It’s dark. We all know from our childhood that very terrible things lurk in the darkness. It doesn’t matter how old you get, you still believe in some things. I believed that this was a very serious situation and that I was sincerely afraid. I tried to sound flippant and keep Kristen laughing. I knew she was walking in holes over her head. I knew that every other footstep brought an unknown bottom that might hold a fallen and rotting tree and its branches.

I knew that the darkness was coming and we weren’t going to make it back before it fell. The fear that gripped me was overwhelming. I found myself gripping the side of the canoe even harder. I began trying not to touch the bottom. I started to make funny comments in a nervous voice. I started to panic.

It’s pretty obvious that we made it back. It’s probably not as obvious what followed us back to the launch. I can’t say when I noticed it. I only know that it is here, with me now as I write this chapter. It has been with me ever since that first survey. It seeps into the room when I am otherwise occupied. It takes me over some days.

It’s what followed us back to the launch that day that I miss the most sometimes sitting here at the kitchen counter writing. It’s that notion that anything could have happened and didn’t. It’s the feeling that you escaped, and cheated death. It’s knowing that there are two people who you don’t have to ask to watch out for you. It’s a part of me that is slowly dying. A part of my soul that is starving. A corner of my heart that is crumbling slowly and rotting.

Here, on this Halloween night, it’s what scares me more than the ghouls and monsters. It scares me even more that the fear of the things I couldn’t see as that sun went down behind the tree line. I can’t face my fear of it.

That I might lose the Team! Forever! Does that ever scare you?

Kristen on the banks of Catfish Creek

We find the canoe launch. We flag the reach noticing the long fingers of algae and nasty green water. I was thinking when we come back to survey, it’s not going to be easy. I also think I need to be brave. I don’t want Kristen to know how scared I am. John will not like it if he knows how scared I am.

John joins us for the survey a few days later. This survey is something new to us. I am going to set up the tripod IN THE WATER. Gross. John seems to think it’s all wonderful. John thinks we know what we are doing. Pity.

We begin surveying and it’s a fiasco. Firstly, you can’t see the bottom as the water is so green and nasty. Secondly, the bottom is so soft the tripod keeps slipping. Thirdly, the algae that floats by me makes me feel creeped out. Everything that touches me seems like something horrid.

Then there’s the fact that snakes are swimming near me. That’s right. John is tromping around on the banks scaring up all kinds of nasty and I yell out for him to come tell me what kind of snake it is…..yeah – he comes splashing over and tells me that moccasins strike their prey under water. Thanks John. At some point I get so engrossed in my work that I forget about the snakes. I start worrying about Kristen.

Kristen is five foot two. The water isn’t that deep, but there are much deeper pools filled with sticks and stuff. She is up to her chin in some spots. She is also pretty far away from me so I can’t stop anything that happens. Helping will be delayed by mud, water, fear, and whatever. I realize I don’t like this. Again, John seems to think nothing could possibly be in the water that wants to hurt us. I disagree.

What real Chicks with Ticks Do!!

I think there is something somewhere in there and I think we could get hurt! There are still days that I feel that way. I have learned to trust that instinct. Funny thing is, I have been right. I have found that thing that is in the water and wants to hurt us. Sometimes I feel it right beside me. That thing is ugly and it is dangerous and it doesn’t care that John thinks we know what we are doing! But it never stops us!

 

(((After reposting this = it sounds silly and rather girly!!)))

Chicks with Ticks at Catfish Creek

springToday I had the pleasure of presenting our stream classification study to a wonderful group of people – the Master Gardeners of Sarasota County, Florida. It turns out there are Master Gardeners all throughout Florida. The program is run through the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). Its mission is to train a core of volunteers to assist the county extension agent in delivering information to residents on how to design, plant, and care for their plants and landscapes in a Florida-Friendly way. Please visit their website to find out more about this AWESOME program:
http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/mastergardener/about/index.shtml

jac+kristen+logoI’m hoping I was able to inspire some Master Gardeners to get outdoors and enjoy our state’s amazing resources. Maybe they’ll even become Chicks with Ticks (since many of them were women)! The Gardeners definitely inspired me to turn my black thumb green, and even gave me a couple free plant clippings (I’ll let you know how that goes). Thank you so much to Bob at Sarasota County’s IFAS extension office for inviting our team to speak. Always a pleasure talking about what we do and love because…
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

Buttonbush

Especially for Tom B – here is an example of Buttonbush flower!!

Well, you all might as well know right now that Kristen hates to get up early and I love to sing while I drive. Trouble is, we almost always have to get up early to get where we are going and, well, I am no Carrie Underpants. You can imagine how much fun it is to drive long distances with me singing and Kristen grumpy. So – this day started like most others….me singing some corny karaoke style song and Little Kristen (my nickname for her) closing her eyes trying to pretend she was still in her bed.

We are on our way to Catfish Creek. Yay! We are going to recon the creek to locate a section (reach) of the stream that looks typical so that we can survey it. No, we are not surveyors (duh). We are technically differential measurers or data collectors. This also means that we really don’t know what we are in for and that we don’t really have true surveyor’s skills. This doesn’t matter in what we do! Things can change so much overnight at a stream site….well – that is another chapter!  We haven’t even really surveyed yet (unless you count the busted first attempt in extreme conditions and extreme aggravation at Coons Bay). So I think, “This should be interesting.”‘

We arrive, get escorted by some uninteresting but very helpful person who shows us into GOD KNOWS WHAT! I am dead serious. It’s like a friggin swamp. Really, like a seriously nasty, boggy swamp. This person expects us to wade through this crap to get to the creek bank. Wow. I think to myself that I had no idea what I am in for. In my head I am freaking out. On the outside, I am smiling and wading through the nastiest mucky mud I have seen in a long time. I am not the type of girl to show my fear or shortcomings! That is also another funny story of how Jacque met John!

We wade to the edge of the creek through buttonbush. Now, if you have never seen buttonbush in bloom, let me tell you that you are missing something pretty. The white puff-balls hang daintily from long sturdy bent branches on this creek side shrub. The flowers are so complicated. You will want to see some right after you finish reading this story and can see some at the bottom of the page. I digress.

We get to the edge of this nasty creek to realize….it’s nasty. It’s green and flowing very slowly. I think that I had pictured a crystal clear stream with fish and sand. All I can think is, “What the hell? I am not ready for this!” Instead, I just smile and look around like I know what I am doing! This is advisable in all situations where you believe that the other people involved think you know what you are doing when, in fact, you not only don’t, you really want to leave and wash your hands or say “Would you like fries with that?”.

We look around a bit as if we know what we are doing. We then ask if it is possible to get to the reach via the actual stream. Yeah – like the banks we are supposed to survey from are really a swamp – so we need to go find a spot from which to actually do the stuff we need to do. Plus, we need to measure a reach that is twenty times as long as it is wide (wide is bankfull width). That’s just f-ing great because this thing is probably about 40 feet wide I am guessing. That means we need a reach over 800 feet long. That’s a lot of nasty!

Well, at this point I have to stop. This is where it all really started. Us tromping into hell, acting like we know what the hell we are doing and looking for. Random people believing in us. John believed in us from the beginning….funny thing is, we eventually lived up to that and even believed in ourselves. Once we met his expectations, which were based on our false confidences, he believed we could do more than that and so we did. He led, we followed. All not really knowing who the others were.

When you follow someone you barely know into the creepy swamp, into unknown territory, it does something to you. Does something to your relationship. There are long fibrous tendrils of faith that grow from you to the others involved. When you know that you can walk into the wilderness, under extreme conditions, and you will forget all that and those tendrils coil around your fears and squash them….you have something special. Funny how, after all these years, after all the swamps, snakes, gators, and adventure – those tendrils still grow. To me, sitting here typing this it seems like yesterday that I jumped into the canoe with Little Kristen to begin a part of my life that changed me forever. I didn’t know back then what the world really looked like.. sometimes I wish I was still blind.

Oh, I had glimpsed pieces and parts of what I would later see, but I never saw that thing I would find not long after that first trek into the swamp. You, the reader, have seen glimpses of the world as it really is. You have just forgotten. They say there is a land whose inhabitants live long lives and time stands still. That place is not so far away as you may have read. If I told you how close it was and what it really held, you wouldn’t be here to read the next chapter.

So, John was wildly busy. Kristen and Jacque are awaiting his instructions….”what is it we are supposed to do?” we said. Well, I will tell you right now, those of you who know us personally know this – we don’t wait around!! We are take charge kind of gals. We decided to start going to these remote sites, and decided we would figure it all out in the field. How hard could it be? We had maps!

After all, we knew what it was we were supposed to gather. We knew where (ha) and we knew we were behind schedule already. So off we went into the Florida wilderness to collect stream data and begin a five-year adventure of a lifetime. In the beginning, it was our job!

I have to stop and admit – at this point in the story – things will be posted here as Adventures….but in reality, they weren’t all adventures. Just like an edited show, some content won’t make it here. There were days that you will never hear about. There were tears you will never see shed, laughter you won’t hear ringing in the forest, and fear you won’t smell as we sweat – we left a lot of ourselves out there for some other brave person to find. I can’t make you feel the way we felt standing there, scratched to hell and cursing. I don’t have the courage to type words that came from our hearts and souls. Instead, friends, I will give you a taste of the beauty and laughter two strangers found out there in the middle of nowhere.

And it all starts right here. It starts on this blog born from a loss so personal that no one will ever understand. The pain of losing a part of myself is what sparked this blog. You see, in the beginning, it sounded like a job we would enjoy….but in the end, well, in the end we found out what the price is for being truly happy in your work. Trust me, I have paid the price.

Enough of that – let’s start the Adventures!!!

Do not look forward in fear, but around in wonder.

In the beginning, there was John. I am not going to type the last name, just suffice it to say – if this becomes popular, he will want me to put it in. John had these amazing ideas about streams in Florida. He wanted to put together a team to study these streams and them formulate all sorts of amazingly technical data and documentation and formulation and general science that I probably can’t write here so – just some really cool stuff!

John had me – Jacque – and I could do anything. Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe, but that thing you are thinking that I can’t do – well you are dead wrong buddy! I can do anything and I have and will continue to do anything. You see, my dad told me as a young girl that I could do anything…anything in the whole world, as long as I could find out how to do it! So you see, liar I am not!!! I go around doing anything all the time by the way!

So, John needed a team and  he had Jacque. One person is not a team so then he found Kristen, she was a student at a college and she would be mini-John and Jacque would do anything and together they would stomp around the wilds of Florida collecting information and having a blast all for science. John’s idea was that they would do all of this in a day or so (slight exaggeration) and that they would learn some cool stuff.

John was a genius – he was both right and wrong! Aren’t they all! Not only did we spend 3+ years in the wilds of Florida, we learned some really cool stuff. Now, at this point, you, the reader, might sit up and say “What really cool stuff did you learn, Jacque?” and I would say – well, let’s start at the beginning – hmmmm let’s start….in Lakeland. We will start in the office where John is very busy, Kristen and Jacque are eager to start their adventure into the wilds, and time seems to have stopped. The team is waiting for something. Kristen is waiting for instructions on what it is she and Jacque are supposed to be doing exactly – right? I mean, like who the hell just walks into the woods on an unknown wild property, gets to some stream and just starts learning cool stuff……?

The answer may shock you – Chicks With Ticks do!

The gear, Breathe Like A Fish. Where, Lakeland, Florida. Who, Kent Hickman.

If you haven’t checked them out yet, you really are missing out on the most incredibly cool (ha ha) shirts on the market! We are getting geared up at Chicks with Ticks to field test Kent Hickman’s shirts. He has added new styles and more choices in women’s wear so don’t be afraid to get your gear too! In fact, he has the whole family covered – LITERALLY!

To check out his stuff just go to breathelikeafish.com

%d bloggers like this: