Category: The Story of The Chicks


I know, I know, you are thinking, “Jacque, you are covered in ants. Shouldn’t you be jumping around like a freak?” No, I shouldn’t. You know why? I am a man! No not really, I am only covered from head to toe in red ants.

20161207_104941

Native red ants and not fire ants. You know WHY I am covered in red ants to include inside both my pant legs? I am happy. Why am I happy? That’s a great question. You see I know you are expecting some insightful, poetic, deep and meaningful answer. You want to hear all about how a life event has changed me or made me ponder life and it’s meaning once again.

Phooey! Screw life and its meanings. I just got to tromp in the woods. Simple. It’s been a freaking long week already. Once of those weeks that makes you really think about whether or not to come home FROM the woods. I really wanted to say to the team I was with, “Hey worky pants, I am going to just hang out here for a few days until mother nature stops pissing on me. I will catch you all later – ants and all!”

But instead, I left the cool damp woods next to the small river. I turned my back, once again on what I know is right. I walked out the scarred surveyor’s path and went on about my grown up business. Left behind was the healing sounds of the woods. The soft voice of the river calling to me like it always does.

I could have stayed you know. Could have laid there on the banks of that river and solved all of my life’s puzzles. I should have stayed in the poison ivy and vine-covered trail that would hide anything. It would have hidden my furrowed brow, my tired eyes, my unshed tears. It would have hidden my doubt and expectations of myself.

It would have been easier. The coward’s way. But instead I stood in the bright sunshine. It is apparent I have a hangover, it’s obvious something is amiss, but you know what?

Nothing worth having is easy!20161207_111258

 

That’s right, I know you are all wondering where the heck we have been. Well, there isn’t really one answer – there are many – in fact, there are so many that I am just gonna make a pass at the major 2-3 reasons….so, for all those interested, here it goes…

Losing Jess left us all lost...

Losing Jess left us all lost…

  • Jess one of the founding Chicks with Ticks being diagnosed with cancer and dying after only some months leaving us all a little shaken, lost, and unfocused
  • The slow separation of the field team – Kristen becoming a project manager, and Josh and I the field team.
  • Lastly – Me leaving our company to join a smaller company who actually builds the streams we design.

There are other, smaller reasons, add a little winter laziness, a bunch of kids, some amount of relationship changes for the better and a whole lot of life and you get – well, a lull!

I apologize from my heart. This blog has kept be sane for almost 3 years. Your fellowship and support has kept the lights on in the darkness. It has continued to be my distinct pleasure to share with you all the joys, trials and tribulations of what we do…BUT….now, I want to share with you….

Jacque leaves after almost 10 years!

Jacque leaves after almost 10 years!

A NEW BEGINNING…one which takes us all in different directions all paths crossing at different angles, all experiences new and exciting. So, if you have the strength and courage to continue to stand by us as we push on in the journey – well, grab on folks….it’s gonna be a bumpy ride!

Next installment will be the introduction of new characters and roles!!

 

 

Well, in the beginning, we really had no idea what we were doing. At least not as it related to surveying. We understood the basic principle but hadn’t really done it right in the field. John wanted to survey a particular stream that he had worked on for another project. Can’t say the name here so we will call it Moon Bay.

John was in a very good mood (at least for now). We parked, and proceeded to the stream to find a reach to survey that represented the “natural” system. Funny thing about Florida, there probably aren’t any truly natural systems left. It’s actually a sad thing. You go miles into the wilderness and voila’ there’s a balloon on a nylon ribbon – deflated and sad-looking – ruining the wildness – making fun of it.

Anyway, John found what he wanted and we began moving up and down the system flagging each place for survey. John has a back issue sometimes. We were ducking under a lot of trees that had fallen over the stream in the last big round of hurricanes in 2004. He began to lose his sense of humor – this same sense of humor which has us in stitches most of the time.

We finished flagging the reach and went to get the survey equipment. Kristen and I had practiced and thought we pretty much knew what to do. We set up our temporary benchmarks (we are not surveyors so it’s all temporary). We began to shoot the stream survey. John continued to lose his sense of humor. It was hot, uncomfortably messy, vine ridden and lots of ducking and climbing. I remember Kristen and I thought how awful this site was. There was so much to go through, vines, palmettos, and underbrush. This was hell!

Somewhere near the end of the reach, John checked the survey data. There was a problem. A serious problem. At some point someone had made a mistake and now the whole thing was useless basically. John was not happy. I was not happy. Kristen was not happy. This meant that, at some point, we would have to come back. The very thought of fighting this mess of vegetation was too much to bear.

It made me wonder if i could really do this. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I would never want to come and do this with just Kristen and me. This place was too wild. There were too many dangers. I wouldn’t be able to see her at some points in the survey. Would we ever get this right? It was all too much to even think about. We were mortified.

I would and will never forget this day. I was sweaty and scratched to heck. I was upset and doubted myself. I felt like I had let the team down in some way by feeling this way too. I felt that I had wasted a chance to make an impression on John and Kristen too. How could this had gone so wrong? Now, it had to be done all over again. The fear, the stress, the pain, the risk of busting the survey again…..it just seemed impossible to bear.

It was going to be hard to make myself do this again. This was horrid. I hated the way I felt – DEFEATED.

 

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

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.

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!

You know, my daughter’s name is Allison. She loves to hear all about my Chicks with Ticks adventures. She especially likes it when I relate an exciting story and later she and I share a similar experience. I am proud to hear that she wants to grow up to work with animals and possibly wildlife in particular. She likes to get dirty, but appreciates bright nail polish. She is the epitome of who and what Chicks with Ticks stand for.

This is Allison – The first Official Young Chick with Ticks

I thought it would be interesting to interview her and ask a nine-year old young lady what she thought being a Chick with Ticks was all about and how she felt about me blogging while she swims in the pool at the hotel on our Venice, Florida vacation.

I was pleasantly surprised, a little taken aback, and somewhat humbled by her responses. What I thought would be a cute filler about my daughter turned into an eye-opening exchange that made what I do here much more than just “filler”.

I first asked her what she thought of being a CWT. She quickly did a backflip in the pool and answered that she thought it was cool that you can be funny and naturee. She remarked that it is cool that you can be any age to be like naturee and do outdoorsy stuff. You love that you can be any age and be a scientists.

I asked her what her wildest adventure was. She recalls going to Tennessee to visit my parents last year. She liked that we hiked the waterfalls as a family. She remembers hanging over the ledges and the forest being so beautiful. Her other favorite was caving. She has a friend Rhiannon, and together they create fairytale places in the Withlacoochee forest while we hike and find lime caves to explore.

I asked her who is a Chick with Ticks. She tells me she gets dirty. She doesn’t care what other people think of the outdoorsy things she does. She takes risks and does things that others don’t understand the reason for. Chicks with Ticks are beautiful because they care about our earth. Being a daredevil and taking risks is exciting and makes them amazing – “Like You!” She said to me.

She says she thinks it’s really cool because other people wouldn’t think of making a blog and giving it out to the world. She thinks it’s cool that we share adventures with people who may not be so brave. “Maybe you will inspire others to go out and do amazing adventures some day.”

Off on an adventure…..Allison heads into the forest.

I guess this wasn’t just filler….and, Allison, I hope that one day I inspire even one person to go out and have an adventure. Even if I never hear about it – it will be amazing.

What’s that gator doing in that tiny stream!?

That’s right! We have written about bombing ranges before. I know, I know, everyone has heard the one about how I drove across a 6 foot bomb and never knew it until after a flood….but you can imagine how Josh and I felt when….

So, Josh and I needed to visit our Avon Park Bombing Range sites. This is fun! We got our radio with some critical information – they were detonating unexploded ordnance (like the ones we have driven over and found all over) on one of the tracts we needed to get to. CRAP!! They let us on anyway as we would call on and off and only be a short while.

We exited said tract and got stuck in the middle of two sites by other military activities on our other site of interest. So, knowing us as well as you might by now – you know what we did next! We took the buckets and nets and went into the ditches to catch fish to identify!! NERDS….I heard you scream!

So – then we watched as two of the detonations went off without much ado and proceeded to our second site. You can well imagine the looks on our faces when detonation number three went off……KABOOM – shaking the very ground!! I am standing there with my mouth hanging open.

So we were working with that feeling you get when you escape just in time or just miss a bad situation. The feeling that something horrible COULD have happened. What if one of those were the pieces we have found? We will never know.

As if that’s not enough – we are working in a tiny clear creek that is less than 2 feet wide and 6 inches deep. It’s so cute. There is a little pool just upstream of our gage. I told Josh that it was a great place to catch cool fish while I downloaded the logger.

Josh headed through the palmettos 12 feet away to the waterfall pool……how lovely! He came crashing through the palmettos with a strange look on his face….I said – “What did you catch?” thinking it must be something really amazing. He hollers out….big gator!!

He said there was a huge gator hiding in the pool less that 12 feet away. I went up to look and CRAP!! An 8 1/2 foot alligator was snuggled up in that tiny pool! Josh had noticed it when he dipped his net in to see what fish were in there…..imagine how surprised he was when he realized it was an alligator tail.

I took photos and we both gathered our nerves and finished. We left property feeling like we needed to increase our life insurance! We also felt pretty lucky to be able to see such amazing things while working. Needless to say, we will never look at that creek the same.

Yes we follow safety protocols, yes we have JSAs, yes we do a site inspection – but where we work – you can’t see everything! If you could – it would be boring!! We haven’t had a

This is in the palmettos near the gator hole!

lost time incident and we are happy and healthy. We do, however, occasionally have near misses!

I must pause at this moment in our journey to take some time and give thanks. It has always been that people are the catalysts to change in our lives. Well, I am here to give thanks for something – not someone.

There – like a friend who kept us safe!

In the beginning, we realized that we need to carry a lot of crap to remote places. We also realized that we had to walk up and down rivers and creeks with this crap. The best idea was a raft of some sort. Leave it to John to bring a friggin Kodiak raft into the wilds of the East Fork of the Manatee River at low flow….that story is for another day but suffice it to say – we FLOBBED (a term I made up to describe dragging a deflating Kodiak raft filled with very expensive equipment down the river) the thing back to the truck that day!

I had bought a red, old style,

Big Red was always with us!

fiberglass kayak with an open hull from a buddy (Brian) for nothing ($50). We began using it every day. It was PERFECT! It had plenty of room for equipment and gear (and us sometimes), it was a kayak so could be used to navigate places that were small safely, and we could hang on to it with the false sense of security thinking that gators wouldn’t eat us because we looked like we belonged to the kayak and WHAT GATOR WOULD EAT A KAYAK!!!

Years flew by and the team and our trusty kayak, BIG RED, engaged in all sorts of crazy adventures. You will hear some of these tails but others will go silently into the past….unremembered by the team, no photos were taken maybe or maybe we just plain are getting old.

The dark day wasn’t so long ago….the day BIG RED died. We were meeting on a gray 4am morning to go to the Santa Fe and Ichetucknnee Rivers for some serious surveying and recon. It was dark. I was early and I expected Kristen would be late.

I checked the kayak to make sure I hadn’t left anything of value and I entered the Denny’s at Wildwood ready to casually eat breakfast while I waited. Kristen arrived early – we shared a laugh and made plans over breakfast. We paid, and left the restaurant chatting wildly about the days we might spend in these spring fed beauties!

HORROR!!! DOUBLETAKES….that’s what it was HORRIBLE! BIG RED, still strapped firmly in the truck bed, was torn asunder! Someone had hit the kayak end and broken it in several places. It was so damaged that we would have to find alternate ways to work now. It began to rain!

Goodbye Friend!

We had quite a sad moment of realization! This kayak had been with us on most of our journeys, adventures, triumphs and tragedies! It had taken us safely to more places than we could remember. We needed it!! We both teared up. The loss of the kayak was more than that. We lost a piece of our team.

Just thinking about loading up Big Red and trudging into the wilds makes me smile! I will begin to write adventures that included Big Red. There are so many! The day we lost Big Red was the beginning of a very different kind of loss….it wasn’t long after that, that we lost what seemed like everything!

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