Tag Archive: gator


Forget Black

The cracks, even the cracks of her feet were black with earth.

Her hair matted with black and hanging limp and wildly at her ears.

Her hands were stained black and there were small scars where the work showed through.

And just when it seemed she couldn’t get any blacker,

her heart stood still with the black mud.

Her eyes shed black tears that smudged her filthy cheeks.

Her mouth oozed.

She had stayed too long in the dark wet. She was one of them.

Yet there she crouched. Sobbing and shaken.

Her precious work torn asunder by those who spoke sharp words of machines.

All she knew lay raped and stranded in the bright sun.

It would be theirs tomorrow. Neat and shiny.

It would be organized and proper and clean.

It was always so sad to see them like this. Naked and lost.

No words would come to stay them from her treasure.

She would silently suffer.

It might kill her….

Yes, she would die if not for the others. They always come.

They take back their own into the dank woods.

Who knows what horrors lie there.

God it must be dreary and strange.

Oh, look, it must be time to go. The sun is sinking.

 

 

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Go Anywhere!

As adventurous gals, we like to go to new and exciting places. Sometimes, it’s a lake right behind the office, and others, it’s a remote stream after a miles long hike. What we really like to do is encourage others to take time to go outdoors and see something or experience something that gives you that sense of adventure.

Sometimes, it’s just a walk in a local preserve or park. Some of us are trapped in a concrete jungle and a plastic cube and that’s about as adventurous as it gets. Others of us will take it to the limits and climb rocky peaks or dive the deepest rifts. The important thing is, get out there and see what we see.

The wild isn’t all filled with danger and mystery. There’s a beauty in nature that we can’t fake, print, pixellate or 3-D. The only way to know what tar flower smells like when it’s sticky and blooming is to see it and smell it in the air.

So, as Spring is springing – let’s remember to get out the and GO ANYWHERE!

Then, tell us about your adventures…the good, the bad, and the ugly!

Wild Women

Co-Creator Jacqueline Levine expressing her excitement as Chicks go live

Unknown depth of water.

It’s no big surprise that we work in and around water almost every day. We stay wet and muddy most of the time and, quite frankly, we prefer it that way. Why, just last week we spent two days on a river and opted out of waders just so we could feel the rush of flowing water again after an office confinement of some weeks. So, it’s not out of the ordinary for us to walk into the wilds and up to some water and need to get in.

We care about each other. It’s just a factor (that’s a joke for some who know Reggie). It makes the days better and the dangers less creepy. It also makes safety a critical thought in everything we do. Now, some might say, “Jacque, I have never really heard much talk of safety.” Well, that’s just a damn lie. We talk about safety every day in some shape, form or fashion and some days, we talk about it at every turn.

Now what we call safety talk may sound a little different to another Chick or Hick with Ticks (Yeah – we are gonna have to just go ahead and make the men a part of the club now – they are starting to whine!). We might say, “Entering and unknown depth of water,” and laugh out loud. That’s code for – I am entering water and I have no idea what’s in there or how deep – watch my back, be ready to jump on something creepy and stop me if you see something I don’t.

I can’t stress enough the need for a stick! You just STICK IT IN!! It helps you know how deep (up to a point) and if there’s something creeping. It lets us know about the mud or muck we might step into and how deep or dangerous it might be. If the water is deeper than the yard stick – well hell – you might reconsider walking to another spot to try to get in.

We talk about how the temperature affects animals and what we need to look out for. We talk about wind storms and thunderstorms, lightning and insects. We talk about scratches and eye protection. We talk about who is looking where and if you have my back or I yours. We talk about the times things went wrong and what we would do to prevent that from happening. We talk about people who broke our rules and almost suffered serious consequences. We talk about snakes and snakeboots, machetes, knives, and blood.

Something may lurk in pools.

The one thing we can never escape (and thank goodness for that) is an unknown depth of water. That means that we are probably somewhere wild. Somewhere that has secrets lurking in each pool that plays host to things large and small that could hurt us but probably won’t. It means we might see something rare and wonderful. It means we might make it through one more adventure together without anything happening that would make us hurt or scared.

There are times when the hurt and scares happen anyway. Oh, nothing major, maybe a scratch while trying to avoid a strange-looking log or deep hole. Maybe you were listening to some strange sound in the distance and forgot to watch your footing. You know then that you need to focus. There is something exciting in stepping into the wilds and making your way through to the banks of a hidden stream. You look upstream and down and see what you can. You brace yourself for the next step into an unknown depth of water.

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 budhism, 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 its 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.

That’s right. I am going to share the secret, let the cat out of the bag, spill the beans, you know, let you in the club! In order to be a full-fledged member of the Chicks with Ticks you must have a sense of adventure. This sense usually accompanies a need to be outdoors and a basic disregard for what is proper.

I have begun a sort of Guidebook. A manual, if you will, that will assist you in becoming a Chick with Ticks (if you are not already) and guide you along on your journey to become a true member (or honorary member for you boys and men) of Chicks with Ticks!

Some general rules for Chicks with Ticks:

  • Backpack/purse – same thing
  • Snake boots go with everything (including shorts)
  • You can wear the same pair of socks two days (or weeks) in a row as they will only get dirty again
  • What happens in the forest, stays in the forest (this rule is to protect you – trust me some embarrassing stuff happens out there)
  • Call “Log”, “Hole”, “Don’t Move”, “Duck”, etc. to your partner if you are in front
  • Pick a tree to climb in the unlikely (yeah right) event that something comes at you
  • Never stick you hand in a hole – that’s why they call them sticks – DUH
  • You got my back – I got yours
  • Everything is Perfect!!

This is just for starters. An introduction, if you will. For all situations, there is an answer – we will address them in Sections.

Thank you for your interest in becoming a Chick with Ticks!

YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU STARTED!!!

Plunder Branch Hwy 62

It's Perfect!

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 setup 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!

Chicks with Ticks at Catfish Creek

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.

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