Tag Archive: swimsuit


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?

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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.

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.

Pristine Creek - by Allison Levine

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.

Yes – that’s right, sometimes you have to go where no man or Chick with Ticks has ever gone before. And, out in the woods, there isn’t always a path. Oh sometimes you get a path but there is something that makes using it a bit challenging…like a creek…in the wet season…in the Florida swamp! Well, Chicks with Ticks don’t let that stop them. No!

In the event that you find your path heading straight across water “of an unknown depth” (a popular safety meeting topic line), you should probably know a few things before you try to cross it.

Question 1 is obvious,

  1. Have you done this before? If the answer to this is no – DON’T DO IT! (although you might still) If yes, continue to question two.
  2. Is your vehicle four-wheel drive? If not – DON’T DO IT! If yes, proceed to the next question.
  3. How deep is the water? Now, there’s only one way to find out for sure. Oh, you may see a gauge with numbers on it – I wouldn’t rely on that one totally. You have to get out, grab a stick or pole (trusty yard stick works every time). Walk back and forth across the path until YOU COMPLETELY HAVE AN IDEA OF THE ENTIRE PATH’S DEPTH. “Jacque, why are you shouting at us?”, you might say. Well, I happen to have a lot of experience in doing it both right and not so perfectly right. The important thing to note about the depth is – will it float or flood the truck? If it will – DON’T DO IT! If you are not sure – DON’T DO IT! If not – keep going….at your own risk!

    Testing the depth is important!! ha ha

  4. What is the bottom like? If the bottom happens to be mucky, slimy, silty, organic (debris), or anything other than good old sandy dirt – DON’T DO IT (unless, of course you have done so before and are willing to suffer the possible consequences)! If it is good old sandy dirt – onward ho!
  5. Are you willing to get across without stopping, chickening out, listening to squealing field partners, risk the worst case scenario (floating or flooding), and just go for it? If not – DON’T DO IT!

    Floating without flooding is a skill!

    If so, put steady pressure on the gas and DO NOT GUN IT. That creates ruts that other people (like these photos of Kristen and me at Colt Creek) will get stuck in. This is rude and unprofessional….it also slings a lot of mud – roll up windows. Neeexxxttt…

    Winching out the Wenches!

  6. Did you make it? If not – hope you have a few boards, a winch (not wench), some rocks, or a friend to call, like we did. If so, congratulations, you will now want to cross every damned creek you come to and even some wet rivers! Enjoy it.

I hope you will keep in mind that safety is always first – but fun actually comes before safety so is easier to come by….combine the two and it makes everything more fun! And, we all know it is fun out there! Chicks with Ticks GO ANYWHERE!

As an added note: do not enter water that is flowing too quickly, is too deep, is filled with alligators (oh -we do that, nevermind) or otherwise poses a threat to you – a vehicle can become a death trap in water and it is no joke….please follow all safety recommendations.

So you’ve heard Jacque’s side of the story of how we became Chicks with Ticks. Here’s mine…

I was in grad school and my advisor told me I would be doing my research assistantship with this PhD student/big shot department head at some engineering firm in Lakeland. This big shot, John, was going to be in Gainesville the next day to meet me. So I rolled out of bed, hungover (those were the days!), and met John for the first time. This meeting turned out more like a job interview, a really long job interview, with John reading down my resume and going on and on and on about some project. Luckily for me John didn’t notice I was hungover (or didn’t care) and decided to give me the job!

I later found out that John’s only real hiring criteria was to make sure I wasn’t some girly girl who would be SCARED to do the job– a job that all the talking in the world (and John can talk ALOT) could have NEVER truly prepared me for. But the way John spoke about the project, like Jacque, I felt that I could do anything with this guy at the helm. You see, you don’t often meet someone so passionate about something, and his passion for Florida streams was utterly contagious! He rattled off a list of people who I would later meet when I came down to Lakeland, none of the names which I remembered by the time I made it down there a couple weeks later.

So then I met Jacque. She was LOUD. She was OUTGOING. She was a GET ‘ER DONE kinda girl. She was TALL with CRAZY curly hair! And I instantly loved her. She’s one of those people who makes you feel comfortable the moment you meet her, like you’ve known her forever. She would be the one out there surveying streams with me. Wait, what?? Surveying?! Where?! I had never surveyed. The only thing I knew about surveying was that that’s what the guys on the side of the road do…

This doesn't look very fun!

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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