Monthly Archives: July 2013

Dog Island Name Origin and Ownership

How Was Dog Island Named and Who Owns It?

Dog Island is actually a bit of land (less than 7 miles) that separated from St. George Island, and is one of a group of barrier islands that protect St. George Sound and Apalachicola Bay. It even sported a lighthouse at one time, built in 1838, that was later destroyed in 1899 by a hurricane that devastated the mainland town of Carrabelle.

There are various stories surrounding the origins of its name, the most outlandish being that it is a sanctuary for dogs to live out their last years without the stress of urban life. Untrue! I did see one dog with its owner walking on the beach one day, though. Some claim Dog Island is so named because the shape resembles a crouching dog. I don’t buy into that one, either. I thought that perhaps the origin of the name was connected to a stray dog that had been found on the empty island or a similar story, but it turned out not to be the case.

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There are two more likely explanations. Wikipedia attributes the name origin to the French, who discovered it in 1536, listing wild dogs, the shape of the island, and the practice of dropping sailors (known as “dogs”) there before going in to the mainland, preventing the men from abandoning ship, as the origin of the island’s name.

I think our ferry captain, Rusty Cahoon, is probably a bit more accurate. During the Civil War, Union armies would transport prisoners by boat, using Dog Island as a drop-off point. The prisoners were referred to as “Sea Dogs”. While the commanding officers went into town to drink and secure supplies, those left behind were unlikely to attempt an escape with a risky swim to shore.
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The story of Dog Island ownership is an interesting one. Evidence (pot shards, a 9th century canoe) of early Native American presence has been uncovered, and later, piracy and smuggling occurred. At one time, the island supported a thriving turpentine business, but it wasn’t until Florida businessman Jeff Lewis purchased it shortly after World War II that the idea of development began to threaten the area. Mr. Lewis, it seems, had some very definite ideas concerning the island and its future. While he did sell some lots to individuals, most of the island is now owned by the Nature Conservancy, which helps protect the fragile ecosystem on Dog Island, including the annual turtle-nesting season.

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The Nature Conservancy and the private homeowners value this island, as do most visitors. Help keep the area pristine by doing all you can to minimize your carbon footprint while here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

Life’s Not Always a Beach. Discover the Bay Side on Dog Island

We walked again, this time to the other side of Dog Island and the dock area where we came in. It gave us a different perspective of the island…and lots of sandspurs.

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We passed private planes and private boats, but we only saw one other person, driving away from the dock.

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Three boats were in. One was the car ferry, and when we returned a truck was parked next to the inn. We’d left the unit unlocked, but the visitors were more interested in the shells on the beach than in my wallet. “Too late!” I wanted to shout. “We picked the beach clean hours ago!”

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Dinner was much better! More dehydrated camping food: Chili Mac & Cheese. The Velveeta cheese I’d brought had gone bad, but we still had half a wheel of Gouda left over from lunch, so I tossed the Velveeta in the trash and chopped off some of the Gouda, and also used the last of the Ritz crackers we’d had for lunch to top off our bowls of warm, spicy chili. We ate on the wood deck, enjoying the cool air as the chili warmed our bellies.

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Just to be on the safe side about finding all the shells, though, we walked again after the people left in their truck, only this time we went in the other direction of Dog Island.

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The wind blew strong during the night, revealing every crack and crevice in the old building known as the Pelican Inn. Its whistle down the breezeway sounded like a child crying for help. Spooky.

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Morning dawned through open windows and we rose just before sunrise. I filled my travel mug with hot tea and grabbed a plastic bag for shells and we headed for the beach just as the sun rose.

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The tide had receded much further out and the shelling was excellent. Private planes flew in and out but the beach remained deserted. When I finished my tea and my bag was full of shells, I went back to our unit and despite the Goodwill-style dishware, I managed to whip together a three egg omelet along with toast and butter (I forgot the jam!). Why does everything taste so much better when you eat it outside? As we ate, we watched dolphin leaping and feeding on fish in the Gulf of Mexico that nearby fishermen couldn’t seem to land.

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Our stay on Dog Island would be ending soon. The sun sparkled and shimmered in the sun, undulating with each wave. Seashells littered the beach, strung out on the sand like scattered pearls from a broken necklace.

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For now, though, we drank in the scenery, pulling it deep in our souls, to save for a later day.

Day Three on Dog Island

Walking the Dog Island Beach, Imagining Yesterday

A good breakfast of shredded wheat and milk was just what we needed for our long walk the next day, down to the tip of the island where Gulf and bay become one.

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I could feel the sand scrubbing the dead skin away, smoothing, detoxifying.

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We saw our first human today. He was walking back to the round house on stilts, a book in his hand. Looked like a journal, maybe a Bible? He waved at us, we waved at him, and it seemed enough. Paw prints, footprints, and bird’s feet in the sand were dead giveaways that someone had walked the beach before us that morning, but we did not see a soul in any direction. Holes in the sand hinted at a mollusk presence underfoot.

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The beach butterflies were everywhere, charming us as they flitted around our bodies as we walked. They seemed to be searching in the seaweed for something; we knew not what. Later we would learn the island is in the path of the Monarch butterfly migration, and they arrive, like snowbirds, for winter in the south. Frightened ghost crabs scurried away at our approach.

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We gathered shells and sponges and driftwood. There were loads of scallop shells, but they didn’t have the variety of shells that we do here on the southwest coast. No Scotch Bonnets, no Cat’s Paws.

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We watched a school of dolphin feed off smaller fish in the water as pelicans rode the waves.

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Completely alone, we sat at the tip of the island and wondered if that spit of mainland was St. Mark’s.

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As we turned back in our walk, made heavy now with our burden of seashells and driftwood, I followed in my husband’s footsteps, seeking firmer ground. “This is the way the Indian couples did it long before us,” I think as my mind’s eye imagines that ancient man and woman walking the beach, scavenging what they seek. I marveled again at how little mankind changes over the generations. Man. Woman. Survival.

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A lunch of Gouda cheese and crackers and sliced summer sausage and dried cranberries tasted wonderful and we sat, side by side, watching the waves that mesmerized, a strange combination of rhythm broken by the unexpected. The waves roll in with regularity but they crest and break in different places.

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I took a pillow and comforter down to the low swing for a nap just as the air was turning. The comforter, folded twice, was just enough cushion to make things comfortable and the pillow was soft. A taller person might not have found it as agreeable, but it made a perfect cradle for me, the movement as gentle as the breeze that came in on a whisper, soft on my skin. The sun peeked in and out and the sky turned cloudy and spit a bit of rain at us, but not enough to persuade us to move.

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Of course, there is another side (the bay side) of this island, and plenty of time for exploring on another day.

 

 

 

 

Vacationing on Dog Island

Our Stay on Dog Island had Some Ups and Downs

Dinner was a dismal affair on that first night of our stay. We’d planned to eat in the gazebo rather than the porch this time.

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Packing food, clothes and water in the T-bird had been challenging because of space, so we decided to take mostly camping food, which we keep on hand in case of hurricanes. I’d decided on shelf-packaged BBQ chicken breasts (Chicken of the Sea, I think…I bought it by the tuna fish in the grocery store), dehydrated garlic mashed potatoes and dehydrated corn (both from the camping store).

We carried drinks and dinner to the gazebo. It certainly looked good. The chicken breasts were dripping in sauce, the garlic mashed potatoes smelled wonderful and I’d followed my mother-in-law’s advice on instant potatoes and added extra butter (I always make mashed potatoes from scratch). The re-hydrated corn looked a bit wrinkled, but I figured it couldn’t taste too awful.

I was wrong.

The chicken was dry. Even though there was sauce on the outside, it was like eating a piece of cardboard. No big deal, I thought. I’m not big on meat anyway and felt I could get enough from the potatoes and corn. HA! I didn’t think you could put too much garlic in a dish, but I was wrong. Garlic was the ONLY thing I could taste. The corn was tough. I ate a bite of all three and pushed my plate away.

We’d had a nice lunch earlier in the day, and skipping a meal wouldn’t kill me. If I got hungry, I could eat the cookies I’d brought for dessert.

After a rather dismal meal, we sat on the porch swing after dinner, under the stars, and drank a mojito and listened to the waves. I could feel the stress roll away.

 

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Later, we sat on the Dog Island beach, under stars laid out on a blue-black sky, facing the ocean.

“God has made such a vast world,” I think, “And we are so tiny in it. This one eco-system, perfectly perfect in all its adaptations allows us to hang suspended in space.”

Rain came in that night, but we were perfectly cocooned in bed, listening to the soft patter muting the sound of the waves through our open windows.

The storm soon strengthened and the wind whistled as it swept down the open corridor that ran the length of the building. Since the place was so deserted, it was a bit unnerving, especially when the wind reached a shrieking pitch, but I burrowed deeper into the bed, reminding myself that I was alone and had nothing to fear on Dog Island.

 

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy & Seashells

The Beach at Dog Island: Privacy Abounds

Need privacy? The beach on Dog Island is the place for you if you are an adaptable traveler willing to trade luxury for solitude. We enjoyed our time there. A wealth of gorgeous seashells awaited. I collected bags of extra large scallop shells that I turned into spa packages later that year, filling them with fancy soaps and soft washcloth and bath salts/bubbles. I wrapped them up with a big fancy bow. I filled other shells with a small plastic baggie of white sand and tiny seashells and a votive candle…very zen-like! They made lovely hostess gifts. Of course, at the time, I wasn’t sure what I would do with the shells. I only knew they were wonderful and I had to have them.

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We did not see another person all afternoon and evening. We felt completely alone on a castaway island.

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I saw feisty crabs and shy stingrays as well as small seabirds and raccoon tracks.

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I only saw one stingray, but still, whenever I entered the water, I did the “Stingray Shuffle”. Just in case. The stingray is hard to see because of the water’s surface, but if you look closely, you’ll notice the long barb:

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We walked until we lost the light, then turned back and walked in the dark, watching the lightning over the mainland.

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As stated before, the Pelican Inn is rustic. There is a kitchen in each unit, but it is basic. There is no store or restaurant on the island. While the Inn has running water, it is not potable, so drinking water must be carried in.

Unfortunately, during the unpacking of our car, the beer was left behind. My husband wasn’t very happy, but he couldn’t say anything because he’d forgotten his own beer. I pulled one beer out, a can I’d thrown into the cooler, the last one in the fridge, just before we left for our getaway. He took it, happy to have a beer, but still miffed that it would be his last until we left the island. I cheerfully reminded him we had rum and he could have mojitos.

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Okay. He could have rum and coke, too. I felt bad, but there really wasn’t any way to rectify the situation without paying $75 to take the ferry back to the mainland and I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Maybe next time I ask if he got everything out of the car, he won’t snap my head off. Or maybe not. Either way, I still love that old dog.

 

 

 

The Pelican Inn at Dog Island

Finding a Peaceful Oasis on The Pelican Inn Porch

I’m not sure how to describe the Pelican Inn. I loved it because I grew up in beach houses and don’t mind rustic. But I can see why they don’t get many visitors. It’s a bit like staying at the Bates Motel, only without Norman and his “mommy”. It is obviously in need of a man’s touch when it comes to maintenance. It needs some major cosmetic work and a complete scrubbing. I’ll skip over this part for now, but I’ll have plenty to say on the subject later. I’ll say this now: if you’re going to charge resort prices, you should have a functioning hot water spigot in the bathtub, and kitchen cabinets that have cabinets that open and close well. In other words, don’t charge Hyatt prices and provide (sparse) Goodwill furnishings.

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I walked straight through the unit, deciding to deal with interior matters later. It was the gulf experience I’ve come for, and on that, the Pelican Inn delivers. From there, the view expands. The four steps down to the large deck affords a panoramic view of the deserted stretch of beach that holds the Gulf of Mexico back as Dog Island does the job of all barrier reef islands: protect the mainland. The deck is generous enough to easily accommodate two porch swings, a table and chairs and a couple of chaise lounges. To the left, a series of different deck levels leads to a gazebo, to the right is the outdoor shower and hose and steps that lead down to the beach.

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The water sparkled like lights on bits of broken glass, diamonds that glittered in moving schools on the water as currents continue their motion below and moving clouds change the colors of the water from green to blue to navy black. The quiet is broken only by the waves and a passing seabird.

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This swing is too old for an old gal like me, I think. I look an uncoordinated hippo sitting down and getting up, but once I’m settled in, oh, it is a seat made for me. “This is how it is for tall people,” I think, “when their bended knees are well clear of the seat.” The swing is quiet, no squeaky chain and this rope, at least, does not creak. I push myself, flat-footed, and the swing glides, forward, then backward. My lower back so appreciates the difference in angle. “I should have my husband cut all the chairs down when we get home,” I think. Well, not the ones he sits in, of course, and I must leave some for company, but a few, just for me, and others who are short and struggle, sometimes knowingly, sometimes not, against the norm.

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We have the Pelican Inn to ourselves, our deserted and desolate sandcastle by the sea. There are no other guests and the owner is out of town. We are surprised by the level of trust.

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In our next post, we’ll take to the beach!

Seeking Seclusion? Try Dog Island!

Dog Island is Private, but Not Exclusive

Dog Island, off the coast of the Florida panhandle, is a favorite spot of mine. In fact, it may hold the #1 position, so prepare to return with me, time and again, because one entry will never be enough.

Our trip to the island was not without adventure. Our start was delayed by a half hour and rush hour traffic in Tampa is never fun, but we’d cleared the area by 7:45 am so we missed the worst of it. The fog near Gainesville was almost cozy, like driving through clouds, which is what it is, I suppose. Watching it roll off the horse pastures in Ocala reminded me of my stays with country cousins, those primeval mornings when you half expect an ancient mastodon to appear in the mist. It was a day filled with anticipation reaching fruition.

Our innocence was shattered when I reached for my wallet to pay for our breakfast in Gainesville. It wasn’t there. I looked on the seat. I looked under the table. I looked on the floor of the restaurant. My panic rising, I told my husband what was wrong and hurried to the car to search while he paid the bill.

It wasn’t in the car. Either I’d dropped it (or it was stolen) at a rest stop or I’d left it at home. As we hurriedly back-tracked to the last rest stop (over an hour south), I frantically called our youngest son, who called back to affirm that the wallet was indeed in my everyday purse and the money and cards were safe. We didn’t have the debit card, but we did have a couple of credit cards in my husband’s wallet, so we decided we had enough to push on. We wouldn’t be spending anything while we were on island anyway, so there wasn’t any need for a cash advance from the bank before we boarded the ferry.

We found the ferry on Marine Street in Carrabelle without incident. Parking is free and your car will be safe. Our water taxi captain, Russell (Rusty) Cahoon 850-697-8909, ferried us over. His fee fluctuates with the cost of fuel, but he divides the cost, depending on how many are riding.

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The six mile ride across the bay was rough, but Rusty’s boat was good-sized and sturdy and he is supremely confident in his boating skills, informing me that he is the last one to evacuate people out when a hurricane threatens. It was as exciting as an air boat ride.

 

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We were staying at the Pelican Inn (we reserved through owner Jane: 1-800-451-5294) and were met by manager Terry Cannon (850-697-4710), who took us to the Inn. Rates were not cheap ($150 per night, slightly less for longer stays) but not outrageous and after all, guests do have an entire island to enjoy!

 

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For now, I leave you on the docks. Next week, we’ll explore the Dog Island beach!

How a Dolphin Sinks a Boat in Sarasota

Dolphin Sinks Boat in Sarasota Bay

Houseboats and live-aboard yachts used to dot Sarasota’s bay front, an interesting mix of the very wealthy and the working poor, sometimes alcoholic-independent-usually-hippie who lived cheaply in a leaky tub that barely floats. The yachts came and went. The houseboats stayed. The worst of the wrecks have been removed from the bay front since Sarasota started enforcing regulations.

One of the older fishermen (dubbed the “Old Salt”), unlike the other owners of broken down barges, owned a fancy dinghy that he used to row to the pier’s bar at 8 am each morning. But on one particular morning, his routine was suddenly interrupted.

It was a beautiful morning. The dolphin were chasing bait fish through the bay, changing direction the instant they did, and leaping in graceful arches through the air in an effort to close the gap between them.

One of the dolphin leaped high in the air, still chasing the bait fish, and landed, with a loud smack, in the Old Salt’s dinghy. While the folks on the yachts watched, Old Salt tried to roll/pull/push the fish out.

Unfortunately, dolphin are very large and, while not particularly slippery, they’re smooth and bulky and hey, when you have a dolphin in your boat, you know you have a challenge on your hands. One of the men on one of the yachts finally rowed over in his matching rowboat to see what he if he could help.

The fish, of course, didn’t budge, so it was decided that Old Salt would have to sink his dinghy. He transferred his gear to the rowboat, pulled the plug on his dinghy, and climbed into his neighbor’s rowboat.

As the boat quickly took on water, the dolphin swam off without a backward glance, seemingly unaware of the precarious position it had just escaped. Droplets glistened and shone like diamonds as the fish swam away.

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The two men in the rowboat watched the dinghy, now well underwater, slowly sink out of sight.

The yacht owner started to row toward Old Salt’s tug, but he shook his head and pointed to the pier, in the direction of his favorite bar. The yacht owner shrugged, pulled the rowboat around, and headed for the dock.

I guess the moral of the story is that dolphin and yacht owners don’t give a boatload of water about an Old Salt’s assets.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to invite all your friends to subscribe to my blog. A strong readership impresses potential agents!

 

Mothers Helping Mothers

Mothers Helping Mothers: a Low-Key but Effective Non-Profit Helps Floridians

Here on Finding Florida, I usually share points of interest that are tied to nature, of historical significance, or fun places to see, but today I take you a place that reveals Florida’s compassion, a place that appears a little seedy at first but soon reveals her true beauty…

I spent a few hours on Saturday morning volunteering at Mothers Helping Mothers (MHM), a non-profit, all volunteer organization in Sarasota that was created by one woman who saw a need and set about filling it. Her efforts have grown into a vibrant program that helps almost 3,000 families in need each year.

From the Mothers Helping Mothers website http://www.mhmsarasota.com/:

“ … providing basic necessities such as clothing and baby items free of charge to families in need … we offer emotional support and referrals to other agencies in the surrounding area … ”

Mothers Helping Mothers collects donations in big garbage bags and when one is full, it is stored in a closet for later sorting. When the door can no longer close, they put out the call to churches and other organizations, asking for volunteers to help sort.

It is all quite organized. Children’s toys, infant clothing, shoes, books, and baby supplies (everything from diapers and bottles to crib layettes, strollers, and car seats) are in one room, women’s clothing, older girls and boys clothing in the other. Seasonal clothing is put away for later, designer outfits and gowns (some with tags still attached!) went in the front window. Items needing laundering or mending went in a special basket and items too damaged to give away were put in a box for a man who bought the rags by the pound. Men’s clothing went into a bin to be given to a men’s shelter/help place. The smaller men’s clothing was kept for the boys.

Mothers Helping Mothers is open on Tuesday and Friday mornings. No one is turned away; all items are free. Parents do not need to prove financial need, but a photo ID is required. Limits are generous: up to 15 clothing items per person per household. Only new cribs are given out, free of charge, paid for out of financial donations from others.

We opened bags and put clothing on hangers, placing it on the correct rack. It was almost like having Christmas for somebody else! We tried to hang things attractively, arrange toys to appeal to kids, brush off the purses and hang them at a rakish angle…sort of like playing “store”!

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Our morning ended with just a few containers left in the closet.

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We would have gladly stayed and finished, but there was no place to put anything more! Every clothes rack was jammed full and the toy chests filled to the brim. No space was left unused: purses hung from the ends of the racks, belts snaked along the top.

On Tuesday morning, I thought of those families going in to see the replenished stock, of a young Mom finding that designer suit or her child’s eyes lighting up at the sight of a teddy bear mountain. And I felt good inside, knowing that I helped to improve my community by helping families to stand on firmer ground. It’s only a drop in the bucket, but when you get enough drops, that bucket can overflow.

I hope that each reader here will one day come find Florida and all her unusual spots, and I hope you include a stop at Mothers Helping Mothers, to see for yourself what one small but really good idea can do.

The Gator That Almost Got Me

This is the story of the gator that almost got me. As we drove through the swamp, I spotted a blue heron stalking fish in a ditch by the side of the road:

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But every time I got close, the bird would slowly walk away from me:

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You can’t blame them. Hunted to near extinction around the turn of the last century, their blue feathers were highly prized for ladies’ fashionable hats.

But I’m not much of a hunter. I broke the sacred rule of the swamp: know where you’re walking. In other words, be aware of your surroundings. But I wasn’t. I saw that heron and yelled for my husband to stop the car.

Maybe I lose track of my surroundings because I was looking through a lens and it distanced my brain from its immediate surroundings. Maybe I was just lazy. Regardless, I was so engrossed in stalking the heron that I was completely unprepared for what happened next. As I concentrated on zeroing in on the heron, I heard a huge splash a few feet from my left shoulder.

Turning to see what was causing such a commotion, I first heard a thunderous crack of jaws slamming shut a split second before I saw the alligator as it rose up out of the water, easily swallowing the fish in its maw. Suddenly I was looking UP at the underside of an airborne alligator. For a few suspended seconds, gator and I were within a foot of each other. It could have easily lunged for me and you would never have known this story.

An Alligator's Maw

Instead, it retreated backward, never taking its eyes off me.

Every hair on my body standing at attention, I scrambled to get back in the car, closing the door as a shiver ran up my back. My husband started to drive away, but I ordered him to back up because I wasn’t about to leave without getting a picture of the gator that almost got me. He started laughing. Laughing!

He said I am the only person he knows who would insist on taking a picture of an animal that came close to eating me. I still don’t see what’s so funny and you’d think he’d be a tad more concerned, but once he knew I was in the car, he just thought it was funny that I was so scared.

Well, YOU try being calm, cool, and collected after seeing inside the jaws of death and see if you don’t jump.

Of COURSE I wanted a picture! My hands were shaking, so I had to rest the camera on the open window of the car door, but the camera still shook a little. I don’t know that I would have been able to get a good shot even if I had been able to coax him out of the shadows, but if you look closely, you will see his head poking out from the edge of the grass.

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As he returned to his hiding spot, with just his big old nose sticking out, he kept his eye on me.

I stayed in my car. One close encounter a day is enough! The moral of the story?

When you’re walking in the swamp, watch your step.