Everything I have ever read about the Everglades carried the mystique of danger. Even in the brochure I picked up at the Welcome Station, it warned visitors that “the animals in the Everglades tend to be aggressive.”
Boat rides are not my favorite activity, but I figured I could handle an air boat ride with 30 other people manned by a park ranger. Okay, I don’t know if he was really a ranger but he looked official.
He gave us the warm up talk about the swamp and its gator residents. He didn’t mention other gator relatives but I sensed they were there as well. Pete aka the Ranger did mention fourteen varieties of snakes that live in the Everglades - four of which are poisonous. That didn’t help my comfort factor, nor did the front page of the Miami Herald with its python stories and how they are overtaking the marshland.
Pete warned us to remove hats and turn billed caps backwards. I had visions of gators jumping out of the brackish water and chomping them as they stood on scaly tales like Flipper.
With quivery stomach, Pete revved the motor and pointed out scaly beings lounged on the left and right. Some had a yellow rimmed eye open, and others appeared to be in a deathlike sleep. The boat’s low sides didn’t prevent a hand from straying outside its realms, but warnings were posted everywhere about being too adventurous or God forbid offering food. My fears subsided when Pete began to talk about flora and fauna. The water lilies were beautiful, and the scene was picturesque with the water gardens parting as our boat glided over the black water.
Occasionally a creature peered out of the undergrowth or in a cove. Pete steered the boat for photo ops. Many of the gators looked more like a rubber tire than a reptile. Not a muscle moved but when I stared long enough, I detected a slight lung movement and I am positive he was monitoring our boat like a plate of fast food wafting by.
I dutifully applied bug repellant and sun block before boarding. Pete donned his safari hat protecting not only his head and eyes but his neck from the burning sun. Thunder rumbled as we boarded so I had second thoughts about the umbrella. I knew that the speed of the boat would make it totally useless if we did get a shower. My companions assured me that it only sprinkled anyway and wouldn’t spoil my venture into the Everglades.
Pete relayed details on the complex ecosystem of the Everglades. He had a standing offer for those who wanted to swim in the infested waters, but of course there were no takers. Cranes flew overhead. Stork, osprey, and all sorts of wading birds gracefully descended near us. No doubt curious about us but seeking refuge against what appeared to be a storm brewing. Clouds pushed in and large drops of rain fell.
I pulled on my hat and held it tightly as the air boat went into hyper-drive. The boat neared speeds of 50 mph when both engines kicked in. I marveled at our skipping over the surface of the water like a huge dragonfly.
Drenched and shivering we debarked and took shelter. My companions and I reviewed our digital pictures when the grackles came to investigate. The rain persisted. A lady next to us took out cheese crackers when the entire grackle community buzzed her. The bravest (and the hungriest) ripped the orange cracked right out of her hand.
When they warned that the animals of the Everglades are aggressive, I thought of gators. I had no idea they meant the grackles. The whole afternoon I spent wary of gators, I should have been minding the grackles. Who knew they were referring to the harmless looking greeters to the Park?
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