Excitement in the Everglades

They let me out of the Orlando hotel.

One and a half hours until our evening activity, and I was determined to get some fresh air. I put on my workout clothes, strapped on my sneakers, stuck a $20 in my shoe (never know when you might need it), grabbed my ipod and my hotel key, and headed out the door.

Phew! It really was 94 degrees outside!

The last time I felt heat like that was last summer, but who remembers that? One redeeming thing about the four seasons in New England: You literally forget what each one is like until it comes upon you again and you think, in the middle of a swarm of black flies, “Why is it I live here again?”

The resort was situated on a golf course. As I wandered down the path, I noticed a sign for a Nature Trail. Cool! I thought. Florida nature—all the more fun.

I followed the path, jumping out of the way of a few golf carts. In the distance, I could see a bright red sign at the mouth of the trail. Watch for flying objects? (The saying does go, “she had a lump on her head the size of a golf ball.”) But the sign actually read, “WARNING: Walk at your own risk. Stay on the trail, and avoid alligators, poisonous snakes, and other harmful animals.”

I laughed out loud. I come from the land of garter snakes. We don’t have poisonous snakes in New Hampshire—not really. Only one species, the timber rattler, and it’s critically imperiled. I remember the big hullabaloo when someone discovered a timber rattler in New Hampshire, and we thought, “This is it—we are all dead!”

Needless to say, I wouldn’t know a poisonous snake if it hit me in the head. Or bit me in the leg. I’d figure it out too late.

Alligators? Well, I’d know one if I saw one, mainly from watching Crocodile Dundee. (I know, gators and crocs are two different things but they’re all the same to me, short stubby legs, far too sharp teeth, and a creepy racing waddle.)

If I stayed on the trail, I’d probably be fine. So I went anyway.

I started down the path, enjoying the heat on my skin. It felt good to sweat after the long, slow winter. I saw a great blue heron in a marshy pond—so graceful, just hovering at the water’s edge.

Trail signs showed off some local species. The first sign featured a selection of trees. Red Maple—we have those in New England! Slash Pine—hmmm…sounds a little violent. Cypress—cool! I have heard of cypress trees but never seen one. (You’d think I never left New Hampshire, wouldn’t you?) I actually have been to Florida several times—but always to Disney or other conferences. This nature trail felt a bit Disney-like—the weird birdcalls and the heat and the palm-like trees made me feel like I was on an Everglades ride.

The next sign described the Gopher Turtle, so named because of the 50-foot burrows they dig. And Red Rat Snake—sounded disgusting—not poisonous. Although the sign did say they like to curl up and look like a rattlesnake when threatened. Funny. I do that sometimes too.

There were sighting areas for Little Blue Heron, Green Heron, and Osprey. Then, of all things—White Tailed Deer. Give me a break. We have those—big deal. Was the evening entertainment watching Bambi and an alligator duke it out?

As I rounded a corner, I saw another sign: Eastern Diamondback Rattler. Ahhh, this is where it becomes interesting. The largest venomous snake in North America. Bites can be painful and sometimes fatal. They weren’t kidding!

At this, I turned off my ipod. No more Coldplay—might muffle the sound of a rattle. I wanted to be able to hear the warning if something was pondering a mad lunge toward my left thigh. I read about these sneaky carnivores—they might rattle a warning 30 feet away from a human or dog—but if it was a Friday and a juicy conference-goer was braving the path, they might give you a mere 10 feet.

A hot-pink-swathed woman ran past me down the path in her Nikes. Good. At least she’s ahead of me. Or, if I get bitten, we could just cut a little X in the bite with a razor blade and suck out the poison and spit it on the fine, dry grass. I read how to do it once in a Trixie Belden book. It worked for Trixie, so I’d give it a shot.

A few more signs about birds and a gopher turtle sighting later, I finally came to the alligator area. Scientists say this puppy’s over 150 million years old. Imagine that—they survived the extinction of their compatriots, the dinosaurs. They deserve to be gracing a few golf courses here and there, especially at the headwaters of the Everglades!

Males average 10-15 feet (a smidgen taller than me); they have 75 or so teeth and are known for their bone-crushing bite. I moved to the middle of the path. Strained my eyes into the reeds and the swamp below. Tiptoed past the rocky incline, but still didn’t see anything.

I really wanted to see a gator, without having to go to an alligator farm. But then again, it’s probably best that I don’t have that sighting when I am alone (Nike running girl, who was clearly training for the Chicago Marathon, had long ago headed for Miami).

I still had a few hundred feet to go and a dual focus: watching out for two reckless carnivores.

That diamondback rattler is pretty sneaky—one still might creep up on me on my way out. They have been known to bite several hours after dying, simply from a reflex. Ouch! 

I know some people who would like to be able to do that.

I also think we’re going by the JW Marriott on our way to the airport—they have a golf course too. Maybe I’ll see a gator in the crosswalk.