Into the Wilds of Florida

Welcome to the wild.
Welcome to the wild.

-5 Minute Read-

Pine Camp.
Pine Camp.

Joel’s Journal - Entry #164 - 4/12/2017

Vast.

M and I stood in the centre of the wide pathway. I turned in a sweeping circle, taking in the trees and the fields that stretched around us in every direction. The tall palms arched high above us, their layered trunks blackened by a recent fire, their green spikes of leaves cutting into the grey sky.

We’d been walking for about 20 minutes and we were already deep into the state park. The road we came in on, the small square of grass where we’d parked the car, all of it was far behind us and out of sight. I could hear the wind rustling through the dry grass, around us as birds called from the trees. We reach a space called Pine Camp. It’s a small flattened area among the palms with a trio of benches surrounding a fire pit and a pair of picnic tables. A couple flat patches allow space for pitching a tent. It’s eerie in its emptiness. It also sits at a fork in the road. Left will take us further along Yellow Trail, straight will take us along Woodpecker Link, and right, Deer Link. We opt for Deer Link and move further along the sandy pathway. The blackened trunks of the palms stand in stark contrast to the yellow of the grass and bright green foliage that has sprung up through the ashes of the last controlled burn. We read in the information from the rangers that the groves are burned periodically to promote growth and improve the health of the ecosystem.

The camp was eerie in its emptiness.
The camp was eerie in its emptiness.
Deep into the Florida forest.
Deep into the Florida forest.
Into the Wilds of Florida
Choosing our path.
Choosing our path.

As we make our way along Deer Link, the grey clouds start to grow a little more sinister and we decide to head back to the car and to a different part of the park on our hunt for wildlife. As the weather turns, a cool breeze offers a brief relief from the heat.

Like landmines, the fire ants have built their circular homes in the sand along the main path, just waiting for someone with light footwear to come along and misplace their step. We’re careful to avoid the fiery red creatures, but one find their way up M’s ankle. She shoos it away and we move on.

The rain starts to fall. It’s not a complete downpour, but it’s enough for me to stow away my camera and start to move a little quicker back to the car.

The palm grove was beautiful, absolutely like no landscape we have back in Canada, but I came to see some birds (or perhaps an alligator) and we press on further into the park. The rain hasn’t let up much when we arrive at our next stop. It’s a large gazebo that perches atop a ridge overlooking a wide canal. A concrete levee, blocked off by a thick metal fence crosses the deep canal.

I immediately spot a large black bird, perched atop the buoys spanning the water. I jump out of the car with my camera and satchel and jog through the rain to the shelter of the gazebo. 

I twist on my zoom lens and start to shoot, but even with the long lens I’m too far away. To get any closer though, I have to go out into to rain, and with my expensive camera I’m a little worried. I reach into my bag, grab my spare t-shirt and wrap it around the body of the camera. Leaving the cover of the overlook, I start to make my way down the ridge to the water.

I put myself in a much better position at the water’s edge and start to snap away. My shutter is loud in the stillness of the canal. The only other sound is the splashing of fish jumping occasionally. The bird doesn’t seem to mind my presence. At one point he turns his head slowly in my direction, as if taking in this alien creature on the shoreline, then turns away unfazed.

When I get a shot I’m rather happy with, I lower the camera and just watch. His head moves slowly, like a guard scanning his territory, but the rest of him doesn’t move. A fish pops out of the water, it’s scales glittering in the sunlight like diamonds before it splashes back down into the water and disappears.

Looking down into the water at my feet. A ring of shallow dirt lines the rocky shoreline before the canal drops away. Here the water is black and I start to feel a little uneasy. I’ve seen on the Discovery Channel and how alligators hunt (or perhaps it’s crocodiles?), but they sit just below the surface, out of sight before slowly moving upward and striking suddenly, before their prey have any idea what happened. In my imagination, I can see the massive lizard sitting below the dark water, watching me and my camera.

Understandably, I retreat to the safety of the shelter atop the ridge.

On my way, I notice a space between the gate and the fence that blocks off the levee. Without a thought, I step through and make my way across the concrete bridge. Standing in the middle of the concrete causeway, the canal stretches out as far as I can see in both directions. A collection of signs advertise that this area is for AUTHORIZED VEHICLES ONLY and I think to myself that I’m not a vehicle and make my way across.

From this side, I’m much closer to my new avian friend and once again make my way down the ridge to get a little closer. I’m able to get a few more passable shots from this angle (being wary of getting any closer to the water) before I make my way back to M and the shelter of the lookout when the park ranger arrives.

He doesn’t seem to care (or notice) that I had been exploring some unchartered territory and is quite friendly when I ask him about the best places to see alligators in the park.

My new found avian friend. A cormorant, I've since learned.
My new found avian friend. A cormorant, I’ve since learned.
A wide (potentially gator-filled) canal.
A wide (potentially gator-filled) canal.
A break from the wild.
A break from the wild.

With our explorations complete we head down to the main drag of Vero Beach for a slightly different kind of exploration.

Preened palm trees and colourful hotels line the main street. A few assorted small shops selling clothes, sandwiches, wraps and ice cream line the sidewalk as M and I make our way along.

We cut through a park filled with kids laughing and chasing one another before stepping onto a concrete path that winds its way along the beach and the turquoise water of the ocean beyond it.

It’s getting closer to dinner time as we walk a little further, sitting down on a bench to catch some shade and chat before heading back to M’s grandparent’s house for dinner.

Our evening plans are pretty mellow as we relax with our books and some cold beer. I’m even able to catch a bit of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

All in all, it was a pretty calm ending to a wild morning.

Thanks for reading! And I hope you’re all having a great week and are doing what you love and doing it well!

J.J.W.