Field Notes for July 12, 2012
Cristina and I packed a few things and headed down to the Skunk Ape Research Center this morning where Jack Shealy waited with a pole boat and a canoe to take us on a quick tour of his favorite spot in the Big Cypress Preserve. Jack has his own ecotour company that runs out of the Sunk Ape Center, and Cristina and he are considering partnering for some hands-on eco-adventures for our folks from Ft Myers and Ft Myers Beach. We’ve been excited for this trip since they planned it a week ago.
We showed up and Dave was sitting at the tiki bar outside the research headquarters. A few weeks ago I asked him if he’d take me on a hunt for a Skunk Ape so I could write about it, and he said yes. Cristina is coming with us, and we’re going the last week in July. “I’ll take ya to a place where I’ve been seeing them,” Dave told us. “We’ll pack a canoe and eat lunch out there. Wear some sneakers and long pants. We’re going to push some physical boundaries, so you don’t want to be weighed down with waders or anything like that.”
“Okay,” I said. My heart started pounding at the thought of actually going skunk apeing in the Everglades with Dave Shealy, but I played it cool. In November, I’m taking a creative writing workshop with Steve Almond at the Sanibel Island Writer’s Conference, and I’m planning on using this skunk ape hunt as the basis for my creative nonfiction piece. My life is amazing. I laugh about it all the time. But, even if I wasn’t writing about the event, just the mere idea of getting to tromp around in the woods with Dave Shealy looking for skunk apes is delightful.
“It’s so overstimulating for me,” I told Cristina on the ride, “I get paralyzed.” And it’s true. Today, touring through the mangroves and across the sawgrass prairie with Jack and Eddie, a prospective guide for Jack’s company who grew up in the Louisiana bayou and is, he says, related to three of the guys from Swamp People, I almost can’t move I get so overwhelmed with the characters of the Everglades. Even the place itself is a character that is larger-than-life.
My yellow lab, if she hadn’t seen me in awhile, would do this thing where she would roll her eyes back in her head and then sprint in circles around the yard. We called it Going Into Hyper Mode.
That is what I wanted to do today as we were gliding through the Big Cypress Preserve with Jack Shealy and Eddie from Louisana. And it only got better: we stopped at Joanie’s Blue Crab Shack in Ochopee for lunch, where I got gator salad, and the rafters were decorated in ornaments made out of old plastic 2-liter bottles. An older woman came to our table, her smile as big as a child’s and her brown hair cut short. “Hi, Jack!” she said, and I knew it had to be Joanie herself. “You all enjoying everything?”
“It’s delicious,” I said. “Are you Joanie?” I introduced myself, and that’s when I noticed she had one milky blue eye and one clear brown one. She told us she hardly ever met people because she was usually in the kitchen.
“Every time I come in here you’re doing dishes!” Jack said.
She shrugged and looked at him like well, who else is going to do them?
This is why I love being in the Everglades: the people fascinate me, they remind me of my family–the ones in the generation that is leaving earth, the grounded hard workers and community-based citizens, the ones who gossiped about each other sometimes to be mean but mostly because they just like keeping abreast of everybody’s goings-on, the ones who owned businesses and still had the ethics to do the dishes. There’s a lot about the Everglades that is nostalgic for me–going in there reminds me of when life was simpler. It reminds me of my childhood, and for that reason, I am bonded to it even though I don’t “belong” there like the Gladespeople do. Right now, for me, it’s like going back in time, or, getting to return to my childhood as an adult.
Life amazes me.