Friday, June 28, 2013
Tales From The Anhinga Trail
Fuck South Beach. One of the best destinations in Southern Florida has to be the Anhinga Trail, in the Everglades National Park. This concrete path to wooden elevated walkways, maneuvers through a saw-grass marsh, where you get to see all the local wildlife in their natural habitat. Even the actual journey to arrive is a hoot. Once you get to Florida City, the directions involve taking a left at the famous Robert's (stop on your way back for a milkshake), making a right at the local correctional institution, and driving past all these crop fields and hired harvesters. In some magical way, upon every visit I witness some kind of memorable moment of nature, be it man or animal. The following is a "greatest hits" compilation of real life experiences.
Giant sprinkler systems were shooting water way out into the fields as we cruised toward the park. In the distance we saw some kind of large creature on the side of the road bobbing it's head up and down. As we got closer, we slowed down and pulled up right along a giant vulture. I had never seen one this close and it revolted me. It was an ugly son of a bitch. It eyed us up, disregarded us as any real threat, and continued to pluck pieces of flesh from some fresh roadkill.
We took a left off the main drag towards the Anhinga Trail. The road cut through trees and brush and as we were almost to the parking area, the pickup truck ahead of us quickly pulled to a stop. The driver jumped out and motioned for us to stop. He ran to the otherside of the road and put his hand up for the oncoming traffic to wait as well . I stuck my head out of the window to see what the fuss was all about and I saw a massive 6 foot long snake stretched out on the pavement, covering both lanes of travel ahead of us. This driver was obviously a Floridian redneck, as he leapt fearlessly into the brush, proceeded to break off the limb of some tree over his knee, and came running back towards it. He then began to wrangle the serpent onto the branch. Once he had it coiled around sufficiently, with a grunt he lifted it up and ran over to the other side of the road, depositing the slithery beast into the brush. He thanked the opposing commuters for their patience and came running back towards us. "Python!", he shouted with excitement. Suffice to say, I won't be pulling over anytime soon to take a leak in any bush near the Everglades.
As soon as you walk through the visitor center, the marsh begins and alligators can be seen everywhere. The first one I see is a big fellow. He has a turtle the size of a small Weber grill in his jaws. He continuously tries to clamp down. The turtle is at a life-saving angle and is barely resisting being crushed, but he must know he's fucked. This will still be going on when we leave the park. Poor bastard.
As we walk to the beginning of the concrete path, another local creature is drawing a small audience. This alligator is another Big Boy and acting quite lively, stealthily swimming towards the onlookers. There is a giant carp of some kind floating on top of the water. The alligator gets near it and snatches it in it's maw. It carries it to the bank of the marsh and exits the water. Everyone is snapping pictures of the prehistoric beast proudly displaying this partly decayed fish in the bottom of his jaw. The fish looks like it's been dead for days. An opaque film covers it's eyes. Then in an instant, his jaws snap and this rancid gas wafts into the crowd, making everyone flee in disgust. I laugh and move on.
Part of the appeal of this park is the real presence of danger. This isn't anything like a zoo. The alligators are not in cages and you are walking around watching these deadly beasts in their natural habitat. The feeling of "who is looking at who?" is in the air. Sure, there are wooden railings along the path, but it's not unusual to see caution tape in the nearby brush, several feet from where you're stepping with a sign "PLEASE BE QUIET/CAREFUL! ALLIGATOR NEST!!!". My favorite are the fat tourists who lean on the rail to get a photo, with their backs to one of these massive prehistoric beasts who are less than 3 feet away. I'm certain there will be a "When Animals Attack" clip on youtube in their future.
As we get to the first bridge, the concrete path turns into a wooden elevated walkway, and a young boy is at the top of the railing looking over into the marsh below.
"LOOK MA! BABY ALLIGATORS!!", he cries.
Sure enough, there is a mother alligator swimming through and in her wake are a number of baby alligators following. As they slowly go under the bridge, I see the boy spit a big, stringy goober. As the alligators slowly emerge at the other end of the bridge, I see he scored a bulls-eye on a baby alligator's head. Ah... America.
With our binoculars handy, we witness many different creatures in the surrounding area. But, the scene that steals the show turns out to be an altercation between a couple of feathered friends.