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Everglades Christmas

Sunday, 29 Dec 2002
written by Teresa

While Christmas stockings are a tradition for many who celebrate the holiday, I was introduced to a variation on the theme this year due to Sterling's ingenuity and desire to enter into the Yuletide spirit. On Christmas morning I was presented with a Christmas hiking sock. Not a new one you understand, but one that has clothed my foot over many miles of walking up hill and down dale. Luckily it was clean at the time as there is a singular lack of anything resembling a gradient in the Florida landscape.

RockReefPass I have read that the highest point in the entire state is three hundred feet above sea level and they do seem to make an inordinate fuss over even the most imperceptible changes in altitude. Having lived in the Rockies, surrounded by mountain passes averaging ten thousand feet, the following sign in Everglades National Park is a little hard to understand except from the point of view of, be proud of what you've got, however little. As my sister Solanna is known to say: "There's more to height than inches" and while she usually means this in terms of our respective heights, I feel the same maxim is appropriate here.

Meter So, the Everglades are flat. In fact so flat that the river that gently flows across this huge area does so under the guise of two or three inches of standing water rather than having gone to the bother of carving out a valley. The result is an extraordinarily vast swamp, breeding ground to the world's largest population of mosquitoes and as a result sustaining a truly amazing eco system. The Park Service has helpfully provided a "Mosquito-Meter" at the Flamingo campground. There are no refunds and so your decision to stay is informed by this simple device. Why anyone would unpack when the meter reads "TOTAL BEDLAM" is beyond me.

Anyway, at the bottom of the food chain are the tourists, providing the blood protein that enables the mosquitoes to lay eggs. At the top of the system is the elusive panther and as Ogden Nash or Sterling will tell you:

A panther is like a leopard
except it hasn't been peppered
should you behold a panther crouch
prepare to say ouch
better yet, if called by a panther
don't anther.

LouisianaHeron In between are the varied and spectacular birds. The sight of a small flock of Roseate Spoonbills flying across a powder blue sky is a glimpse into the world of Dr Seuss and not to be forgotten. The Snowy Egrets swoop low over the water, dipping their feet to interest the fish, while controlling the beat of their huge wings to slow progress sufficiently to pluck out an unsuspecting morsel, with their long yellow beaks. The various herons, Blue, Green, Louisiana, stand perfectly still in the shallows, intent, with their beady eyes searching, ready to stab at anything that swims into their realm. The Ospreys and Broad-Winged Hawks seem to hunt with ease and are not against using our satellite dish as a perch while peering around for their next snackette.

The reptilian inhabitants are every bit as fascinating. The alligators, studded in armour, have perfected their floating log impersonations, enabling them to sneak up on unsuspecting meals while spending the rest of their day basking in the sun, wrapped in the illusory cloak of docility. The Park Service advise keeping pets and small children at a safe distance as they are close to the size of a preferred meal and appearances can be deceptive. The turtles are a lot less threatening although I have it on good authority that a Snapping Turtle may be reluctant to let go once he has you in his grasp.

Frog The least intimidating and most closely experienced reptilian was a tree frog who decided to try and set up home in our roof bag. Exclamations, from Sterling on the roof of the camper, always bring me hurrying just in case he's slipped and is hanging on by the tips of his fingers. It hasn't happened yet but you never know. He, that's the frog not Sterling, had wonderful circular pads at the end of each toe calling to mind that memorable scene in "A Man With Two Brains". Given we were no-where near a tree, presumably the frog had climbed up the side of the camper and set up home under the flap of the bag. On seeing Sterling jump with surprise, I suspect that the frog was momentarily confused at the sight of a large bearded cousin but once the camera emerged he probably realised that this was just another photo opportunity and settled back to bask in the attention. Getting him off the roof and out of the sun before he became desiccated was our next task involving a carrier bag since he refused to be held in the hand. I did consider kissing him but was concerned that Sterling might read something into it and besides which you never can trust fairy tales. He was released into the wild under cover of some vegetation and hopefully survived the day without becoming someone's dinner.

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