Don’t be fooled by the pavement.

Black Racer

Ribbon Snake

snake

snake

gator

egret

turtle

The phone has been ringing off the hook since word got out that we moved from island number four to the big city of Naples.  ‘Finally, they live in a civilized community…with pavement!’  Why are people so interested in our move?  Why this means we still live within walking distance to the beach and of course, city life must mean sunny Florida minus the alligators and snakes, right?  ‘Pack your bags! We’re heading to Sarah and Charles’ place!’ 

At the risk of sounding under enthused about being the hostess with the most-ess, I must warn potential guests…We’re still in Florida, and a lot closer to the Everglades than Walt Disney World…

Now, if you’re inclined to spend a few minutes looking, you will likely see something ‘wild’ by Northern definition of the word at least, right outside our door.  We’ve got egrets, exotic birds, and there are fresh water ponds within walking distance of our front door.  FYI if you’re new to Florida, fresh water means alligators-not just turtles- are surely lurking below the glassy surface.  I only have one gator photo so far, but I’ve seen more.  And if you’re Facebook friends with me, you may have seen a status update expressing intense hostility towards my spouse, who repeatedly refuses to stop the car or turn around so I can capture my gator photos when I spot them.  Because people I see them.  The photo I have isn’t grand, but my spouse was driving again, and let’s just say, he wasn’t feeling Sarah’s gator shoot.  I had to beg him to stop the car for the lousy photo I got.  What can I say?  He doesn’t share my enthusiasm for amateur wildlife photography.  But the point is, we’ve still got gators.

What else?  Well according to local news, there are black bears in this community.  Now, I haven’t seen one yet, and honestly hope I don’t.  The footage on the news is good enough for me.  I’ve seen two videos of black bears resting on patios.  Patios.  Like the one on the other side of the room I am sitting in right now.  Uh-huh.  Welcome to the city.  As much as I’d love the photo opp, I don’t think my dog could handle the stress.  She’s afraid of my Vitaprep blender.  And my vacuum cleaner.  And the dark.  Seriously, she won’t go out there after sunset.  A black bear would send her over the edge into an unbearable state of trauma.  I’ve got enough issues in my life for the moment.  I don’t need the dog to have a nervous breakdown.

What else do we have?  Snakes.  The little snakes I snapped photos of in this blog came right from my own back yard.  I’ve tried to get more photos, but snakes are fast, and those two were the only ones willing to cooperate for me…   I jog a little each week.  By a little, I mean a little.  Two miles at a time.  Overachiever, I know.  On my jog, I always see dead snakes, flattened by truck tires.  Hey, city life, people, it’s rough on everyone.  My point is, the snakes, the lions, tigers, and bears, are still here, oh my!  So if you’re coming to visit us this season feeling excited about our move to the big city, I must advise…don’t be fooled by the manicured lawns and pavement.  Those wild Floridian critters are still here. 😉

Gator Withdrawals and Green Herons

Green Heron

Green Heron

Transitioning to Marco Island from Sanibel Island hasn’t been as easy as you’d imagine.  Sure, we left a wildlife refuge to move to a mostly developed island a little further south, but sometimes, it feels like we have moved to the edge of the world, especially when you glimpse at a map.  My five-year-old even drew me a picture of our drive to our new home and said, “And here we are at the end of the road.”

Now Marco Island doesn’t have the gator population of Sanibel, but I am told you can see one on occasion.  For a moment, I wondered if I would have gator withdrawals, not having one to three, ten-foot gators lounging in my backyard twenty-four seven, but then I was reminded of my new proximity to a place that makes born and raised Indiana girls shiver in their suburbia worn Nikes…the Everglades.

Gulp.

Yes sir, ladies and gents, from a psychological standpoint, moving to island numero cuatro hasn’t been smooth at all…Though only a forty-five minute drive south of island number three, we are much closer to the Everglades.  We ventured a short distance down the road that leads through the Everglades last week, and let me tell you the first hand knowledge I now have regarding the proximity of said glades has reconfirmed what a complete and total wuss I am… (It has also brought up the question, why, exactly, does my husband keep moving me closer to the Everglades???)

So, is this an irrational fear, you ask?  And why is Sarah so anti-glades?  Does she have something against airboats?

Well, some people like to reference my so-called, overactive imagination, the fact that I am a fiction writer, and of course other people, no names here and they are certainly not people in my own household, even drop the ‘ crazy’ word from time to time.  Undiagnosed mental issues aside, there are zero issues with my twenty-twenty vision, thank you contact lenses, and I can, in fact, see on the map how close we are to the Everglades.  And if I didn’t know how to read a map, there is always my local news to remind me.  Here are just a few stories of late, attesting to some of my phobias…

Last week, a lady had her kayak eaten by an alligator in the Everglades.  Yes.  People go kayaking in the Everglades.

And I’m the one with the mental issues.

A few days later, there was a young man on the news who survived an alligator attack here in good old Florida.  He had more stitches wrapped around his skull than I could count.

Just days later, local news cameras showed an alligator a bit too close for comfort-  swimming right outside a lady’s FRONT DOOR.  All of the rain we are getting right now is flooding random neighborhoods.

Last year at this time, we saw a news story about the Floridian boy who lost his arm to a gator.  Lucky for him he was a born and raised in the Sunshine State, so he knew how to wrestle the alligator.  (Note to self:  see about finding a gator wrestling class for the kids.  Maybe they can fit it in between soccer practice and ballet lessons.)

With all of these gator stories, who has time for withdrawals??

Not me.  I’ve seen two alligators on the side of the road in Naples, the closest town to the island, in the past month and haven’t even stopped to photograph them!

I’ll stop with the gator stories and do realize that only one of those stories were regarding the Everglades, but let me quickly mention that I live in an area that hosts a yearly python challenge, where people are paid to hunt the thousands of non native pythons that are infesting the Sunshine State…from their very cozy community in, you bet,  the Everglades!  Don’t even get me started about my python anxiety.  According to my trusty internet sources, there was only one python- a nine-footer-captured on my new island a couple of years ago, so I admit, the chances are not good that I will encounter one while walking my dog or riding bikes with my kids.

But even so, do I feel warm and tingly about my move CLOSER to the Everglades?

Well, I probably won’t be purchasing an airboat any time soon.

For now, I will continue to survive this wild Florida territory, even closer to the Everglades, from the safety of my home.  From time to time, I will pack up my mental issues and venture out into the developed landscapes surrounding me, where I might capture a photo of a Green Heron, like I did the other day.  When I must drive down Everglade road or through a suspect area, I will pray that my car does not break down in a cell tower free area.  If it does, and my body is never found, I will come back to haunt certain relatives who ridiculed my insecurities and possibly another who moved me to this place to begin with.  In the meantime, I will continue to monitor my local news, and I will hope that this photo of the Green Heron can entertain you.  (The party of five upstairs and our internal debates about the many ‘what –ifs’ of life at the end of the road entertain me plenty.) 😉

The next chapter of this adventure…

Swallow tailed Kite

baby gator

snake

Hawk

Hawk

Hawk

For the past two months, I have been TRYING to get a photo of the Swallow-tailed Kite… unsuccessfully. I have spotted this elusive bird over the landscapes of Sanibel a lot lately since this is their time of year to nest in SW Florida. I can’t tell you how many times I have jumped out of my car and gone into the woods after a photo, and the only one I got is a bit blurry. (See below.) My friend, Dianna, spotted me in her neighborhood chasing after this bird a couple of weeks ago and informed me that since then she has seen the kite all of the time. So when I told her that the exciting adventure that is MY LIFE is moving my family from Sanibel Island to Marco Island this week, she invited me over to go on one last Swallow-tailed Kite seeking adventure.

I did not get a photo of the bird. We saw it twice, but I am not that skilled of a photographer. I am still learning.

So, on my last day on this island, before I move to island number four, I will share with you my one blurry Swallow-tailed Kite photo and a few of the photos I took on my hike with Dianna. I have seen the kite soaring over the skies of Naples near my soon-to-be home on Marco Island, so I am sure I will continue to seek this photo. I am also sure that since I am moving only an hour away, I will return to visit my beloved Sanibel.

It has been an amazing year on Sanibel Island. I joked around from the first week here that I would retire on this island. Who knows, maybe retirement will bring my family and I back some day. In the mean time, farewell Sanibel. Marco Island is calling my name, and I can’t wait to begin sharing photos from the next chapter of this adventure. 🙂

Once upon a time I was ‘that girl’…

snake

Once upon a time I was ‘that girl’… You know the one.  The one who would scream her head off if she saw a snake.  I would even hide behind my hands if I saw one on TV.  Yeah, you know the type of girl I’m talking about.  I revealed a couple of up close snake ‘incidents’ on my former blog site in a post called Snakes on the Brain, and I encourage you to discover what happened on two separate occasions when snakes got INSIDE of my living room.  The memory of Charles pumping his shotgun in response to my frantic screaming still makes me chuckle.  It was, after all, not an incident requiring the use of guns, but like I said, I was that girl, and honey, let me tell you I’ve got a good scream on me.

Now before I get Snake Lovers Unite on me about how this snake I photographed is only a Black Racer and not in any way, shape, or form a threat to me, let me say…well, I know that.  I also know racers are ‘good snakes’ and how the whole story goes about snakes being more afraid of people, ya da ya da ya da, and I AM thankful this former ‘that girl’ hasn’t come across a venomous snake in Florida…yet.  But come on, people, give a girl some credit!  When I saw this snake in the grass I didn’t run, scream, wince, freeze in paralytic fear, or pack my suitcase and head north.  What did this former ‘that girl’ do?  Well, I took photographs of course, and the snake wasn’t the only critter frolicking beside the water in paradise on a lazy Saturday afternoon…Hope you enjoy the photos! 🙂

Love always, from a former ‘that girl,’

Sarah 😉

snakesnakesnakesnakealligatorgatorpelican

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant and ducks

Great Blue Heron fishing

Great Blue HeronGreat Blue Heron

I enjoyed watching this Great Blue Heron fish today.  Of course, I wasn’t alone… 😉

Gator

Conspiracy Theories

It is a peaceful morning in my cage. (One year living in a wildlife refuge, and I assure you this is an appropriate term for my ‘house.’) I am putting laundry away and mentally writing a future, best-selling novel. (Really cracking myself up now.) I walk past the bedroom window, and a funny-looking bird catches my eye. It has a spiky white hairdo and looks like a heron of some sort. I’m no expert, but I’m sure I haven’t photographed that particular bird before, so I abandon the safety of my cage. Zippy will probably miss me, but he’ll just have to hold down the fort without me. Oh, where have my manners gone? Meet Zippy…

Scorpion

Anyhow, once outside, I approach the pond’s edge to get that funny bird photo. As I raise my camera, the little critter flies away. No sooner have I written the bird off as skittish, when I notice the cute little alligator in front of me. (That’s what we call the little ones. Part of the conditioning you experience after living here for one year.)

little gator

I glance to my left and see some bigger gators near the water’s edge. The egret beside them concentrates on it’s breakfast catch. By all appearances, it is a lazy morning in paradise…

Gators & Egret

Still pining for that funny bird pic, I scan the pond. Movement catches my attention to my left again, and I take note of one of the bigger gators swimming closer to me. Now, I’m still kind of new around here, but these Floridians insist the gators aren’t interested in me, not to pay them any attention. Even my husband assures me that people are more dangerous to people than gators are to people. It all makes sense…I suppose…but I am a writer with a very active imagination. Fiction stories, fantasies, conspiracy theories, my mind is a mumble jumble of a mess more often than not…As the gator nears, I keep my feet planted firmly, but my imagination runs wild…Is he or she simply taking a closer look at a nonnative species to this island…humans? Kind of like when I photograph the animals? The gator is just studying me? But, wait a second, is that blood lust in his eyes?

Alligator

I know the locals say gators don’t like humans for food, but are they certain? I don’t think gators can be vegetarians… Speaking of vegetarians, I am practically a vegetarian…sure, I occasionally eat fish, but I can’t possibly look like an appetizing entrée to this gator can I? He would have to be a very health conscious gator. Of course, now that I think about it, I could be a very appealing treat to someone who is into healthy eating. If you are what you eat, I’m a vegetable! What if this gator is into healthy eating? I decide to walk back inside my cage. (Fine, it is more of a jog slash run.) Once inside, I study the gator as he studies me. He comes right up to the bank…

Gator at edge of pond

He raises his head and tail at the same time, and I try to get a good photo from my window. This is only the second time I have seen one do this…

Gator

He hits the water with his tail and head, causing ripples across the pond. And he sits there and stares…

gator

I implore my husband to look out of the window. “Do you see this? Is he waiting on us to send the weakest member of the tribe out for sacrifice?” I ask him.

My husband shakes his head and ignores me, muttering something I can’t understand, though I catch the word crazy quite clearly.

I watch with a combination of fear and curiosity as the gator stares at something… I recall reading about alligators ‘head slapping’ during courtship. Maybe the gator’s odd behavior is because of mating season. I have nothing to fear. If I’m to trust the internet, Floridians, and my husband, it would safe for me to go back out and look for that dang bird. Where did that bird go anyway? I’ve wasted a good half hour of writing time because of it! Out of nowhere, I spot the little devil! The gator sees him too and turns just as the bird dashes past him…That bird really is skittish! My photo doesn’t even show his funny hairdo. I’ll have to get closer! But what about the gator sitting there…What does he want?

gator and bird

Now, this could be that overactive imagination of mine, but suddenly it occurs to me…Maybe, this is all a ploy to get the healthy vegetable eating lady out of her cage…Sure, there is the mystery of mating season to consider. What species doesn’t act ridiculous when looking for a mate? But what about my very clever theories? I mean, what happened to the other two gators who were out there when the big one came closer to me? Are they waiting to ambush me when I go out after the bird photo again? But what is it about that silly bird? Do my internet friends really care about seeing a bird with a funny hairdo?!?

It’s official. I’m really losing my grip on sanity. My husband is right. (Take note, Charles…I said you are right!) 😉

I decide to walk away from the window. I will not go back out there -into the wild- today. Because whether anyone paying attention will agree with me or not…I am on to something here, people…The animals out there are co-conspirators. That funny-looking bird and the gators are in this together. 😉

The Wild Wild West…

Alligator bitten tail

You’ve got to be tough and literally have some thick skin to hang out in my neighborhood.  We may not have gangs or much crime at all, but don’t be fooled, my friends.  It is like the Wild Wild West on this wildlife refuge that tourists flock to in droves.  And is it just me, or did someone bite this poor guy’s tail?  And people think Sanibel is so peaceful…   😉

Holy Sugar! Where is my Bra?!?

American Bald Eagle

I don’t know what it is about eagles, but whenever I see an American Bald Eagle, I lose the tiny fraction of sanity I am barely clinging to and act like a complete and total idiot.  That ruse of cool, collectiveness I attempt so much to maintain washes off of me faster than you can say Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah, and I scream at the top of my lungs, “It’s a Bald Eagle!”  Sometimes, it doesn’t come off quite so poetically, as in the case I’d love to tell you about.  Now this happened over two months ago, but I remember it clearly.  Allow me to set the scene…

It’s a Sunday afternoon.  My husband and our pirate children are hanging out in the living room while I attend to my chores.  More specifically, I am folding laundry upstairs.  No, I don’t get paid for this service, despite my attempts, which explains why I am putting fifty percent of my efforts into folding the laundry neatly, (fine, kind of neatly,) and the other fifty percent of my energy into animal watching out of my bedroom window.  Animal watching is an activity?  Well, in Southwest Florida it is…We live on alligator lagoon, so let me assure you the likelihood of spotting something that this native Hoosier would consider animal-like or wild is pretty good.  So, I am sort of tackling one of my household duties, as my eyes periodically roam to the window.

Suddenly, I look up and out of the window again.  As my eyes land on the bank across gator lagoon, my breath sucks in sharply.  The shirt I am folding slips from my fingers, and I belt out my very natural and perfectly acceptable Midwesterner-transported-to-Southwest-Florida-response, “HOLY SHHHHH*******T!”

That little pest of an angel, who attempts to perch on my shoulder from time to time, whispers is my ear, “Sarah, the little pirates definitely heard that…”  Of course, she is correct, but I don’t have time for lectures.  I’m already in my pajamas.  (Sure, it’s only three p.m., but this is customary in case you haven’t heard.)  I flick the angel off of my shoulder and take off running.  Being in pajamas means I need to find my shoes, my bra, my camera…my bra!!!

Where is my bra? 

I think of what my sister would say…

You don’t even need a bra, Sarah! 

She’s right!  Forget the bra.  Grab zip up hoodie!  I push my arms through the sleeves and take off for the steps.

I run, slide, half fall down the staircase and slam into my husband as I stumble off of the bottom step.  He looks horrified, worry covering his face.  “What’s wrong?” he blurts.

Wrong? He thinks something is wrong?  The man doesn’t know me at all.  If there is danger, I scream danger.  The two times there was a snake inside of our house, (yes, I said two,) I clearly yelled the word SNAKE at the top of my lungs.  I dash past him and run for my office.  I must find my camera.  I hear him calling after me.  I yell over my shoulder.  “There are THREE Bald Eagles outside right now!  I’ve got to find my camera!”

The camera isn’t in my office.  Maybe, it is in the dining room.  As I whiz past my husband again, I catch the expression on his face, which indicates he does not find the situation sufficient reason to scream an obscenity at the top of my lungs.  I don’t have time to chat about my inappropriate language.  The man can take a number and get in line with that pesky angel!  There are three Bald Eagles behind the house!

No sign of the camera in the dining room.  I race to my office again, locate my trusty Adidas flip flops, but there is still no camera.  I put the shoes on as I yell, “WHERE IS MY CAMERA?”  As I race through the house again, I can hear Charles talking to me.  “I think we need to have a conversation about when, exactly, you screaming something like that at the top of your lungs is appropriate.”

I ignore him and continue in circles, my eyes scanning the interior of our home.  He continues as I dash past him and something in his voice changes, “Um, Sarah, not to alarm you further, but there are actually four Bald Eagles out there right now.”

Four Bald Eagles?!?  My heart races to unchartered territory.  Suddenly, it hits me.  “MY CAMERA IS IN THE CAR!” I yell louder than necessary.

I dart past my pirate children, who I hear giggling in the excitement of their lunatic mother dashing through the house, into the garage and grab that camera.  When I return from the garage, I run past my family and towards the patio door, going over my checklist…Camera, check.  Shoes, check, (well, flip flops.)  Bra, negative.  But I have gone out into the wild wearing only a bath towel before, so this is substantially better.  Once past the door, I am vaguely aware of the farewells coming from the little pirates, “Be careful, Mommy!”

As I trek through the overgrown foliage beside gator lagoon, I notice voices around me.  Loud ones.  Not the mental ones or imaginary characters who keep me company and inspire my fiction novels.  Real, actual human voices.  How rare.  I never hear people out here…I can hear them talking about the eagles.  They are making entirely too much noise as far as I am concerned, but there is no time to investigate the human intruders.  I must get a photo of the eagles.

I barely make it in time.  I step through a sticker bush on the way to the water’s edge and see four Bald Eagles as I lift my camera.  One flies away before I can get the photo.  I silently curse out the people making all of the noise.  (Silently, People, sue me.)  But there are still three eagles on the bank.  On the edge of gator lagoon, I snap as many photos as I can.  I get a few shots, and then the Bald Eagles take off, one by one, returning to the sky.

Alone on the bank, I take a moment to smile victoriously.  My foot is slightly irritated from the collection of burs I picked up on my adventure, I am wearing my pajamas, no bra, and my mysterious neighbors, who I have never even seen before, are suddenly outside.  I figure today isn’t the day we should meet and head back inside.

As soon as I open the door, Charles has that look on his face…You know the one.  I figure it is time to own up to the error of my ways and apologize for my sailor mouth, but I’ll feign ignorance for the moment.  “What is it?” I politely ask.

“As soon as the door closed behind you, Audrey yelled, “Holy Sh*t, there are four Bald Eagles behind the house, Daddy!”

I bite my lip as I gage his level of irritation.  I realize this is the part where I am supposed to feel terrible about the potty mouth my six-year-old has suddenly developed because of me, so I try my best to hide my smile.  (No, I don’t think it’s okay, but I’m still riding high from my Bald Eagle experience.  This was my first time to see more than two at once!)

“I’m really sorry,” I offer as I sit down and begin pulling stickers out of my ankles and socks.  Audrey looks at me, and I try to look apologetic.  “Mommy shouldn’t have said that word.  It’s a bad word, okay?”

Charles takes over and gently explains to the pirates about not repeating the S-word again.  I hear the lecture but it’s more of a muted sound, playing in the background.  I’m in a happy place.  Charles looks back at me, and I happily proclaim, “There were just four Bald Eagles out there!”  Giving up on his reform-the-mother-of-his-children-lecture, he goes back to the computer, and the pirates go back to their quest to commandeer a ship in choppy seas.

Alone, staring out the window, I can’t stop smiling.

I may not be the recipient of a parenting award any time soon.  I might not win that award ever.  So at the risk of irritating my mother, that pesky angel, and the father of my children once again, I must tell you…

I got a photo of three American Bald Eagles…right behind my house…and HOLY SUGAR it was cool!

You didn’t really think I was going to curse again, did you?  🙂

Three Eagles

Eagle in flight
Eagle flying away
Attack of the burs
Attack of the burs

Headless Chicken Mode

Looks like it caught something yummy.
Looks like it caught something yummy.

Common Gallinule

I’ve been running around lately like the expression says, ‘like a chicken with its head cut off.’  I haven’t had a moment to share a photo.  I get so busy, on occasion, I call it ‘headless chicken mode.’  This means I am so frantically tackling the umpteen to-do lists I have things begin to fall apart, and I am not Super Sarah anymore.  It’s a chain reaction when I am in headless chicken mode: Food gets burnt, car keys get thrown into trash cans by mistake, I can’t recall if I have washed my hair or not and end up washing it two…or three times.  What can I say?  I am a work in progress.

Even in headless chicken mode, I can’t help but lurch to a stop (also known as banging into furniture or the wall) when I see a Common Gallinule behind the house.  Not only do I find this type of bird to be simply beautiful, I can’t stand the thought of it getting eaten in Alligator Lagoon.  And the Common Gallinule, after all, has been nicknamed the POND CHICKEN.  When I saw two Common Gallinules swimming and fishing in good ol’ gator lagoon the other day, I grabbed my camera and ran for the water.  I had to tell them to abort mission before the gator decided to have pond chicken for dinner!  Forget my headless chicken mode.  These two could be headless pond chickens if I didn’t warn them!!!

Of course, as soon as I arrived on the banks, I spotted an alligator lounging across the water, basking in the evening sun.  I tried to tell them to get the heck out of Dodge, but they just ignored me.  The Common Gallinules didn’t seem alarmed by the presence of the gator or of me.  They swam around, peacefully enjoying the fruits of gator lagoon, without the slightest hint of urgency to escape.  Here is the photo of the gator lounging across from them:

Gator lounging

Of course, there was an Ibis a few feet away from me, and I am quite certain he or she was alarmed by the gator.  The poor little fella wore such a look of uneasiness…  Or maybe it was only alarmed by me.  I was, after all, still in headless chicken mode, and this tends to make others nervous.  😉 What do you think? 🙂

Ibis

‘Creepy things’ find Sarah…

Alligator watching

I hear rumors through the grapevine of vacationers visiting Sanibel Island and never getting a glimpse of an alligator. Some of them have been vacationing here for years and still can’t find a gator. Somehow, I knew I wouldn’t be one of those people when my family and I relocated here last June. Creepy things have a tendency to find me. (For example, I have had two snakes INSIDE of my house over the years, and they were not pets…)

Sure enough, I was right, and as many of you know, I see gators all of the time. It would likely be safe to assume that many gators, snakes, and other ‘creepy things’ see me…more often than I see them. Like I said…it’s life-long, this ‘creepy-things-finding-Sarah’ phenomenon.

When my Aunt Sharon and Uncle Hank were visiting Sanibel last week, I just knew a gator would make an appearance for them…while they were with me, of course. It didn’t come very close, but it came close enough for me to snap the photo above…Lucky Auntie Sharon and Uncle Hank. 🙂

Haven’t seen an alligator on the island yet? Maybe you should look me up… 😉