Our National Parks Odyssey: Renaissance, Part One
by Andrew Slaton—
Part One of Two.
01/19/22. The light filters through palms and dances seductively along the prickly- looking edges of the Spanish moss. It hangs in a pattern of almost perfect randomness on the ancient oaks above my camp. Florida feels like home. Hell, who am I kidding? So many places feel like home these days, it’s hard to decipher what “home” really means anymore.
This June will mark six full years of living as nomads. Gertie, our 29- foot travel trailer shows the scars to prove it. Both Ellen and I are bewildered that she’s still standing. Our 2011 ford truck, Hoss is a few inches shy of 300,000 miles. His noises attest to every hard mile and dirt road he’s traversed.
A transmission slip, exhaust leak, and front (and rear, for that matter) shot suspensions all announce our coming and going to anyone nearby. We must sound like a joke to all of these well-heeled, newly-retired boomers neighboring us on all sides at the RV parks. I don’t really care. As Townes Van Zandt once sang, “you cannot count the miles until you feel them.”
I’ve largely stopped shooting images for fun lately. Strange, I know. After shooting nearly every sunrise and sunset for 4 years (and staying motivated and interested), I needed a break. Last year, after making the decision to pay off all of our debt, I was consumed with working… shooting portraits, weddings, real estate, commercial. I really didn’t have time to shoot for fun. Or the energy. This year, I also have a lot of work to shoot, but something else is edging out my time typically devoted to honing my craft of landscape photography…fly fishing.
02/04/22 I awoke to the rhythmic patter of a woodpecker. Somewhere nearby, not far above, an owl. Palms sway and clatter with the gentle wind. Last night, my sunset ramble filled my soul, though I didn’t see the bear or panther for which I came.
I arrived at camp early – 2:30 or so. I rested in the shade of my tent for a bit, may have even dozed a while. As I felt the sun gain a lower angle, I loosely slid on my hiking shoes. Camera and 400mm slung over my shoulder, I set out with a relaxed vibe.
The sun was low enough that the landscape sang with accent light. On more than one occasion, it was necessary to place my left hand out before me to block the glare long enough to see the path ahead. My imagination skipped wildly with images of a panther sauntering down the two-track trail before me, backlit, or that distinctive bear butt waddling up ahead.
My tobacco pipe rests precariously between my lips, the loose grip from my teeth bouncing the stem to the cadence of my walk, like a just-released spring on a diving board. I like to smoke and walk; I’m beginning to find my rhythm again.
02/14/22 There’s a rustling near my tent. I’m a few feet away, cooking my dinner. It sounds like a snake. I slowly rise, back and leg muscles sore from the 15 mile hike in, to inspect the sound. Nothing. Or at least nothing I can spot. Likely a snake somewhere beneath the dense ground cover.
It’s now 4:43pm many miles deep on foot in the Everglades. I caught two decent sized Mayan Cichlids (pronounced Sic-lids) earlier on the fly, but that’s not what I’m cooking. I threw them back, like every one I’ve caught since I learned to fly fish in August.
But then I recall that Mayan Cichlids are an invasive species. I can’t for the life of me remember, though, if the park service wants you to kill them on capture or not. National parks are weird that way. A few years back, I came across a 14 foot Burmese Python not far from here. I tried to wrangle it but didn’t have anything with which to kill or capture it safely, and it slithered surprisingly fast off into the marl prairie.
I quickly made my way to the Flamingo visitor center and happened upon the “python ranger” to whom I told my story and showed a video to prove my seemingly tall tale. I wanted to know what the protocol was for such a find.
See, pythons are a highly destructive invasive species here in the Everglades. They have reproduced into the millions and are decimating the mammal populations. The python ranger looked at me sideways, “I didn’t tell you this, but if you find another huge one like that, kill it.”
Thankfully, slaying these giants does not rest solely on my shoulders. A recent study in Big Cypress found a particularly brave bobcat preying on a clutch of python eggs. Returning over and over in the course of days, the native wildcat invalidated nearly all 40 plus eggs. It may suggest that the native fauna are beginning to “retaliate” against the successful invaders. It may take time, but nature’s ability to maintain balance is a powerful force.
To Be Continued
About Andrew Slaton
Andrew Slaton is an award-winning photographer who has done assignments for more than 50 clients and specializes in lifestyle and outdoor images.
Visit Andrew’s web site, view his work, order prints and learn about his upcoming workshops.
Catch Andrew and Ellen’s videos at their blog.
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