Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blondie in the Springs -- Beware of the Wildlife

Blondie in the Springs -- Beware of the Wildlife
Florida was a gorgeous place to live. Six months of the year the temperatures were ideal for outdoor activities ranging from 65 F to 80 F and very little humidity. Summers were amazing as well with the afternoon treat of giant boiling clouds and torrential thunderstorms. Have I mentioned I love severe weather? Well I do.

It was a great place to own a kayak, or so I thought. There are so many beautiful places to take it out with oodles of lakes and of course the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic coast. Central Florida, where I lived, also had lovely fresh water springs that were ideal for kayaking and full of Florida critters.

Blue Springs State Park, Florida *
One gorgeous day in April we drove to Blue Springs State Park, a stunning refuge for their substantial manatee population. Our friends from Upstate New York were visiting and being the outdoor types were as excited as we were to see some authentic Florida wildlife.The day was perfect with temps in the low 80s, the sun was shining and the air was just on the edge of being sticky.

In tow were several kayaks, a picnic, and a few short people. Eager to check out the layout of the park, we left everything in the car (OK, not everything the kids came with us, don't get huffy) and walked down the boardwalk that led to the springs. 

How is that for inviting? *
Lush greenery greeted us as we walked along the boardwalk area to the swimming hole -- the Spanish moss reaching down to caress us as we walked by. My excitement grew as we approached the water. Manatees were floating lazily in the springs with their young ones. My first desire was to dip my toe, or more, in the cool clear water. However, ropes were up blocking off the area to keep swimmers from bothering the new families. We were told they would open it up to swimmers once the manatees floated downstream and out of harm's way. 

Mom and baby manatee from above. *
With swimming out for now, we made our way further down the boardwalk to the spring head looking for a good place to launch the kayaks. It was going to be easy work with the current moving swiftly away from the springs -- you merely have to guide the kayak through the clear cool water.

We found a good spot and the men carried the kayaks from the car as we watched the kids play. My friend, Carrie, and I volunteered to stay with the younger kids since there was not enough room for all of us in the kayaks. Knowing the men were eager to get on the water, we thought it would be more fun to take our trip later sans kids and get a more peaceful go down the springs.

The men and older boys took several passes downstream while we played near the manatees in the swimming area with the little ones. Finally, it was our turn. Carrie and I climbed aboard our kayaks and began our first run. A great blue heron startled in the brush and flew over us with a wingspan a good six feet wide. Turtles were sunning themselves along fallen trees. Everywhere you looked there were birds, fish, even a few lazy manatees passing under the kayak setting the scene for a serene paddle downstream. The sky was blue and the canopy of the trees created dappled sunlight.

Can you see why they call 'em 'Blue' springs? *
The peaceful bliss lasted a whopping five minutes. My serenity was abolished when a nine foot gator smashed into the underside of my kayak making it rock and sway, nearly dumping me in the drink!

We got our dose of authentic Florida wildlife that day! **
It was fortunate that I was in my slow and steady kayak and not the fast and tippy one or I might have been dinner for the horrible critter. I saw a huge dark shape swim off downstream and in my imagination lurking ahead waiting for another strike.

My friend laughed hysterically at my whoops and hollers not knowing the cause. When I assured her I was not screaming like a crazy person over a log scraping the bottom of my kayak, but rather because a gator was trying to eat me, the smile fell off her face. It was replaced with concerned glances around looking for beasties hiding under the water. We began paddling in earnest now, working our way downstream, all thoughts of photographing tame wildlife out of our heads. Replaced by thoughts of our kids in the springs, their fathers chatting about the Buffalo Bills quarterback instead of watching out for child-eating reptiles. Rather took every ounce of fun out of that run down the springs. 

In my mind I engineered a spear out of my paddle waiting for the gator to take another crack, knowing that I stood no chance against his powerful body and large teeth.

Me and my homemade spear will get you!
Thankfully there were no further attacks and our ride was smooth, albeit tense. The men were surprised that we were done with the kayaks, having had enough of the Florida wildlife for one day. I have to say the beauty of the surroundings were lost on me the rest of the day and it completely cured my desire for a swim with the manatees.

One of the things you learn after living in Florida for awhile is that gators do eat people. The locals are smart enough to keep it off the national news since tourism is their biggest business. A few times a year, usually in April during gator mating season, you'll hear reports of alligator activity. Stories about alligators climbing six foot chain link fences and eating small dogs, or occasionally chewing off a golfer's arm. Disturbing, yes! 

Yeah it happens...
(Can you figure out what's wrong with this picture?) ***
The stories about full grown men being eaten are more disturbing. One news report aired not too long after our kayak adventure about a man whose car ran out of gas. He called for a ride and went down to the lake to take in the view until they showed up. A few days later part of him was found rotting under a log while the gator waited to digest the rest of him. 

I'm not telling you this to scare you away from Florida. It is a beautiful place and the odds of you ever encountering a gator, much less being harmed by one are quite slim. You're much more likely to be struck by lightning, after all Central Florida is the lightning strike capital of the world! 

If you do visit the sunshine state, know this -- every body of water has the potential to have an alligator in it. So when you're taking the kids down to the edge of the lake, pull them back a few feet, just to be on the safe side. My desire for kayaking in the open waters of Florida was definitely quenched with our first experience with a gator. The thought of a relaxing paddle across a sunny green lake was all but shattered that day. I had tamed my fear of sharks eating me in the bay, but the fear of a gator was untameable. 

I love the water but not with you in it! *
I am currently land-locked and have no great body of water to enjoy but at least the kids can play near the brown icky lakes here in dirtville without the fear of large predators snacking on them. Still with all of this said, Florida has taken my heart and I hope to move back there someday.  But you can be sure I will not be swimming in their warm lakes.

I would love to hear your wildlife stories. Please leave a comment and share your experiences. 

*Photos from http://www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring/photogallery.cfm 
** Photo from http://untoldbleedingdeath.blogspot.com/
*** Photo from http://othersiderainbow.blogspot.com/2007/10/i-bet-he-will-have-higher-handicap.html

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KJ Waters is the best-selling author of the time travel series Stealing Time and short-story called Blow. The second book in the series, Shattering Time, is in development and is slated to be released in the fall of 2016.    

KJ is the CEO of Blondie's Custom Book Covers and the co-host of the popular podcast, Blondie and the Brit.

Linker link: myBook.to/BlowbyKjWaters
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Caught between a hurricane and a deadly secret, Rick Harris struggles against a ticking clock when the wrong people show up at his door looking for shelter. As the storm closes in wreaking havoc on Pensacola, Florida, he has to make a choice between saving their lives and exposing a secret that could cost him everything.


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Stealing Time is a "Breathtakingly original" time travel adventure that will keep you on the edge of your seat. As Hurricane Charley churns a path of destruction towards Orlando, Florida, Ronnie Andrews and her best friend, Stephanie McKay, scramble to prepare for the storm. Ronnie seeks shelter at her boyfriend’s weather lab while Steph heads back to her house.

During the peak of the storm Ronnie is hurtled back in time to eighteenth-century London where she is caught in a web of superstition, deception, and lies in a life and death struggle to return to her own time.

Steph is thrust into the middle of the hurricane, but it quickly turns into a living nightmare as she is faced with losing everything. Stealing Time: Book 1 in the Stealing Time Trilogy.