Friday, August 31, 2007

Signs of Laziness

Jungle Pete is returning North - if only for a few days to visit the family and anyone else he can round up. He's also practicing speaking in the third person for no apparent reason. Pete can't leave without writing one more time, but seeing as he's been tying up loose ends at work before he goes, he hasn't had time to put together a cohesive thought. So Pete presents to you a few of the crazy signs he's seen on my exploits. I mean his exploits. They didn't really fit anywhere else so here they are.
Is it me or does the proprietor seem a little peeved with the police? Hey Police! You are on notice! (Naples, FL)

This one was put up after a raccoon swung a club and lost the grip, sending a 9-iron through the windshield of a BMW. (Cape Coral, FL)

I'm embarrassed to admit that I don't know if this is a goof or if there are "land crabs" I need to worry about running over. I'd hate to think I was needlessly concerned. (Hollywood, FL)

It's hard enough to go 12 MPH, but this is impossible. The squirrel looks a bit flat already. (Punta Gorda, FL)

This one I think I may have posted before - but it bears repeating. (Did I say bear and but in the same sentence.) (LaBelle, FL)
This is a bonus. This is called the Cape Coral Tower of Terror. It was constructed by Rotary volunteers and has withstood hurricanes, high winds and poor construction. It's not trick photography. It really looks like an Eischer drawing. It's listing and shakes when you go up it. How it has not collapsed is beyond me.
Ok - this is perhaps the worst entry to date, but it's really just an announcement of my temporary departure from Florida. I'm looking forward to seeing new nephew Carter and the rest of the nieces and nephews. I'll be in Vermont on Thursday 9/6 for anyone who wishes to gather at the Long Trail Pub and Brewery in Bridgewater, VT.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Jungle Pete and the Canoes of Antiquity

The cypress log jutted from the water's surface, stuck in the mucky bottom of Lake Trafford. In June, the lake had receded to the lowest levels in recorded history. Partly due to lack of rain, partly caused by the dredging project. But here was the anachronistic log. Out of time and out of place. There are no cypress trees for miles and no streams or rivers flow into the lake; only out.

The airboat captain slowed enough for me to get a good look and sped off without a word. Later he would tell me that the log was most likely a Seminole Indian canoe from their time living in this area over the last 2 centuries. Lake Trafford is in Immokalee, a town whose name is Seminole for "My Home" and was just that in the not so distant past and here was a potential remnant of their lives, exposed by the lack of water.

Cypress wood is relatively rot resistant and Seminoles had learned from their Calusa predecessors how to hollow out the logs and make 12+ foot pole boats for pushing about in the swamps and marshes of the Everglades. Here was history, but the presence of it was being kept quiet. If anyone were to find out, they may stop the restoration project here and the lake could lapse into a state of anoxia (no oxygen) which would kill most life in the lake.

It's not unusual for me to repeat lines in my head from my favorite movie Raiders of the Lost Ark - and here I found myself saying "It belongs in a museum". I understand the consequences but certainly reasonable people could compromise here and we could save the canoe and protect the lake.

My next trip out on the airboat we noticed two more canoes sticking out of the mud. One only a few feet long with obvious tell-tale burn marks and another nearly 5 feet with parts obscured by muddy water.

I called a rep for the Collier County's Historical & Archeological Preservation Board later that week, knowing I could jeopardize the restoration project and potentially my job. The state investigated and my next trip out, there were at least 7 sites marked off. Instead of zipping by, the airboat driver carefully navigated closer to one and explained that he had been asked to mark the sites! So everyone was on board with protecting the canoes. But these were not just Seminole canoes; these canoes are estimated to be over 2000 years old and belonging to the Calusa themselves! The state is currently in the process of doing carbon dating to get a more precise date, but this find is now forcing historians to rethink many of the theories of the Calusas. (For more info CLICK HERE) Apparently they navigated from the ocean, through the Corkscrew Swamp and inland to Lake Trafford where the inhabited the area for quite some time. Long enough to generate a shell mound near the lake that will be investigated soon.


Before the state could get out to the canoes, one of them had disappeared. Thinking it was one of theirs, the Seminoles, with their proud cultural heritage grabbed it in the dark of night! The state asked for it back and soon enough it will be in a museum. Indiana Jones would be proud.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Baby Time!

He doesn't know it, but when he was 5 months into his gestation, my new nephew got to experience the Everglades when his pregnant mom, not pregnant dad and little sister visited in April and we went to the Everglades. There's my justification for the birth announcement here on the Everglades blog!

August 21st at 1:15 am Carter William was born to Brian and Tara. Little sister is thinking...."this is not happening....can we give him back?

He's adorable.

An Everglades follow up from Mike (and my Mt.Equinox Nightmare)

Hi Pete,
I want to thank you for all you did for me - you were in frequent communication with my wife and you alerted the proper authorities in Collier County. And after I was rescued and I drove out to the park office, there you were waiting for me. You're a great friend, thank you again.
I'd also like to thank the police and rescue teams. They were professional and kind and searched in a safe, scientific manner.

Some low points:
  • Not being able to find the trail on Sat. morning, walking in a large circle, feeling dehydration set in, feeling panic set in, and collapsing in weakness.
  • Hearing the rescue helicopter at 3 am but not being able to get to the pond in total darkness before it left.
  • Seeing the helicopter again at 8 am but not being able to successfully signal it.
  • Being continually hounded by mosquitoes.

Some high points:

  • Finding the gator hole with water later on Sat. morning. This was the only water I came across, including on the rescue walk out. The gator hole was an oasis in the abnormally dry strand. It was occupied by numerous alligators, turtles, frogs, insects and birds. It provided me a home for over 24 hr. It saved my life. Without it I would have had no water, no open view to the sky, and I would not have been seen by the helicopter crew.Having such well-behaved alligators! The big one to my left and all the others kept their places around the pond and I kept mine.
  • Being rescued!

I also want to apologize to all of my family and friends for the worry I caused them. This incident occurred because of what I did early Saturday morning - I left the old tram road and bushwhacked without having the proper equipment with me.

In November of 2005, as per my obligations to the Equinox Preservation Trust in Manchester Vermont, I set out with EPT President Rich Heilemann to hike the "Blue Trail" on Mount Equinox and clear the blowdowns. The trail is one of the steepest ascents in the state, rising from 1000 feet in the valley to the peak at 3800+ feet.

It's enough to climb the thing, but we were carrying a chainsaw, fuel, chaps, wedges, oil and saws to remove trees that had come down long before in one of the mountain's typical wind storms. It has snowed an unusual amount that November, so we had the added difficulty of tromping through snow.

Earlier that year I had been bitten by a deer tick and subsequently come down with Lyme Disease which I struggled with through the summer. By fall I had a few lasting effects; headaches, joint pain and breathing issues which linger to this day. But half way up that mountain that day, the pain became so great that the thought of lifting the chainsaw was nearly unbearable. Each step burned through my muscles and my joints strained like tree limbs in an ice storm. My head pounded and could barely breathe at times. I should have turned around. I felt there was shame in doing so and I continued, Rich carrying the chainsaw as I dragged myself upward. As we neared the 3000' level, Mike appeared. No doubt in search of ferns beneath the snow and for the life of me I can't remember if he was going up or coming down. He asked if he could help, selflessly setting aside his plans for the day and assisted for well over 90 minutes as we removed a 60 foot Spruce that had come down straight down the trail.

Walking down was no easier, but Rich and Mike traded off carrying my equipment as I slowly plodded down the steep and slushy trail.

It was one of the most physically challenging things that I have done and I've always been appreciative of Mike and Rich for their help that day. Wheather they knew how badly off I was or not, they probably kept me from a visit to the hospital or worse.

Just felt like telling you all that. For what it's worth.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Survivalman: Pete and Mike's Everglades Nightmare

It's 8:40 am on Sunday August 19th and I'm sitting in the middle of the 80,000 acre Fakahatchee Strand State Park. The cell rings and the ID flashes RESTRICTED. I nervously pickup and the sheriff on the other end says in a low, gravely tone - "We found your friend".

I arrived at the Fakahatchee at 8:50 am on Saturday. My friend Mike from Vermont had planned to meet me for an excursion into the swamp to locate rare ferns. Mike is a well-conditioned hiker, a seasoned outdoorsman and knows more about ferns than anyone I know, but he asked me along because I'd be interested and because hiking in the swamp in August is best not done solo. Our meeting time was 9 am and by 9:15 I worried that there had been a change of plan. I left a message on his phone in Vermont since he is cell-less (no service in many places in Vermont...mountains you know) and waited another 30 minutes.

Disappointed, I headed to a near by state park to explore a bit and later headed to the old Calusa Indian shell mounds of Marco Island to poke around. The heat, insects and lightning finally forced me to call it a day around 5 pm and I headed home.

As I reentered my cell service area, several messages came in, one from Mike's wife, hoping he had found me as that was the plan. When I returned her call she was worried. He had not checked in which he always does. When he had not returned by 9 pm I joined in on the worrying and began the search for Mike.

The park staff was gone for the day, so I called the county sheriff's office where they asked "Fakahatchee? Never heard of it." It's the largest state park in Florida. My mom's voice in my head gave me direction so I did what she would do anytime one of her kids was missing for more than 8 hours. Several calls to Broward County Sheriff and Florida Highway Patrol turned up nothing. Calls to the local hospitals turned up nothing. "Maybe he is in jail?" one deputy suggested. I laughed and that too turned up nothing. I spoke to Mike's wife again. He had not returned, but I got the description of his car and license plate. By 10:30 pm I had decided I would have to make the drive back to the Fakahatchee which is an hour and 30 minutes from home. I know him well enough to know that if he had arrived after I left at 9:45 am, he would not want to miss the chance to find these ferns, but the 11 mile road in called Jane's Scenic Drive is a legitimate wreck of a road. As they continue to do Everglade's restoration in the park, they are letting the road go and there are not so much pot holes as there are craters filled with water.

By the time I arrived at 12:30 am, it's pitch black and an ominous sign leading down the lonely stretch of road reads "PARK CLOSED DUSK TO DAWN". I continue on and the first time my truck goes axle deep in the water I think there is no way Mike could have made it out here in a Toyota Corolla.

I start the odometer at the Ranger station and slowly make my way down the dirt road. Moon Vine covered trees weighs heavily on the canopy. I'm driving through a tunnel of green - my headlights illuminating each ephemeral flower. I can't say that I'm not nervous out here. I'm in an enormous area inhabited by random squatters. This is where people hide out. At 1:15 am, my lights bounce off a compact car pulled up in front of a rusted old gate. It's empty and my heart sinks. Mike is out there. It rained 3+ inches today and the temperature has dropped 25 degrees. I also recognize this spot as the place I photographed the bear 2 weeks ago.

Thankfully Verizon has good coverage and I'm able to call the sheriff's office. There must have been a shift change. The woman on the phone knows exactly where I am and within 45 minutes she has dispatched 2 patrol cars, a K-9 unit and a chopper. It's 2 am when thee patrolmen arrive, slowly dipping into and driving out of the water holes in the road. One officer tells me he spoke to Mike Saturday morning at 6 am. Mike had explained our plans and the officer told him there was a criminal in a white truck on the loose out here. His last words to Mike - "Don't get lost".

The swamp here is thick. They want to send the K9 unit in before they loose Mike's scent, but it's pitch black and there are water moccasins and gators here, not to mention an abundance of thorny plants. It's too dangerous so we wait for the chopper. They have infrared and night vision, but out here in the darkness, pilots can loose the horizon, not knowing which way is up or down. They spend 40 minutes doing an 8 mile search and find nothing. The jungle is too thick to penetrate to the ground and the spotlights turn up nothing. At 3:30 am Mike's wife in Vermont asked me "Is there still hope?" There was no choice but to hope. But at 4 am they called the search off until daybreak.

A patrolman stayed at the scene and I headed back to the sheriff's sub-station in Everglades City. They want to ask me a few more questions. Seriously - I think I might be a suspect.

At 7 am I wake up in my truck outside the sub-station. My head is pounding, my body aches from sleeping in a bucket seat. There are 5 police units idling in the parking lot. I'll ignore my environmental voice. Inside they are planning the search. Police from Lee County, Collier County and Wildlife Conservation are ready to head out. The chopper is about to go back up.

I ask if I can help and they tell me to stay put. I now know I am a possible suspect in his disappearance. I stay put, but the crazy in me thinks it funny to imagine leaping in my truck and taking off, starting a high speed Everglades chase. You know you'd watch it. I need sleep.

At 8:30 am a police vehicle with a trailer of ATVs speeds down the road. I'm guessing they found him and these guys don't want to miss the chance to use their toys.

At 8:40 am on Sunday August 19th the cell rings and the ID flashes RESTRICTED. I nervously pickup and the sheriff on the other end says in a low, gravely tone - "We found your friend. And he's ok."

The chopper had begun a slow, methodical search and spotted him quite a distance from his car. (Map is a very rough estimate of location) They dropped an MRE (Military Meals Ready to Eat) to him and made the plan to extract him.

At 9:40 am on Sunday August 19th and officer stops by my truck and tells me the rescue team is lost. The trail they left behind had disappeared.

By 11:45 am, 27 hours after he became lost, Mike and rescuers emerged from North America's largest swamp. Thorn-scratched and Mosquito-bitten, a dehydrated and elated Mike arrives at our original meeting point. His wife said he never misses meetings and I couldn't be happier to see him make this one.

During the night, the officers asked me all about Mike. Would he be prepared for this? What was his health? Where were you going? Did he have a cell or GPS?

I told them that if anyone I know could survive this, Mike could. He's always prepared. He's fit. He knows what to do. And he did. He had arrived at 6 am on Saturday and decided to trek a bit before we were to meet. He went a bit off trail, left two markers, found a life-list fern, took a picture, looked around and was lost. This is easy to do and if you think it would not happen to you? Try it. Everything looks the same. The brush is thick and you can easily loose track of direction. (As I stood talking to the officers at 4 am, we argued about which direction we were facing. I was wrong. As was officer #2.) But at 8:30 am on Saturday, Mike, knowing he was lost, prepared to endure an unknown amount of time waiting for rescue.

He had planned to return to the vehicle and head back to meet me, so water, snacks and other survival gear were in the car. He would have to survive on what he had, but most importantly he stay put. Instead of wandering and getting more lost and excessively dehydrated, he found a gator hole full of water. This offered an opening in the canopy to see planes or helicopters above. It also provided water if necessary (and in 95 degree heat the murky water was). He made a bed of sawgrass (surprisingly soft?!?) and a shelter of palm fronds. Around 5 pm, a massive black thunderhead moved in and poured 3+ inches of rain down. As the sun dipped, the temperature did as well, needling down towards 70. Try telling someone that 70 degrees is not cold! Keeping an eye on the grunting gators across the hole and listening to the frogs and barred owls through the night, he waited. When the first chopper flew over and disappeared, he had no chance to signal them. He even considered the helicopter was looking for the criminal that was on the loose. Disappointed, he waited for sun up; sure they would be looking for him at first light. It wasn't until 8 am that the helicopter began the search, but soon enough, they found a thirsty, tired man waving his hat and filthy shirt at them.

I would have freaked out and wandered in this situation. So I'm in awe of Mike for enduring this experience. The wet, the cold, the wildlife, the uncertainty of rescue. It was a simple mistake. One lost trail, but Mike kept his wits about him, stayed put, had an excellent understanding of the environment and thankfully came out alive. Most people would fret about the animals but Bears, Alligators and Panthers were the least of his concerns. Considered - yes, but staying hydrated and preparing to be in a place where he could be found assured he survived his Everglades nightmare.

I think Mike's wife will be implanting a GPS chip on him when he returns to Vermont!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Famous Last Words? - Watch This

Nothing good ever happens when someone says "watch this" right?
The first modern airboat was designed by a pair of retired Army pilots just after the end of World War II. They were avid fisherman and had made their home in the Everglades area and as great as the fishing is in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay, the desire to fish in freshwater was so great, that they created a new mode of transportation that could get them far back into the freshwater marshes of the Everglades where they could fish the open pools. The flat-bottomed boat was designed with a Cadillac engine and an airplane propeller that sits above the water and pushes the boat across sawgrass, mud and shallow water. With nothing bellow the water to impede movement, the airboat can go......just about anywhere.
Since Sam arrived on Saturday, I've promised to take him to the airboat out at Lake Trafford. This is where we take people on our Everglades tours and on any given day you can see 25 to 200 alligators ranging from 1-foot babies, to 12 foot adults on the hour long tour. Wait. The people are on the tour. Not the alligators. But it would be funny if the alligators were. But anyway. It's hot here and the alligators don't bask in August, instead they dip down into the mud to stay cool.
(Photo by Sam)

Sam had recently seen his first alligator and now was out on his first airboat. This was not his first time looking cool.

Here an alligator does the backstroke, which although unusual, also means that they are quite dead. We were told that this eight footer had been taken out by a twelve footer. Scale at Lake Trafford is often distorted, so apply the Canadian monetary exchange where dollars = length of alligator and you have a more realist estimate. I'd say an 8 footer took out a 6 footer. But really who's counting.

As nesting season winds down, baby alligator buffets are all the rage. And so is this mother's temper. She's spent weeks putting up with courtship displays from bull alligators, 2 months helping her incubating eggs stay safe and now cannibalistic males bully their way in and eat 15-20 of her babies? It's enough to make a mother growl ferociously and lash out at a paddle inserted into her den by an airboat captain. I'm not saying that happened......

The biggest thrill though had to be the point at which the airboat captain stepped on the throttle and aimed for a 200 foot dry runway of sand and cattails. No water? No mud? Watch this.

(once the cap goes on the camera - all is well. I forgot to turn it off)
The captain tried this last Thursday for the first time on a trip I was on. I asked him later if he knew there was no water and he said "There was 3 inches there yesterday!"

So he knew he could do it even without water so he did it again. It was a bit of a rough ride, but for the captains who spend a lot of time in the captain's chair? We know where you can go for relief. The Ace Hardware up the road in La Belle is well stocked.

(Photo by Sam)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pete and Sam Harass Iguanas

I blame my Aunt Anne for not warning my cousin Sam. She reads this blog and should certainly know what a visit to my place might be like for a 16 year old kid. Soy milk in the fridge, air-conditioner set to 83, heat-saving haircuts for the cats. So when Sam arrived on Saturday night I was worried that he'd be ready to leave by Sunday morning, but he's taken it all in stride and today we embarked on our first Everglades adventure. Danger and all. (CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE)The huge 12 foot alligators seem to be hiding, but this doe-eyed 4 foot gator was the first to pose for Sam. (Photo by Sam)

Every Monday morning at 6:30 am I drive across the Everglades for work in Fort Lauderdale. After work we headed to Greynolds Park in North Miami to search for American Crocodiles. World-renowned herpetologist Tom Crutchfield suggested this was the place to search for the endangered (and native) crocs. There are only 2000 or so in Florida and he's seen them here before, but he warned the heat keeps them off the banks and in the water. But we might see a few non-native Iguanas. (Photo by Sam)

A smaller 3 foot Green Tree Iguana (Photo by Sam)

I went out on a limb (mangrove) to get this shot. If they felt threatened - they would plummet up to 20 feet into the water to escape. It's fun harassing Iguanas! (NOTE - As far as I know, only the people of Boca Grande encourage harassing the destructive, non-native iguanas. We weren't harassing these. By our standards)

A young Green Tree Iguana (Photo by Sam)

I need to find out what this non-native lizard is (Photo by Sam)

Annoyed, this Cuban Anole flashed his red dewlap to show who was boss.

Escape from the land of the creepy dudes. We apparently strolled down the wrong trail. Not sure why that 300 lb guy with a Fu Manchu was wearing nothing but Wrangler jeans and cowboy boots way back here in the woods. Bridge looks unsafe? No problem. We are out of here.

Everglades raccoons abound here! Feeding on the delicious McDonald's leftovers. We watched 4 of them wrestle over a BBQ dipping sauce. They're lovin' it.
(Photo by Sam)
"Hey - where did the bald guy go?" (Photo by Sam)
"There he is - can't I eat my McDonald's in peace?" (Photo by Sam)
"sniff sniff - I smell Honey Mustard" (Photo by Sam)

White-lipped Tree Frogs
The trail led us along the edges of a brackish mangrove forest where the errant step led us face to face with female Orb Weavers and their diminutive male counterparts.

A nice muddy trip down the roads along the canals in the Everglades and my truck is looking good. Go ahead and poop on it bird! It can't get dirtier.

A nice parting shot.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Putting the "Mental" in Environmental

I can't take all of the credit, but my goal in returning to my native state was to help save the Everglades and I did it! As of last week, the United Nations removed the Everglades National Park from the list of Endangered World Heritage sites! How exciting is that? The Everglades and the National Park are no longer endangered! (If this gets boring, there's lots of sarcasm at the end! And a picture of a bunny which usually makes people feel happy!)

"The World Heritage List includes 851 properties forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 660 cultural, 166 natural and 25 mixed properties in 141 States Parties. As of October 2006, 184 States Parties have ratified the World Heritage Convention."

The Everglades National Park was deemed worthy of this list and joined hundreds of other global landmarks in 1979 and was designated "endangered" in 1993 due to urban sprawl, agricultural pollution and rising sea levels. In the spring of 2000, Congress approved a $20 billion dollar, 40 year Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Project (CERP) that would see the feds footing half the bill and the state paying the rest. The state projects and funding was well supported by the governor at the time, but federal money has trickled in over the last 7 years and has come no where near splitting the costs. The world's largest wetland restoration project has suffered for it. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R) was a strong supporter of the project as were most Florida politicians on both sides of the aisle, but sadly the White House neglected commitments and left the project to languish, causing ballooning budgets, stalled projects and increased threats to the 8000 square mile Everglades ecosystem.

As you have read here -

  • the Florida Panther is once again close to extinction

  • lakes are at record lows

  • arsenic-laden mud is being removed by the ton from the bottom of Lake O and placed ???

  • severe algae blooms in the gulf, caused by nutrient overloaded runoff from ag areas threaten the sea beds and the coastal communities

  • estuarine nurseries still barely cling to life

  • and aquifers are not only near empty but are being intruded upon by salt water inflows.
So it was with absolute glee (If you here a siren in your head, then your sarcasm alarm is working) that environmentalists from around the state applauded the UN's decision to drop the Everglades "endangered" status a few weeks ago based on progress with the restoration project and overall lessening of environmental damage.

See - I did it. In 7 months I have helped turn around the greatest destruction of a wetland ecosystem in the world.

I had a little help from the Bush Administration and Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Todd Willens who recommended to the UN that the "endangered" label was a distraction to sites that were in greater peril. I mean it hasn't rained on the Pyramids in Egypt in months! The Serengeti has more elephants than poachers can shoot and right now there are dozens of people peeing in the streets of the World Heritage site and ancient city of Nessebar and it must be stopped!

Never mind several dozen species of invasive plants that are crowding out the native sawgrass, never mind the urban sprawl that sucks up billions and billions of gallons of water a day to water our invasive plant filled lawns! The "endangered" status is an "embarrassment" to the White House and the best way to eliminate it is to eliminate the word "endangered!"

It's as easy as that. aaaaaaand I'm caaaaalm again.

When told about the upgraded status of the Everglades National Park, Park Superintendent Dan Kimball said "What...WHAT?"

The Park Service and several scientists recommended the Everglades had a long way to go and should remain on the list. And it does have a long way to go. So no applause for my efforts just yet.

ACTION STEP? Provide you suggestions in a form of a comment.

And Happy Birthday Jacob - the big 10.
Keep on Peddlin'

Monday, August 6, 2007

Maddogs and Englishmen

As Bill said to me afterwords, "Only maddogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun" and yet there I was on Sunday, 95 degrees and relatively high humidity and I'm trekking through the wilderness of the Fakahatchee Strand State Park in search of alligator babies.

The jungle! (click for larger view)

String Lily

The Park is 64, 000 acres of sawgrass prairie and cypress swamps and although the water level is usually high and the mosquitoes offer their daily blood drive, the rains have not come as they usually do and without water, the mosquitoes have no place to lay eggs. So water and bugs aside, the only thing I had to contend with was the heat. My plan was to head up a remote trail in search of a gator hole where mother and pups might be found. The walk would be just over 2 miles, but as I approached the "trailhead", a flock of Black Vultures stood their ground. They were resilient and I was concerned I'd find a rotting feast of some sort, but as I slowly drove on, they scattered and revealed a simple puddle of water.

No sooner had I passed, the flock returned to the road and with my eyes trained ahead on the narrow, pothole riddled road, I spotted what I first thought to be the biggest dog I had ever seen. It stopped in the middle of the road, look towards me and continued on.

It was a Florida Black Bear!

or bigfoot?
As I got closer to the spot where the bear entered the woods, I grabbed my camera and followed, but like a big fuzzy brown ghost, it disappeared without a sound into the thicket.

There are an estimated 400 bears in this part of the state. They have long legs for ease in walking through the swamp. It was amazing to see and surprising considering the heat and time of the day. They may be active at any time of the day, but I figured they would have more sense than a maddog.