Work has been at an all-time lull and it would have been easy mid-afternoon the day before yesterday to just slink back home and wait for darkness to fall so I could go to bed.
But it was a lovely day outside; blue skies with a smattering of cloud and plenty of time before the sun would go down. Admittedly it was a bit hot (somewhere around 90) but that only reinforced my thoughts for grabbing the camera and heading to Circle B.
You see, I imagined that with such heat in a mid-afternoon moment, there weren’t likely to be very many others on the trails there.
And I was right. There was only a smattering of cars in the parking lot and most of my walking on the trails was spent in the company of only my shadow.
In fact, I remembered musing to myself at one moment that if something large were to emerge from the waters and take me, no one would even know until the alarm went out about a car in the parking lot that hadn’t been moved in days.
I am almost never on these trails at this time of day, so I sensed that it would be a different experience as morning feeders had gone for a siesta and evening hunters hadn’t yet emerged from their own moments of rest. There were definitely some familiar creatures still there as herons and egrets hung around by the fish-laden waters ready for a mid-afternoon snack.
But as anticipated, the heat brought out more reptiles from the cooler waters as they looked to heat themselves up in the the bask of strong sunlight. Turtles and alligators appeared much more plentiful than at my normal timeslot and that only reinforced my mild-fears of becoming an afternoon snack; not so much the turtles, but the alligators seemed to be all smiling at me!
By the time I hit the end of Marsh Rabbit Run, a trail that cuts a straight swathe through marsh waters on both sides, I had already taken more than enough wonderful shots to make this trip worthwhile. I even got a shot of a one-eyed alligator who seemed to lie in wait for me to stumble just a little closer towards the waters.
But it was really on the way back that two of the most amazing things happened to me that will hold this particular journey in my mind until I die.
Firstly I spotted what looked like a small rabbit in the tall grasses near the edge of the trail. On first sight I would have bet money that he was in fact a rabbit. But it turned out to be a Florida Salt Marsh Vole and not only was he a little guy that I had never seen before, but it turns out he is an endangered species and not imagined to be in this area at all. So this was genuinely a rare sighting.
I watched as he ran out from the side, grabbed a little worm for a snack and then ran back to the protective cover of the grasses again.
After I passed him by, I admit that I was walking faster and with purpose to get back to my car and ultimately home so that I could sort through my images on something bigger that my camera viewfinder. I was in hope that my shots had come out in focus and that question drove each forward step.
The second thing took place only about ten yards further up the trail. To my left in the waters just off the trail, I spotted an alligator very close to the water’s edge but having shot a couple of alligators at almost that same spot on my way down the trail, I paid him no thought and just continued my speedy march.
Then, suddenly, he emerged up the embankment right in front of me and came to an abrupt stop. As did I … very abrupt.
As we stood there looking at each other we were only about six feet apart and he seemed as shocked to see me as I was to see him.
He was about nine or ten feet, I guess, and could have possibly had me for lunch if he wished, except for one big thing. There in his mouth was a rather large catfish. Perhaps two or two-and-a-half feet long. It was already dead and he had clearly decided that he wanted to eat him on dry land rather than in the water.
As I decided not to move and began snapping shots, he was so close that my lens was having difficulty focusing. So, I took a half-step backwards and knelt down so that I could shoot him at his level rather than mine. He still wouldn’t budge; just stood there smiling at me.
So, I figured I should give him a little more privacy and stood up again and took another step back. When he saw I was no threat he then stepped further onto the trail and ate his catch. The ferocity of what I was being treated to was humbling. His strong jaws were repeatedly crunching the poor fish until it was almost jelly in his mouth. Mud and blood just poured out from the side of his mouth until he finally swallowed his lunch and then looked back at me.
I had videoed the entire eating ordeal and lowering the camera by my side, I spoke to him, telling him what an amazing creature he was. I am not sure if he understood my words but I am confident he caught the intent in the tone of my voice. Then he slowly reversed down the embankment and back into the water.
I watched as he swam away, still in awe that I had witnessed something so powerful in such close proximity.
Then I walked faster back to the car so that I could get home quickly and see if I got what I hoped I had. The only stop of note on my way back was when I saw a baby alligator out in the sun and I took a couple of shots of this innocent little predator that hopefully one day will grow as large and powerful as his neighbor. The weight of the contrast wasn’t lost on me.
I have placed a bunch of images at the end of the blog so I hope you enjoy them. The video came out awesome and while not for the squeamish, I will happily send it by email to anyone wanting to see it. Just drop me an email and I will reply in return firstname.lastname@example.org
When all the excitement settled down a little, it was really this morning that the idea for this blog came to me. We often go through life talking about the one that got away, or how something almost happened but didn’t. But It is important to recognize that sometimes we are in the right place at the right time.
It may not happen very often but when it does, we need to be ready for it. That is why some people have been in the right place at the right time, an opportunity arose, and they were able to take it. That is the recipe for success.
It isn’t simply a matter of hard work or pure luck. You not only have to be there when the opportunity comes knocking, you have to be ready for it and able to take advantage of it.
Seizing the moment is a wonderful idea but it is only useful if the moment arrives at a time when you are able to seize it!
For my little moment, it all boiled down to me having a camera that could capture both video and stills and for the moment to happen when the alligator and I hit the same place on the trail at the same time.
In our lives, we often bemoan our missed opportunities. “I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody.” Marlon Brando moaned in On The Waterfront.
Coulda means nothing. Taking life’s opportunity when it comes … that’s what stops us describing life in a one-that-got-away story trying to impress our audience.
One life. Live it. Seize it.
… just a thought!