“I wonder were that sidewalk leads,” I said to my wife.
“Oh, that goes to the mitigation area. I told you about that when we moved in.”
It must’ve slipped my mind. There was so much else going on at the time. “What’s mitigation?”
“In this case, it’s a section of the property that’s been marked to remain as close to natural as possible.”
I thought about this. Instead of the usual boring walk around the neighborhood, we had our own nature preserve in our backyard. Time to check it out.
The sidewalk extended all the way across a wide open field to the next development. There were all kinds of birds: long-beaked wood storks wading in the flats, slinky blue herons stalking the banks like winged hipsters, anhingas sunning themselves or cruising the deep water, hawks perched in trees and taking off on fishing expeditions, and other types too numerous to mention.
A birdwatcher’s paradise.
Time Goes By
Every time we walked, we made sure to visit the mitigation area. Eventually, we spotted marsh hares, rooting around in the grass near some bushes. One morning, an unleashed dog spotted a rabbit and took off after it. The dog found only empty space. The hare darted into the bushes in a brown blur, entered the water like an Olympic swimmer, and took off.
My wife had names for the rabbits: stuff like Bugs or Roger or Jessica.
One day we heard a rustling in the bushes on the north side of the mitigation area, the side facing the highway. One of the biggest box turtles I’ve ever seen came sliding down the berm, carving a trail of small rocks and slivers of mulch. It had to be four feet long from the back of the shell to the front.
It was as if we had reached a stop sign. Once the turtle traffic cleared we moved on.
Almost every walk held something new.
It was during the summer, after 15 days of rain and after waiting five days for the streets to dry, I went for a walk to the mitigation area. The water had receded just enough to expose the sidewalk and make it passable. The small patch of grass adjacent was littered with flotsam and jetsam. Everything from plastic jugs to Styrofoam coolers to things I couldn’t recognize.
It was quiet. Almost apocalyptic. I got an inspiration to write a zombie story on that walk.
Years later, on a solo venture, I saw the sidewalk was covered with hundreds of black millipedes, each one averaging about three inches in length. They moved slow on their mass exodus. I had to kind of hunt for places to plant my feet.
A walk that averaged 30 minutes stretched into an hour that day.
It wasn’t all a return to nature kind of thing. The mitigation area turned out to be a great place to see the International Space Station when conditions were right.
Taking cues from Spot the Station, NASA’S official web site, I was able to get a fix on critical data, like visibility times, duration of visibility, and location in the sky.
When skies were clear, I stood by an access gate used by maintenance crews at the midway point on the sidewalk. The gap in the bushes provided an unobstructed view due north over the Everglades.
Reflected light from the rising sun lit up the station like a cosmic pinball.
Time Goes Back
The mitigation area was responsible for getting me on a jag that went on for years and still sits in the back my mind.
At the midway point, a narrow strip of dry land stretched from the sidewalk all the way to the lake. It was covered with trees. A single pole with a metal plate attached at the top rose above the dense bush. My guess was it was some kind of marker left over from canal dredging.
The pole caught my attention. At the time, I was deep into motion and camera tracking. As I walked by this section of the mitigation area I could picture a Tyrannosaurus Rex lurking in the trees. The pole would be a perfect object for placing tracking markers.
After a series of unsuccessful attempts at modeling a dinosaur and setting up a texturing layout, I abandoned the project. There comes a time when you have to face the fact you are not a 3d artist.
The only graphics I work on now are family photos, book covers, blog post images, and animated gifs. The quicker and dirtier the better.
The dinosaur obsession may have ignited a mental spark that still burns. Having lived in Florida most of my life, I became a fish head early on and remain one at this later stage.
I had a dream. I was in the backyard, lunching my canoe. The bait was in the bucket.
By the time I paddled down to lake and got into position, it would be first light. When the bow of the canoe came out of the canal and entered the lake, it was as if a big light switch had been turned off. Darkness all around. Not even the silhouettes of buildings on the horizon.
Nothing but water, trees, and sky.
This was a dream. I was here to fish. Fishing dreams were my favorite. The best ones stick in my head like a thumb tack.
The first wiggling shiner went on the hook.
The strike came in a fraction of a second, a silver streak blasted out of a submerged weed bank. The blur went into slow motion. This thing looked like a bull dolphin with the distinctive high forehead. A pattern of green spots dotted a thick body tapering to a point that merged with the tail fin. Jagged teeth packed the jaws.
I had time to think about the situation: would the monofilament line get cut in the initial hit? Did I have my long pliers on the tackle box if I had to get near that dental work?
Real time returned. A bigger flash, this one a bright gold, rose from the depths and got bigger. Slow motion came back. The fish coming up had the body of a giant tarpon and teeth like samurai swords.
It swallowed the first fish then turned and dove. The up welling of water from the beating tail lifted the canoe two feet off the surface. I held on tight, hoping to remain afloat.
The wave passed. The canoe didn’t capsize.
Dreams are weird. Fear won the toss. I decided to call it a day.
On the way back I heard a deep throated roar followed by a thud. Could that be a T-Rex lining up for the shot?
When the canoe entered the canal, things returned to normal. What was once a primeval swamp became a housing development.
When the rain lets up I’ll be walking again.