Six months have passed since I ventured down to the lower Everglades which throng with amazing and beautiful birds in the dry winter months and blood sucking mosquitoes during the rainy season. At the entrance they have a “Mosquito-Meter” to inform one of the intensity. Today’s it declared “low” in bright blinking lights.
Apparently this season’s mosquitoes are illiterate.
After forcing Google Maps to take me around an accident which shut down the entire Florida Turnpike, doubling the journey, I arrived with high expectations only buoyed higher thanks to the “Low” on the meter. This was the place where I had photographed a mother Osprey and her chick as it grew from fledgling into young adulthood. Here I had walked surreal trails through forest and marsh and mud in search of the pink Roseate Spoon-Bill. Here I had found and photographed beautiful white butterflies and red shouldered hawks and an endangered saltwater crocodile.
But not today. Today belonged to the mosquito. And it sucked.
I was no fool. The rains have been gone for only a week. The rainy season is at its turning point towards the season that convinces everyone that Florida is paradise; cool, dry and sunny and mild. So I wore my mosquito-proof pants and mosquito –proof long sleeved shirt and my mosquito-proof hat. Paranoid? No. Unless you have walked into the lower Everglades you know nothing about mosquitoes.
The Meter had said “Low.”
I crossed the miles from the main entrance to the entrance at Flamingo, passing the sawgrass and the dwarf cypress forest that tops out at 4 feet above sea level and the salt marshes, scanning the trees for hawks and other birds. Dozens of white Ibis filled a roadside skeleton of a tree, a perfect opportunity for some black and white shots. I pulled over and snuck up with camera in hand. The first click of the shutter and they took off en-masse. I should have taken that as a sign of things to come. But I was naïve (THE SIGN HAD SAID “LOW”) and upbeat, still.
A jeep rode my bumper all the way to Flamingo, refusing to pass as I kept to the speed limit and continued scanning the trees for hawks. Sigh. There were none to be found. At least the parking lot at the dock at Flamingo was nearly empty. It meant that there would be few people to contend with. Noisy people who spoiled shots and scared off birds. This was good, right? Camera in hand, I walked the perimeter. The Osprey nest was empty. The crocodile was nowhere in sight. Even the seagulls and pelicans were notable by their absence. Nothing. Then I heard the far off call of an Osprey and scanned the sky and ran after the sound. I rounded the restaurant (it was closed and empty) and the Visitor’s Center (no people in sight). And there, far up on a nest built under a tall antenna atop the two story visitor’s center, a lone Osprey landed and stared at me, showing me this side and that, as if studying me. Even with my zoom lens it was a reach to pull the shot in for any detail. The bird kept looking at me. This way and that. As if it was shaking its head.
When my eyes left the sky and looked at my hands, the mosquitoes were swarming in earnest on the only patch of exposed skin. Oh, and on my face. I had forgotten to spray on repellent. Which I had left in the car. I did what any reasonable person would do in a similar situation, meaning having exposed skin not lathered with something more powerful than “Deep Wood’s Off” but not quite powerful enough to cause permanent neurological damage. The Everglades’ mosquitoes take no prisoners and have no patience for fools. I began smacking my face and hands and ran like hell.
On the ride back to the main entrance, a lone mosquito joined me, flying back and forth across my field of vision. With lake and marsh and swamp and either side of the road I traded an all-out assault (which could theoretically involve driving with my knees and flailing my arms spasmodically) for blasting the air conditioning until one of us stopped moving and entered suspended animation and it damn well was not going to be me. I had had enough.
I snapped off a few quick shots at the Anhinga Trail, hiding my car from the car-rubber eating Turkey Vultures (yes, they do and have and don’t ask) and headed north to our mosquito-free home. To redeem the day I looked forward to a quick stop at “Robert is Here,” a semi-famous farmer’s market and fruit smoothie place and a must stop a few miles up the road from the park. Usually crowded with a long line waiting for exotic concoctions that include things like mango and papaya and dragonfruit, the parking lot was near empty. A young couple was there, slathering themselves with what? Sunscreen or insect repellent? I couldn’t tell, but with clouds filling in the formerly blue sky I could guess. Smart move, I thought. Smart move.
The entrance gate was locked. The sign said “Closed until November 4th.”
As I walked back to the car, the couple smiled at me.
I noticed they were wearing shorts and then the Everglades Kayak Adventure“ sign that seemed to have caught their attention. I smiled back. There wouldn’t be enough insect repellent in the world for them, but they were young and adventurous, so let them find that out for themselves.
I drove home.