Silver Springs

June 23, 2008 at 8:23 am (Mary McQueary, Soliloquy)

 

Although Sadie’s wish was to see dolphins and manatees, her arrival was too late in the year for her to do so. The manatees had already departed for the ocean and although seeing a dolphin was possible it was not always likely. Often I see dolphins frolicking near the Gulf’s shore but only once has a dolphin leaped out of the water mere feet from our boat, an indescribable kinetic beauty against the blue sky. We opted instead to take her to see the wildlife at Silver River. 

 

The staging area was full of kayakers not wanting to leave a footprint.  Considering we were plunking in a 17 ft. boat, a big boy’s version of a bath tub toy, ours would leave an impression but not a deep one.  Sadie climbed aboard donning a straw hat atop her white braided pigtails.

 

The canal that led to the river was lined with lily pads. Tight fisted yellow buds atop angled stems shot out of the water resembling the various gear positions of a stick shift.  “This reminds me of the scene in Apocalyse Now when they go up river”, Sadie remarked while her eye scanned the forest.  It did indeed, although the Charlie we were expecting to encounter were in the form of alligators instead of guerilla soldiers.

Spotting alligators is like searching for seashells.  When the sand is nearly the same color as the shell, you learn to search by shape.  As soon as you spot one lettered olive seashell you suddenly can see along the shell bed a hundred more. We spot an alligator lying on a log that lays half in half out of the water. He remains napping in the sun as we motor by. We spot a baby gator a few yards farther, his little body stretched out long and skinny, he could easily been mistaken for a twig.

 

We were heading upriver to Silver Springs which is where the largest artesian formation in the world is found.  At practically every bend is a deep, minimum of 20 ft., spring. Tiny bubbles stream toward the surface from fissures as turtles and fish perform acrobatics in the deep bowls.  I search for any indication there are cave formations but see none. The water runs calm on the surface belying the strong current below. We peer over the side of the boat and see 4 ft. gar swimming but not advancing upriver.  On the water’s surface large clusters of water bugs congregate in the shade. Once disturbed they chase the boat, spreading out into an attack formation but are unable to overcome us.  Large black birds perch on fallen trees stripped of bark and bleached white by the sun that jut from the center of the straight segments of the river. The birds spread their large wings wide and high in worship of the blazing ball.

 

The water is clear and pure and cold but I dare not get in. I’ve seen 2 alligators already, hard to say how many I didn’t notice but soon it’s so hot that my skin is frying, I swear the fat under my skin is sizzling. I dangle one leg into the water to find relief. No alligator attempts to chomp off my toes.

 

It’s difficult to know whether to look up or look down for there is activity everywhere and of course I’m busy looking down into the water while everyone else is busy looking up into the trees and spots a colony of wild rhesus monkeys. A small troop was near the water climbing across the cypress knees. The knees weave a knotted natural fence between water and land, with land being a relative term for here is where Creature from the Black Lagoon was filmed.  I spot a mother monkey with her baby but there are too many other boaters to get a clear picture. We continue upriver and vow to look for them on the way back for it is our firm belief that too many humans viewing wildlife is a form of harassment, a deed far worse than feeding them in my book.

The monkeys are not indigenous. They were brought in as a tourist attraction and placed on an island. The man that did so did not realize how great swimmers the monkeys were. He dropped them off and returned later to find that they had swam away and run off into the woods.  They’ve flourished and have not become enough of a nuisance to warrant removal. Most of the debate about plucking them out revolves around the working definition of the term ‘indigenous’.

 

At what point in time does something become indigenous? Only when a man notes that since before he arrived one has existed? An island may contain no palm trees when a man first arrives, but how would he know of the island’s past palm trees if a hurricane had swept them all out to sea before the man arrived? If a coconut washes ashore and roots after the man arrived, suddenly the coconut is a foreigner to the soil, no longer considered a son returning to the bosom of his mother. The man would consider him a bastard and not give him the surname of indigenous. Few would argue man has been on earth longer than a plant or an animal. It is man who is non-indigenous, invasive, a weed, and needs removal from certain areas.  As of this writing the monkeys are allowed to stay and so are we.

 

We discover two remaining monkeys when returning from dead-ending in the amusement park. For almost a century this area has been exploited by man. Glass bottom boats, wildlife exhibits (basically a zoo containing bears and alligators), and basic theme park entertainment surround the beginning of the river.

 

The larger of the two monkeys walks atop the cypress knees, his walk a combination of wild cat and human. He sees us and sits atop a large stump to stare.  Above him perched precariously in a live oak tree, sits a smaller monkey. He strips new fresh green leaves from the tree, munching them down as we would a handful of Doritos chips. The smaller one is approximately the same size as my yorkie-poodle puppy, Little Dog. Little Dog met their stares but did not bark or growl. 

 

I asked to have the boat move in closer. I’m not stupid and know better than to put my hand into the cage of the bear at the zoo and out in the wild I was using caution but quickly I was feverish by the promise of some potentially awesome photos. The world fell away from me. I only saw the color of their fur, two toned, half gray, half a reddish brown. I only saw their expressive faces, contemplative, innocent.  I only saw how cute the little monkey as he sat curled in a little hunch delicately on a branch that stretched over the river and bent ever slightly towards the water was. It was this that made me fearless and careless and forget they were wild.

 

Switching from still photos to the video feature of my camera I caught them shimming down the tree, eating, climbing and jumping. It was late in the afternoon and the shadows were growing deeper and the automatic features of my camera indicated flash was needed. In quick moves, desperate to not miss any great shots, my fingers stabbed frantically at the tiny buttons on my camera to turn off the flash option. I snapped more shots. Little Dog stood still by my side and did not bark. I switched one last time from capturing action to stills but forgot to turn off the flash. In an instant response to the flash the large monkey on the ground lunged but his feet remained fastened to the tree stump he balanced on.

 

 

“Ix-nay the ash-flay”, Sadie says in a loud whisper.

 

Nodding, I switch the camera to video with my thumb securing there would be no other accidental flash. In my LCD screen I see the monkey on the ground look up into the trees. I follow his gaze up the trunk across the branch into the leaves with my camera.

Before reaching sight of what he was glancing up at, Sadie exclaimed, “Oh, Mary!” The small monkey’s face appeared across the screen, a little angry monkey.  His arms are braced, a skydiver about to drop into the void.  Pounce. He is ready to pounce directly upon my head for we had drifted directly underneath him.  I shriek not knowing what else to do to make him stop.

 

My shriek catches him mid-launch and he swings back to sit and ponder the meaning of the sound. I shrieked not because I was afraid for myself, I had shrieked over the thought of the mad little monkey jumping into my boat and making off with my puppy like the flying monkeys do in the Wizard of Oz with Toto. We made a quick getaway while the two monkeys contemplate our intent.

 

Later we laugh. We laugh with thanks that we were not harmed. We laugh over the thought of monkeys understanding English but not Pig Latin. I laugh, glad I was never hired on by National Geographic, for I would have certainly been gored by a rhinoceros on the Serengeti years ago.

 

– Mary McQueary.

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