Monday, May 12, 2008

Close Encounters in a Blue Spring (State Park)


Let me elaborate a bit on the chance meetings with several species of critter on this latest trip.

First, the raccoon. Yes, yes, the animal looks just adorable. But it was a most aggressive little opportunist. As soon as we arrived at our campsite, I set up the travel trailer and we began to unload. We put a cooler under the awning in front of the trailer door. We immediately noticed that the cooler top was open. Carole asked if I'd opened it. "Nope," I told her. "Then we have a thief in the campground." Sure enough, something had taken a packet of frozen hamburgers out of the top of the cooler. Four patties. Yes, we realized immediately that it must have been a raccoon. Maybe it was the hundreds of raccoon tracks in the sand? Hard to say.

Later, my wife noticed that one of her water shoes was missing. She'd taken them off at the door and one was gone. More raccoon tracks. Circumstantial evidence? Yes, but it seemed pretty solid.

Later that night we awaken to raccoons fighting in the brush beside the trailer. How rude!

The next day we make sure not to leave anything out that might tempt the raccoon, including shoes. Carole and I are lying in bed watching TV that evening when we hear something. Carole had not quite closed the door. We look to our left to see a little masked face peeking around the refrigerator at us. Carole screams bloody murder and the bandit retreats. But that's the last straw for Carole. The next morning she goes to the ranger and tells her about the aggressive asshole raccoon. The ranger asks me, and animal lover that I am, I still have to admit that this raccoon is a bit cheeky. The ranger decides that live traps should be set and the raccoon should be moved to a different part of the park.

Later that day Carole is at the grill preparing salmon fillets for our supper. She screams and I emerge from the trailer. With a broom. By now I know the drill. There the culprit is where it had begun to prepare to charge Carole again so that it could nab our supper. I sit on the edge of the picnic table and the raccoon and I face off. Me with the broom, the raccoon with its sharp little teeth and lots of patience. I try to scare it off, but it always returns. When the fish is cooked, we retreat to our trailer to eat supper. Door secured, of course.

Next morning we check the traps the ranger set. One is empty and the other contains a puzzled opossum. Innocent bystander. The ranger comes and releases the poor possum. She then baits the trap with hot dogs. And as soon as she leaves, a beautiful scrub jay arrives, enters the trap, and methodically nabs every scrap of hot dog. So there, you stupid humans!

When we leave, the traps are still empty. The raccoon is still free.

On our last full day in the park, we were swimming in the Blue Spring Run. It's the short river formed by the sudden explosion of several million gallons of pure water per day from the headspring. We knew it is a great place to view manatees in the winter, but by May most of them have gone out into the St. Johns River. However, as we are enjoying the water on our final day in the park, what should swim up to us but a pair of young manatees! These were only two years old, recently rehabilitated orphans released from Sea World into the Blue Springs environs and still sporting radio transmitters on their tails.

The manatees are very friendly and gentle and swam right up to us. We managed to touch them, quite by accident, later learning that you're not supposed to touch them. At any rate, it was the manatees doing the curious contact. I've never been in the water with such creatures, and it was a true delight. I'd always heard that they were completely sluggish and slow moving at all times. Not so. After a while, the two animals decided to head to the main headspring and took off like a pair of rockets. No way even a strong swimmer could have kept up with them.

One morning I walked down to the bath to take a shower. In the stall (sans eyeglasses, of course) I note a leaf or something on my ankle and casually reach down with the washrag to remove it. I continue to lather my arms and only vaguely recall to open the rag and see what I had swabbed off from my foot. It was not a leaf.

It was a scorpion.

Normally, I have sympathy for even the creepy crawliest of animals. However, I draw the line at scorpions. This creature I carefully placed on the floor of the shower stall and bashed into oblivion with a container of shampoo. In my time I've been stung on about half a dozen occasions by common scorpions. It's not fatal, but it hurts! I wasn't going to give this one another chance at stinging me. Even I have my limitations.

All in all, a series of impressive encounters with some of the living things with whom we share the Earth.



Shari Lyle-Soffe said...

I enjoyed your post about the wildlife encounters. Once on a camping trip in California, I spotted three raccoons hiding in the trees next to a campsite. It was after dark and I could see them because there was a lantern and a campfire on the other side of the trees. They were obviously waiting for an opportunity to do a little midnight requizitioning.
I adore the critters and write books for children with raccoons as the main characters.


HemlockMan said...

I like raccoons, too. This one, however, was a bit too aggressive. I'm sure she'd been fed by other campers and that's why she was so persistent.