|Swamplands and Sorcery
By Robert Huszar
|We had just traveled north, up and around
Cape Sable, and were proceeding east on the Little Shark River, traversing
it to the interior. Night had not fallen but Luna was full and rising
on the horizon before us. Suddenly a dolphin broke the surface, leaping
free of liquid fingers to momentarily fly framed against the moon, an ancient
coin held aloft in almost night. We were transfixed!
The magic was beginning; it pulsed alive in the darkening sky. We pulled into a nearby bank, preparing for the evening ritual. Joe tenderly tucked his son’s clothing tightly around him and then lavishly anointed him with repellent.
Generally, the mosquitoes hadn’t been bad, except at dusk when they could overwhelm to the point of madness. As the light would wane, a low hum would settle in amongst the ever-present backdrop of sounds. The hum would grow into an incessant buzzing about the head, followed by the inevitable burlesque of stinging, slapping and cursing. This generally continued until the day’s misty humidity evaporated and the cool, calm of night prevailed and the bugs mysteriously vanished. There were some spots, however, so infested that even an Arctic eve would be insufficient to keep them away.
Knowing the pattern I usually declined the dubbing with Toluene, the base of many popular repellents and capable of dissolving nylon in tents and paddling jackets -- one can only speculate on its long term effect on flesh and liver cells -- and instead opted for head netting and thick work gloves. As Joe finished the applications, I pulled out the cashews, apricots and chocolate. A long paddle still lay ahead, and as always, my ever-present hunger was concerned that we stock up on fuel.
Not more then fifteen minutes had elapsed since we stopped, but it was sufficient for dusk to overtake us. As we paddled, the last of the day was consumed and the thickening twilight congealed into night. The moon was huge and luminous and rapidly ascending. Nearby banks were so thick with vegetation that no light could penetrate and the land was consequently lost in its own shadow. There was two discernible features, the bright reflective water, with branches like a tree running off in all directions and the dark, brooding shapeless mass of land scattered alongside. The world had been reduced to perfect black and white.
As the night cooled, the sun lazy alligator began to quicken. In the blackness all around us the great beast snorted and splashed, their red eyes laser bright in contrast to the pitch in which they lurked. The hours of the hunt had begun.
We had roughly 12 miles up the Little Shark River until we reached the large, west-south-west channel that would take us across the three-mile-wide Oyster Bay to the islands on its south border and the chickee where we would camp. The lower section of the Little Shark River is not part of the well-marked Wilderness Waterway, but it is a navigable channel, hence it was dotted with the traditional red and green markers. The trick was finding them in the blackness. We paddled on, occasionally flashing our lights as we searched for markers, and finding instead hidden eyes searching for dinner. After several bouts of ‘light tag’ we grew accustomed to the glowing eyes floating our way in the darkness, which, upon realizing we were not bite size, would turn and vector off in the opposite direction. One ‘gator, apparently misjudging the distance, did a quick dive and struck the bottom of my craft with his tail, giving new meaning to the old line of ‘things that go bump in the night.’
As the evening progressed an unvoiced reciprocity became the rule: "You avoid us and we avoid you." This truce, however, came to an abrupt end as we rounded a point and a group of maybe forty ‘gator eyes floated out from the shadows and moved ominously in our direction.
It was a telepathic moment: "Oh no!" and, “ . . . ‘gators don’t hunt in groups!" And, " . . . . .but we better get the hell out of here anyway!" slurred together in one long burst of thought that seemed to simultaneously jump the void between our three brains. It was remarkable -- as we later discussed it -- how three separate individuals could think the exact same thing at the exact same moment and feel the other thinking it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, and without discussion or any other form of communication, we – in a completely synchronous fashion -- gently picked up our pace and very, very cautiously began moving in the opposite direction of were we thought our boats and the carnivores would intersect. But just as the first group of ‘gators reached mid-river, it suddenly hit me.
"Wait," I said, "Look!"
And as the first row of those glaring eyes penetrated the brightness of mid river, those gleams that appeared so hungry in the darkness suddenly lost their ferocity and became harmless bubbles with gentle moonlight dancing softly on their surface.
"Bubbles!!" Abbe said in disbelief. Joe and I just laughed as we turned the next bend in the river.
For Another Perspective of Paddling
in the Everglades,