I am on a great adventure to test my chops, see part of the country, visit my son, and sort out a lifetime of fighting the essence of what it means to be me. The route of my long journey takes me as far South as Tallahassee, Florida. The journey changes shape and occasionally purpose as I reach different friends along the way, or through contact as I go. I have spent far too much time in my car, which means I have spent far too much time in my head. It’s time to get outside and get into the natural environs, so naturally I decide to check out the nature preserves and hiking attractions in and around Tallahassee. I’m in the Florida Panhandle area for whatever that’s worth. It doesn’t mean very much to me, except I know there are swampy areas with alligators, but that can apply to large regions of most Southern states. I decide to do a brief search to discover which nature trails or preserves are nearby and I decide on Leon Sinks Geological Area, which is part of the Apalachicola National Forest. I think this is a nice way of saying swampland. I leave the hotel and take this detour before heading west toward Perdido Keys, and New Orleans, the midpoint. As I approach the parking lot of Leon Sinks, I am elated to see an entry sign warning of alligators, and get this, black bears. Now that’s a weird little habitat pairing! I can’t recall if David Sedaris used this pairing in his last book, Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary it’s definitely worth a consideration for later writings if not.
I start off excited to locate my cancer enhancing deet spray for real woodsfolk, not the strawberry kiwi or linen flavored bug repellent for the house to car sorts (you know who you are). I spray, liberally knowing I am in Florida Swampland. I alert the masses via FaceBook, or the 70 or so “friends” that are following my pursuits, share that I am going on an alligator hunt and start on my way. Five minutes in, OK seconds, the mosquitoes are relentless. I am determined. If nothing else, I am determined. Really. Sometimes I am determined at the cost of all else, but I am determined. I am going on this hike, I am probably going to spot an alligator and wrestle it, run screaming, or knowingly nod and offer it it’s rightful props. But I will not be stopped by mosquitoes.
But the five minutes, or seconds reveal the full extent of the mosquitoes. They are determined and relentless more so than I am. I am prompted to recall the last movie I saw. Snow White and the Mutant Albino, or Woodsman or some such movie. There is a scene, the same scene occurs in hundreds of movies. Girl alone in woods. Girl flailing and tripping and frightened out of her mind at her surroundings. Trees coming alive, animals ready to kill, usually a vampire or werewolf or some big bad thing. And this is how I appear, as I am batting and flailing and swinging at mosquitoes in spite of the cancer-enhancing 100 proof bug spray I have used. But, this is my Freedom Tour, or Woman on an Adventure Tour, or Woman Alone Able To Just Do Whatever She Pleases tour and today finding an alligator is what pleases me. I do have the hopes of wrestling it and making it scream uncle so that I may be finished wrestling all of my fears and frustrations and move on in my life. I decide Snow White and all the other damsels in distress and occasional dudes, think Ichabod Crane here, were not possessed by demonic trees, they were tormented by mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes don’t have this impact on everyone. You needn’t go for a gentle, calming trek in the woods and trip and fall to your death because a mosquito is bothering you. In this particular incident there were at least 5 million bothering me, and I am allergic to mosquitoes. I won’t die from them, but I might swell and disfigure like Jim Carrey in about 7 of his movies. This is not a good thing because I am expected to be in New Orleans by nightfall with the goal of getting my groove on or at the very least, being recognized as a human. When I was 6 or 7 my family went on a summer vacation in the woods. My family did not possess the means to go on too many vacations so this was a very big deal. The mosquitoes came. They landed. They had their way with me. My body swelled. My foot became the size of my head or the head of a lion. It was big. My arms and legs bore welts. I think there was a collective fear of popping or exploding. The trip ended early. I have not had this type of reaction again, but there is potential. I really don’t like mosquitoes.
I continue, tripping, flailing, and batting. I would love to see an alligator, safely from a distance. The wrestling is more about fighting my fears, or releasing some very large, very angry, very frustrated aftershock from my sort of recently ended marriage. Honestly, maybe the wrestling is more closely related to my need to wrestle myself, and some of the choices I have made, or refused to make. I find myself calling out to the alligators in hopes they will save me from the mosquitoes. “Here, gator, gator, gator…..” I know they are within chomping distance. I am sure the kingpin is rolling his eyes at me, drolly telling his comrades in bite to leave me alone. He recognizes I have far too much entertainment value in the natural universe. Like a young Chevy Chase only female. Not that I’m young, or he’s considerably old. He just doesn’t do physical, slap-stick humor anymore and I have mastered it in the natural world, or often when I move.
I continue moving at my New York City pace. I haven’t lived in New York City for well over 27 years, but as my mother likes to say, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you can’t take the city out of the girl”. I walk as though I am going to offer the city the deal of the century, and announce it on Wall Street, or as though I’m going to fight city hall, and win. That’s another little ditty my mother likes to share, “You can’t fight City Hall, Ginger.” She always adds my name to this one. Only I don’t have any interest in fighting City Hall, I have smaller fish to fry, or catch and release. Anyway, I am walking quickly, I am sweating profusely, I am armed with my camera and I am determined to find an alligator. Or a Black Bear. We’ll see how the hike goes…
Shortly after I got out of my car to begin this hike, two women from the Tallahassee Bible Thumping Book Club, started their hike. I assume this is their sacred affiliation because the van they park boldly advertises such and the t-shirt one of them wears also says, “Tallahassee Bible Thumping, Can I get a Hell, No?” I am surprised not to have caught up with them, or overtaken them with my New York City pace. I let it go, because I think this journey is about letting go more than anything else. It is about being in the moment and letting my free spirit rise and shine and sing out it’s Glory Glory. I decide they must have gone the other way and we will meet at the half-way point and say a little howdy do.
Along the way, there are beautiful sights, if no wildlife. I have my camera and hope to photo journal the adventure. Whenever I stop to take a picture the mosquitoes begin some sort of group violation and attack full force. I am sure the photos will all be a blur, as I swat and bat and click. I am sweating profusely and hopeful that I am almost at the car. By now I am a little crazed, wrestling alligators, and somehow happy to be holding two special giant sized southern pine cones. Don’t ask me why these two are special, they just are. When I decide something like this is special, it must be. I realize there are a gazillion giant sized southern pine cones everywhere, including in the parking lot right next to my car.
I realize with all the necessary swatting and batting and tripping over exposed roots and possible werewolves, holding two extra large pine cones doesn’t make a great deal of sense. This is confirmed by the Tallahassee Bible Thumping Book Club committee, moments later, near the start of the trail. Hmm? Where could they have been, they didn’t pass me, nor I them. One of them says, “Ooooh, You have your big pine cones.” She says that in the way that only a southern woman can with two parts southern charm and 98 parts southern smackdown. Y’all know what I mean. She is smiling too thinly, and lilting too highly while still suggesting I am the dumbest ass on the trail. What she means to say is, “Hon’, what the hell do you need two big, ugly ass, pine cones for, and you can have 100 of those right near your car.” She knows I have been sweating and swatting and all around tripping myself up freely and quite unnaturally. I look up and notice Mrs. Hell No’s pants are unbuttoned and there’s more than a few pine needles in her hair. I want to say, “Yes, and aren’t you two enjoying God’s humping and thumping divine pleasures?” With a Yankee Doodle snarl and my carefully constructed stink eye. Only instead I say, inaudibly and embarrassed, “Yes, I have my pine cones” smiling weakly.
In the end, as I approach my car, I recall something my son said on our many hiking adventures sans mosquitoes, “You are afraid of heights, your knee pops and grinds, and you freak out about mosquitoes. Why do you do this? Why is this your hobby?” He implored. And so it goes, another moment of the big reveal on my journey toward me and beyond. I love the natural world, and I have some hell-bent conflict with it. Y’know like man against man, or man against self? I am woman against nature. But I am also a certifiable nature girl. But most of all, I do this because life is going on out there and I want to live it. I want to participate even if the participation is the solo variety. Although I have a very entertaining, slapstick physicality in the living, moving world, I need to move. I also like the challenge and the benefit to wrestling; self, alligators, real or imagined, and my fears full-on.
In my car I suddenly realize, I don't have one mosquito bite. The cancer enhancing bug repellant did the trick. Next time I will wear earplugs and take some great photos, and lunch with the bear and alligator. I may even admit to the Tallahassee Bible-Thumping Book Club Co-Chairs that it was a bit silly for me to carry those two giant pine cones around that way, but I will continue to share, that I can't explain it, but that's just one of the many unique and special features that God Almighty blessed me with. Does anyone want to share a testament of faith and see my lucky quarter or the bent and rusted railroad nail in my car? Feel free to admire my pine cones.