My dad was a great guy. This might be my biggest downfall. I grew up believing that everyone was experiencing the wondrous things I was experiencing.
Every weekend was an adventure to be looked forward to. No matter what the weather, we would be out on the sand dunes in the jeep, (if we needed to be close to home), or for bigger adventures, we’d pack up the family, and drive out to the everglades, either for a weekend, or just a day outing in the airboat or swamp buggy.
I was the youngest of three daughters. I became the most likely candidate for the greased pole climb, (first kid to get the paper plate off the top of the very slippery pole), or, the pig catch, (same theory, catch the very fast piglet as it squealed and ran).
I knew how to do the mosquito dance, listen for rattlers before taking steps, flick scorpions and black widows off me or someone else, (unless of course I needed to jar them up for show-and-tell), and to unceramoniously peel leaches from my sisters.
We always had an impromptu nursery at our house; my dad would bring abandoned baby animals home that he found while working at the sub-stations he designed for FPL. Our job was to nurture and care for these babies until the time when they could be again released into the wild. It wasn’t at all unusual to have a baby alligator or my boa in the pool with you as you swam. You just learned how to avoid getting your toes bitten.
The everglades can be an amazing place, full of beauty and solitude, grunting gators and the whirl of airboat engines. The everglades can also be a frightening place. My dad called the ‘glades at night, “blacker than the inside of a cow”. And he was right. The blackness was so utterly complete; there was no difference between eyes wide-open …eyes shut.
But it’s what you can see; do see, when your eyes are open that will frighten you for life. Things that will creep into your subconscious when you’re in that land between sleep and wake. Things that stay with you some 30+ years later come to you on sleepless nights when everyone else in the house has been asleep for hours. When the curtain has fallen so that small crack shows the dark outside, and shows the dark outside you. Your heart is in your throat, wanting to fix that curtain, but you are too petrified to move.
But my unanswered questions are of the lights. Who and what did they belong to? Will I ever have the privilege/horror of seeing them again? Don’t I secretly wish to see them again, from a fresh, grown-up perspective? The everglades are one of the most primal, ancient and beautiful places on earth. Can we explain this aberration away as gases rising from the swamp? What I saw was conscious, watching, precise, deliberate in movement, never random, and somehow alive.
Watch for the lights if you ever find yourself in the beauty of the everglades. They move where they shouldn’t and faster than they should. They follow you when you wish they wouldn’t, and disappear when you get used to looking for them. No noise accompanies these lights, no movement of disturbed air that rustles the saw grass. Light in formations that appear out of nowhere, that goes back into nowhere as quickly as they came.