Not wanting to wait until I found myself in the closing jaws of an alligator or eating what I thought was lettuce but turned out to be one of the many poisonous Everglades plants, I decided to do some much needed research. I made this decision in Key West, however, the day before we were to plunge into the wilds of the Everglades to set up camp. This limited my research options.
I only found one book in Key West about the Everglades. Fortunately, it contained the information I was looking for. I quickly learned that the Everglades could kill you 50 different ways the moment you step out of your car.
To start, there are water moccasins, copper heads, and two kinds of rattlesnakes, and perhaps various species of constrictors and pythons that have escaped into the wild. As long as you don’t sneak up on them, or go swimming with them, or insult them in some way, the snakes will leave you alone. But it is not uncommon for a visitor to be attacked by more than one snake at time in the Everglades, even more than one species of snakes. Or so I imagined. Because one has little to do in Key West when sitting on the beach drinking Red Stripe after Red Stripe while reading about the Everglades, except contemplate all the forms in which death could visit you there.
I also learned that the Everglades is home to Florida panthers. Seeing as how they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in a while and are forced to live in a swamp, I knew to be wary of them. But I figured they’d be rather unwieldy trying to negotiate through mangroves and quicksand on ice skates (even if there are hockey skates). How silly I felt (and tipsy) when I continued my reading and found that these “panthers” are actually rather large carnivorous cats. To add to the confusion, the book compared them to other “mountain lions” around the U.S., like the “Nittany Lions” of Pennsylvania (or the “Panthers” of Pitt).
Thoroughly confused (and more than a little worried), I then learned about, what else, alligators. I understand the issue with alligators. I had no intention of poking any with a stick or thrashing about woundedly in the water. But what I didn’t know is that there are also crocodiles in Florida. I’m not sure if I can tell the difference between a gator and a croc, but I hoped this confusion wouldn’t lead to some sort of reptilian meal-related mishap, for I figured with my luck, I’d be staring at the open mouth of one of these animals (after having jumped into the water in a frantic attempt to escape a pack of snakes (or hockey players)), trying to determine if it were a crocodile or alligator (I think you count their teeth, or make a bag out of them and see how it wears, or something), when the other kind would sneak up behind me and CHOMP, there would go my glove hand.
Compared to the various animals who want to kill you, there are also any number of poisonous plants. In particular, there is a tree called the Poisonwood. The book provided helpful pictures. The problem was I was drunk, so the picture of the Poisonwood tree looked to me like a picture of an Oak tree. Or a maple tree. Or any tree, really. (On a side note, the picture didn’t improve the next day during my hang-over.) Since we would be camping, I was worried about inadvertently using poisonwood for the camp fire. I imagine that breathing the smoke of a burning poisonwood log would be rather irritating. It might make your lungs itchy, necessitating all sort of inventiveness and contortions as you make a desperate yet vain attempt to scratch your lungs.
The Everglades are full of other comparatively minor nuisances, such as thick swarms of mosquitoes (unbearable at some times of the year, the book said; oh, and Deet doesn’t work), biting flies, wasps, hornets, bees, buzzards, gulls, jelly fish, and any number of allergens at all times of the year. As we drove east on the Overseas Highway, I began to question why we were going to camp in the Everglades. Then I remembered: it's beautiful. And it was! (Pictures still forthcoming.)