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Sunday, September 19, 2010


September is a bad time to visit the Everglades. Summer rain generates millions of mosquitoes. They descend on the unwary to suck their blood dry. You'd have to be nuts to go there now.

That's why Francesca and I went to Everglades National Park last weekend. We thought I'd be fun to see who was crazy enough to go. Killer skeeters? How could they harm us if we never left our camper?

As we approached the Long Pine camping area we noticed that the entrance station had been boarded up. Hmm. Driving beyond we entered a ghost campground, one devoid of tents, motor homes, and the usual 600 inhabitants. Site after site was empty.

In the distance a chartreuse tent flapped in the breeze. Closer inspection revealed rain fly (roof) missing and three inches of mosquito-breeding water inside. What had happened? I imagined a family abandoning ship in a storm of mosquitoes, rain, or wind.
It happened to me twenty-three years ago.

That night we were also tenting in the 'Glades, in stormy weather. Every few seconds the wind would nearly collapse the canvas. Sleep was impossible. At 2 am we decided to grab the baby and run to the car. When I started back to get the tent it took off like a kite. It even glowed, illuminated by the fluorescent light tumbling inside. It looked pretty cool as it hit the ground and cart-wheeled into the woods.
Saturday's haunted tent probably had a similar story.

Moving on we spied an old man walking our way. He greeted us by saying,

"A covey of Northern Bobwhites just scurried into the bushes".

I assume he was talking in code then remembered what had happened to Dan Rather in the 90's. The man looked quite frail so I did expect the whoopin' that Dan got. The fellow turned out to be a "birder", people that spend their lives searching for rare birds. Insects buzzed around his head as he listened to something in the distance. He asked, "Did you hear that "pioot" sound?".

We had not. Birds and the sounds they make were the last things on our minds.

We wished him well then looked for a campsite. We had 102 to choose from. When we finally stepped out of the van the mosquitoes were not that bad, maybe one on each appendage. That could happen in our backyard.

After sunset the bugs got worse. No campfires for us as we huddled in our VW van for the night.

In the morning we saw another birder armed with binoculars, a long-lens camera, and an I-Pod that could tell you what every bird looks and sounds like. He told us was hoping to find a Cuban Peewee. He was excited as he told us, "You know, its been spotted just three times in this country!"

As the sun was rising he bounded off in hopes of being Number Four.

The mosquitoes were still asleep so we decided to give birding a try. In five minutes we saw a mockingbird, three crows, and two hawks checking out a dead rat. That was enough birding for us so we headed back to the van. That's when Francesca spotted a small bird in some bushes.

I asked, "Are you the elusive Cuban Peewee?"
The bird said nothing, not even "pioot
The lovely Francesca Violich, toothbrush in hand, swats her way through the bugs on her way to the ladies room.

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