Hammock Scrapbook

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I arrived in Sebring FL Easter weekend in 1989, camped in Highlands Hammock State Park, loved it, got a lot of writing done, just after I’d sworn off writing, have never been able to afford it, have never been able to not do it: to not write, not for long. I had just enough money from a sale in Fort Lauderdale to get to NYC, the only place I’ve ever been able to support myself, but spent it instead writing in Sebring till that money was gone: I’ve been stuck ever since, but boy, do I love Highlands Hammock and Highlands County water ways. I write here, and I fish here.

Since 1989 I’ve been scribbling Highlands Hammock stories, and Highlands water stories. Maybe I’ll make a menu of them, meantime, try your own search. Today’s news reports a python in Australia killing and swallowing a wallaby, https://ph.news.yahoo.com/python-devours-wallaby-giant-meal-australian-ranger-042520164.html

Forty minutes for the swallowing! three months worth of food for that snake!

I launch this scrapbook file to tell a couple of other swallowings in the wild stories:

(Some of this I may already have told online, but I’d rather tell it twice by mistake than fail to tell it once from caution.)

One day in 1990 I was giving my tram tour along Highland Hammock State Park’s South Canal when we spotted an alligator swallowing a ‘possum. The next afternoon that same alligator in the same spot was still swallowing the same ‘possum! I have a photograph but I don’t think I’ve scanned it yet. I do pretty good considering there’s no budget, never has been. Twenty four hours had passed and the gator did have most of the ‘possum swallowed: all of the tail was still outside the mouth.
One evening a month or two after that I was fishing Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek from the dam. A loud crunch made me look up. An alligator had a big catfish stuck in its gullet. The alligator was trying to crush the catfish so it could swallow it. The gator had gotten its mouth vertical, like a funnel. But the catfish had gotten itself vertical so that it was head up, tail down. The catfish’s spines were locked on the gator’s jaws. The ‘gator had broken the catfish’s back, crunched its ribs, but the catfish’s spines by the jaw still kept it hooked to the outside of the gator, not the inside. The next evening I returned: that gator was still in the same position! 24 hours! But the catfish was maybe in inch further swallowed than it had been. I think both those critters knew what patience was for.

[Early 1990s] The bole of my beloved grandfather Sabal palm has finally followed its lost top onto the ground. It will be a while before the last traces have completely disappeared: that is, been recycled.

Habitat like the cypress swamp shown above offers tricky four-dimensional architecture to a fly fisherman like me. The fly, rod, and line normally require twenty to sixty clear feet behind you for the backcasts and ten to thirty clear feet above your head. Of course I don’t fish in the publicly accessible part of the park, but I do wade in cypress swamps.

(This section started out as a note to my old cover page, Broadway pk. Other stories and comments about Highlands Hammock have been accumulating over the years throughout my home page. I move the file to its own folder in the personal stories directory where I’ll have as much room as I need to add to it.
I’ll also gather (eventually) either the other stories or make links to them.)
A start:
Occam’s Razor Charlie Bowlegs Creek Chat Menu Science & Society
I’ll come back and make links:
Occam’s Razor

2004 10 22 The four hurricanes of this summer really tore up the area. I checked on the park just before Hurricane Charley and right after all four of them. Work I did to clear the paths was largely wasted: like washing the car just before another mud slide.
Yesterday I roamed as well as fished the state park’s Seven Lakes and today I fished “my” weedy lake on what’s called the south property. I am startled to realize that far more, perhaps four times, the number of trees down slipped their moorings from flooding rather than got blown down in the gale winds.
The front lake (most westward) in Seven Lakes now comes almost to the road! Places I normally wade that are up to my knees are now up to my gullet. The south property lake though is over a different aquifer. The water there seemed normal, if not a little low.

This is the section in which I mean to say nice things about the hammock, the cypress swamp, the flatwoods … Criticism of the state’s stewardship has been on hold except among my cop stories. The state monopolizes care taking, butchers it, but succeeds in interfering with those trying to do it right. I swear to tell my most recent experience ASAP.

2006 04 14 Boa constrictors in the Everglades National Park are in the news. One recently choked to death trying to swallow a twelve foot alligator, the ‘gator apparently already a corpse. Boas can be bought as “pets.” I don’t imagine that the buyers are told that the snake can grow to twelve feet by the time it’s two years old.

I once had a next door neighbor addicted to weird collections. His gigantic marine fish aquaria one day disappeared, his wife, or expense, no doubt intervening, to be replaced by wall to wall aquaria occupied by snakes. One of the snakes was longer than ten feet and I was unpleasantly present one day when it took a dump I doubt an elephant would have been capable of. Within days after all snakes, all aquaria, were gone. Wives can be a pain; wives can be good for more than one thing.
Wintering in the Everglades 1988-1989 I was a member of a team which bagged an eighteen foot boa constrictor from the bushes of a camp ground that had a large human population living there or passing through daily.

As a kid I remember stories about alligators in the sewers of New York City. People bought baby alligators in Florida, brought them home, changed their minds, and flushed them down the toilet. Alligators are 6″ at birth, reach only about two feet by age two. Still, they’ll never be domesticated, never be petable, safe around children (or adults, other pets: dogs, cats …). Some alligators survived the flushing and thrived in the sewer. I doubt that any grew to the sizes I see regularly around here: 12′, 14′ … But a New Yorker venturing into the sewer might not have enjoyed encountering one merely 4′ or 6’.

In the waters local to central Florida I have no fear of alligators of any size. I wade among them all the time. But, if I stepped where one was hiding, I know I well might lose a leg. It’s their reflex to snap if their flank is touched. A breeding male might not be his usual cowardly self. A female with a brood might turn a blind eye should I snatch one of her babies; or might decide to take exception. Better not to chance it.

Anyway, the boa constrictors in the Everglades have been breeding. If I wade into the pool of a big male alligator, he’ll probably yield the turf to me: unless he’s starving, or injured, or really pissed. But I don’t want to be near any big boa constrictor no matter his mood.

Hey, why don’t we flush baby anacondas down the toilet? Eighteen feet? Fast as lightning? Stronger than a bull? Pissed off all the time.

Speaking of the boa choking to death trying to swallow the dead ‘gator, I am reminded of difficulties alligators themselves have. Fifteen years ago one of my park “interpretation” trams passed an alligator in the South Canal with a dead ‘possum in its mouth. (I have a photo and may scan it.) The next day’s trams saw the same ‘gator in the same position: the ‘possum’s hind end and the whole of its tail was not yet swallowed!

One evening, from that same period, fishing Little Charlie Bowlegs Creek by the park dam, I heard a crunch. The sound of breaking bones was coming from a large alligator in the shallows near a bank maybe twenty feet away who had raised his head and jaws to the vertical in an attempt to get a good sized catfish to go down the chute. The catfish had its stabbing fins set rigidly to the horizontal. That catfish didn’t want to go one further centimeter down that gullet.

Deep dark was approaching, the mosquitoes were already out in force, but I couldn’t leave. An hour, two hours later, I couldn’t see that that catfish was one inch closer to the reptilian maw.
Eventually the ‘gator would get it, swallow it, digest it; but not that evening.

After a good size meal though, an opossum, a good size catfish, the ‘gator may not need to eat again for a week.

So why would a ‘gator try to drown and drag off an already helpless man? Let him rot. Tear off a good piece. Next week, tear off another good piece. …

Spring of 1999 I spent a whole night and half the next day canoeing the Everglades with my fishing rod. Way the hell out by dawn, at the intersection of my canal with the major canal running down to Miami, the first gray of day showed me an island. A bit more light showed the island moving closer to me, floating with the current. Then I noticed the trees filled with black vultures.

With the island a bit closer and in a bit more light, I was bewildered. It looked like the Michelin man, floating on his back: fourteen feet tall but horizontal, supine. It was a dead alligator, a giant.
[2016 08 06 There’s an analogous story with pic online this morning: a bloated dead whale spotted by a fisherman in Australia: https://www.yahoo.com/news/floating-alien-orb-spotted-fisherman-off-australian-coast-152113158.html%5D

Ah ha. The vultures were waiting for it to rot till the internal gases exploded a hole in the tough hide. No turkey vultures had yet appeared.

The turkey vultures see very well and have very keen smell. But they don’t have the can-opener strength of the black vultures. Sometimes they have to wait for a cousin to start the meal for them. Once the carcass is opened, all can eat. In this case there was more than enough smell for the black vultures to have found, but more time would pass before there was any meal for anybody.

“Memorial

The road through Highlands Hammock State Park was no doubt cut to pass under the great arching branch of this ancient oak. You may perhaps get an idea of the scale when I tell you that men operated on the old tree working from inside, getting in through the concrete sealed rift you see in the picture in the parent file. Alas, not only did the great branch fall before I first met the tree a decade and a half ago, much of the remainder has since fallen. What’s left may still live another six or seven hundred years. I don’t think anyone expects the tree to make quite 2,000 years of age.
See how thick and dark the hammock is beyond the tree. No: not to the right: that’s a path. Another 1,000 year old, maybe two-thirds of a mile from this one, has been measured thirty-six feet in circumference around the bole! Hammock is of course an Indian word. It means shade, and hammocks are Florida’s version of broad-leafed forest, mixing palms with oaks and other hard woods. Here is that tree from the trail side.

From some angles you can see some of the CCC’s original concrete truss hanging loose as more and more of the tree drops to the ground. Ah, mortality. Did I tell how I met one of the CCC workers who’d worked inside this very tree? At the state’s annual reunion. He was on my tour and I got to introduce him to the crowd’s applause.

2006 04 14 I visited this oak a week or so ago and nearly all of the old parts of the upper tree were on the ground: so sad. But there’s a stout new section growing tall and broad on its own. The old base is still the base.

The Hammock is surrounded (and protected) by other environments I’ve subsequently fallen in love with. Easiest to feel the mystery of is the cypress swamp. A cat walk keeps visitors up above the snakes and ‘gators. Cypress trees can also go 1,000 years or more but I don’t know of any that veteran in this swamp. Visit Corkscrew for some really ancient ones.
Palms don’t enjoy those kinds of genes, but one Sabal palm in the Hammock was over 100 feet tall before it lost it’s top. Poor old grandpa.

Bay heads, pine flatwoods, and scrub also have character you can learn to love.

The prose related to images at the original K. If I can I’ll refit pictures.
This catwalk you notice passes hardwood trees, some evergreen, some deciduous. The palm fronds growing from the forest floor will grow to become the familiar sabal palms with the familiar trunk, carrying the living boot with its fronds aloft. (Notice also that my graphics are larger these days than formerly. Connections, CPUs, are faster, monitors larger …)
2006 04 14 I have a great deal more to relate about the hammock, the state park there, the state park system, my experiences with the hammock, with the state park and its administration …

Also:

Highlands Hammock
Highlands Hammock Litter
Hammock Scrapbook
SNAFU at Wrede’s Wildlife
Butt Patrol
Season Visits
Stories by Age by Theme by Others
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About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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