I was still a young man in 1979 when Hurricane David swept his destruction across the Caribbean. Although less devastating to the state of Florida, arriving on the heels of an extremely wet previous tropical depression, one that left many areas already saturated, this deluge of fresh rain water pushed rapidly to their limits and beyond, many waterways already at near capacity.
I recall loading into the back of my father’s ford pickup one afternoon in the aftermath and heading out for those dirt roads in the area of Lakes Florence and Poinsett. As we made our way out through the marshlands and dry season cow pastures, the only land remaining above water was that used as roadways, and only stretches of those were available.
I don’t know how many acres of cat-tailed wet-lands were then visible only as lake surface, but as far as my eyes could see there remained only occasional brief patches of vegetation. I believe these marked some form of earth-work, raised perhaps for fencing or private dirt roads.
Along the sides of the drier paths taken by my father’s ford, the grass and shrubbery was alive, crawling with literally thousands of homeless rats. Sportsmanship aside, having brought my BB rifle with me, I couldn’t resist making the odd rat do the Daisy Dance and leap backwards into the water.
Although actual statistics may prove me wrong, I remember Hurricane David as the wettest storm I’ve ever seen. To illustrate, the area behind my parent’s house was for many years, a block of dry woodland bordered along each side by mounds of hardened muck removed from canal bottoms. Dug to help control mosquito population, these canals were and still are very common. This mounding however, resulted in the retention of the plethora of rain-water gifted by David. From inches to feet, water covered the entire span of woodlands, forcing larger creatures away and smaller creatures to climb.
Foolish beyond measure, my brother and I discovered by wading, probably bare-footed, out through the submerged woodland we so often roamed when dry, that Snakes hung in the branches of shrubs and young trees like ornaments from Christmas Pines.
Many of these I’m sure, were probably harmless non-venomous water-snakes, Garter snakes, Racers and Indigos; but odds are not all. From experience I knew this same patch of woods as home to many Pygmy Rattlers and Diamond Backs, while the surrounding canals were famous for Alligator Snappers and Cotton Mouths.
Already rare by this time, the beautifully colored, red-on-yellow-kill-a-fellow Coral Snake was known to utilized the most potent toxin of any southern snake. Always at home in the brush as a youngster, I can remember capturing no more than two of these beauties. In all I only recall having seen a half-dozen or so of the secretive serpents. Its near twin, the Scarlet King-snake, also beautifully colored was even more rare to encounter.
I haven’t quite figured out just how all this musing relates to the lagoon system, except for that most any of these slithering denizens could be found along any shore-line, were at home on spoil islands, or sliding soundlessly through the fresh water marshes bordering the estuary. Many times I have been inclined to detour as not to step on, or over a twin-fanged resident.
Easily I could rename this blog The Serpent and I, but that is not what this is about. If anything, this blog is simply a place for me to record memories of a Florida that will not be seen again by future generations.
SSMatthews Barefoot Poetry April 27 2016