Inspiration on the Wild Wekiva

By Charles Towne

As soon as I glimpsed the small group of whitetail deer approaching the river I beached the canoe and quietly stepped into the shallow water near the shore.  I was wearing cutoffs and an old pair of sneakers as well as my well-used camouflage gear.

The water was cool as I waded quietly to the downstream side of a large deadfall tree and positioned my camera securely on its tripod. It always leaves me wondering as to just what is lurking under the surface of that murky, coffee colored water of the Wekiva.  Alligators, large and small, populate the area in abundance.

I could see the deer through the trees as they neared the river’s edge.  I was ready. 
 At a time like this, when that special moment arrives, there is almost an electric sense of appreciation and anticipation, and even though the deer are a common enough photo subject there is always that slim chance that the opportunity to capture something truly unique just might present itself.

It was just at that moment that I was startled as something unexpectedly nudged me in the small of the back.  My first thought was that a raft of water hyacinth drifting on the river’s surface had collided with me but I changed my mind rather quickly. 
Here in Florida’s wetlands Nerodia taxispilota is quite common. The Brown Water snake is the most common of Florida’s snakes. A heavy-bodied, non-poisonous snake, dirty brown in color, with darker brown patches on its body, and a blunt, mean looking, head, it has been known to attain lengths nearing six feet, but that is by far the exception.

Brownie is always ready to bite the everlasting, goobery snot out of you, and as much as I dislike getting bit by him, I find his habit of spraying even more repugnant for he can spray a smelly liquid mess from his anus that seems to invariably be aimed at the face.

Nice idea, what?

The whitetail deer were still up on the riverbank and I was doing my best to ignore the persistent efforts of the snake and focus on the job at hand.
    I was getting ready to reach back and gently take hold of the snake to guide it on its way downstream when I glanced down just in time to see the end of its tail break the water’s surface under my right elbow.  It was then that I forgot all about filming the deer. 
The snake now had my undivided attention, for I realized that it was not a brown water snake, but a large specimen of Agkistrodon Piscivorus, Commonly known as the cottonmouth water moccasin.

This guy could just possibly ruin my day!

The cottonmouth, sluggish from the cool water, was languidly making efforts to gain access to my shoulders. As it persisted, I could feel its head gently probing, exploring for some purchase to enable it to crawl onto this weird, uncooperative stump, namely me.
   I stood very still, in the cool, chest deep in darkened water as it washed past me, wishing that I was somewhere, anywhere, else.

Again the snake’s heavy body moved in the current, pressing against the small of my back as its tail brushed against my right leg.

   Silently I prayed, ‘Dear God, please make it leave.’  Just then I heard splashing in the river and glancing downstream I was just in time to see the deer hit the water, two, then one by itself, followed by two more. 
They swam across the narrow stream, and then, they were gone, vanishing into the dense underbrush along the river. 
  It was a beautiful sight and I wish I could have filmed it. Finally, the snake swam around to my front, and drifted against my tripod, floating there on the water’s surface no more than sixteen inches from my upper chest.

The snake was larger than I had guessed, fat and perhaps in excess of four and a half feet in length. I leaned backward, trying to make myself taller in an effort to get my face as far away from the formidable reptile as possible. I was sweating in spite of the cool water as those mean little eyes examined first the camera and then me.  I watched the snake’s tongue slowly flick out through the little indent in its lips made for the purpose, the ends dipping, quivering, hesitating, and then withdrawing, oh so casually as it tasted the air.    I was well aware of the fact that a cottonmouth of this size would likely have fangs three-quarters of an inch in length.  If disturbed, its bite and subsequent envenomation could, if not kill, cause tissue damage resulting in the possible loss of a limb, and a strike to the body could be dangerous to the extreme.

The cottonmouth’s venom is a veritable witch’s brew of digestive enzymes as well as both hemotoxic and neurotoxic venoms.  As if this is not bad enough; vile bacteria from the snake’s decaying prey is introduced into the wound.  This drastically increases the risk of wet gangrene and subsequent tissue loss. 
The snake explored my chest, half-heartedly rearing up to gain access to its goal on my head and shoulders. The snake then turned its attention to my camera, crawling up until it was draped ornamentally over my camera, with eight or ten inches of its body undulating and waving in the air in front of my face.

You will understand if I say that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Finally, tiring of this little game, Brownie launched himself into the river and swam across the stream, to finally disappear into the dense waterweeds along the shore.
  I was praising God as I picked up my camera and silently made my way back to the canoe, but It wasn’t until I was paddling the canoe back up the narrow waterway that I began breathing normally again.

AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER

Praise you O Lord, I praise you with all my heart, all of my mind, and with all my spirit, Praise you, o my soul for you are worthy of my praise.  How many times have you kept me from harm, how many times have you rescued me from danger? You O God are worthy of my praise and adoration for I would not, could not, exist without you.  Praise you God, praise you in all the earth, for you are my God, and in you do I trust.  Praise you Father, for your love lasts forever.  Holy, holy, holy, is your name.  In Jesus’ blessed name I ask it, Amen



Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Dear NH, those of us that have been raised to enjoy a special appreciation for the wild places are blessed indeed, yes, blessed a thousand fold. I suppose it is our duty to share our experiences that others may see through our eyes and perhaps learn a like love. Blessings on you my friend, Chaz

  2. Charlie, you give me goosebumps when I read today’s story. You have a wonderful sense of nature in the wildlife around us here in Central Florida. Keep your articles coming.

  3. WOW! Great story telling of an awesomely scary encounter with nature! As I was reading, I found myself physically backing away from my cell phone as if I was trying to move away from the snake. So glad there was a happy ending Mr. Charlie.

  4. Just curious. How long did it take you to get back out there in the water after that experience. You probably would have to pull me kicking and screaming.

  5. Herb my friend, Goosebumps are good. When we get goosebumps it is a pretty good indication that we are alive, therefore you must be alive! Blessings on you pal. Chaz

  6. Dear Roxanne, yeah, and even after these years it seems at times that I can still see those little eyes staring back into my own. Sometimes life presents experiences that stay with us and we have to look back and praise Papa God for deliverance and that was one of those times. Thanks for the comment, I am so glad you enjoyed the article. Bless you dear friend, Chaz

  7. Sandra, many years ago I was mauled by and african lion. I dreamed of the encounter, experiencing it over and over again. In order to stop the dreams I forced myself to go into the cage with another lion. I knew that if I didn’t do it when I did my days working with animals would be over. We must force ourselves to go beyond the safe and the comfortable at times to realize what life really is. I enjoy as a great joy helping others overcome their fears. Blessings to you and yours. Chaz

  8. You have presented yet another reason for never leaving the dry confines of a canoe while enjoying the Wekiva river. Don’t like or trust snakes – never have and never will – learned that from another story – the one about Adam, Eve, a snake and an apple…

  9. Mike, I don’t really know what to say other than to agree with you. I have handled some pretty humungous snakes in my time, some poisonous and some not. I always prefer to err on the side of caution and believe those of the snakey persuasion are going to bite. I have been bit three times by venomous snakes and next time I am going to avoid the experience if at all possible. You, my friend are a wise man. Blessings, Chaz

  10. Another amazing story, Chuck!!
    I have to agree with Mike…
    I am NOT getting out of that
    canoe…no matter how much
    I want a great picture!
    Safety first!! Thank you, Lord
    your protection all around us.

  11. Dear CSG, what is that old saying about caution being the better part of valor? There is also that old saying that goes something like this, “the the Good Lord takes care of old men, children and fools.” I will let you and Mike decide which of those three categories you want to put me under. Please be kind to me. Thanks oodles Cindy, blessings on you dear friend, Chaz

  12. My deer friend, another fantastic tale/tail? about nature! I would have had a great deal of difficulty remembering that Papa God will never give you more than you can handle.If I were in your place, I am thankful that you are the better man! If I would have survived it would have been because I was petrified and unable to move!

  13. Dear Terri, as my editor stated above the photo of the red deer on the stream is stock image. I believe the photos that Mr Connell has selected for my articles have certainly illustrated the theme of each photo very well. The red deer are found scattered through europe, and asia. Not only the color sets them apart but the overall size, and configuration of the antlers. If one holds the mouse on the photo you will invariably get a bit of info regarding the picture. On the day in question I was there to film white tails swimming the river. Please keep the comments coming and many blessings on you and yours. Charles Towne

  14. Richard, as I remember once I recognizes the snake for what species it was I didn’t do too much moving around. All I could do was play like a tree and be real, real still, so perhaps we are of the same ilk after all! Bless you my friend, Chaz

  15. WOW! I’ve had one bad time with a similar situation! Coming back from Deland Florida, and to an Indian Mound location on the south shore of Lake Monroe, just West of Sanford, Florida, I decided to stop and try, once again to find and old location in the Cypress trees. There was a place that was used for an 1890’s recreational park and one of the items I wanted to find was a low place, next to a dance floor, where they would discard old bottles. The day had turned dark, with a storm moving in and I forgot to bring a knife or my Ruger .22 with me. Still wanting to try to find the old dance floor, I moved from one high piece of land to another….until I heard the unmistakable hiss of a snake, to my left! Knowing it was a warning, from a cottonmouth, I stopped moving. It had turned a lot darker and it was hard to see the ground around the small mound I was standing on, and I couldn’t see well enough to make out the snake! After a few minutes I tried to move to the right and then I heard another Hiss! It was a pair of snakes I had wandered into and I couldn’t see either one, only hear where the hissing was coming from. I froze! For what seemed an eternity, I waited, and finally tried again to take a step from my little mound of dirt to another sticking up out of the swampy ground. This time I didn’t hear a hiss and decided to make a quick exit! Finally made it out to where I could see what was around me and walked out to higher ground! I made three promises that day! One, always thank God for helping me out of bad situations, and next, never enter a wooded and swampy location without my knife and Ruger .22!

  16. Ahhh Don, my day predates the Ruger by a tad and the Colts Woodsman was my old standby even though I don’t remember ever killing a snake with it. My father taught me to carry a hiking stick when in situations such as you describe. I was always of the frame of mind to catch and examine a snake rather than kill it. I especially like the quote by Henry David Thoreau, “Every creature is better alive than dead, men, moose and pine trees, and he who understands it a’right will rather preserve its life than destroy it.” May our friend God continue to teach each of us is my prayer. Blessings on you and yours, Chaz

    P;.S. It is an interesting phenomenon that man finds it so easy to kill?

  17. Dear Mindy, I always thought if I were to have another son( which is highly unlikely at my age) I would nick name him “Goosebumps.” Just think of it, Goosebumps Towne! It has a nice ring to it don’t you think? I am glad that you liked the article. Blessings on you and yours, Chaz

  18. P.S. It is an interesting phenomenon that man finds it so easy to kill?

    How true! I would not have attempted to shoot either of the two snakes that day, even if I could of seen them. I would have used the knife to make a walking stick, before going into the cypress swamp! The mistake I made was to venture into the swamp, when it was so overcast and dark. Once I was in, and realized I was in trouble, that was when I was praying that God would help me out. Of all the years I spent in the woods, I came close to just about every kind of snake except a Boa! Never killed one of them, and they never tried to bite me either! I made a dumb mistake that day, and if I had my Ruger .22 the most I would have done would be to fire it to make them leave. I was Never a Hunter! Didn’t like the idea of killing animals. I also had a shotgun and never hunted dove or quail, just target shooting!

  19. Don ol’ pal, How blessed we are to have such a living, breathing relationship with nature. As I write these short stories I find myself yearning for the wild places, for there I am able to be revitalized and reinvigorated and close to our Holy friend, Papa God. Blessings on you my friend, Chaz

  20. I’m never surprised by any adventure that you share. One of my early memories of you took place when I was in 1st grade . While walking home from school, I noticed that a crowd had formed around the base of a tree, the people looking up into the branches – where you were perched (your red hair flaming and bare chested). You were retrieving a swarm of bees for a farmer. After reaching into the middle of the swarm and allowing it to encircle your arm, you climbed down carefully and onto a wagon pulled by the farmer’s truck. There you sat holding the swarm while the farmer slowly drove away, transporting the bees to this home. Early on, you learned to keep cool, not to overreact when confronted by a dangerous situation involving wild animals. I’m sure you could share many related stories.

  21. Dear Dr. Judith, that is one that I haven’t thought about for a long time. I have been stung by bees, hornets, wasps, and scorpions, bit by oodles of critters, chased, folded spindled and mutilated and I am not done yet. Thanks for the reminder sis. Blessings on you both, Chaz

  22. Iris, I am not so inclined as to quit just yet so you can expect more, much more! May Papa God bless you and keep you and yours. Chaz

  23. Jorge, oh yes my friend, it is fun. Sometimes it is especially fun after the fact when the pain is diminished and the blood has stopped flowing, but it is fun. Thanks pal, Chaz

  24. sometimes you were not alone on your adventures. its lucky i cant read or write maybe ill learn English. how about the time the python bit you on the face. or the time you cut your foot roughhousing in the rain and nearly passed out before noticing the blood squirting 20 inches every time your heart beat.

  25. Life is..life, and it is all good. I always figured that injuries to the face just added character to character. Bless you my #3 child. Papa

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