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.