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America, animals, less food-related, Parks

Where the Wild Things Are

03.14.11 | 1 Comment

While I was living in China, locals in every city used to tell me to visit the city parks because they were ‘natural.’ Indeed, the pretty plots of grass, flowers and trees wedged between concrete behemoths were both social hubs and the closest one could get to anything containing the slightest whiff of nature. Growing up in Arizona with expansive desert mountain preserves a 5-minute drive from my house, I always chuckled. Those parks in China were no more natural than a Playboy Bunny or Joan Rivers.

On good days in Huzhou, I could see the shape of a mountain hovering behind a veil of haze, and I used to daydream wistfully of hiking out in actual nature. Of course in Florida, where a parking brake and a parka are equally unnecessary, I can only pretend that the dark clouds curling on the horizon are mountains. But one thing I really truly love about Florida is the proximity, no matter where you are, to real nature.

The most obvious aspect of nature is the beach. Florida’s pretty narrow, so no matter where you are, you’re less than two hours from a beach. Most of the time, I’m no more than 15 minutes from one. Since I grew up with California beaches where hermit crabs were the only wildlife, I’ve really had to get used to these things:

To this rube of a native Arizona girl, these blue, translucent, blobulous entities are easily mistaken for garbage washed ashore.

Despite their Saran-wrap like appearance, they are in fact Portuguese Man-O-War, which, if you are stung by one, really hurt. Prior to my arrival here, I had only read about them in Judy Blume’s phenomenal novel Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself. So these little blue bubbles simultaneously filled me with fear of stepping on one and nostalgia for the literature of my adolescent days.

What exacerbates my fear is that some Man-O-War are no bigger than a dime, so they’re easy to miss. It also seems a little unfair that something that looks so gratifyingly fun to squish holds such potential for pain.

As one would expect, avian beings aplenty—aside from the standard pigeons and seagulls there are pelicans.

And…birds that take your food?

Lots of fake fish to catch real ones on the pier.

If you’re really lucky and near warm waters, you may even get to see a manatee nose.

They usually just look like floating brown logs, but they have to come up for air sometime. And aren’t their noses cute when they do!

Moving inland, the whole peninsula is peppered with ever-fewer mangrove coves and salt marshes.

These areas are filled with endless varieties of birds, all of which John can identify from afar, fish, and of course, arachnids with the leg-span of a cereal bowl.

Okay maybe more like a coffee mug.

These are ugly little suckers and they are everywhere. It doesn’t help my heebie-jeebies that my camera is sharp enough to capture the hairs on their glowing yellow legs.

The other critters in these mangrove coves: alligators. And this is what happens to them when they don’t tip:

Notoriously stingy, those gators. John loves to tell me about gators that have eaten boy scouts from canoes and dogs from the shore. This made me feel very at ease when we went canoeing in the mangroves and came across three alligators.

Sometimes nature directly interacts with you. While touring Little Havana in Miami with my family, a lizard jumped onto my dad’s jeans.

And somehow made its way onto my brother’s hand. It was a big photographic moment.

Whatchu lookin’ at?

Maybe he could save me hundreds on my car insurance.

Though I’m still not a Florida-lover, there’s one thing I love about China that has carried over here: people are outside. Not like in China, where everyone walked or rode bikes wherever they were going, but in choice popular places, there are people outside fishing, swimming, sunbathing, rollerblading, biking. In some places still, cars have to yield to something.

Florida’s nature explored in this post:
John D Macarthur StatePark
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center
Lake Worth Pier
Deering Estate at Cutler

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