As I was leaving my aunt and uncle’s condo this afternoon, I noticed a picture on their table. It was a copy of a picture taken in 1986. I asked if it was a picture from our canoe trip. My aunt said yes, and the conversation and laughter started flowing. Bits and pieces of that memorable trip were new to me now. Either I didn’t hear it, remember it, or it was purposely kept a secret. For instance, I didn’t know the 13-foot alligator, not more than fifteen feet away from us, was called “Big Moe,” or that it “hadn’t been known to hurt anyone yet.” Seriously????
My Uncle Ron had taken this canoe trip once before and encouraged a crew of fourteen family members (a few of us Midwesterners on vacation who didn’t know any better) to go with him to Ocala National Forest for a four hour canoe ride on a spring-fed river. When we kiddingly asked if there were snakes and alligators in the river, he said yes. And we laughed. We KNEW he wouldn’t take us on a dangerous trip. He was a nice guy. After all, he and my aunt babysat for my cousins (a family of six kids) and us (a family of six kids) quite often, at the same time. On one of those babysitting weekends, we showed him a monstrous pile of something (vomit or poop, not sure) from the Turner’s dog, Sandy, so that he would clean it up (we sure as heck were NOT going to do that…we were kids). Instead, he laughed, figuring it was a plastic dog toy put there purposely to fool him and stepped in it with his stockinged foot. We laughed, and he laughed with us. Didn’t get mad. Nice guy.
I guess he got us back, years later. After a two hour trip north to Ocala, Florida, we got out of our cars, chose our canoe partners, and off we went to find our canoes. There was a little sign that said “Beware of alligators and snakes,” or something to that effect. The girls in the group stared at Uncle Ron accusingly, and all he had to say was, “I told you that.” Seriously????
Seven canoes started down that river. We started out at an inlet that only allowed passage of one canoe at a time. Little sun filtered through the thick foliage. If you didn’t pay attention and lean way down low in the canoe at times, you could easily get smacked in the head by a spider filled branch. I was just told (another piece of new information) that we were probably the first group of the day. That is why there were still so many huge spiders in enormous webs on those low hanging branches. It’s probably why one humongous, possibly poisonous banana spider, larger than an adult person’s hand, fell into my sister’s canoe, startling both her and her husband, causing them to jump out. It also caused them to forget, for an instant, about the alligators and water moccasins. The river wasn’t deep there, just very murky. You couldn’t get back into the canoe without finding a patch of sandy bank to steer the canoe to while wading almost knee deep in what could very possibly have been quicksand. I felt terrible for them, but secretly relieved that I was in a canoe with someone as petrified as myself, because it made us extra careful. It didn’t hurt that we were both the praying type. Towards the end, my cousin, Carol, and her husband, decided to take a short cut. We saw them from afar, and didn’t understand the reason for their panic, until we saw the large log near them move, or at least what we thought was a log. It was an alligator. They had no choice but to row, ASAP, back to our group. One by one, every canoe tipped over at some point. Every canoe but one. That happened to be the canoe carrying my aunt and myself. We have an envious group, and the people who got to the shore first started running towards us. My aunt and I are no dummies and knew their plans, and we also saw how crystal clear and devoid of snakes, alligators, and all-things-icky the water was at this point, ten feet from the shore. We chose to dump ourselves over and run.
I’m not sure how long it took before we, the girls, at least, were able to laugh about this little adventure, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t right away. Today, we had a lot of laughs. I can’t wait to revisit this memory with my cousins and sisters when we visit them over spring break, sitting safely, Margaritas in hand, at an outside café off of Siesta Key Beach.