Category Archives: Florida

I’ll Take Florida, Critters and All

As published in Florida Wildlife Magazine. Illustration by Mike Wright, freelance artist from Longwood, Florida.

They tell me those gigantic wolf spiders are completely harmless, but I don’t believe it. How can anyone say such a thing when people must be tripping and breaking their necks trying to get away from them?

I’ll never forget my first encounter with one. I had just moved back to Florida from Los Angeles, after losing everything in the Northridge earthquake. As I sat on the floor of my condo, the light from a lone, shadeless lamp at my side, I saw a movement from the corner of my eye. I don’t think mere words can describe the terror I felt when I saw that foot-and-a-half-wide creature creeping along my wall. The fact that it was actually a five-inch spider whose shadow was being projected did little to quell my fear; I had never seen such a sight in my life, outside of a 60’s horror flick, that is.

I don’t like to kill things, so I used a broom to encourage it toward an open door. Unfortunately, a palmetto bug big enough to beat me up flew in while I was trying to get the spider out. During the next few months I found that spiders and palmetto bugs weren’t to be my only uninvited guests, so I had to learn other techniques for removal as well.

My brother-in-law taught me how to catch mice with a broom and a paper sack. He’s pretty good at it; over the past 25 years, he’s caught most of the 30+ snakes in his Merritt Island home that way. I’m sure my neighbors thought I was some kind of nut as they watched me, once or twice a week, run out my front door wearing knee-high suede boots and elbow-length rubber gloves, a brown paper bag clutched warily in my hand. I sealed up all the holes around plumbing and any other possible means of entrance for the rodents, and that seemed to take care of the mice–the little field mice, that is.

If it hadn’t been for my neighbor George, I probably would have moved back to LA, earthquakes and all. He was on hand to chase out the huge black tree rat that ran in through my open back door. Even my 17-pound cat was scared of that critter. Usually quite a rodent-hunter, she took one look, dashed through the front door and hid under the car. George was also there to catch the brown thrasher that flew in and took refuge behind the entertainment center. Brooms aren’t too handy in a case like that. And just try using a broom to help a wild rabbit back out the door. I’m here to tell you that a baby rabbit can jump seven feet in any direction–including straight up, even if you are standing directly over him.

My sister Kim says I must have some special attraction for the wildlife because I’m the only one having these adventures, but that’s not true. What about the baby alligator she found under her car, or the opossum that moved into her garage? Then there was the goose that flew down her chimney and into the family room, bringing a terrible mess with it. And surely she hasn’t forgotten about the hundreds of bats she found cohabiting her very-short-term rental in Rockledge?

But in my case, Kim might be right. Who else comes home to find that a flying squirrel has taken up residence in the stove? Unfortunately, the squirrel decided to stay and nest in my oven batting, popping her head up through the burner hole every now and then to see what was going on. The gas man had to come out at midnight to unhook my stove and move it into the woods, and I’m sure he thought I was a nut, too. He kept looking up into the trees, saying, “I don’t see anything flying….” I’ve often wondered what he thought my real reason was for hauling my stove into the woods at midnight. I took the stove apart and removed the dirty batting. Even so, for the next two years, every time I baked brownies there was the faint smell of urine in the air.

When I recount these tales to my Los Angeles friends, their sympathy is overwhelming; they can’t imagine living in such a “wild” place. But when I think about the strange and sometimes annoying animal encounters I’ve had since my return to Florida, I remember the wildlifeless years I spent in LA, where the smog was so thick that I couldn’t see the sky–let alone the birds, and where I never had the occasion to see the five-foot wing spread on a great horned owl as it took off in flight ten yards from my door, and I realize that these adventures have brought an inner peace to me that I never had in LA. Because for me, true quality of life is all about enjoying nature–both human and animal. So I’ll take Florida any day, critters and all.

Take a look at some of my houseguests:
Squirrels: Southern Flying Squirrel, Eastern Gray Squirrel
Spiders: Brown Widow, Wolf Spider, Jumping Spider
Snakes: Ringneck Snake, Pygmy Rattlesnake
Lizards: Eastern Glass Lizard, Green Anole, Brown Anole, Indo-Pacific, Southeastern Skink
Frogs: Green Tree Frog, Little Grass Frog
Birds: Red-bellied Woodpecker, Brown Thrasher
Mice: Florida Mouse, Black Roof / Tree Rat
Eastern Mole
Eastern Lubber Grasshopper
Marsh Rabbit

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Baby birds chirp, hummingbirds slurp, and I write

What’s the affirmation for today?

First I seek JOY, and all else follows.

Once upon a time, my desk window overlooked my garden. Ah, how I loved to sit there and write.

The window faced east, but the rising sun in the morning was blocked by a row of trellises that I’d put in with the help of a friend. There were four trellises, each 8 feet long with a couple of feet between them, and each about 8 feet tall from the ground. The garden part was mostly on the other side of the trellises, facing the street, but that didn’t matter. From my side–the side that I looked out at while writing, I could see the cascading coral honeysuckle vine. Birds–mockingbirds and cardinals–flew in with twigs to build their nests in the woody thicket. Often one of a pair would perch at the top of the trellis, standing guard, shooing away other birds that had the gall to think they might nest there too. Later, after the nest was finished, the pair took turns standing guard while one brought food for the babies. I started my writing around five a.m. and the babies began chirping, or rather, squeaking, around that time too. The squeaks became more frantic, reaching a crescendo as the parent bird, food clutched in its beak, lit on a nearby vine and and began nosing through the thicket to the nest.

trellis butterfly garden with coral honeysuckle vine

One morning, a ruby-throated hummingbird appeared. He zipped from flower to flower, hovering for a few seconds above each to drink the nectar. He seemed to hit them all, but never the same one twice. After that first day, hummingbirds showed up daily, several times a day.

One would think that having such a view would interfere with writing, that it would zap my concentration, but surprisingly, it didn’t. In fact, I wrote faster and better with that view than with any other before or after. I felt buoyed by hope and awe and joy, and those feelings didn’t dissipate when I drew my gaze from the view back to my work.

I’ve come to realize that I have to go to my writing with the expectation of experiencing wonder and joy. For many writers, those feelings come from their self-confidence, from knowing that they will write something they are proud of. I wish I were one of those writers, but I’ve never had self-confidence when it comes to things I create. When I lost my beautiful view after the hurricanes took it away, I lost my joy in writing; I had nothing to look forward to when I entered that room that looked out over a dismal, ravaged landscape.

I’m finally making a new view for myself, one that invites me to sit down and enjoy it while I write. Maybe I won’t always need a beautiful view to experience joy while I write; maybe someday that joy will come solely from within. I just know that to commit to something such as writing, which takes up every second of the “spare” time I don’t have, I need the expectation of joy, so first I seek JOY and I hope all else will follow.

View some photos of my garden on Facebook…


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Raising Serial Killers

I guess I’m raising serial killers. Don’t they say serial killers start out by torturing small animals?

Okay, so I’m talking about my cats, and the small animals are lizards, snakes, butterflies and frogs. That doesn’t make it any less painful—for me anyway. I know it’s all part of nature—this hunting instinct—and I know my cats think they are doing not only a good thing, but something they should receive super kudos for. But I just can’t hand those out. Instead I scream, “Joey, NO! Back off!” and Joey (my orange tabby) backs off, looking confused.

I took the day off from work so I could clean the house, something that I hate more than anything else, and so, of course, I immediately went shopping. Not for clothes or shoes. (I evidently was not born with that gene.) I went shopping and bought tile grout sealer so I could seal the grout on my new, beautiful tile on my new, beautiful back porch, and I bought some weird rachet screwdriver that stores all the different types of attachments inside its see-through handle—which will only come in handy if I actually put them back into the see-through handle, which may or may not happen. And then I came home to clean the house.

I’ve been home 45 minutes and I’ve already rescued 3 lizards. Sometimes I hear the bell on the collar of one of my cats jingling away like mad and I hear the cat sliding across the floor, leaping into the air and landing with a thud, and other such noises that are unusual when a cat is alone. That alerts me to the fact that something is going on. Sometimes I just get to a room to clean, and find the lizard then.

I never liked lizards. Well, that’s not really true. I was always afraid of them, and of anything else that moves quickly, sometimes straight at me. But a strange thing has happened. The lizards are no longer afraid of me and when I put my hand down to pick them up, they actually come to me. Yesterday when I rescued one and tried to put him on a tree, he refused to go. He ran up my arm toward my neck, scaring the heck out of me. It took me a few minutes to convince him to leave. Meanwhile, the neighbors were watching me talk to him, most likely thinking I’m a nut.

I think I am a nut. I’m raising serial killers, after all, and rescuing all their victims. What could be nuttier than that?


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