Hunting the giant Burmese pythons that have infested the Florida Everglades, I nosed my 14-foot canoe into darkened tunnels formed by brackish water and tangled overheads of mangrove and other swamp foliage. Not six feet away, a monstrous alligator floated with his eyes and knobby snout visible, staring at me. I stared back. The creature slowly sank, defeated in the stare-off.
Birds croaked and screamed, like ravens with sore throats. Somewhere, an owl hooted as threatening banks of clouds off the Gulf and The Ten Thousand Islands brought premature nightfall. Lightning flashed. Thunder belly-rumbled. While campsites are maintained by the Florida Wildlife Department along the major rivers, there were no such conveniences deep in the swamps into which I had pushed alone in my quest to find and photograph big snakes.
Earlier, I had found dry land, a shell midden leading back into an old Seminole ruins. Since then, I had been in the canoe surrounded by swamp so dense that there was no way you could walk through it, much less forge a campsite.
I anchored the canoe in the foliage tunnel as rain skittered toward me, boiling the surface of the water and hissing in the leaves. I dropped onto the bottom of the canoe and threw an old army poncho over me. Night settled so dense I had no idea whether or not legends of monsters might be waiting to attack.
If you’ve never endured a night in the middle of a swamp, in a thunderstorm, plagued by mosquitoes buzzing and waiting for an opportunity to clog your nostrils or take hunks out of an eyebrow, hearing what you imagine to be alligators and giant snakes in the black water below, with everything you own soaked, including yourself, sleeping fitfully in two inches of water that you have to bail out every hour or so, trying to use the bathroom when need be without slipping and falling overboard. . . My advice to you is, Don’t.
But, hey, I felt more comfortable sleeping with snakes and ‘gators in the swamp than I had when I slept with the scruffy Occupy Wall Street bunch in New York.
Dawn arrived in, oh, about four nights or so, it seemed. My world was gray and dripping with rain water. Suddenly, a shaft of brilliant sunlight shot out of the clouds, penetrated the foliage and splashed over an exposed sheet of swamp water, illuminating fallen yellow leaves that lined the bottom of the shallow pool and turning them into burnished gold and copper gleaming up out of the depths.
It reminded me once again that every dark night is followed by glorious sunshine.
Now for the unpaid commercial: If you’re concerned about the survival of personal liberty in America, read my thriller political novel A Thousand Years of Darkness, called the “most important novel since Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged.”
Another reminder: My new SciFi, Sanctuary, will be released this fall. Along with Back In The Fight, the story of U.S. Army Ranger Joe Kapacziewski, whom you might have read about or seen on TV. Joe lost a leg in Iraq, and then became the only U.S. warrior ever to return to full combat duty as an amputee.