The surface of the lake is a shimmering mirror, reflecting trees and clouds and skies. It presents a smooth and placid surface to the passerby.
Underneath the surface, the lake teems with mysterious life.
The birds know it.
The turtles know it.
But the passerby might miss it without a closer look, a concentrated look that penetrates the silent surface to discover the tiny fish and mudworms that feed the birds and turtles.
We are like the lake. Our faces are mirrors, reflecting what is around us and concealing the turmoil and the beauty that lies within.
Those who care about us are like the birds. They know how to see through the mirror, to search the shores for our secrets, and that is what nourishes friendship.
God is like the turtle, equally at home above or below the surface, comfortably conversant with all the mysterious life that fills us. God plumbs the depths of all that makes us whole and watches it all, with love.
She did have a destination in mind; she wanted to get to Memphis, Tennessee, to see her late sister’s children.
But she didn’t know how long she would be gone, or what route exactly that she would take. She started up through Georgia with the intention of doing some mystery shopping jobs in Columbus, Georgia and Auburn, Alabama. She knew she would camp along the way, and that the first campsite would be at Chewacla State Park just south of Auburn.What fine fall weather for camping! Warm enough to enjoy days outdoors, and cool enough at night to make a campfire both pleasant and needful.
Just sitting in a campsite during the daytime has its delights. The Old Lady heard a rustle. Something skittered. Then another. CHIPMUNKS!
A whole scurry of chipmunks came through the woods, apparently foraging. They were spaced among the trees, each little hunter-gatherer on his own track as they moved from north to south.
A while later, the scurry moved back south to north, and each chipmunk looked as though it had the mumps. Their cheek pouches were full of their findings and they were headed back to the den.
These are some of the things the Old Lady loves to find while traveling, woodland creatures and natural wonders.
But she likes to find man-made wonders, too… oddities along the journey.
There is no wilderness left in the state of Georgia; about the closest you can come to it is the Okefenokee Swamp. Even the Swamp is more woods than wilderness. Having been thoroughly logged out in the early part of the 1900s, what is now seen is regrowth from that harvest.
The Old Lady prefers to enter the Swamp at Stephen Foster State Park, 17 miles up a lonely highway from the nearest town (Fargo). Once in the park, you don’t have to go far to see wildlife!However, a short canoe ride reveals more of the Swamp’s beauty.
The Swamp is healing well from the logging, proving that the damage done by humans can be repaired by nature and by time.
The Old Lady got a dog sitting job. The owner of the dogs had said she’d seen a snake in the fish pond out back, and that she thought it might be a cottonmouth (also known as water moccasin), a deadly snake indigenous to Georgia.
So the very first time the Old Lady took Shorty the Jack Russell Terrorist out the front door, THERE was the snake in plain view on the front lawn! It’s a big one, about three feet long, and very thick (cottonmouths are often described as “fat” snakes).
Well, Shorty got hustled right back inside.
The Old Lady hustled back out for a better look.
She stood on the porch for awhile, looking at the snake which was looking at her. Eyeball to eyeball with about six feet between them and close enough, the Old Lady was thinking. She could not make out the shape of the head since it was facing her.
The snake slithered under some bushes and vanished as snakes are wont to do.
The dogs did get walked (out the back door) and when the Old Lady came out front to get in her truck to go to work, the snake peeked out at her from his hiding place inside a pipe under the bushes. The Old Lady said “Bless you, Mr. Snake, for showing yourself to remind me to be extra careful in this yard.” To which the snake made no reply.
After work, the Old Lady was walking Fluffy the French Bulldog (whose owner is convinced that she is a Boston Terrier but we’re not telling her she’s wrong). There was a great commotion in the fish pond, and the Old Lady saw the snake thrashing and splashing in there with the big white koi fish in its jaws! As she watched, the snake lifted the entire fish (which must weigh at least two pounds) COMPLETELY out of the water, a good six inches into the air! What a sight! But the fish was too big for the snake to swallow, so he let it go and vanished under some rocks.
The Old Lady kept checking back on the fish pond from time to time, and saw the snake in there. But she also saw the white koi which was not only still alive but seemed unfazed by the snake.
That was when she knew for sure that this is NOT a cottonmouth. If he was a deadly snake, the fish would have died from the bite. Probably a Florida Banded Water Snake, a neighbor told her.
The Old Lady is much relieved, and very grateful; grateful for having witnessed with her own eyes the failed assault on the fish which proved to her that the snake is not harmful to her or the little dogs, and grateful for having been granted a view of nature in the raw that she will never forget.
The only pictures of the snake… sorry for the poor quality, the photographer is being thrown in the fishpond as punishment:
When the Old Lady migrates south she always stops at her very favorite rest stop, the one on I-75 just south of Gainesville, Florida. She likes to visit the Snake Wall.
She walks up through the picnic area on the concrete sidewalk until she comes to the Tail of the Snake. Then she starts up a long rampway that rises as the hill falls away, twisting around so as to give a panoramic view of Paynes Prarie Preserve.
The rest stop sits on the very edge of Paynes Prairie, and from there I-75 cuts across the wide wetland. From the rampway high on the hill the full extent of the Prairie can be seen and appreciated.
The rampway is built in the shape of a Florida Queen Snake, with the top end of it being the head overlooking two smaller walls that make the snake’s forked tongue.
You can’t really tell that you are standing on a Snake Wall, but there is an aerial picture near the restrooms to show you the full sculpture. You can even see the “bunny bump” in the middle, a wider place that expresses that this Snake has just eaten something… or somebody.
The Snake Wall has two purposes. Yes, it’s a neat idea combining an overlook with sculpture. But the Snake Wall is also designed to keep poisonous snakes from coming out of Paynes Prairie and into the rest stop area. It is an impervious barrier to serpents that might endanger unwary travelers stretching their legs before continuing their automotive journey. It provides an opportunity for a good look at the habitat of so many creatures, while keeping the most dangerous of them at bay.
Next time you drive into Florida, check out the Snake Wall.
What’s that, you say? Valdosta, Georgia’s best dive bar, Ashley Street Station, has a Sunday brunch??? How undivelike.
Even more undivelike: the Bloody Mary bar. They bring you a glass with ice and vodka, and you do the rest with six kinds of Bloody Mary mix as well as V-8, every kind of hot sauce the Old Lady ever heard of and quite a few she’s never seen, pickles and olives and celery sticks… you get the picture, and the picture doesn’t do it justice.
But of course there was live music. Heath Deloach with his acoustic guitar, playing a lot of covers and a few originals. The Old Lady particularly liked Josephine, a lovely love song Heath wrote for his girlfriend whose name is NOT Josephine. I guess three syllables just fit the rhyme scheme better, or something like that. He didn’t say.
As at any good dive bar, dogs are welcome, and they are allowed to bring their humans.
By the way, the Crab Cakes Benedict is FABULOUS. Listen to the Old Lady!
Manatees terrify the Old Lady.
Even though she knows perfectly well that they won’t – can’t!- hurt her, their sheer size makes her tremble whenever she is near them in the water.
One time when she was swimming in the Crystal River a young manatee approached her. She knew he was a youngster because he was only about five feet long, whereas adults are much larger.
This was a lovely creature. Young manatees are not grey like adults but a luminous white, and this one fairly glowed in the light that filtered down through the surface of the river. The youngster was curious and came close to inspect this odd invader of his underwater world. He seemed friendly so the Old Lady stretched out her hand to touch him. She had been told that “They like being touched because people have these wonderful things on the ends of their flippers called FINGERS. Manatees are covered with algae which can make them slightly itchy, and their flippers are useless for scratching.”
This little guy loved being scratched! He kept swimming closer and closer so the Old Lady could keep on scratching his hide. As she scratched and petted he became increasingly playful, pushing against her as he swam. They started rolling in the water together and playing like he was a little dog. She was giggling through her snorkel until she could hardly breathe. He just couldn’t get enough!
When the Old Lady was exhausted she slowly swam back to the boat where she collapsed on the deck in the sun and laughed out loud with delight from the experience.
She was thanking God for sending her this marvelous creature when she suddenly realized: yes, God sent the manatee for her delight… but God also sent HER to the manatee for HIS delight! He wanted petting, and she wanted to pet him, and they both got what they wanted and needed. Yes, God gave us dominion over the animals… but He also gave us to the animals for our mutual love and joy.