Florida Through Native Eyes

Dreamer's Highway

Prairie Creek Preserve, Charlotte County, FL

Arriving at the Preserve entrance at daylight, I was excited to ease my kayak onto the tea-colored water for a brief journey along Prairie Creek. I couldn't go far since the Preserve is only 1600 acres in size. But distance didn't matter as long as I could find a small piece of Earth where my vessel and I were the only visible signs of human culture.

A light fog covered the sand and shell road leading 3 miles back to where I planned to park. Enroute were cow pastures on the left and the backside of occasional homes on the right. I unrolled both windows in my truck and drove barely above a walking pace, glancing in all directions for interesting shades of gray. It didn't take long for things to start happening. Four white tail deer, feeling trapped between my truck and a barbed wire fence 20 feet away, made the decision to leap over or crawl under the fence for safety. "Click, click." Ahh, my trusty Nikon was there to catch one of the deer in mid air, bounding over the fence.

But then I saw headlights behind he. Shoot. Someone else has the same idea and is looking for the same peaceful experience. The lights were approaching fast though, so I pulled off the road and waited. Soon a white pick-up sped past me. I waved and caught a quick glimpse of the driver. He wore a large cowboy hat above a hard chisled face that eyed me with indifference as he passed. My wave wasn't returned.

Less than a minute later, two more trucks passed. Both had trailers with horses aboard.

I realized I probably wouldn't see any more wildlife for the rest of the trip into the Preserve, but reasoned the cowboys were on their way to work just like everybody else. They must share the same road as the Preserve. When I got to the parking area the trucks were all there. The drivers unloaded their horses and prepared to handle cattle in the field next to the Preserve.

Parking near them, I noticed all eyes on me. For a moment I felt like the outsider. From their perspective, perhaps I was invading their world. From mine, I wanted to leave the 20th and 21st centuries -- at least for a few hours.

I put in several hundred feet from the parking lot. Immediately I felt cleansed. The natural world was there to greet me and whispered, "Relax, you're among friends now." For the next few hours, I slowly explored a dreamer's highway.