Spring has arrived in Florida, and I’ve been busily harvesting the winter crop of weeds. Naturally talented and experienced in weed production, I’ve got some real state-fair-worthy competitors. Unable to convince the deed restriction board that weeds are the new grass, they had to go.
After pulling off an arm starting the mower that has been sitting for 4 months, I set off on my journey that would be best be described as if it were an adventure game. Pollen flying in the breeze, I first maneuver over Armadillo Pit which is covered with holes dug by those nasty creatures and resembles Whack-A-Mole. Priceless wonders left in the yard all winter are uncovered: a football, 2 beach towels (seriously!), the deflated remnants of the blue ball the dog popped, and an arrow from the archery set. Next is the treacherous turn toward Weed Field while dodging the briar-covered Fence of Doom that runs along the conservation area.
Stop! Let’s discuss.
What is a conservation area?
I moved to Florida 13 years ago from North Carolina and had never heard of such a thing. Real estate agents tout the benefits of the natural view of a “conservation” lot. You believe you will be living on the cusp of nature and imagine deer calmly roaming behind your home in a tranquil sea of greenery provided by the trees and lush foliage. There is even a premium price added for the privilege of enjoying the view. I’ll take it!
Once you move in, you realize the true meaning of “conservation lot”:
- It is the leftovers of the swamp land your home was built on. (Seriously…I was in a store one day and a guy was reminiscing about the days when my neighborhood was a swamp. He also wished he had bought the land).
- Wild thorny plants grow over the fence and take over your yard. Traveling covertly underground, they surface ten feet from the fence. Pulling them out of the ground is nearly impossible but does make a challenging game of tug of war.
- Packs of raccoons live back there and attack your trash cans in the night…exposing all sorts of embarrassing items on your driveway.
- When it rains, 1000s of frogs sing so loud it is hard to have a conversation in the house.
- Armadillos rule the night in your yard, and the dog is scared of them.
- There are rattlesnakes big enough to eat a Smart car.
- During the winter all the vegetation dies, leaving you with a brown, dead view and the ability to now see the crazy person that sings at the top of his lungs at 1:00am and realize he is drunk…and barely clothed. Close the shades quick!!
- There are wild pigs and a small chance that they will tear up your entire yard leaving you no choice but to resod it – it happened to my friend.
- Oh yeah….best of all…there is an alligator living behind you.
Conservation = Swamp
…but it sounds so much nicer doesn’t it? Basically I moved into the middle of a zoo.
Living amongst alligators
It took a year for me to get over the fact that there were alligators in every retention pond on every block in Florida.
What do you mean there isn’t a fence between us like at Busch Gardens?? Are you people crazy?
I would walk the neighborhood constantly scanning for them in a paranoid schizophrenic kind of way while plotting the route to the nearest car I could jump on if need be. Reports of people finding alligators banging on their front door or under their parked car fueled my fears. Occasionally I would see their head surfaced atop the water. Then slowly over the years it became a fascination, and I hoped to see them. Out-of-towners would be treated to the official neighborhood alligator tour, and I considered producing some souvenirs. You get used to it. Snakes became my biggest concern. If you missed my snake encounters, check that out.
The resident alligator behind my house came through the yard one day many years ago. Grabbing my video camera, I began filming my personal National Geographic documentary. Done exploring, as they do during mating season, he was returning home to the
swamp conservation area behind my house, and I zoomed in close.
Watching them walk is like traveling back in time and observing a dinosaur. It’s absolutely fascinating and almost surreal to watch. Then for a second…because it was zoomed in so much…a moment of panic ran through me when I forgot there were thick bushes between us. Adrenaline pumping, I dashed through the house to catch it coming into the backyard from the side of the house. He effortlessly crawled under the wire fence back to the pond, and I realized the frightening reality that the fence is a false sense of security.
On occasion I hear it roar, and he sounds like a lion. His calls for a mate are deep, muffled, and grumbly, and I don’t have the heart to tell him I think he’s alone in the pond. You’d think by 2011 they would be on the internet or something. I’m guessing by the giant splash as he descends into the water (like a boat being launched) he’s over 10 feet long now.
So, back to mowing. I’m always on the lookout for snakes and alligators. Every few minutes one of those evil conservation vines touches the side of my leg causing me to jump 10 feet, and this is called getting the most out of your aerobic workout.