In our own yard in Lake Mary we have huge, noisy, Sandhill cranes stopping by most mornings. They wander around, paying us no mind, eating a breakfast of insects from our lawn. Our dog Sheba, who recently moved here from N.Y.; just stares at them, as if she’s amazed. She’ll stand motionless at our front window with her front paws on the sill staring intently out as the birds walk slowly about the yard right in front of her, bending and pecking the ground every few steps. I laughed at her at first, but soon found myself standing right there with her, quietly watching the cranes with similar wonder and amazement. My yard is part of their home and habitat, and neither of us seem to mind.
Now I should make an apology here to native Floridians and long term local folks. I realize that if you grew up here, all of this must seem fairly normal and tame. Not much to get excited about; so why the fuss? Well, I grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC., in a tidy little subdivision of about 400 houses. The area had been “settled” for about 250 years, so aside from squirrels and pigeons, there wasn’t much wildlife left to speak of or see. While playing outdoors, we might rarely encounter the odd box turtle or frog, or even a small snake. We would boldly capture these poor unfortunates and display them proudly at school during show and tell. Beyond these chancy encounters and our own household pets, we had to visit the zoo to see most other animals. By contrast, there have been many evenings down here when I can’t cross my back yard without accidentally stepping on a frog or two; so it’s been an adjustment.
Lizards occupy my yard in such huge numbers that they boldly stare at me as I pass by; probably wondering just what I’m doing there. Since moving here we’ve had regular encounters with armadillos, possums, moles, owls, snakes, frogs, turtles, feral cats, and the giant cranes; all right in our own yard. We wake to an assortment of songbirds almost every morning and we see the occasional hawk cruise by.
Before moving here I’d seen one wild vulture in 44 years; now I see flocks of them where ever there’s fresh road kill. Traveling out and around the Sanford area, we’ve seen bears, deer, wild peacocks, wild hogs and a wide assortment of smaller critters, all just going about their business; either ignoring us, or trying their best to avoid us. We’re not on nature hikes, or actively seeking out these animals. We just randomly cross paths with them as we go about our routine travels, and that’s the real beauty of it.
I still remember our first roadside sighting of alligators down here. We spotted several of them lounging and sunning in a drainage ditch. I stopped the car and walked as close as I dared; amazed that there was no fence, no wall, no barrier, not even crime scene tape between us and these wild, primal, predatory beasts. Attracting less attention than a couple of stray cocker spaniels, these huge carnivores were just out and about, free and unsupervised; and it was perfectly normal to everyone but me. I tossed a few pebbles their way, and with just a slight movement of his tail, the largest one slowly rotated in the water until it faced my direction. He regarded me briefly, and then slowly rotated back the other way, clearly telling me I was no threat to him, but merely a passing annoyance. His family lived there long before the road was built; and will likely still be there long after it’s gone. My own species will probably flee when rising energy costs force us to turn off the air conditioning. Though I’ve never seen one, I’ve heard there’s still a few Florida panthers hanging on out there, just waiting and hoping for something like that to happen.
As development has spread across the area, I’ve heard many of the old timers lament how they used to hunt or trap on the current site of the mall or some car dealership or subdivision; so I guess for them, Seminole County is not as wild as it used to be. For me though, even after 14 years, it’s still a place that’s very close to nature, and full of natural wonder.