It’s hot. Neil Simon would say, “Tarzan couldn’t take this kind of heat!” but all I get from the locals are “You’re crazy!” stares as they are wearing winter jackets and it is, in fact, mid-February. With the help of a step ladder I climb into the swamp buggy, a custom made open air cousin to the monster truck. “I bet you could use one of these to get over them snow drifts!” says Bo (short for Beauregard), my guide, who is as much a stranger to snow drifts as I am to alligators, swamp buggies and all other things in the Everglades. Bo and I understand each other instantly, and we have plenty to talk about; the big deer of Ohio, the difference in Eastern and Osceola turkeys, how few rattlesnakes we have and how you might find one in the middle of a stand of “palmetters”, as Bo says. We are like old friends who have never met. He asks me if we have coyotes like they have wild boar and I say, “Oh yes sir!” just to emphasize my point. He’s silent for a moment and then says, “You don’t have to call me “Sir”, I ain’t but twenty-seven years old.” A little embarrassed, my heart swells with respect that there is still a place in this world where children are raised with such rules and that it still shows in the grown men they’ve become.
As the swamp buggy bumps along through the orange groves and past a canal cut through the sugar cane fields to make them arable. I spy an alligator that must be twelve feet long as it slips into the water. I resist the urge to shut out like some kind of tourist, but I am snapping away wildly with my camera. My guide tells me he’ll show me where the big ones live, the really big, forty-year-old ones. He says it so flatly that it’s clear this is very every day for him.
I’ve hunted and fished all my life, travelled all over the world, but today I am out of my element entirely. Palmetto trees, thorny acacia hedges, alligators, snakes, lizards and all kinds of creepy crawlies that bite heighten my senses as we wander across a landscape that is completely foreign to me. For as unfamiliar as I am with my surroundings, I might as well be on the moon.
My hunting partners are new to this too, but of all the seasoned experts with whom I hunt there are no other I’d rather have along today than these two greenhorns. As I unsling my rifle I turn to them and say, “Hearing protection, put it on.” They answer with a dutiful, “Yes, Daddy!”
That’s right, I took my daughters wild boar hunting in the everglades. Before you call children’s services, these kids really wanted to go. You might think I couldn’t find a baby-sitter, or I wanted “that” photo for the Christmas card, but I gave it serious though, and I want them along more than I myself want to be here. Without getting on my soap box, just let me say someday I won’t be here, hunting will be illegal, and the whole world will have arrived where it’s so quickly going in this hand-basket. Simply put, I want my girls to be able to face reality without a pep talk, an ego boost, a kumbaya circle and the government’s official okie-dokie. I want them to be able to do the things that make everybody on reality shows cringe and scream like…well, like little girls. Not the Scarbrough little girls, they think this stuff is fun!
One more thing, I want them to remember that their daddy loved them enough to want to have them with me today.
The noisy behemoth that is our ride belches smoke from its over-powered 355 horse engine as the huge donut tires splash through the muddy paths between stands of palms. Bo has me on the edge of my seat as we slug through the brushy areas in the heat of the day, hoping to scare up a hog snoozing in the shade. So far, no soap, and I’m beginning to lose my edge. I look back at the girls as their heads jiggle and bob as the swamp buggy bounces along. They are losing their “edge” as well.
Finally we come to the edge of a clearing, and the swampy palms give way to an immense pasture sprawling out hundreds of acres in front of us. We slow to a crawl as Bo says, “Ya see ‘er?” I squint out at a stand of palmettos a hundred yards ahead. “See what?” I say, noting nothing but a blot of shade on a sun bleached savannah.
He points to a black dot 400 yards away, racing hell bent out in the open, and I raise my scope.
TO BE CONTINUED…