Somehow I knew, don’t ask me how, but I knew even before I opened the email. This was the one, and my heart was beating fast in anticipation of what was to come. I just knew another exciting adventure was afoot. Would it be an opportunity to document a remote bald eagle nest or maybe spend some time photographing a new scrub jay colony? Could it be a once in a lifetime opportunity to capture images of a Florida panther, bobcat, or black bear? I was truly nervous as I opened the email.
As I read the request, I was in total disbelief. In the blink of an eye, I went from a euphoric high to a depressing low moment of total confusion. I was being asked for images of a beautiful pawpaw and I had absolutely no idea what the heck it was let alone how to find one.
In a rush to find out more about my quest, I ran a quick internet search for “beautiful pawpaw”. When I read the results, I was even more depressed. I was chasing after a shrub and if that was not bad enough, it was a small shrub, a very small, endangered shrub…UGH. I began to think I had met my Waterloo and this beautiful paw thingy was the final nail in my coffin. With no idea of what it looks like or even where to start looking, I was doomed.
Well, on the positive side it was a legitimate reason to start a new adventure, albeit a strange one. So henceforth I would officially be in search of the perfect picture of a…er…beautiful paw thingy…humm. Well, more like in search of ANY picture of a pawpaw, beautiful or ugly. It was hard, but I was trying to look at the bright side, and after all, I am a photographer who likes to take pictures so how bad could it be? At least with a shrub I didn’t have to worry about being pinched by a beak, bitten, stepped on, eaten alive, drowning in quicksand…well, you get the idea, it was going to be boring.
I reread the email and got the distinct impression that this was a really important request. As much as I tried to suppress it, the old EGO raised its ugly head and I was beginning to think about being a hero, you know, “Here I come to save the day!” kind of thing. As I drifted off into a daydream world, I imagined myself flying through the air, a mask covering my face, cape flapping in the wind, the word “Flash” emblazoned on my chest and wearing bright blue tights…whoa…no, no, no. That vision had suddenly snapped me back to reality. Me in bright blue tights, no, not a pretty picture, no way will I wear tights of any color. The “hero” bit will definitely not be in the picture and my EGO can just go back to its dusty hiding place.
I spent the next hour trying to get a good idea of what this paw thingy looked like and where to start looking. By the time I had finished, I had a rough idea of what I was looking for, but still no idea where to start. There was no doubt in my mind I was going to need some help on this one so I got busy sending out some emails.
When I checked my email account later that day, I found several responses to my query. However, as I started to read them I began to lose hope that I would ever lay eyes on a beautiful thingy. The first email was short and to the point…“What the heck is a pawpaw?” The next one was a little more descriptive…“There ain’t anything beautiful in our pawpaw patch”. I had just about lost all hope and I was down to my last email…“We have one of the largest concentrations of beautiful pawpaw located right in our Preserve”. I had to read it three times before the words finally sunk in and I realized that I might actually get a picture of one of those endangered whatchamacallits.
The next day, I headed out on my adventure, carefully following the directions that were included with the email. They were fairly simple and in no time at all, I was about a mile down the road from the beautiful thingamabobs. It was still early, so I had planned on running in, snapping some pictures and being back at the house by noon. That would give me plenty of time to process the images and upload them to my website.
Locating the specified gate at the Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park was a snap since everything was clearly marked. Once I had parked and walked up to the gate, my happy little world came to an end. As I surveyed the territory, with all its undergrowth, beyond the gate, I had a hard time believing I would ever find that small shrub. Heck, a critter the size of Shrek could easily hide in there and never be found let alone be seen.
The more I looked at the wilderness in front of me, the more I was sure I really did not want to go in there. I kept thinking of all the nasty critters that could be hiding in that underbrush, just waiting to pounce on me as I passed by them. My camera equipment, a GPS, and my cell phone were the only things I was carrying and they certainly would not be any help in fending off an attack from an irate armadillo. Man, there is just something about not being able to see a critter until it bites you in the leg, that just scares the bejeebers out of me…UGH!
I finally decided I didn’t have any other option if I wanted pictures of that little whatsit. The sooner I started looking, the quicker I would find one, and the faster I could get out of there. Slowly I started my trek into the Preserve keeping to the middle of the firebreak hoping it would give me enough of a buffer to allow me to escape the wrath of any nutty gray squirrel.
Once again, I pulled out the email and checked the instructions. From what I was reading, the little doohickeys were supposed to be in the open areas to the left of the firebreak. There were not a heck of a lot of open areas, but I continued walking and searching. I came upon several large shrubs that had leaves similar to what I was looking for but they were much bigger and the flowers were somewhat different. I snapped some pictures and later research proved they were indeed a pawpaw, just not the little beauty I was seeking. They appeared to be a netted pawpaw, which were a more common variety.
As I continued along the firebreak, I started noticing more and more wildflowers. Now being a photographer, I naturally started snapping pictures of some of the more colorful ones. Before I realized what had happened I had well over two hundred images sitting in my camera. In addition, just as fast, my mind woke up to the fact that I was going to have to spend hours doing research to come up with an ID for each of those flowers. Suddenly, I decided I had enough wildflower images and I continued my stroll along the firebreak.
It was now late afternoon, after hours of searching, I was not any closer to finding those little thingamajigs than when I started out early this morning. With the exception of the bugs and those scary critters that never attacked me, I felt it was a pretty good day…that is until I realized I had absolutely no beautiful pawpaw images, or even ugly ones for that matter. That meant I would have to do additional research and then return to the scene of the crime on another day…UGH!
As I passed back through the gate, I ran into a bit of a problem. Well, to be specific, one of the local inhabitants ran into me and then decided to chase me into my vehicle. After I was safely inside with the door closed, I took a good look at my tormentor. It did not take long for me to decide the words “cute” and “armadillo” should never, ever, be used in the same sentence. What a strange looking animal. I assumed the wily critter had decided its neighborhood was now safe because it headed back into the palmettos from whence it came. That was my cue to get out of Dodge.
When I returned home and checked my email account, there was another message from my friend at the Preserve. This time it included a picture of one of the little doodads. As I studied the image, it did not take long to figure out that I was looking in all the wrong places. The pictures I had downloaded from the internet showed the shrubs growing in open vegetated areas. The image I was now looking at clearly showed the shrub growing in an open sandy area with little or no vegetation.
The next day was beautiful, well, if you like heat and humidity. Once again, I was headed off to the boondocks and another golden opportunity to excel. Yeah right, more like another day for the no-see-ums to eat me alive, and “Wily Dillo” to chase me back into my vehicle.
As I arrived at the preserve, I spent a little time scanning the area to make sure “Wily Dillo”, the neighborhood security guard, was nowhere in sight before I stepped out to begin the second day of my big adventure. I was happy to see that the wind had picked up quite a bit, which meant I would not be a target for a no-see-um flyby biting.
Once again, I headed into the Preserve following the all too familiar firebreak. I do not know if it was the coolness of the wind, the beautiful day, or just the fact that I now knew where to look, but in no time at all, I had covered a lot of ground. The down side was that I still had not found my quarry, that little weedy thingy. Still, I was enjoying myself.
A loud thumping noise grabbed my attention and I turned around to locate the source. High up on the limb of a nearby pine tree was a small bird trying to drill a hole in the trees trunk. The more I watched, the more positive I became that the small bird had to have one very scrambled brain. I was getting a headache from just watching it. When it finally stopped to take a break, I decided it was definitely time to move on.
As I continued along the firebreak, I came upon an intersection with another break heading off to the south. As I looked down the new firebreak, I thought I saw a sandy area off in the distance. It was the most promising area I had seen so far today so I headed off in that direction. After a fairly long walk, I finally got a better look at the open sandy area. In no time, my eyes zeroed in on what looked to me like a very small plant not a shrub. The interesting thing was that it had all the characteristics of that darn little thingamabob that I have been trying to find.
As I bent down and got a closer look and compared it with the picture I was carrying, there was no doubt in my mind that I had found the holy grail…er…little whatsit…a…the beautiful pawpaw thingy. My quest had come to an end.
The long trek back to the gate gave me an opportunity to reflect on my adventure. Although I initially thought chasing after a shrub was going to be very safe and boring, as it turned out, it was quite the opposite. I was actually a little sad that my quest was over but there is always another adventure waiting around the corner.
As I continued along the firebreak, I started thinking about what I had experienced. I had seen and taken pictures of a shrub that none of my friends or acquaintances have ever seen. Yeah it took two trips, but I did find it and I even had the pictures to convince any doubters. I may not be a hero, but I sure had major bragging rights…yeah, me, “Flash”, the fastest shutter finger in the west. Suddenly “Flash the superhero” was brought back to earth by an old nemesis, which caused a rather loud “Ouch, man do I really hate no-see-ums!” to echo throughout the Preserve.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about discovering Santa Claus is indeed real and he’s your uncle. That might just be a step up from this story.
Even though my wife, Ann, isn’t mentioned in this story, I have to fess up and tell you she was with me every step of the way. Well, maybe not the time the armadillo came after us. Before I could get my hand on the door handle she was already in our vehicle, yelling what was that. She puts up with my antics and I love her for it…did I mention she’s also a great cook?
I guess as we travel the road of life, we can never be really sure which way the road will turn…one thing’s for certain though, when you're out looking for paw thingy's, always carry a bottle of no-see-um repellent.
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