Each day, as I looked at the weather forecast I was faced with that same four-letter word…RAIN. I mean, enough is enough, I could not believe clouds could hold that much water. It had been raining steadily for days with no sign of ever letting up. I was beginning to dread any thought of leaving the house and having to navigate the lake that had formed at the end of our driveway. When was it going to stop raining?
Even though we were nowhere near the forty days and forty nights limit, I was seriously thinking about searching the internet for plans to build an ark. The streets in town were flooded, homeowners in normally dry neighborhoods now had waterfront properties, and it may have been my imagination, but I swear I saw “critters” gathering two by two. On top of that, I was getting cabin fever from being stuck in the house…I wanted out. When, oh when, was the sun going to make an appearance?
To make matters worse, it was the week when the “Ding” Darling Days celebration took place at the Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island. That celebration only occurs once a year, but this year it was on the verge of being rained out. We have never missed visiting the Refuge during that week-long celebration, but it was beginning to look more and more like our record was about to be broken.
We were at the midpoint of the week and everything was still soaking wet outside. As was the norm, I grabbed my morning cup of coffee and headed for my office to check our schedule and the weather. Once my computer was up and running, I pulled up the forecast. As I read the outlook for the rest of the week, I was expecting to see a string of those four-letter words – RAIN, but instead, on the screen in front of me were the words “PARTLY CLOUDY” for the remainder of the week. I almost spilled my entire cup of coffee on the computer keyboard as I cheered loudly. That caused my wife Ann to come running into my office to see why I was cheering…loudly. I was so stunned I was having trouble getting the words out so I just pointed at the screen. To say Ann was thrilled would have been an understatement. We immediately made plans to visit the Refuge in the morning and take advantage of the first no rain day in quite some time.
When we headed out the next morning, it was an awesome looking day with a few puffy clouds, the sun shining brightly, and the temperature hovering at a “brisk” sixty-eight degrees. At the halfway point of our trip though, we noticed the sun had disappeared behind some clouds but that still did not dampen our enthusiasm in the slightest. As we crossed the bridge to Sanibel Island the cloud cover had gotten a wee bit thicker but there was no indication the clouds had any intension of piddling on our parade so we pushed on to our destination.
After successfully maneuvering through the tourist traffic in the shopping district and making a few more oddball turns, we finally arrived at the J. N. “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge. As we pulled onto the access road, we noticed the weather had not gotten any worse…but then again, it had not gotten any better either, it was just kind of hanging in there.
Typically, we skipped going in the visitor’s center and today was no exception. As we passed the parking lot we were amazed to see every space filled with a vehicle…yup, we were sure glad we had no plans to stop at the center. Secretly, we were hoping that most of the visitors were at the center and very few would actually be out on the drive. We had our fingers crossed…and toes, and arms, and legs…you get the picture.
I flashed my senior pass at the entry gate and in no time, we were enjoying our ten mile per hour drive through the land of “critters”. We decided it was safe to uncross all of our appendages once we realized there was not a horde of tourists out on the drive. I guess they thought it was easier to get pictures of the “stuffed” critters in the visitor’s center than wasting time trying to find live ones in the Refuge. Well, that and they were probably buying out the gift shop of all their “tourist trinkets” to take back home to their family and friends.
In no time we started seeing things, some a little scary, some a little strange, and some that just made you shake your head…and those were just the few tourists we encountered. The residents of the Refuge, the “critters”, were amazing and so much better behaved.
As we continued along the drive, the clouds would part occasionally and we would get a glimpse of the sun. We were really enjoying ourselves and unlike most Refuge visitors, we moved along at a snail’s pace, and not just stopping at the open viewing areas, nope, we would also look for critters in the scary, overgrown, “jungle” areas. Sometimes there was nothing to see, and other times you would stumble upon a real gem.
Occasionally, you came upon a scene that was just amazing which would get your heart racing, but no matter what you did, you just couldn’t seem to get your act together. It took forever to get your vehicle stopped, you had trouble getting the driver’s side door open, you almost dropped your camera while retrieving it from the back seat, and while all that was happening, your finger was just itching to start pushing that shutter button to capture “the picture”, you know, that “one in a million” shot.
You wanted to rush out there and get the picture before your subject made a hasty retreat, but if you did charge out there, you knew your golden opportunity would indeed vanish right before your eyes…oh what to do? Therefore, you just opted to meander out there “chatting” with your subject to keep it interested, while snapping away with your camera…definitely an “iffy” situation…UGH. It’s similar to feeling you have a winner when you purchase a lotto scratch off card, but then being afraid to scratch off the coating to find out you were dead wrong.
We made two trips through the Refuge that day and enjoyed every minute of them. What really surprised us were the few tourists we encountered. They were not your normal loud, pushy bunch, this group of tourists were enjoying the “critters” and doing everything right to keep from scaring them off. They would actually ask us questions, intelligent questions, about the wildlife and Refuge and seemed to be learning from our responses and the things they saw.
We had a great day, saw plenty of awesome “critters”, and chatted with lots of really nice people from all over the US and Europe. Our day was one of those neat occasions that gets filed away in that special section of your book of memories.
Another great adventure comes to an end. It doesn’t get any better than this…well, unless you’re talking about scratching off the coating on a lotto card and actually finding out you are indeed a winner. That might just be a step up from this story.
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, if you stumble along in a big hurry, odds are pretty good you’ll only see butts scurrying to get out of your way and miss all the beautiful parts of life.
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