Monday, April 18, 2011
the problem was we left too late. if we had said good bye to our friends earlier, none of this would have happened.
but it did happen. by the time we loaded the car, the weather decided to get mean.
a while ago my husband and i were heading from florida's southern gulf coast to the northeastern part of the state. once programmed "most direct route" the gps took control and decided to lead us through a piece of boggy hell, a desolate shortcut we were surprised made it onto any map, the likes of which we had never seen before, and hope we never see again.
black killer clouds rose up in the north and swiftly covered us. for a while the navigation system had us taking lefts and rights through drab neighborhoods and small towns. then we drove along a road hugging railroad tracks and dotted with small dusty businesses and clumps of horses nibbling in patches of field. darkness started to descend. soon a deep percussion of raindrops hit the car's roof. the wind slashed at us from all directions. we left the built up areas behind; the gps had slowly led us to the middle of nowhere. there were no longer any buildings or any signs of human life. a dense growth of mature cypress, twisted live oak and gumbo limbo trees edged closer and closer to the road, leaning in, waiting, watching.
my husband drove on, confident of the machine's ability to bring us safely to our destination. the gps demanded we turn right. the tarmac ended. a metal street sign (a wondrous indicator of civilization's arrival, the first sign of any kind we had seen in miles, out here in the middle of crazy nowhere, indicating we were, in fact, somewhere?) clearly indicated this road was called moccasin wallow. we had arrived at moccasin wallow. moccasin wallow? the arrow on the gps insisted we were to keep going straight on this, now dirt, road. i shivered. does the machine know where it is taking us? can this really be the right way?
at this point, sunny happy thoughts were entering my mind. parts of florida are infested with a long, black, venomous water snake called a water moccasin, also known as a swamp moccasin, a black moccasin or a viper. viper, you know, as in a beast which displays long, potentially deadly, fangs. oh, this was just lovely! additionally, couldn't the road simply have been called moccasin street or moccasin road? maybe indicating indians used to make those nice, soft, fringed shoes around these parts? not a chance. a wallow (a similar word is slough) is an indentation, a hollow area filled with muddy water, a place where animals love to hide. put moccasin and wallow together and it becomes a spot deep in the state of florida which is a most delightfully perfect piece of real estate for snakes to inhabit, to call home. many, many snakes. we were in the heart of snake territory. i thought get. me. out. of. here. FAST.
we noticed water collecting along the sides of the road. suddenly the murky swamp flooded an entire section of road in front of us, and we did what you should never never never do. we kept going. inching our way through the shallow water for what seemed like ages, we finally hit the dirt road again. we drove in silence. i just wanted to be on a paved road, away from this wallow and all those snakes peering out of the mud at us. through the darkness we noticed there were lights coming from the other direction. were we nearing civilization? civilization in the form of a very old, faded, rusted and dirty ford f-150 pick-up truck with enormous wheels (for some reason my eyes fixated on those gigantic wheels) moved slowly past us and was gone. swallowed up by the night.
wind and rain smashed against the car. then things went from bad to worse. my husband saw it first, then in disbelief i saw it, too. my heart started thrumming in my chest, my head, my ears. in the headlights up ahead a huge live oak had fallen across the road. there was no room to get around it. the side of the road was covered in boggy water and trees and undergrowth.
we sat for a while in shocked silence. there was nothing to do but go back the way we came.
as we again approached the place where the road had flooded, we were stunned to see the water in front of us was now rushing wildly across the road, and we noticed it was much deeper than it had been twenty minutes ago. we also noticed the battered truck with the huge wheels parked at the edge of the mud. i rubbed my eyes and closed them for a second as if to wipe away what i saw, hoping when i opened my eyes again the scene in front of me would vanish and it would all turn out to be a very bad dream. i opened my eyes—the flooded road and the monster truck had not disappeared. they hadn't moved; they were still right there.
a man with long, wild hair and a beard and a filthy t-shirt and even filthier jeans, got out of the truck. i hissed at my husband lock the doors.
the man knocked on the window and my husband rolled it down a few inches. the man said, "y'all can't go that way. too deep. the waller always rises up in a storm. best to turn 'round."
my husband told the man a tree had fallen across the road in the other direction. no way around it.
the man spat. "hell. what the @#$%." then he gazed over at me, stared right in my eyes with a piercing look, the rain washing his dirty face clean, the grime flowing in rivulets off his chin. he lowered his eyes and said in a surprisingly soft voice "beggin' yer pardon, ma'am." he turned to my husband and commanded, "foller me. i'll git us out...." and his voice faded away in the wind. what choice did we have? there was no other way out.
when we got back to the fallen tree the man pulled a chainsaw from the back of his truck. my husband hesitated for a split second, pulled on the door handle and started to climb out of the car to help him. i tried to pull him back but his sleeve slipped out of my grasp. when they had cut an opening through the middle of the tree wide enough for our vehicles to get through, my husband leaned over and said something to the stranger. the stranger shook his head and said something back. then my husband ran to the car and climbed in. i pulled a beach towel off the backseat and handed it to him. the car seat squished as water seeped out of his clothes and onto the floor.
"what did you say to him?" i asked.
"i offered him money for helping us."
"he said he couldn't accept money because he was just helping out strangers."
"that's all. oh, he did say something else."
"what was that?"
"he told me to get back in the car.....fast. he said the moccasins love this kind of weather, especially at night. brings out the frogs."
as we drove away i saw a heavy, writhing blackness on both sides of the road. the road was alive! with snakes! in the headlights the vipers were slithering out of their mucky wallows in search of a meal.