I have been to the Everglades a time or two. It is barren, desolate and beautiful. My parents took me there when I was a small child, and one of the few photographs that remain from that era of my life is of me standing beside a little Indian boy who is almost exactly my size. Neither of us have on shirts or shoes and, quite frankly, I was almost as dark as he was.
I suppose he was a Seminole Indian. The way my daddy used to tell the story was that when most of the Seminole tribe was forced to move west, to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma, the great chief Osceola led a small force of resistors in waging guerilla war against the U.S. Army that lasted for years. Osceola was finally captured and died of malaria, but many of his followers went so deep into the Everglades that the government just said "to heck with it" and let them stay. The Seminole Nation is the only group of Indians that never signed a peace treaty with the United States. I suppose that, technically, they are still at war with the United States. Who isn't these days?
At any rate, my folks took me to visit their reservation in the Everglades. I met my little Indian friend, and we rode an air buggy all over the swamp and saw more birds than you could shake a stick at.
I returned to the Everglades with my lovely wife, Lisa, during Christmas vacation about three years into our marriage. Don't ask me why I wasn't at home practicing basketball. We rode our bikes through Shark Alley, which is completely misnamed. We didn't see a single shark, but we saw more alligators than you could say grace over. I mean there were hundreds of them, many of them right on the trail we were trying to ride upon. A few times we would have to stop and wait for them to crawl away before we could continue.
Well, I told you that to tell you this. I am done with the Everglades. D-O-N-E -- Done.
Don't you want to know why? Sure you do.
I have made my last ride through the Everglades because a few years ago some mindless wonders decided it would be a good idea to turn their pet pythons loose in that particular swamp. You are familiar with pythons, aren't you? They are those giant snakes that come from Southeast Asia. They run upward of 20 feet long and are constrictors. That means they will wrap themselves around you and squeeze you to death before they eat you.
Yeah. I couldn't see any problem with turning a few of those things loose into the local biosphere.
I quit walking at Elks-Aidmore for a whole year because I happened up on an 11-inch copperhead. You are crazy if you think I'm going to take a stroll among 20-foot pythons. And make no mistake -- the Everglades are now teeming with them. They live in water and trees. I said in trees. It turns out that south Florida provides perfect conditions for these snakes to not only survive, but to thrive. They took to that swamp like a duck to water, and now there are thought to be more than 100,000 of them in the vast "river of grass."
Actually, there are fewer than there used to be. The state of Florida Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring the first ever Great Python Challenge right now. They have invited thrill-seekers and outdoorsmen from all over the country to come down to the Everglades and kill as many of the giant snakes as they can between now and the middle of February. They suggest shooting them in the head or decapitating them with a machete. Yeah. Good luck with that.
They hope to thin out the unwelcome reptiles because they are playing havoc with the ecosystem. The raccoon, bobcat and opossum populations have all decreased by 99 percent since the snakes arrived on the scene. Ninety-nine is purt near a 100, you know. I'm not a fan of a bobcat or an opossum, and raccoons always raid our trash cans when we camp at Jekyll every spring, but I'd take all three over a Burmese python lurking around any day.
To entice folks to come to Florida and hunt snakes, the state is offering $1,500 to the person who kills the most pythons and $1,000 to the person who kills the longest one. I am amazed that my cousin, Adam Potts, and my son-in-law-to-be, Chris Fairchild, aren't already down there.
The pythons are proving to be elusive as only 11 were killed in the first week of the hunt. Of course, many of those interviewed admitted that they didn't know much about hunting snakes but just wanted an excuse to camp out and drink beer. That's one more reason for me to stay out of the Everglades. Eight hundred beer-swilling guys with guns won't make me feel any safer. I'd rather take my chances with Osceola's guerillas.
Eleven pythons down and 999,989 to go. Let me know when they kill them all and I might make a return visit.
In the meantime, I wonder what ever happened to that little Indian boy I had my picture made with.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For past columns, visit www.rockdalecitizen.com or www.newtoncitizen.com.