Travels with Harvey

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My Truce with Mother Nature


I am a South Florida native.  You might assume that having spent my formative years in that tropical paradise, where water sparkles and palms sway under a neon blue sky, where tourists flock to boat and fish and sunbathe, that I would be a real nature girl.

You would be completely wrong.

Behind its picturesque façade, you see, Florida harbors a sinister reality.  Its heat and humidity are, of course, notorious.  Travel ads show folks floating around swimming pools because really, nobody can manage anything else most of the time.  Until they’re scrambling for their towels because a monsoon has just appeared over the Everglades and will soon unleash upon them a billion volts of electricity. 

Far more daunting than the weather, though, is the wildlife.  I say “Florida” and you think pink flamingos, but be assured, flamingos are strictly reserved for tourists who visit botanical gardens. Residents must contend with beasts whose images aren’t so postcard-worthy. Giant poisonous toads eating kibble right out of dog bowls.  Water moccasins slithering through neighborhood canals.   Mosquito swarms so thick you’re sneezing them out.  And worst of all, alligators gobbling little pooches during their daily walks.

Is it any wonder I retreated indoors until graduation?Harvey - family resized

After I moved to Virginia and got married, my husband – another avid indoor enthusiast – never tried to change my ways.  Then we had three boys.  Boys meant catching frogs.  And spending days at the beach.  And, of course, camping.  So purchasing Harvey the RV was really an act of self preservation.  It’s the only thing that stood between me, a leaky tent, and the not-so-great outdoors.

Our first night in Harvey was spent at a KOA near Charlottesville.  The minute we parked, the boys bounded out the door and through the trees.  I sent their dad to supervise.

“Aw, c’mon, mom!” seven-year-old Alex pleaded.  “You gotta go with us on our hike.”

I shrugged. I wasn’t going to be one of those prissy mothers who are afraid to get dirty.  Besides, it was only a hike.  Hiking is just walking, except with boots.  And as luck would have it, I was wearing my Uggs.  I totally had this.

Turns out, the boys and I had different expectations of proper hike conduct.  I envisioned a stroll through level, marked trails, punctuated by bird watching, and culminating in a photo opportunity at the pond. 

 Their version didn’t require an actual path, or even an upright position, as evidenced by their simultaneous descents down the muddy stream bank on their posteriors.  They forged ahead through prickly brush.  They stopped only to chuck rocks against trees.  They sucked our single water bottle dry, leaving me parched. 

The highlight for them was crossing a murky, stagnant creek on a fallen log, their arms outstretched as they swayed precariously over the muck below.

Mine was the more cautious technique, which I highly recommend for anyone whose center of gravity exceeds two feet.  But even so, as I gingerly scooted across the log on my bottom, collecting splinters in my jeans, it Harvey elk in windowoccurred to me that I hadn’t yet gotten the hang of the whole outdoorsy lifestyle.

But by taking it in small doses, I am pleased to report that Mother Nature and I are getting along much better now.

A few weeks after Charlottesville, we drove Harvey through Virginia Safari Park and got licked by an elk with halitosis, fed love birds perched on our heads, and fought for, then relinquished, a feed bucket to a pushy camel.

On the Eastern Shore, we rented a canoe, and after an awkward predicament in which strangers extracted us from the tall grasses near shore, ten-year-old Nicholas and I managed to circle the inlet by Harvey turtleourselves, getting caught by the current under the pier only twice.

In Shiloh, North Carolina, I fished with live crickets and caught three small bream.  It didn’t matter that the pond was so well stocked that we could see fish colliding under its surface.  I was triumphant. Later, we nursed a turtle’s punctured neck with only minor injury (to us, not the turtle) and warmed an egg that had fallen from its nest.

And in the Shenandoah, exactly one year after our first hike, we attempted another.  This time, I got a trail guide at the visitor center.  I wore suitable boots. I brought a water bottle for each of us.  And when a family emerging from the trail cautioned us that the path ahead was challenging, I waved off their concern.  I had this.

They were right, it wasn’t easy.  The path was rocky and steep.  It was hard to keep up, but Alex hung back and steadied my arm when I stumbled.  Eventually, we arrived at our destination, beautiful Lewis Falls.  We caught our breaths, enjoyed the view, and I even got my photo opportunity. On the way back, our efforts were further rewarded when a deer family crossed our path.  I was probably the most delighted of us all.

I guess I’m starting to appreciate our local flora and fauna.  Especially since I just read about Florida’s most horrifying wildlife challenge: frozen iguanas dropping from trees onto unsuspecting passersby.  I’m sure we won’t encounter anything like that on our camping trips in Virginia.  If we ever do, though, you’ll know just where to find me.

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