This past Monday, I took a couple of days off from my work to spend two nights in the Ocala National Forest. I was not sure where I wanted to go, so I consulted my map of the forest and choose a location far from any high use area.
The hike out was uneventful, the weather was mostly cloudy and sunscreen was not required. I followed a new, for me, section of the Florida Trail. The hike was peaceful besides the occasional navy jet that would fly over every few minutes. The trail appeared to not be heavily used, there where few footsteps on the sections with sugar sand and dead fall crossed the trail.
By mid-afternoon I found my spot next to an ancient sink hole, my intended destination, that was now filled in with a small pond in the center. After setting up my hammock I went to retrieve some water from the pond. However, I was confronted with some rather thick mud that hampered my efforts. At one point, I suddenly sunk into the mud up to my hips, but the mud did cool me off after the long hike. Because of this mud, I was unable to get close to the open water in order to lay down my gravity filter bag and scoop up some water. The only option was to tie a short length of rope to the strap on the bag and throw it out over the mud into the water. After several throws I was able to get the bag full with three liters of water. I had to repeat this procedure several times over the course of my stay.
[The view of the water.]
I sat in my hammock and relaxed as the afternoon faded into the evening. I heard something moving through the forest. I watched and waited, with my camera packed away below me, as Florida Black Bear emerged from the forest heading towards the water. It had only traveled, by my estimate, 20 feet from the forest when it stopped and looked right at me. The bear then stood up on a fallen log and tried to get a better look at me. It was the perfect teddy bear silhouette, and my camera was not in my hand to capture the image. I did not want the bear to be too inquisitive, so I clapped my hands and shouted at the bear, the usual advice from bear experts on what to do when encountering a bear. At the sound of the first clap, the bear clearly panicked and ran hard into the forest. I saw the bear, that was cool, but I was unable to capture any photographs.
[The view from the hammock, the Bear appeared in the center.]
Later in the evening I had another visitor, this time a Blade Eagle overfull the pond, but I was too slow with my camera to get a good picture. As I sat in my hammock, I noticed as the sun dropped and the temperature changed, different types of insects appeared. During the day when the sun was overhead, butterflies where fluttering about visiting the flowers. But when the sun left, the air was filled with the sounds of many assorted insects that I can't identify making their calls and of course the mosquitoes. And with the mosquitoes the Dragon Flies that would dart all around my trying to capture the mosquitoes, who where trying to feast on me. It was fascinating seeing that transition.
As the sun set, I made my dinner and built a fire. I sat and observed the forest change from day into night as I contemplated my solitude. I finally went to bed and waited for what the morning would bring me.
[Sunset on the first day.]
Sometime during the night, I was awoken by the sounds of Coyotes in the distance. But that did not bother me. It appeared as if their calls where getting louder. Could it be that they were coming into the pond? Yes they where. As I hung there in my hammock I heard an extremely loud call from a Coyote followed by a call in perfect synchronization from another coyote. They where at the pond with me for sure. I thought to myself, "I will be okay, they won't bother me". Even with my food bag under my tarp. (Don't ask me about bear bagging, I know!) But they went silent and all was quite until dawn. I can only assume that they became aware of my presence and decided to leave like the Bear before them.
[A resident turtle.]
I awoke the next morning with the plan of doing nothing the whole day. All I wanted to do was lay in the hammock and relax, enjoying my time off. I did just that. My tarp made a perfect sun shield as the heat of the day picked up. I sat and watched the shadows of the trees gently move across the pond as the sun arched high above in the sky. I did make a short recon around my local vicinity, but there was nothing to report. In the evening, as I sat in my hammock, I heard a familiar sound as something large was approaching the pond from the forest. Could this be the Bear coming back to see if I had left? I quickly gathered my camera and was prepared for the Bear to make its triumphant return. But, if it was a Bear, it never did show itself. The creature did make its way around the parameter of the forest and stopped behind my hammock. I never heard it make another sound after that. As the sun set I made my dinner and sat around my small fire, repeating the activity from the first night.
The second night was uneventful, no Coyotes disturbed me in the night. Although I did hear them in the distance.
The next morning I awoke to cloudy skies and no sun. I packed up and headed back to my car, the sky was dark and dreary by Florida standards. I enjoyed my little solo trip. It allowed me to clear my mind of all the goings on and just focus on the moment. It was a great way to recharge. Will I ever go back to that pond? Maybe, but I don't think it would be the same experience.