A Murder in the Everglades by Jungle Pete
I awoke Monday morning before the sun had risen and before the light could burn off the fog of a dream that would remain with me even until today. It wasn’t one of those dreams where you’re about to die but wake up just in time. In this dream, I was informed I was dead, how I died and how the world had proceeded in my absence. It was upsetting to say the least.
As I headed for my commute across the Everglades I decided to cheer myself up by navigating towards one of my favorite places in the vast wilderness of South Florida. At the southern tip of the peninsula, at the southernmost frontier of the continental United States is a little place called Flamingo in Everglades National Park. The park has three main entrances: the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City, Shark Valley Visitor Center in the heart of the Everglades and the Ernest P. Coe Visitor Center just west of Florida City. From Ernest P. Coe (named for the spiritual father of the ENP), a 38-mile road winds its way through pine rocklands and sawgrass prairies, ever-so-slightly sloping into the mangroves and out to Florida Bay.
Out here the cell service grasps for devices just out of reach. Out here I am one of a handful of humans in a four million acre wilderness. I am content.
I am treated to the site of Anhingas feeding white-feathered chicks, camouflaged by the fecal-stained, white-washed tree islands and guarded by alligators basking in the last of the dry season watering holes. As I make my way south, the road sweeps back and forth through dwarf cypress prairies, like a school of mullet chased by dolphin. Crows hop away from bits of carrion pulverized by passing cars.
I stop for a moment to take advantage of one of several spur trails. A crow hops over and is joined by a second. I retrieve my camera for the walk and suddenly there are four crows watching me, speaking to me with a nasally “gonk”. I photograph them and wonder to myself how many crows make up a murder.
After my walk I head south once again on what seems like an endless road. Crow after crow hops to the side of the road as I drive along. And then one doesn’t. One crow maintains its position just on my side of the yellow line, watching me approach, looking as if it’s timing its move. It doesn’t, I slow dramatically and finally the bird takes flight. A light thud grazes the upper windshield and black feathers puff like a dandelion in the wind. I circle back, park and dart for the bird lying on its back on the side of the road. I get only a few feet from the car before I am mobbed by seven crows. I retrieve a hat for my protection and on my second attempt to check on the injured bird the crows are huddled like football players around their fallen mate. When a Turkey Vultures glides over the tree line and towards the injured crow the distracted mob of crows takes off and drives the carrion eater away, enabling me access to the bird. As I return to my car with crow in hand, the mob returns with more birds, perched above me, making a ruckus unlike I’ve heard from birds before. They are yelling and they are not happy.
Was the bird just stunned? Does she have internal injuries? (For some reason I sense she’s a female). Can I get her to an animal rehabilitator? Will they care for a crow as much as I do now? As I head to Flamingo the mob of crows follows me for a distance and seems to gather members as they go. I stop. They stop. I go. They go. It’s unsettling. The crow under my shirt on the passenger seat makes a soft “gagonk” and an “awww”. I peak under to see if she is ready to fly. She’s struggling and with one last “caw” she goes limp.
There are many cultures that believe that crows are messengers from the spiritual world. Any spiritual connection I have is with the natural world so it’s difficult for me to untether this moment from my unnerving dream. Was this a message and what did it mean? Is it possible that the intelligent crow that normally moves out of harm’s way made a mistake as I had? In the end I find myself struggling to find the meaning in death and in this case one that I caused. And now I can’t help noticing crows wherever I go.
Want to take a tour of the Everglades with Jungle Pete? Visit his website for more information: www.ecosafari.com