Along the Santa Fe River, scenery that looks like a sophisticated paint-by-numbers picture.  This river, which also runs darkly through O’Leno State Park, here seemed harmless, but harmless is never a good adjective to use around a Florida waterway.

After the purchase of a pair of hiking boots, I became more confident about venturing walkways that were not one-hundred-percent concrete.  I made sure to select the boot design that best covered the ankle and then chose a sock that I hoped would form a seal between it and my skin, the better to avoid the inevitable siege of fire ants.

Seeing the bottom of a body of water is of utmost importance, whether one be swimming, wading, or walking along the shore, as is the ability to see the importance of beating a rapid retreat when necessary.

I believe the correct term to describe me is “chickenshit,” and although my chickenshittedness has lessened with the purchase of the boots, some reorganization has  occurred:  I now take notice of the footwear of other people, which makes me feel worse and more tragically chickenshit than before when I see people sloshing through leaf- or pine-needle-covered paths wearing flip-flops.  This is an abject and humiliating lesson in the bravery of others.  It becomes even more painful when one’s companions remark about the same casualness as a way of pointing out the everyday nature of a banal activity like walking in the woods.  This is generally phrased as “Look what a nice time those people are having.”

To make the situation even worse, we have instances of mothers pushing babies in strollers along berms where nine-foot alligators are docilely lazing about, enjoying the sunshine as much as the humans, or nature photographers whose eyes are on the lens and not on the grass, or those extremely courageous individuals who step around a venomous snake.

A few months ago, a man wrote to the editor of The Gainesville Sun to thank a park ranger for saving him from a snake on Payne’s Prairie.  The man had been out to an observation platform and then had become lost while trying to find his way to the parking lot.  A rattler blocked his way, so he called 911 on his cell phone.  911 in turn called the park rangers, who rode out to pick the guy up and return him safely to his vehicle.  Last week, I bravely attempted to retrace his route, only to end up disappointed that it wasn’t more difficult to get lost.  I felt doubly brave when I realized that I had left my own cell phone in the car.

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