Each time I head out to the La Chua Trail, I go a little bit farther and endure the sun a little bit longer.  I’ve been beaten by the sun to the point that I have been nearly crazed by it.  For the uninitiated, the Florida sun is like nothing else in the USA.  It is the state’s number-one selling point and it has worked for decades to drive the cold Northerner out of his winter hibernation and onto Florida’s glorious beaches.

Summer is a different story, and nowhere is summer in Florida better illustrated that on the unshaded berm of the La Chua Trail.  The sun is blindingly bright, scorching, and relentless.  It does not care one bit about your comfort and it is the clouds that move across it to provide temporary relief and not the sun that decides to give you a short break by graciously ducking behind the cloud cover.  The sun is one of Nature’s fiercest antagonists and you are in a battle with it on a daily basis if you live as I do inland and close to swamps.  The heat here is so thick it feels as if you could chew it or spread it on sunburnt toast to have with a big gulp of Florida orange juice.

There are those who will disagree with me.  One of those is not the heavily pregnant Asian woman I saw struggling up the berm, fifteen places behind her husband who was pushing a baby stroller.  The woman looked the way I felt–sweaty, reddened, stumbling. She had not made it to the observation platform at the end of the trail and neither would I.  In the distance, I could see others strolling back from the platform, apparently unaffected.  These appeared to be serious birders decked out in excellent birding apparel and expressions of grim determination on their faces or they appeared to be college girls in micro shorts walking hand-in-hand with college boys in shorts that looked like giant boxers.

In my own defense, I will say that I tried.  I walked about 1/16 of a mile longer than my last effort.  Mr. B. is a sideline coach, urging me along as if I were running for a touchdown: You can do it! (Or not.) You did better than last time! This was an improvement! You should be proud of yourself! Rah, rah, rah, GO TEAM!

When I first balked at so much sun bearing down on me, and was feeling very victimized by it, people suggested that I buy a hat.  I countered that the hat made my head hot and caused rivers of sweat to run into my eyes.  I bought a very lightweight men’s fishing hat, made by Columbia, and I wear it until the sweat starts to pour down and sting my eyes.  The hat does not make me feel any cooler.  It does keep the sun from burning my retinas, when worn in conjunction with sunglasses that look like horse blinders.  This is all it does other than to make me look as if I have trouble dressing myself.  This is compounded by my realization that the coolest pair of pants I own are not shorts but a very baggy pair of beige cargo pants.  They slip down my derriere until I resemble someone trying to copy hip-hop fashion and they make me look very, very chubby.

 To hell with fashion!  Armor is the name of the game.  So is a mirror for me to practice the birders’ expressions of grim determination.  I figure if I can master the La Chua Trail, I will then be ready for the Australian Outback.  It may takes years of practice but I am in no hurry.

You access the La Chua berm by walking a half mile from the small parking lot and paying an honor-system two dollar admission.  The beginning of the trail takes you by a steamy Port-a-Pot and through a short concrete tunnel.  You then walk by a horse stable and onto a very nicely maintained boardwalk from which you will usually see small alligators and turtles.  The boardwalk ends in a type of gazebo that overlooks a sink. Watch out for the wasps that make their homes on the underside of the roof!

The real trail starts just beyond the boardwalk.  This is where the canal-side berm starts, and it is in the winter that you might enjoy the optimum alligator viewing since the reeds and grasses have wilted in the cold.  Alligators line the banks and are very easily visible.  In the summer, there are far fewer gators, and any lounging at the edge of the berm will not be easily spotted.  I apparently walked right by one behemoth without noticing; it wasn’t until it slid into the water that Mr. B., who was a good distance behind me, saw it.  The gator swam across the canal and then changed direction, appearing for all the world like the Loch Ness Monster as only his tail and head were visible, arcing and slicing out of the water.

The trail is photographer’s paradise, and it is not uncommon to see serious photogs trekking giant zooms down the trail.  You’ve probably seen their work around as they get up close and personal with titanic alligators. It is here that the frustration over the pocket camera grows. Alligators, snakes, birds, butterflies…the trail is as true as representation of Florida as you are likely to get and I include here both my work and that of Mr. B.  Mine looks in miniature. All “creature” photos by David Ballard using a Panasonic Lumix.

I have left the photos untouched.