My tank top clung to my skin with sweat. After temperatures that had topped 100° over the last several hours I’d been exploring, the air conditioning that wooshed out to greet me as I opened the metal and glass doors felt like an ice bath. I settled briefly onto a blue sofa, across from a young couple who had also just entered.
“See anything good?” I asked them.
The man rolled a shoulder. “Nah, nothing really. Just a couple of the usual lizards.”
I was mystified.
We’d each just emerged from an incredible Audubon-protected swamp sanctuary here in Southwest Florida, having traversed the same boardwalk that meandered through six different ecosystems. How had they seen “nothing” … when I’d seen so much?
Just a few paces in, I’d spotted a small alligator lounging along the far side of a murky pool.
Yes, I’d seen lizards, noting which were green anoles and which were brown. But I’d also seen black ones, trying to hide among the puzzle-like pattern of tree trunks covered in red and white lichens. There were skinks as well.
Great egrets sauntered among waist-high marsh grasses, one only perhaps a yard away, its slender neck undulating side to side then straightening regally.
I’d lingered in the shaded areas where possible, canopies of giant palm and ancient cypress overhead. At times, I just closed my eyes and listened. I wondered what creatures were making the slurping, splishing, crackling sounds in the water around me. Birds laughed raucously somewhere among the trees as sonorous grunts ping-ponged back and forth from among the tall grasses. Pig frogs, as it turns out.
There on a moss-covered log, motionless at first, was a fairly rare species of turtle, Deirochelys reticularia. After watching a while, however, I was rewarded with a full extension of his yellow-striped neck.
Another alligator, much larger than the first, blinked its eyes at me from among some reeds around a bend. I was patient and he was curious. Before long, he glided lazily over — so close I could have reached down and touched him — before continuing on his way into unseen spaces.
Just moments later, something caught my eye to the right. A salamander with glistening cobalt skin and a red throat. I knew a lot of amphibians, having studied books about them as a fascinated youth, and I’d never seen this species. (In fact, a later Internet check turned up no close matches in the state! A mystery…)
A tufted titmouse with its fluffy gray Mohawk flitted down and poked around a bit before darting off to find its next adventure, as a tiny silver bird — smaller than a hummingbird — pip-pip-pipped, hopping among nearby vines and branches.
Following a high-pitched trill and rustle overhead revealed a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers who were all too happy to continue the show for their audience.
Again, I have to ask … how had two people come away from the same circumstances with such vastly different experiences?
Just a night or two ago, rather than heading straight home from a coffee shop around 10:00 o’clock, I’d opted for a detour to the beach. I lay in a swath of moonlight so bright it cast my shadow forward along the sand and into the surf line. Yet for the moon’s clear stage and the audience of surrounding stars, there were two separate storms underway quite close by — one to my left and one to my right — each competing for my attention with silent and magnificent lightning shows of their own.
As if all this weren’t enough, just moments after remembering the Perseids and deciding to look for them, I saw what was hands-down the largest, longest, brightest shooting star of my lifetime thus far, trailing sparks of scintillating blue and green.
How do I wind up seeing so much? Am I just luckier than most — singled out by the Universe to get double doses of cosmic caviar while other poor Shmoes are selected to just get heaping helpings of stale cornflakes?
And don’t say it’s just because I’m on vacation in Florida; the young guy I’d met earlier today after the swamp excursion was, as well.
No, while I certainly seem to have more memorable experiences than many others, I don’t think it has anything to do with Fate playing favorites. Those who know me at all will not be surprised to find that I believe it all comes down to one thing. It all comes down to choice.
The choice to cultivate times of mindful silence in our lives.
The choice to stay in the now instead of ten steps ahead.
The choice to pause, to be still, to breathe deeply.
The choice to look, to listen, to notice.
The choice to wait, to be patient.
The choice to keep wonder alive.