Writer’s life: Talking to Florida frogs and turtles in the COVID era

Florida Softshell Turtle North Florida

The COVID era as I’ve come to call this time in our lives has been a very strange head trip. At night when I go outside to bid the day farewell, I find myself talking to all manner of creatures.  Sometimes I talk to the moon. This isn’t unusual for me—I’ve talked to creatures and the sky for as long as I can remember. I figure it’s some sort of ancestral link dating to long ago in my DNA. For some reason, though, even the animals seem to know these aren’t normal times.

Common Garter Snake North Florida
Common Garter Snake, North Florida. Photo by Indie Art South

Not long ago my husband and I were sitting on the deck. The morning was hot and steamy. We’d had buckets of rain each day for at least a week, and water was abundant in our bird bath as well as a few puddles towards the back of the yard. I happened to glance down and right at my feet there was a snake. This isn’t unusual. We frequently see Black Racers out in the yard—they’re very non-aggressive and they are great for keeping unpleasant critters in check. This snake wasn’t a Racer, though.

The pesky snake who continued to slither around our feet was a Common Gartersnake. These snakes aren’t venomous, but it’s not a good idea to try to touch them. In my experience they’re more defensive than my Black Racer friends. Mr. (or Ms.) Gartersnake soon decided to take a swim in the pool, but first drank water. Watching the snake hang onto the side of the pool and drink the water was fascinating. After the swim, Snake slithered back up onto the pool deck and headed across the lawn.

We couldn’t figure out why that snake chose to hang out with us in such close quarters, or why the pool water was more inviting than rainwater readily available.

A day or so later, we had to head out to run an errand. As we got into the car, I noticed we hadn’t lowered the garage door all the way down. So my husband went back in to do that. I heard him yell, and then watched as he nudged a Florida Softshell Turtle from the garage onto the driveway with a broom.

A t-shirt had fallen from the dirty clothes basket in the wash area in the garage, and apparently this turtle thought it was a great place to nap. Rain was about to start, so we thought it best to just let Turtle stay there and find his way home. It’s never a good idea to pick these turtles (or any wild creature) up. Softshells are very defensive and can pack an impressive bite when they choose to. These turtles prefer water, so we figured all the rain raised the creek level or the level of the lake a couple blocks down from our house. When we got back, Turtle had left our premises and we were glad for that.

Frog North Florida species unknown
Photo by Indie Art South

Some of my favorite creatures are the froggies and lizards who help keep the insect population in check. One frog seems to be very friendly, and he has more than once posed for photos. Unfortunately, I am pretty sure this frog is an invasive species, the Cuban Tree Frog. I’m sending out a couple emails to experts in an attempt to see what type it is. If he is the Cuban Tree Frog, he hasn’t made a dent in our lizard population. As a sidenote, remember to keep your hands away from these frogs because they can secrete a substance that can irritate you or your pets’ eyes and skin.

The lizards like me immensely. More than once I’ve found one sitting calmly on the arm of my chair as I read and write on the deck.

We deliberately kept a fringe around the back yard in its natural state. Every now and then we have to go out and cut it back a bit, but we find the bunnies, possums, and occasional racoons like the cover. We see many species of birds because of the bushes and plants established out there, and those birds bring me immense pleasure every single day.

My granddaughter asked me not long ago how I learned to talk to birds and snakes.

I told her it was easy. I just had to watch and listen for a long time first and after that, it all came naturally.

(Kay B. Day/Aug. 27, 2020)

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