Sunday, February 26, 2006
As we walked and waded, I told Liz about an amazing animal behaviorist named Turid Rudgrass. Turid discovered a universal animal language called "Calming Signals." She teaches a series of over thirty body postures that all animals understand. By using these signals, it is possible for humans to get extremely close to wild animals without alarming them.
After my little lesson, I took Liz to a favorite little spot in the springs, and suggested we lay on the sand and imagine images in the clouds.
In reality, I had a hidden agenda.
I wanted her to be quiet and still. I pulled out my camera and the oatmeal cookies that I had so carefully packed in plastic that morning.
It didn't take long for the Giant Florida Otter to appear. I nugged Liz and gave her a cookie.
"Use the calming signals, wade on in, and give him a piece of cookie."
She literally quivered with excitement. Then used the postures, and eased into the water. The Otter read her signals as non threatening, accepted the cookies, and began to swim circles around her, doing flips and spins for more.
For almost an hour, I sat on the beach taking photos of the playful pair. Liz would go underwater, and the Otter would follow, then he would spin, and she would follow. It was nature's ballet.
Then suddenly, without notice, the Otter disappeared.
"Did I do something to scare him?" Liz asked.
I paused to assess the situation. Something was amiss.
"The birds stopped singing." I said as I motioned for Liz to move closer.
Then I saw it.
"We're being watched." I whispered.
Liz followed my gaze, and froze dead in her tracks.
"What do we do?" She mouthed like a silent ventriloquist.
The panther was intent on us, crouched down and quivering. The Cat's message was clear, and it was NOT a calming signal!
"Don't look at her. Keep your eyes and body in a submissive posture. Let's just act like a couple of manatees, and float on by...Just like a natural part of the environment."
"At least cats don't like water."
"House cats don't, but Florida Panthers are excellent swimmers."
"Do they eat manatees?"
"Good point. Be a log. Float away like a lazy ol' log. And whatever you do, don't think about fear. She'll sense it."
Slowly we sunk into the current, gaining distance, nearing the bend. When, to our astonishment, we heard the cry of kittens.
We could hardly believe it. Our eyes locked in silent amazement, as we drifted away from her den. When we reached a safe distance, I hid behind a tree and took a slew of pictures, loving my 20X zoom like never before.
"Man, the gang is NEVER going to believe this!" Liz squealed.
She was right. They didn't. When we got back to the hotel, I discovered that I had forgotten to put the card reader in the camera that morning. We had nothing but a good fish story to tell.
"Oh well, at least we have the memory." Liz said sympathetically.
"Yeah." I sighed. "We'll always have that."