Carmen Kunze “My Skunk Ape Christmas”
Nothing is quite so special like smashing an invading swarm of saltwater mosquitoes competing with you for the only dry overhang during a thunderstorm. It becomes a virtual bloodbath in nature’s sauna and it all takes place in a broiling oven. The Florida Everglades.
Tourists have been visiting this area for the last one hundred years to bask in the wide open spaces or “River of Grass” as written by Marjorie Stoneman Douglas in 1947. There is a sense of wonder and mystery in this wild place that gives you an idea of what life would have been like during prehistoric times. It’s difficult to muck around the Everglades during the summer because of the sweltering temperatures and high water so people tend to visit during the cooler months. Don’t get me wrong, there are things to see there for every season, but if you’re sweaty and miserable you aren’t going to give a rats behind about getting out in mother nature. I prefer to explore when there’s a real chill in the air and a low chance of passing out from the heat.
One Christmas holiday my father-in-law was visiting from Georgia and in my humble bid to impress a man who climbed the Matterhorn, hiked the Appalachian trail by himself, I decided we would stay in a chickee hut out in the swamp. I found a place to ride an air boat, listen to stories by the fireside and eat overpriced hamburgers. It was off Snake road which bears true to the name with winding curves and basking alligators that take you to the heart of Big Cypress. Arriving at the huts, they were bare bones with two well worn single beds with a table and lantern in between. There was no electricity or running water, but this gave us pioneer isolation and the excitement of a real Florida adventure. In the back there was a small deck sitting about ten inches off the water. Since alligators aren’t evolved in the skill of standing on two feet yet, it made for a magical place to sit and watch their long bodies skim along the surface of the black water.
After a dinner of potatoes cooked in an oil barrel grill, I bought our tickets for a ride on a swamp buggy. We climbed up the ladder to join the other visitors, took our seats then slowly began rambling our way into the darkness. The air was cool and crisp at around fifty degrees and the night sky was a blanket of stars. The sounds of the cicadas were deafening along with the chorus of frogs that joined in with their evening songs. Occasionally the driver would pull over and allow us to listen, then flash his light across the water to reveal the beady red eyes of our hidden audience.
Deeper into the woods he drove recounting to us the sightings of bears and other wildlife. With one swoop of his light I caught something out of the corner of my eye. Just for a flash I saw it there, walking away from our direction. It wasn’t a bear, it was something larger with swinging arms that stretched down below its knees. Not like any bear I had ever seen. I felt the blood rush to my head and an unexpected panic filled me so I pointed and cried “LOOK!!”, but it was already gone.
I turned to my daughter and said,
“Did you see that??”,
“See what?”, she replied.
“That was NO BEAR!!”.
Immediately I noticed that I was the only person who was reacting. Searching the other faces who stared back at me with that look you give the crazy woman on the bus who talks to herself. It’s “oh that poor thing” mixed with “don’t come near me”. My father-in-law sat in the back, quietly stoic with all his German sensibility. I imagined his thought at that very moment was “my son married a lunatic”.
It had to be the legendary Skunk Ape of Florida also known in the world as a Bigfoot, Yeti or Sasquatch. Suddenly I recalled those television shows I watched as a kid about UFO’s and monsters. A guy with a plaid shirt and overalls pointing to the treeline where Bigfoot scared him on a duck hunt in backwoods Canada. This was real and I had seen one. Had Elvis flown by my window riding a unicorn that night I would have considered my life complete and I could die at peace. My eyes welled up with tears while trying to hide my emotions because the last thing I wanted was a tourist going back to Iowa with the story of a whacked out lady who saw a skunk ape. A voice two rows back whispered, “is she crying?”. The transformation to crazy woman on the bus was complete.
Desperate and slightly embarrassed I looked at my husband and asked,
“Did you see that? Please tell me you did.”
“Yeah I saw something too..”, he replied,
“..but it was wearing sneakers.”