When our old shi tzu Charlie began getting hungry at 4 am, whining so loudly that I have to get up and feed her, I decided to take my morning walk then and not wait until later. This Sunday morning is no different.
I walk down our street to Ormond Lakes Boulevard, turn left to walk west a mile on the sidewalk to the main gate on U.S. 1, turn and walk east to what is known as the Big Lake, another two miles away. I then walk back to my house, a trip covering in total about four miles. In the past, walking later before Charlie discovered early-morning feedings, I would have lots of company with other walkers, joggers, bike riders and drivers hurrying in multiple directions.
Now, I am usually alone with nature, although humans aren’t that far away. We live less than two miles from busy 1-95. Even at 4:30 am and stay-home directives, there’s a steady drumbeat of traffic on the highway, sort of like the hum from the Big Bang still echoing around the universe.
The engine noise is louder as I start west, but I can still detect the hoot of an owl, “hooty-hooting to a dove” as was noted in the old song “Tammy.” The sound rolls through the palm trees and wild oaks and across the 17 lakes that constitute much of Ormond Lakes’ environment. The development contains about 600 homes, many occupied by retirees. During walks later in the day, their dogs chorus to mark my passage. Now, the pets are quiet.
Instead, I hear the thump of a woodpecker pounding on a lofty Royal palm. During the day, the sound is swallowed up. In the early morning, it radiates like a drumbeat. I don’t hear songbirds. They must sleep in. However, the tree frogs are in full cry.
Streetlights placed far apart create large stretches of near-darkness, perfect for nervous wildlife to forage in peace.
|Florida white-tail deer
I see three deer in a clearing created for electric lines. They pause to look in my direction. I continue walking away from them. Nevertheless, they bound off, rapidly vanishing in the gloom. I flashback to when my wife and I lived in West Haven, Connecticut. When we drove east to Branford and Guilford on 1-95, we would pass several wooden areas. I always checked and was occasionally rewarded with the brief view of a deer at a small lake abruptly visible amid the forest there. In Ormond Lakes, I have far more time to enjoy the view.
Later, closer to the Big Lake, I see another deer bounding down the road in rapid leaps. It is just a large shadow, like an avatar in the dim light.
I hear a noise as I near the clubhouse, which is less than a mile east of the front gate. A large armadillo scurries across the parking lot and dives almost violently into sheltering underbrush. I also know where an opossum lives further west, across from Alligator Lake. I often see it on later walks, but it apparently is not an early riser.
The alligators are. There are at least two: one with a deep bark; one with more of a light tenor cough. The bass version was busy this morning, barking loudly about every 30 seconds or so. On warm afternoons, I often see the small one floating on the small lake – it’s really nothing more than a pond with a pretentious name – looking up and patiently watching.
In the dark, I cannot see clearly the egret, cormorant and other birds that often rest of large branches above the water. In the morning, without lampposts nearby, they are mere shadows. Raccoons, too, vanish into the darkness right along with foxes that are known to live here along with coyotes. I carry a flashlight and a set of keys as small weapons in case any animal gets aggressive. None ever have.
I hear strange noises coming from the edge of Tomoka State Park, which borders the east side across the street from the Big Lake. No doubt, they are wild hogs, known to ravage the landscape, undeterred by human presence. I often see the results of their foraging: deep scars in the ground.
Big Lake serves as home to ibis, spoonbills, egrets and ducks. They are mere white splotches in the trees and on small rises that surround the lake.
As I turn back west, a car appears from a side street and turns toward me. Its headlights briefly sweep across me. I resent the intrusion and wonder why anyone is up at 5 am this Sunday morning. The car hurries along, ignoring the speed limit sign, and thankfully disappears around a curve. This used to be known as Old King’s Road,. It followed paths through what was once a palmetto forest and was built centuries ago. Now paved, it still loops about like a meandering river, slowing most drivers not interested in colliding with bushes and trees planted in the many center islands.
At this hour, I have to be careful to avoid the many sprinklers hard at work to maintain the greenery.
As I crisscross from one side to the other, or wander down the middle of the road, I see trash left by thoughtless humans: soda and beer cans, scraps of paper, occasional fast food containers, scraps of tissue and plastic. I have no idea why anyone would thoughtless discard such debris into this beautiful development. Mike, who is the maintenance man, told me that he picks up what he can and that several residents also collect litter during their walks.
Some of the flotsam reportedly comes from drivers who use the road as a way to avoid U.S. I. They think all residents are wealthy and discard waste as some kind of insult. They don’t know that many of the residents, former police, teachers and nurses, live on Social Security and pensions.
When I return home, Charlie is sound asleep. I kneel down and thank her. I used to be upset at the early-morning wake-up call. Not anymore. For a few minutes every day, before the world awakes, I have the rare opportunity to commune with nature in a natural cathedral.
Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history with an occasional foray into American culture. He holds an ABD in American Studies from Case Western Reserve University. He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of the recently published novels Revelation! (Southern Owl Press) and The Great Seer Nostradamus Tells All (Bold Venture Press) as well as a variety of nonfiction books, including The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information and Comparative Religion for Dummies. His books are available on Amazon.com, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers. He can also be followed on Twitter.