Rain Brings the World to Life

We experienced a real rarity today in Northeast Florida.

There was a gentle rain. Not that angry rain we seem to get almost every day in the summer. Not that screw-your-shingles, there's-a-river-in-my-backyard kind of rain.

No, today's rain was a pleasant surprise. It fell for about thirty minutes and when it was over, I took a run out to the Round Marsh.

When I pulled the truck in at the trail head, the place was buzzing with cicadas. There were birds chirping in the trees and couple dozen frogs were barking in the bushes. I slipped into the woods and watched as Bluetailed Mole Skinks skittered over the boardwalk. The trail climbs a couple of dunes and then transitions into oyster shell the closer you get to the tidal marsh. There's constant movement in the bushes on this jog--you hear stuff crashing around out there the whole way through. A couple weeks back I spooked about a six-foot Indigo snake. That's a pretty animal.

But today was different. I paused at one point, trying to figure out the sound that seemed to be pacing me. It was a quiet, sustained rustling. Half expecting to see that creepy smoke from Lost tracking me through the woods, I scoured my surroundings for the noise's source.

That's when I saw the crabs. Thousands of them. Hermit crabs, scurrying up and down hills--no doubt drinking the fresh water collected on the hillside. Maybe they were playing in it. Whatever they were doing, it was an amazing thing to see.

About half of them had a single huge claw. They lifted them up and down, up and down--over and over and over again. It was mesmerizing. I'm not well-versed on crab culture, but here's an interesting tidbit for those that want to consider the value of starting a crabitat.

I spoke with a park ranger once who said that there are loads of deer in that stretch of woods. There are sixty-pound bobcats. They once counted over sixty alligators sunning themselves down at Alligator Pond. It's wild out there, to be sure.

When I got to the birding platform, I looked out across the marsh and saw a huge oak tree simply pregnant with egrets. There had to have been a dozen of them up there, creating a tree decked out with fluffy white ornaments. Then I felt a searing pain and looked down at my shirt. It was pregnant with yellow flies.

Lesson learned. Bring bug dope or keep moving. I ran hard back to my truck and, despite the insects, it was a great day in the woods. I'm revising a story this afternoon. I'll be back here in an hour, in front of the glowing computer screen, in the comforts of my air-conditioned study. But after a nice rain like that, and a chance to commune with the woods and work my heart and lungs and participate in the natural world, one small part of me will already be thinking about tomorrow's chance to get back out there and do it all over again.

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