After packing a record number of unneeded items for our recapturing-the-simplicity-of-life camping trip to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Phil, Argo, and I drove 428 miles to Tifton, GA (the “Turf Grass Capital of the World”) with the camper in tow. The three of us spent the night in a dog-friendly hotel where Argo nasally explored our room and mentally cataloged odors of previous guests and their pets. Later, on his way out the back door for a pee, Argo sniffed under doors where he heard or smelled other dogs inside. He is an obsessive collector of scents, particularly stenches.
The next afternoon we arrived at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park where a ranger eyed our dog and advised us to keep him leashed.
“Don’t let him lap water at the water’s edge,” he told us, “Gators will grab dogs right in front of people and devour them.”
“Could an alligator snatch a dog as big as Argo?” I asked. “He weighs almost 70 lbs.”
“Yep. They bite into ‘em and drag ‘em down under water to drown ‘em,” said a park volunteer who overheard our conversation. “Gators think they smell like chicken.”
Each morning at Kissimmee, Phil took Argo out to do his business. Our new neighbors had terriers that escaped their camper confinement and were running and yapping at their master to be alarmed at Argo who focused straight ahead and continued to pee. After Phil reminded the dogs’ owner to keep them on leashes, they escaped to the campground at large with their owner chasing after them—gator bait on the run.
Morning fitness walks became part of our routine at Kissimmee. Argo was enthusiastic about these daily walks where he could scarf down unidentified animal scat and grass tufts before being stopped. He could not figure out the wild hog rooting spots though—where were these creatures?
Phil and I were not looking for wild hogs, but one afternoon, we were hiking a trail and noticing that the palm trees signified wet areas, when out of the blue, we heard a crashing sound. We looked up and there were two wild hogs running away from us as fast as their stubby cloven-hooved legs would carry them! They ran toward the palms and never looked back. Probably, they weighed no more than 80 lbs. each. All we saw were their coppery brown color and their rounded backs splitting the grass as they ran. We don’t think Argo could see them as they were in tall grass above his eye level. I wonder if the hogs were running from him—perhaps they are hunted with dogs.
Few surprises ruffle this former guide dog in training. As we were finishing our sandwiches at our campsite picnic table one day, a black racer gingerly glided out of the small treed area near us into a sunlit spot. It stayed a few minutes, flicked its tongue twice, and then retreated to the shady trees. Argo, who clearly saw the snake, was not alarmed.
Calm as he is, however, Phil and I couldn’t take Argo on a boat trip up the river to see manatees or on the preserve’s buggy tour. We couldn’t leave him alone inside the camper while we went for a hike or for a day trip off the preserve.
Having him along, however, was a good decision. He loved the hikes, meeting new people, and relaxing. At night, it was great to have him inside with us while we read or played cards. There’s nothing like a dog to warm your chilly feet.
While Phil and I wanted to be away from home, neither of us wanted to be totally off the grid as I had thought. Otherwise, why did we bring our cell phones, computers, and dog with us? We didn’t want to be away from connection with other living beings in our lives, this connection gave us the freedom to go and still keep up with those we love. What we didn’t miss, however, were the complexities of everyday life—property taxes, monthly utility bills, software updates, possessions and dusting possessions, clutter, memorabilia that I can’t seem to dispose of, ancient carpets, a television with four remote controls, a yard that needs a plan, kitchens and bathrooms that beg updates, books I can’t dispose of because I once paid good money for them, non-functioning and outdated clothes reminiscent of Aunt Bea’s on “Andy of Mayberry,” write-your-life articles from Writer’s Digest a decade ago, old contacts and contracts, camera accessories for cameras I no longer own, and “resident” mail.
On the final day of our stay at Kissimmee the sun came out early after a hard rain. The frogs and meadowlarks were singing during our morning walk. Argo who avoids water over 2 inches deep, splashed through the puddles not exactly like a hunting dog, but reminiscent of one if he stood still and stared masterfully toward the horizon. All three of us loved the open space, the warmth of the sun, and being together. After the walk though, Phil and I went back to the camper to check our emails and texts hoping we hadn’t missed any news from home.