MojoZone   -   RebelWriting   -   SkunkApe Stories  
Top Menu
MojoZone Panther!
copyright © 1977,2012 Rebellious O'Megan One
Last UpDated:

Greetings! Please be patient, there are many words here, for the tale is long and complicated. Too often along the way i may become distracted and side-tracted but promise there is both begining and a clear end to this tale and despite whatever circuitious paths i may create for you to encounter rest assured they all trail around the tale and come back together into one single whole. This is a story i have told many times but just this once i am telling it in a very special way for my friend Paige Telan, wife of Rich Friedman, and mother to their daughter. I will cut-and-paste cite my references and quote my sources while trying not to be too redundant or lost in the details i apologize for inevitable repetition though i freely admit this tale well worth repeating again and again ------------------------------------------------ So i WANT to tell you a story in the ancient style get you to sit and read for a while i WANT to write in the style of the masters of old how all the greatest stories are told with rhythm and rhyme and metrical time the words of my tale begin to unfold but where to begin? where do i start? where does this story find its very heart? in a world without begining and a world without end from whence shall my story wend? well, the story of the story should begin with the teller and that would be me, an interesting feller i am rebellious o'megan one captain of the t.s. millie one i'm an information broker occasional smoker captain of a toyota sedan long haired hippy-type man now there are types of tales which i tell and apart from each other they should dwell firstly there is the story of my life a simple tale with little strife and though i may be lacking tact in here you'll find mostly truthful fact though i admit i mix lies in with truth which may seem a bit uncouth thus if you recognize yourself in this tale by impish elf i apologize if you're offended please realize that is not what i intended i just wanted a fun song to tell and if i get the details wrong: oh well! for the sake of poetic rhyme small mistakes are no major crime thus if you find yourself acccused you may be justly recused by honestly stating "it's all just a lie!" and any crimes you may thereby safely deny, deny, deny. So, within the bigger story of my life we find this sub-tale of intriguing strife we are each centered in our own universes and each story should have its own unique verses so i'll start in that place where our lives over-lap that special place where we share this time map ------------------------------------------------ I will begin with the night of Sunday May 20th 2012 while dancing with Crazy Fingers at Boston's on the Beach Paige and Erica were there as old and young friends are glad to share company after some time apart with quiet greetings shouted into a loud room "how are you?" she says and "what is news?" And i think of all the things that have occured between now and last me met i think of all the things that are important and all the things that are interesting and try to quickly STOP thinking of that which is neither and i look at them, while pausing to think, about what they probably already know, or might possibly actually WANT to know and i decide to say this: --------------------------------------------------- "Remember our friend Maria Ioup? who married Jack Shealey, from SkunkApe? I was dancing with her yesterday up at the Bamboo Room, to the jammin' sounds of Billie Gilmore and the Upright Hootenannies. They got married and she is pregnant enough to be showing." Now, there, i thought, i had spoke five or six names that she should know and recognize enough to be interested in, at a personal level that we share, relevant to the current venue and event. Now, just to add something interesting... "So, she is living out in the everglades, all pregnant and mostly alone. It being the summer, their tourist season is over and there is hardly anyone out there this time of year. So, she thinks to herself, "what should a pregnant mother-to-be in the everglades do with herself on such a fine and sunny afternoon?" and decides to go outside to pick fresh wild mulberries that are in season, and to bake herself and baby a nice warm mulberry pie. I love it. Now, Jack Shealey , the proprietor of all that sacred land out there, who has been born and raised in that swamp, and has three rattlesnake skins hanging in his kitchen, warns her carefully, looking straight in the eyes "you be careful of rattlesnakes, hear? They are moving out there about now. But the mulberries are good and delicious, so go enjoy, just be careful. Don't mess with snakes, and they won't bite you, back away slowly if you hear the rattle. Pick the berries safely." And so off she goes alone into the woods, like little miss pregnant riding hood carrying her little wicker basket lined with a clothe white napkin she is bending down picking the mulberries from the tree and she hears a sound the rustling of leaves the slight movement in the grass a few feet in front of her she pauses she freezes she gently places the last picked into her basket she listens she looks and she sees standing in front of her on the other side of the tree also picking and eating mulberries a very huge brown bear At which point the decision is made that perhaps the time of a pregnant mother-to-be trapped all alone in the sweltering swamps of the everglades is best spent indoors, near the air-conditioning and there will be NO PIE TODAY." ------------------------------------------------ And Paige and Erica and Rebel all laugh because of the shocking truth of this tale and wasn't that a fun little answer to "What's news in your life?" And we talk about SkunkApe Research and Trail Lakes CampGrounds and the festivals and the times and the fun. Except that Erica was never there, and doesn't really understand, although Paige remembers. I said things to Erica like "You would have enjoyed it." and "but you would have been scared." and "it would have been a great excuse to buy a new pair of pretty rubber boots." because i know she and Imelda Marcus have some things in common, namely being the love of buying/owning/wearing a variety of shoes. Anyway, Paige says "Avoiding contact with brown bears is one of my priorities." which is logical sane sensible and safe, as far as sentiments go. But one memory soon triggers another, closely related, and I state simply "I have a photograph of you sitting next to one of my sacred fires out there at that campground. And in this picture, you look so serene and peaceful, staring up at the stars, surrounded by music and friends. Yet i know, I KNOW, that in that moment, at that instant, in the background of that photo, hidden in the darkness and the shadows, there was a panther stalking, us. there was a panther there that night." And Paige seems shocked, suprised, taken aback. She knows nothing of what i speak. And i am confused, having told this particular tale so many times before and having told Paige herself so many tales before i just sort of assumed that at least once i had told this particular tale to this particular woman but apparently not and after much failed memory-jarring attempts i came to realize that Paige Telan did not know the tale of the SkunkeApe Panther. ------------------------------------------------------- And then music started again because half-time was over and further communication became impossible so, switching to hand signals i promised to type it all in and e-mail the tale to her. Paige was concerned that what with all this talk of white rubber boots the story line was becoming too convoluted and she urged me to include clarifiers to the final text message helping her remember the context of both conversation and story which simple request is mostly to blame for the over-abundant details read here today and now AND NOW.... The Actual Part of the Story I Wanted to Tell You (everything prior to the next line being re-cap) ------------------------------------------------------- I am a Druid FireMaster, a builder of sacred Festival BonFires. My practice takes me to gatherings on various dates and special locations sponsored at hosted events. I often stand at the crossroads of society joining otherwise disconnected groups of people together for these special events. My travels bring me to the Floridian peninsula out into the preserved wilderness into the everglades swamp midst the Big Cypress of the Miccosukee. The Shealey Family owns an island out there 30 acres of dry land right in the middle of all that wetland, bordered by the Tamiami Trail. The Tamiami itself is one-lane in either direction straight shot of paved asphalt that cuts through without stopping from Tampa to Miami. Only after it was built did the Americans declare and create their beloved National Park system. Now, the metropolitan areas are divided onto the east and west coasts, separated by a vast preserved wilderness. No more major construction is allowed, but what was already built has survived. The Shealeys were there before the National Parks. They inherited their land, and are working on the fourth generation born and raised there. They have 30 acres of privately owned land totally surrounded by fifty thousand acres of preserved wilderness, maybe more. In that part of the world, there are multiple preserves, that all closely border each other, divided only by narrow road corridors. Big Cypress National Preserve Everglades National Park Bear Island Preserve Ten Thousand Islands Area Panther Preserve Miccosukee Indian Reservation Seminole Indian Reservation Loxahatchee State Preserve Fakahatchee Strand plus various extensions and subdivisions of each and more I have many interesting stories about the Shealeys and that land they own and husband. This is just the story of the panther. The land itself has gone through many changes and incarnations, from farming, hunting camp, timber, dynamite manufacturing, tourist campground... until finally settling into what it had become at the time of this tale: 1. Trail Lakes CampGround 2. SkunkApe Research HeadQuarters 3. Everglades Wilderness Tours 4. Private Petting Zoo While Dave Shealey's true love is the SkunkApe Research, the truth is most of the money comes from tourists paying to camp on his land. When tax burdens began to grow, and with it the need for more money, they resorted to hosting rock-and-roll festivals; building a stage and bringing in multiple live music bands for week-end concerts. This is where i come in. Along the coastal cities, there is the musical group Crazy Fingers. They play at many different venues up and down the east coast of Florida, and have a vast and loyal local following. When they were celebrating their annual "Farm Party" out there, i followed them to build the celebratory BonFire. Amongst the Crazy Fingers crowd, the Shealey land is known simply as "SkunkApe". They see that world very differently. To them, they live in a city, nine to five, like all normal americans. On the festival week-ends, they work Friday, go home, shower eat pack and drive for two hours to get out to, what is to them, the festival grounds. Some come Friday night, most arrive during the day Saturday, the main event is Saturday night, it is over by Sunday afternoon, and the campground is empty by Sunday night. They all come in one big giant wave of cars and humanity, surging down the Tamiami Trail, crowding together into the music festival, and fleeing with the dawn. About half of those in attendance will bring tents and actually spend the night camping, most simply drive in and out without sleeping. The events last two days, one big night in the middle. Most of these people never realize where they truly are. They are lost in the crowd, lost amongst their friends, lost in the music. They never leave the tightly packed tents. They drive in, they drive out, they never really walk around. Or, if they are walking, it is between the tents and to the front of the stage, to listen to loudly amplified and electrified music. They eat breakfast from the vendors that have set up cooking tents. They poop in the port-a-johns. The land is far more than just a campground, though. Besides the fact that civilization is limited to within the 30-acre privately owned boundaries, and that just a few feet away begins unending wilderness... several people live there permanently, in trailers and permanent concrete structures. There is a zoo there. There is a campground full of tourists and travellers, some staying for a few days, others for years. Regular hunter customers pay to store their trailers and swamp buggies there, so parts of the ground have an eerie empty ghost town feel to them, because it is not hunting season. There are several animal pens on the property. Some of these animals were purchased for food stock, emus and goats and chickens. Others are for the zoo, alligators and snakes. More than a few of these animals were donated to the zoo by the park service because they were extracted from the wilderness as exotic invasives and needed some place to go. An orphanage for the unwanted wild. There is a strange collection of native and alien species, including peacocks and african pythons. They are kept caged, fenced or leashed to prevent escape, quarantined from the wilderness. There is a big fence separating the campground from the animal pen, but the hippy festival partyers love to feed the emus and goats, and the animals add a certain charm and attraction to the whole place. So, I don't know, it is my third, fourth, maybe fifth time out there. I always arrive a day or two early, to setup and prepare, and leave a day or two late, to clean-up and recover. For me, those festival week-ends last most of the week. I am there when it is all peaceful and quiet and natural. I am there when the massive crowd arrives, with their blaring loud rock-and-roll and electric flood lights I am there when they all leave. I am at the center of it all, tending the fire, quietly watching the madness swirl around me. This one time, there is a cop parked on the Tamiami Trail, across the street. This is the middle of no-where. He is not on our side of the street, not on our private land. This cop is there all night. Every now and then, he shines his spotlight into the woods. Every now and then he moves his car, never far. First he is on the north side, then the south, shining his light into the bushes and tall grass on either side of the camping and festival. Most people don't even notice him, being lost in the crowd and music and noise and lights. I notice him. A few paranoid pot smokers notice him, a few beer drinkers notice him. People hide in their tents, hiding from prying eyes. Kids are paranoid, thinking "the man" is watching them. Paige Telan was there that night. Sitting peacefully in front of my fire. Staring at the stars. Nothing bad happens. No one gets hurt. No one drives drunk. No one gets arrested. Everyone dances, and parties, and sleeps it off in their tents. In the morning, they all buy breakfast together, and drive away in a big herd of steel exhaust fumes. The festival was a success! Money was made! Taxes were paid! Everyone is healthy and happy. So, i ask Dave, "What was the deal with that cop last night?" "Oh" Dave says, "He wasn't a cop. That's a park ranger, he was watching the panther." And then we go over to him and have a little talk about what he was doing with his spotlight all night long. And this tale unfolds.... There was once a time when the Florida Panther roamed wild and free all over this penisula. That time has long gone. Cars and hunting have taken their toll, driving the species to the brink of extinction. In an attempt to save them, the state and federal governments have been gradually increasing their investment into the care and protection of this endangered animal. What began as simply outlawing the killing of panthers, led to the creation of a specific Panther Preserve, and when that was not enough, they began importing wild cougars from Texas for a breeding program. The numbers of these big cats had dwindled to the point where every living soul was tagged with a radio-collar and followed via satellite by his unique identifier code. All these cats have names, and we know everything about them, right down to their DNA. So there is this big male cat called "Don Juan". We like him because he is a first generation cub born from this breeding program, and has himself sired 13 cubs, a sure sign of success in this expensive program. US 29 on the west US 27 on the east I-75 Alligator alley to the north Tamiami Trail to the south these four roads define the boundaries of a large wilderness area through which the panther is encouraged to roam Just across this tiny street of Tamiami Trail, lies our Trail Lakes CampGround, right in the heart of panther country. So, Don Juan starts acting wierd. A normal panther hunting pattern is to kill one large animal, and then haul its carcass up into a tree, and to continue to feast on it for several days. Don Juan comes into the campground one night, and starts killing caged emus and goats. More than one. He doesn't even eat everything he kills, only a little bit. He comes back the next night and kills again. Night after night. Very unnatural behaviour for a panther. They are not allowed to harm the panther, he is protected by federal and international law under the endangered species act. They try to scare him away. They shout. They throw fireworks. They bring out barking dogs on leashes. They honk car horns and flash their lights at him. He runs away. And he comes back later. Night after night. Killing after killing. By the end, something like twenty seven goats and emus are killed. The tourists are scared. People have pet dogs. People have small children (although there has never been a documented incident of a panther attack against a human in florida). Campers are afraid to sleep in tents at night. Regular visitors are scared to come out of their trailers at night. People see the BIG cat stalking through the campground at night. Someone catches it on video tape. The Park Service comes in with a special trapper and his trained dogs. They chase Don Juan up a tree, and shoot him with a tranquilizer dart. They truck the drugged sleeping body 35 miles away, to the farthest edge of his legal domain, and release him back into the wilderness. He wakes up. And starts heading back. They track him via satellite and his radio-collar. Three days later, Don Juan is stalking the campground again. Repeat the process. AFter a while, the cat figures out they are not really going to hurt him. The fireworks are just noise, not guns. In my mind, he even figures out how to get free drugs out of the goverment. He comes into the campground, eats a smorgasborg buffet of goat and emu and chicken, all penned up, staked down, and easy hunting. Then the dogs come, chase him up a tree, they pump him full of exotic recreational drugs, and he wakes up two days later with a hang-over. Shake it off, and head back down to the party! Some German tourist goes home with video footage of one of the attacks. It ends up on European television, taken completely out of context. The story runs overseas, that here in America there is a private hunting camp you can stay at where the locals tie up goats and use them as bait to attract wild panthers. It is an exciting eco-tourist visit, they say, guaranteed panther sightings (as see on TV!) Animal rights groups see the television broadcast. An international campaign against animal cruelty is started. The next thing anyone knows, PETA and Defenders of the Wilderness are out at SkunkApe protesting the cruel way they treat their goats. The whole time Dave Shealy is trying to get government help keeping the panther out of his campground and away from his livestock, he ends up getting charged with criminal cruelty to animals in a wildlife baiting scheme! Insane beauracracy. And although the goats and emus were eventually to become extinct at SkunkApe, that damn panther kept coming back! And that brings us back to the night of the festival. The night Paige Telan was sitting peacefully next to my fire staring at the stars, while the cop was parked across the street shining his light into the bushes. That cop was a Park Ranger, sitting in his car, watching the satelite feed on his laptop computer, tracking the movements of Don Juan to within thirty feet. He was circling us that night. And every time that big cat got too close to the tents, that Park Ranger would shine his light in that direction, hoping to see him and/or scare him away. And when the panther circled around, so would the Ranger move his car, quietly protecting us from a hidden and unseen danger. He stood ready with a dart gun to jump out and intercept on foot, if necessary. But that particular night, Don Juan just circled, probably scared of all the lights and noise and crowds. Actually, if you think of it from the point-of-view of the panther, he was circling the herd, waiting for the slow and weak to wander away, looking for easy and isolated prey. Afterwards, i would imagine some drunk person stumbling away from the tents, out into the bushes, to pee beneath the stars. He would have been a perfect target. No one would even have heard the scream, not with all that rock-and-roll blasting in the background. My friend Ed Gallucci was scared that he had spent the night sleeping in a tent outside, but the Ranger assured him that between the fire and his snoring, the panther would have been scared away. So, on Monday morning, after everyone else has long been gone, and the festival grounds have been cleaned up, the fire died down, and my job over. I am going for a walk into the woods, into the quiet nature. I head out the main entrance, to cross over the Tamiami and walk on the north side of that road. As i am walking up the dirt driveway, i am looking down at all the recent tire tracks, and i notice fresh panther tracks. Panther tracks on top of car tracks. That means the panther had been there as recently as Monday morning. I saw the tracks with my own eyes. I tracked those tracks and i noticed that he had easily jumped over the chain-link fence. He knew his way around, and wasn't far away. AFter months of trying and failing to control his behaviour, Don Juan was finally "arrested" and put in "jail". He will spend the rest of his life caged at the Busch WildLife Animal Rescue facility in Jupiter. Charged as a "nuiscanace animal" and "persistent danger" to humans and livestock, you can go visit him up there. He is a good looking cat, with no chance of parole. --------------------------------------------------------------------- "Now i admit i mix lies in with truth, which may seem a bit uncouth..." Several years later, just to confuse matters, I am again out at SkunkApe, this time rummaging through the cluttered old shed, looking for valuable digging tools to clean out the fireplace. The old wooden shack is so crowded with years and decades of collected tools, i am having difficulty moving around in there and finding what i need. So i start to clean the place out, sorting and stacking. I am looking for shovels and rakes, but there are also brooms, axes, sledge hammers and numerous other tools with similar handles. I start stacking them all together against one wall, wheel-barrows to the right and miscellaneous tools with big wooden handles on the left, smaller tools on the shelves. After a while, i have isolated all the tools with big wooden handles, and it is through that pile that i start to seek for a good shovel and rake. What i actually found mixed in there was a little startling. One of those handles had at the other end (the ground-level working tool end) a very small and light rubber cast mould. It was a perfect three dimensional cast of a panther's paw print, attached to a long stick. It was perfect for walking along, used like a simple walking cane, it would leave a trail of nice little panther paw prints in the dirt. Dave sheepishly admitted that he made the cast using silicone caulk one morning, from an actual imprint he found in his dirt driveway. But now it is sometimes a little hard to tell if those fresh panther prints are real or just practical jokes. Lies mixed with truth... lies based on truth. A panther print that actually is a panther print, only made from a copy of a print laid down by a man and his walking stick. --------------------------------------------------------------------- And that brings me right back to that moment at midnight on Sunday May 20th 2012 at Boston's on the Beach when i was saying good-night to Paige and Erica and promising to write down this story and e-mail it to her. So there you go. Please feel free to share this with anyone. I really want Erica to read this, and everyone who ever came out to any of these festivals with us.
REFERENCES: New York Times Article: MojoZone Photographs: A Beautiful animated panoramic time-lapse photomosaic of the Festival: That Photo of Paige: About the SkunkApe: SkunkApe Research @ Trail Lakes CampGround: Love Gathering (2007): The Panther Statue: 2012 Panther Attacks Continue: Dangerous Panther Caught in 2004: Criminal Charges for Baiting a Panther: Panther Sensors Installed in 2011: Big Cypress National Preserve: Panther Breeding Program: Panther Problems: Sacred Fires: