Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ochlockonee's Deers and Squirrels - Friends of the Camper

Ochlockonee River State Park, located just outside Sopchoppy, Florida, is a definite gem in the state's park system. If you are a tent camper, sites 18 and 19 are a camper's dream come true. Nestled away in the pine forest and on their own little drive, campers will find these sites quite private and full of surprise visitors that are more than willing to share the campsite with you.

I've been a wildlife enthusiast my whole life and have often come in contact with "wild" animals that act tame. I've got a yard full of gray squirrels who think they are part of the family. They're as bad as my dogs, greeting me at the back door when I come home. I'd like to think they like me, but in truth I know it's because I'm the food wagon.

Night one at Ochlockonee brought Angela, the white-tailed deer into the campsite. She walked in and situated herself around the fire pit as if wanting to join in on the conversation. Smores was on the menu so naturally she was given an offering. To everyone's delight, Angela was quite pleased and gulped down what seemed like a pound of marshmallows. We figured she'd be dead of bloat in the morning. To our surprise, her friend Jessica joined in the fun. A bit more skittish than Angela, Jessica put on a brave face and joined us by the fire to eat marshmallows. Jessica and Angela made our evening complete.

The next day Dot came to visit (she had dots inside her ears) at breakfast. We could tell she was a southern girl and wanted some home cooking. Eventually she brought the others and off an on all day and the rest of stay the deers frequented our campsite. We were hand feeding them, even though we knew we shouldn't, you just couldn't resist. They all acted like pet dogs, greeting us when we came home. The deers ate good, consuming cheese grits, peanuts, crackers, red snapper, salad, sweet potatoes, corn and no camping trip would be complete without hotdogs.

We also had two gray squirrels that lived on opposite sides of the site about eight feet up in each tree. They were the fattest squirrels I'd ever seen in my life, with their bellies almost dragging on the ground. Each squirrel had to weight approximately 4 to 5 pounds. They were the most redneck squirrels you'd ever want to see with the fighting over who was going to get all the food. We named them Billy Bob and Bertha Bob Thornton. They were very friendly, crawling all over one person due to a sudden attraction to them. I'm not sure if the body odor was "Eau de Peanut", but something had those squirrels wanting to get up close and personal. The other little ones who tried to visit the site were quickly beat back by Billy Bob and Bertha Bob. They even tried to control Angela and her friends.

The white squirrels of Ochlockonee are infamous. Kept as pets and let into the wild by drunk partygoers leaving their cage open, they've lived at the park for 50 years. Of course one didn't show up until 15 minutes before we left. Whitie was quite beautiful with his black capped head and stripe down his back. A few years earlier they'd lived at site 18 but were no longer there. I figured Bertha Bob and Billy Bob had run them off. Not too many things could stand up against those too squirrels working together.

The stay reminded me of just how close to nature we could be if we tried. Thank goodness these animals are protected in a forest where hunting is not allowed, or they'd surely die. Their trust of humans is amazing. Whether it be for food, or just wanting to hang out, these deer and squirrels are quite trusting of mankind. It's was well worth the trip just to sit back and have nature calmly come to you. Spending a couple of hours hanging out by the fire drinking beer with a couple of deer, would change even the most hard hearted I'm sure. Looking into those eyes you see a certain innocence not found in the eyes of man.

Ochlockonee's animals I thank you for sharing yourselves with me and giving me an experience I'll remember for a lifetime.

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