The hundred acre orange grove has always been a place of wonderment and fun for me and my eight-year-old daughter, Paola – something akin to Winnie the Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood. Our hundred acre wood is a place of magical adventure where cow pies lead us down enchanted trails replete with mystical fairies and an occasional alien. I, the “all knowing” Captain Mommy, would set the theme for each adventure and Paola would dress for the occasion. If we were hunting butterfly fairies, she would don her butterfly wings and antenna headband. On days that we were playing sleuth, she wore her modified Sherlock Holmes hat (Mickey Mouse Ears with spirals of tin foil attached to the ears for secret radio transmissions) and her shin guards on her arms (don’t know why). Sleuthing required extra equipment; compass, binoculars, magnifying glass, walkie-talkies and water bottles – all of which I eventually ended up carrying. After all, I am the Captain which makes me the one in charge of equipment. I wonder how that was decided.
On this day our adventure was a real-life fishing trip to the stream that runs through the orange grove. To Paola’s delight we had a new tackle box abounding with all kinds of shiny thingamajigs that promised scores of fish (if you actually knew how to use them). I didn’t tell Paola that Captain Mommy was clueless about fishing. It would not have inspired confidence in her captain if Paola learned that, prior to doing an equipment inventory; I thought a “bobber” was something that belonged in a Margarita. Now, at least I know it has something to do with fishing.
The equipment inventory also consisted of a fishing pole, bucket, a bag of bread, my cell phone and a box of live worms from Paola’s “Hallelujah Wigglers” worm farm. We also threw in the two dogs for good measure. And, of course, Captain Mommy carried her trusty 38 revolver on her hip (just in case we encountered a wayward rattler or wild hog).
So, off we went on our fishing expedition to catch dinner.
I was carrying the pole, bucket, bread, worms, cell phone and revolver. Toby, dog number one, rambled in front of me on his leash while I struggled to contain him and juggle my equipment. Paola carried the all important brand spanking new tackle box with the shiny thingamajigs. Dog number two’s leash occupied Paola’s other hand. Lilo quickly bounded after Toby with Paola in tow and we made our way down the dirt path toward the creek.
All was going smoothly as we meandered our way around cow dung mines and confidently tramped over brier bushes and other woodland obstacles. We talked about the fish that awaited our first cast of shiny thingamajigs and Hallelujah Wigglers. Paola wondered what she’d catch. I worried how I’d conceal my complete lack of fishing knowledge when it came time to bait the hook. Little did I know that I would not have to bait a hook on this fateful day.
Our fishing adventure was about to change into an escapade of a whole different nature.
As we rounded the bend in the dirt road I noticed the cows and bulls were grazing off to our right. This sight did not cause me to feel any sense of alarm as we regularly encountered the herd. Although, that was before all the orange trees were cut down. Now, there were no orange trees providing cover for us.
I soon noticed a rather large bull that appeared to be locked in a staring contest with me. I wanted to avert my gaze and try to appear disinterested in him, but I knew I had to keep at least one eye on his whereabouts. How do you watch a bull without watching a bull? I pondered this dilemma as we advanced toward the stream. I soon realized that the bull presented a quagmire that required Captain Mommy to think fast and, quite possibly, act faster. While I was contemplating our options, the bull abruptly decided to make my mind up for me. He charged. His herd followed. I screamed.
I think everyone wonders from time to time what they would do when faced with a crisis situation. Truth be told, we all picture ourselves reacting like Rambo or Indiana Jones. These action heroes always know what to. In fact, the immortal words of Indiana Jones ran through the back of my mind as the herd charged: “Don't be a child - find something to fight with!”
I had something to fight with; a gun. I didn’t even consider the 38 on my hip. Maybe it was because I would have been trampled before I could unholster the weapon. I also had the fishing pole, cell phone, bucket, bread, worms and a rather large Border Collie that just happened to be in the herding dog family. I didn’t think the fishing pole would wield much of a blow. If I called someone on the cell phone to rescue us all they’d find would be our guts squished amongst the undergrowth. The bucket was useless (and red to boot)! I didn’t think the stampeding herd would pause to eat the bread and the worms weren’t much of a weapon either. Their flimsy cardboard box would just blow away in the wind and I know the worms would not hold their ground and stand up to the herd. They’d do what any self respecting worm would do - burrow into the ground. My trusty dog, Toby the Border Collie, was more interested in getting to the water than herding cattle.
So, that’s what we did. Paola, Lilo and I followed the rapidly fleeing Toby into the mucky gross water. “Be brave Paola”, is all I could think to yell to my eight-year-old as she ran behind me. Now, as I look back on that moment I have to ask myself; “What kind of mother leaves her child in the dust to fend off a raging herd when all she has is a shiny brand spanking new tackle box and a mangy mutt for protection?” I reasoned that she was a faster runner than me and I needed a head start.
Okay, I know plunging headlong into the alligator, snake infested murky water probably was not the brightest thing to do but my adrenalin was in the fight or flight mode and, with only twelve rounds in my gun and at least fifty cattle charging us, I didn’t think Paola and I would come out on the winning end if we chose “fight”. I think Toby figured that out as well.
Toby swam to a small island in the middle of the creek and we, with all our gear still in tow, dutifully followed our leader. I arrived first and pulled Paola and Lilo onto the tiny island made up of six foot tall weeds in which Lilo immediately proceeded to hopelessly entangle herself. Breathless, I peered out of the weeds praying I wouldn’t be staring into the eyes of a raging bull. Nothing. I didn’t see or hear anything. The cattle must have lost interest in trampling us and continued on to the other side of the orange grove. Now what? Paola was trying desperately to free Lilo from her entanglement, Toby was attempting to swim across the water to the other bank and I, panting like I had just run a marathon, contemplated our fate. Does Toby have the right idea? Do we go to the other side? Do we go back the way we came? Where are the cows? Are they just out of sight awaiting our demise as we emerge from the bank? Surely, I had to do something. We couldn’t stay on this island where we’d encounter even more villainous creatures in the form of alligators and water moccasins.
I decided to follow Toby. After all, he already saved our lives once. I instructed Paola to stay on the island while I checked out the other side. She was still occupied with untangling Lilo which was keeping her mind off our precarious predicament. I, still holding all the gear, stepped off the island and immediately found my leg buried up to my hip in what appeared to be quicksand. Luckily, I still had one leg on the island. Now what? “Paola, come over here and help mommy.” I yelled in the calmest voice I could muster. “I’m untangling Lilo, Mommy!” She yelled back. “She’s choking!” “Lilo will be ok for a minute, honey.” I replied as I felt my leg submerge another few inches. Paola appeared in front of me just as I let go of the sandal on my foot and pulled with all my might. My leg popped free and I toppled into my daughter. Paola, me and my gear tumbled through the weeds over to poor Lilo who was looking a little pop-eyed by now. Toby, feeling the pull on his leash made his way back to the island.
Back to square one.
There was only one thing to do. We had to go back the way we came. I left Paola on the island still freeing Lilo. I took Toby and, gun in hand, made my way back to the bank where the bull and his minions could be waiting in ambush. As soon as my sandalless foot stepped on the shore I knew I was in trouble. Prickers! Hundreds of them lined the shore. It seemed they were attracted to my bare foot like bees to honey. I screamed in agony as I hobbled up the bank on one foot with the big toe of my other foot gingerly touching down only when necessary for balance. I glanced over the top of the bank with my gun cocked and ready for battle. No cattle. No snakes. Just an endless sea of prickers awaited us.
I started back for Paola.
First, I tied Toby to a tree and rested the pole, bait and bucket on the ground. I checked the cell phone to make sure it was still dry and holstered the gun. Then, I found a spot where I could sit without impaling my butt on more briers and removed as many spines from my foot as I could before attempting to use both my feet to cross the water. I heard Paola yelling something about Lilo. It was the alarm in her voice that made me forget the hellish prickers for the moment. I sprang into action and swam to Lilo’s rescue. I unclipped her collar from the leash and prepared to do mouth to mouth but she regained her color and her eyes returned to normal within a few seconds. Paola and I detangled the leash and, with Lilo reattached, we trekked across the water to the shore.
On the sand I had Paola use her young eyes to inspect the bottom of my foot. “Wow mom,” She proclaimed, “There’s a ton of prickers in your foot!” “I know honey, can you pull them out?” I pleaded. “Nope, I don’t have any tweezers or a needle and you always say to use tweezers or a needle so you don’t get a fection.” “I’m not worried about an infection, sweetheart. I just want to be able to walk home and I don’t have a shoe for this foot.” I said through my tears. After much coaxing, Paola removed most of the prickers.
We started home.
It was a long arduous effort. Every brier patch presented a new challenge. I made a futile attempt to attach the bucket to my foot and, at one point, I emptied the bread bag and tied it to my foot. I have no idea what I expected to accomplish with such stupid maneuvers but I was desperate and delusional from the pain. It took us an hour to make it to our backyard fence. My foot was numb and my pride was ruined – what kind of captain was I? I almost certainly traumatized my child for life. God knows, she’ll never pick up a fishing pole again. And our adventures in the orange grove undoubtedly have come to an abrupt halt since the orange grove was no longer a grove but a flattened barren briar patch filled with murderous cattle. Paola hadn’t shed a tear yet, but I knew she was just “appearing” unfazed. It was all a ruse – her tough exterior would disintegrate at any moment and she would probably have nightmares for weeks.
I struggled to appear brave and courageous as I unsteadily scaled the fence but the prickers had gotten the best of me. As soon as I descended the other side I crumbled to the ground and cradled my foot in my arms. I couldn’t take another step. I sat rocking my foot like a baby as I inspected my damaged sole. Paola came to my side and sat with me. We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, Paola spoke.
“Mommy,” she said, “Thank you so much for a most excellent adventure!”