My older son stopped short on the boardwalk and signaled his brother and me with a finger to his lips.
“Dad! Shh. There’s a deer!”
He pointed toward the far side of Brooker Creek, where the brown back of a white-tail doe moved away from us up the bank. The deer crossed under the boardwalk and into the palmetto scrub on the other side as my sons moved lightly in her direction and readied their cameras.
Our unplanned Sunday morning excursion had just gotten interesting.
A lazy Sunday. Breakfast consumed. No immediate plans. A couple of old iPhones and a freshly spawned world on Minecraft. Hidden behind the easy chair, they plotted with heads together, fingers flying across the screens, communication by murmur — something nearly indecipherable about reaching bedrock, diamond armor and creepers.
This would have gone on for hours on a bright, breezy Sunday morning.
I took a sip of coffee.
“We’re getting out of here,” I said. “Let’s go do something fun.”
It registered with one of them, who inquired from behind the easy chair: “Like what, dad?”
I didn’t know. I didn’t answer.
“Dad? Like what?”
The lesson here: Know the plan before speaking, just in case someone actually is listening.
“We’re … going to … um.”
My stalling tactic was to give them five more minutes on Minecraft, which suited them just fine. As they went about the business of … crafting a mine or … whatever, I mentally scrolled through the options. Beth was still asleep, a rare chance to grab a few extra minutes’ rest. It would be just me and the boys. I spotted our point-and-click digital cameras on a table in the living room, and I knew.
“Five minutes are up, boys,” I said. “Get your socks and shoes on. We’re going to Brooker Creek for a photo safari.”
The standing highlight of our 20-minute drive to Brooker Creek Preserve is trying to spot the wild turkey flock that inhabits the open pasture across Keystone Road from the park entrance. On this Sunday morning, we spotted only a pair of sandhill cranes as we arrived.
A quick camera lesson for each boy in the parking lot. Spray-on insect repellent. Then we were off.
“When you’re looking for things to shoot,” I said, “try to see everything like it’s a picture.”
I pointed into the dense wetland woods.
“See how that tree angles away from the rest of them? See how the vines come down out of that tree next to it? And the Spanish moss hanging there … that’s beautiful.”
They stopped to snap a few shots of a dragon fly. We checked to see if “Bubble” the gopher tortoise was home in his den, and found him not receiving visitors.
Then Jay spotted the deer, and we spent a few minutes watching her move slowly away through the woods.
The morning ended with an encounter on the other side of the trail with an 8-foot American alligator.
There were other moments, while not necessarily as dramatic or breathtaking as running into a deer or a gator, that I found equally memorable. Both boys delighted in searching for photogenic details in the woods and on the trails. They found mid-morning light filtering through a basket-shaped spider web, and they found a dancing dragon fly to chase. They noticed odd knots and other irregularities on old trees. They looked at ferns and other plants as if for the first time. They saw paw prints and cypress knees and twisted branches and flowers. Purple flowers, yellow flowers, red flowers and thistles. Spiders they saw, and ant lions. Even fallen leaves under their feet held new wonder: “Dad, look at the colors on this one.”
We woke up this Sunday morning not sure what the day would bring. No plans, no constrictions, nothing to limit our imagination. By lunch time, we had interacted with a deer, danced with dragon flies and shared space with an alligator. There is something to be said for serendipity.
Here is a short video montage of our morning, including footage of the deer and the alligator: