Oh man … great spot, I thought, looking around for the catch. There must be one, a pristine campsite like this all to myself? I ran the skiff up on the beach for further inspection. The strip was big enough for one camp only, had deep water on one side and a sandy shoal. Shoot, this is it.
After schlepping copious amounts of gear, of which I would use but a fraction of, and setting up camp, I plopped down in my fancy folding chair pointing west towards a rapidly setting sun. I cracked a cold beer and said cheers to my companion, the Everglades.
An authoritative voice booming, “Good morning, Camper,” was not the greeting I expected on the first morning of my Inaugural Annual Spiritual Serenity Solo – or so I’m calling it. Dolphins crashing bait or just waves lapping softly against the beach is more along the lines of what I had in mind.
“Uhh … good morning,” I replied.
“Sir, before you step out of the tent, I need to know if you have any weapons inside.” Whoa, there went my serenity. Visions of standing in a federal courtroom after a third offense for running in a Slow Speed Manatee Zone flashed before my eyes. I vividly remember the judge peering at me over his glasses and saying, “Son, I better not see you in here again.” My argument of how a West Indian manatee knows where it is safe and where it isn’t didn’t go over very well. Thankfully, the judge was kind, or maybe he just appreciated quality humor, but he let me off lightly with a stiff fine, nonetheless. Since then, I’ve done my best to follow the rules – or so I thought.
“Yes sir, I do.” I told him what I was packing while racking my brain, trying to figure out what prompted the visit from The Man in Green. Then I remembered I had forgotten to renew my registration. That must be it … whew. I felt a little bit better as I crawled out of my tent – a custom model hastily made from parts and pieces of several defunct Walmart units – and faced my serenity bandits, as there were two officers. Oh man – they must have run my background, seen the priors, and called in the Calvary! Come to find out, I was giving myself way too much street cred, and the Game Wardens knew me not as the Manatee Bandit but more the moron who doesn’t know he’s in a restricted area.
“May I help you?” I asked them, as if they had interrupted me during an important meeting.
Holding up his ticket book, the lead Game Warden said, “Well, Mr. Edwards, we’ve got seven issues here.”
Seven!!! I nearly blurted out. Oh lord, I’m going to prison. But all that came out of my mouth was, “Seven? Huh …”
“Did you know this area is restricted to camping?”
“No sir, I did not. But that would explain why I had it all to myself.” The comment earned a chuckle from both men. I asked for permission, then pulled up the Navionics app on my phone and showed them the big box over the key in which we stood that said CAMPING AREA. The officers looked at each other and said at the same time, “Yeah …” Officer Number Two finished their thought, “That’s wrong. We’ve been saying something should be done about it.” There was an awkward pause as I waited for him to elaborate. Instead, he said, “You’re also in the national park, which requires a permit and proof of the completion of a boater safety class. And you have neither.”
The fact that I was in the Everglades National Park was news to me, as I explained that I generally stay closer to the Goodland area where there are no such requirements. But due to favorable weather and calm seas, I had decided to venture further south or east, I might say. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had slipped over into the national park. Officer Number Two acted like he hadn’t heard me when he said, “Sir, do you know your campfire has to be no farther than the high tide line?” He motioned to the smoldering embers in a sandpit I dug a few feet from my tent.
“No sir, I did not,” I replied, wondering how the fire was supposed to deter the no-see-um’s – the diehard holdouts from summer – way down there by the water. I kept it to myself.
OK, that’s four (camping in a restricted area, no permit, no boater’s safety, and improper fire or something). Three more to go. Expired registration, I knew about that one. No type three throwable … Dangit! The other violation seems to have slipped my mind for the moment. Out of the graciousness of the lead officer’s heart, he only ticketed me for camping in a restricted area.
The moral of the story is that although the 10,000 Islands is wild and somewhat untamed, it is not an open range free-for-all. There may be permits to get, boater’s safety classes to be taken, and of course, rules and regulations to follow. Those who know me well, go ahead and laugh it up, for I realize that statement coming from me is laughable. The scrapbook full of citations, including the summons for the federal charge, is a testament to the fact.
A coast guard helicopter buzzed me as I meandered my way back towards Goodland. My paranoia sharp and constant, my heart fluttered, and a pang of anxiety hit me. What have I done now?
I would like to clarify that although my stories are based primarily on actual events, there are individual artistic freedoms taken for one reason or another. I wasn’t joking about the violations; that is all true. But my flippant attitude towards them is an attempt at humor, as is any disrespectful dialogue, as there was absolutely none. These are all serious matters, and I have nothing but the utmost respect for all law officers – on and off the water.
Jon Edward Edwards is a local author and avid sportsman.