Sailing through our Ten Thousand Islands has always been an inspiring experience. On many occasions, inspirational expressions can trigger impressive recollections, but this story from the Marco Beach Boys collection is an example of true surprise and unexpected delight.
The art of conversation really is a two-way street. When only one person is talking, listeners can quite often become bored, but when conversations build on one another, surprising secrets can be revealed that simply must be shared.
The arrival of October in our islands brings subtle changes to our weather and to the habits of our wildlife that are our natural neighbors. In October, Ospreys are always on the wing and looking over their seasonal nesting sites in preparation for the nesting that begins in November.
October also brings in wonderful sailing breezes and with the cooler wind also on the rise, an Osprey swooped over our sails and landed on a channel marker and the fish hawk nest that had been out of use during the summer.
“Wow!” was the remark from one of our passengers. “What kind of bird is that?”
“She is an Osprey,” was my answer. “They are my favorite bird. They mate for life, they look out for each other, and a mated pair will even take in single adults to help care for the hatchlings. There is nothing quite like birds of prey and big cats. We also have Florida panthers living nearby. I know several people who have seen them at night.”
After my statement, our passenger from Alabama named Brad started in with his side of our conversation; and after he began, I only wanted to listen.
“I’ve got a big cat story for you,” Brad said, “and that big cat was one of the highlights of my life.”
With Brad’s wife enjoying the sailing and speaking with our other passengers, Brad began with the story of the amazing Miss Mazy.
When Brad was in college, he needed a job. He tried several opportunities, but when an offer came in to be an assistant at the local zoo, Brad’s life would be forever changed.
“When I reported to work on my first day,” Brad began, “I was introduced to Miss Mazy and given the exclusive task of raising her and loving her for the next 19 years. Miss Mazy, when I first held her, was a Siberian tiger cub weighing in at about 25 pounds.
“My job was to feed her, exercise her, and show her continuous interaction with humans. In the beginning, Miss Mazy was almost like a regular house cat and I had permission to take her home or wherever I wanted. Miss Mazy was never cooped up in a small cage and I know that is why she turned out as wonderful as she was.
“At home, she would jump up in my lap and purr as we watched TV. When we would go out, she had a collar and a leash, and I walked her like a dog. People would stop and stare—especially when we went to the college campus. She really came in handy when meeting girls.
“Miss Mazy grew fast, and thankfully the zoo and the vet at the zoo always supplied her food and regulated her diet. Most of her food was beef and pork donated to the zoo by a local slaughterhouse.
“I drove a pick-up which came in handy for getting her food, but soon she was too big to ride in the cab so she rode in the bed and watched the traffic go by. You would not believe the looks we got at red lights. The same jaw–dropping looks followed us when we walked the college campus.
“Even when Miss Mazy grew to her full size of 520 pounds, I still walked her with her leash and exercised her every day. Her head alone was huge, but she slept in bed with me and was always gentle and loving. I was never afraid of her. Never. I knew she loved me.”
At this point in our conversation, Brad paused with a grin. “Of course,” he said, “I never let Miss Mazy get very hungry.
“I took her on long hikes through trails in the woods, and you should have seen the reactions of dogs and their owners as we met them on the trails. Even big dogs would cower. One day, a couple went by with two Labradors. The dogs both went down to the ground, and I thought the owners were having heart attacks when Miss Mazy, stopped in her tracks, stared at the frightened dogs and their owners, and offered them a big yawn as if she were bored. When she yawned, the size of her open mouth and her teeth was amazing.
“I watched over Miss Mazy all through college until graduation. After school, there was a job offer out of state and I was forced to leave Miss Mazy at the zoo. I missed her like crazy and went back every year. Even after a year away, she recognized me every time I came to visit and almost knocked me down showing her affection. Siberian tigers normally live in the wild to about 12 years old. Miss Mazy lived a great life until she was 19. When I got the call from the zoo, telling me she had passed it broke my heart.”
On the cruise back to Rose Marina, Brad shared the pictures that made his college lifestyle with Miss Mazy truly unique. Whenever I think about conversations with strangers, or the lack of human interaction and true two-way conversation, I cannot help but wonder, “What does this new friend that I don’t know yet have to tell me?”
Tom Williams is a Marco Islander. He is the author of two books. “Lost and Found” and “Surrounded by Thunder – The Story of Darrell Loan and the Rocket Men.” Both books are available on Kindle and Nook.