Paynes Prairie State Preserve

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There was really no way around the buffalo. We were walking back in the deepening dark in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Brady, Tyler, and I were with Gabriella and Megan who were two of Tyler’s friends from college. Tyler had gotten Brady and me on our bikes during our day off by promising “beautiful sights and delightful delights.” Supposedly we were to see gators, birds, armadillos, wild horses, and wild hogs.

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Nobody had said anything about buffalo.

But there was fat old Bessie, chewing the tall grass on our land bridge. She was wholly in our way, chomping and cudding, eying our small approaching party with her left eye.  Her other eye, which was all the way over and across her large forehead, I suppose saw just the rest of the park.

Whatever light we had was fading fast. It was getting colder, and the mosquitoes were out for blood. I was hungry. We were woefully late for dinner.

Tyler and I approached Bessie. I picked up some grass and held it out as if I was at the state fair petting zoo, about to win over the local jackass. Tyler held his hand out like he wanted to rub Bessie’s snout.

Bessie lifted her gaze, turned to us, and sniffed. She took one step towards us. Then another. She took a look at my grass, a look at Tyler’s hand. We relaxed. Bessie was as tame a wild buffalo as we could hope for.

Wrong! Bessie bucked her head! She snorted! Tyler and I ran back, screaming! My grass flew everywhere, fluttering in the wind. Brady’s footage, which was about to capture a beautiful moment of man bonding with this beast of the wild, ended in a montage of blurs and jerks.

Collecting ourselves, I was relieved to have not pooped my pants.

We learned no lesson from our first encounter with the buffalo. Tyler and I approached again. Bessie turned to face us, then started walking towards us, snorting, pawing the landbridge. She looked mad. We ran backwards, stood for a while watching Bessie graze, and watched as the wetlands turned to black.

I’d heard that gators love to come out at night. We’d seen about 100 lounging off the side of the trail. There was a squawking and splashing as an alligator surprised and then murdered some poor bird in the swamp off to our left.

It’s amazing, really, that humans are even allowed to visit this preserve. It seemed to me like a big feeding ground.

Bessie moved a foot off the trail. We seized the opportunity and stalked past. Then it was nighttime. We had bested the buffalo but still had to handle gator row.

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I don’t know where they all were—if they were simply watching us from the reeds or gatoring some meters behind—but we didn’t chance upon any human-hungry alligators. That was good, I suppose. I kept having this terrible vision of a gator shooting out from the brush, grabbing my leg, dragging me underwater, drowning me, storing my bloated corpse underneath a submerged log, and eating pieces of me when hungry. Not a pleasant way to go.

We survived Paynes Prairie and now have some absurd footage of the event. Beautiful, dramatic, comical. Props to Brady for recording the event.

And now we’re in Marianna, FL. Just crossed over into Central time, headed due West towards Pensacola. Five days to New Orleans, 15 to Texas.

My ass, for all concerned, is hamburger. But I couldn’t be happier.

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