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A Sea of Rabbits!


For a number of years during the early 70’s I drove a semi delivering fresh produce from South Florida to the northern markets.  These travels were continuous throughout the Eastern Coast to Boston – from Canada to Mexico and into the midwest.

Naomi

While doing this I actually lived in the truck for three of those years, so it might be easy to understand that whenever the opportunity arose to return home (or to my apartment at the time), “partying” with my group of buddies was at the top of the list.

We shared a number of experiences together, but what happened one night along the lonely stretch of highway known as Alligator Alley was unique.

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‘LAYOVERS’

As a distance driver, ‘lay-overs’ occur when you arrive at a destination too late during business hours to unload; if on a Friday it was not uncommon to have to wait for the business to reopen on Monday.  A ‘lay-over’ many miles away from home was an opportunity to rest up from the long hours of driving, but being only a few hours away from ‘home’ and a party, well……  I was young and it was an easy choice.

So when I found myself in this predicament on the East coast of Florida, I ‘dropped’ (unhooked) my trailer of produce at the business’s lot and drove 175 miles across the everglades to my hometown and my buddies on the West Coast of Florida.

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– we enjoyed a full weekend of festivities, 420 style.

Sunday came and somewhere during this weekend my friends decided to return with me to the East Coast and retrieve my trailer, they could help unload the trailer and split the 30 bucks for unloading and we would be home by Monday afternoon.

It wasn’t unusual for a friend to take a trip on occasion, but on this Sunday – four friends were eager to tag along.  It was Sunday evening when we all climbed into the cab of the truck (two front and three sitting in the ‘sleeper’) and began our journey across the 100 mile stretch through the everglades.

As I mentioned, there were five of us in the cab of this truck, and before this trip was over we would indeed be glad that each were present.

BACK ACROSS THE ‘ALLEY’

Our trip began as normal as could be expected for five twenty-something year old boys that had been on a 70s party binge weekend.  At that time our weekends seemed pretty much “wide open”, so there nothing unusual nor extraordinary about us except at the moment there were five of us in the truck portion of this semi, music blaring, laughing and carrying on through the lonely Florida night.

We safely maneuvered halfway across the state, miles of lonely highway moving further into the dark and eerie Everglades.

Below Immokalee, Fla. we approached ‘Alligator Alley’ which at the time was a very straight and lonesome two-lane stretch of highway crossing the marshland of the south Florida terrain.  It was not unusual to slow for a “gator” or to exercise caution in avoiding an occasional opossum or armadillo – it was ‘a just part of’ this lonesome highways mystique.

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MOVEMENT ON THE HIGHWAY

It wasn’t long before we began to notice a rabbit or two – nothing out of the ordinary except that soon we began to encounter smaller groups of these rabbits – now this was becoming a little ‘different.’  As another ‘party-favor completed its journey around the cab, groups of rabbits became more frequent, causing a comment or two about if they were real or it was just the ‘party favor’ we had just shared.  I slowed the truck to as best I could to avoid the little critters.

I looked across to the other seat in the front of the truck where my buddy Gnagey sat and will never forget the elongated reflections of movement reflecting from the lenses of his glasses, he was staring through the windshield and onto the highway ahead and his mouth was wide open in stunned amazement.

There was something very unusual going on, or that was a really, really good ‘party favor.’

I do not recall any other traffic during this period and while we proceeded to use the entire roadway to avoid the critters (which inherently felt ‘right’) it was soon apparent that there was just no way to avoid it.  ‘Thump, thump,’ there went a few more – we continued to nudge each other with absolute disbelief – Was this really happening?  Soon the small groups of rabbits became one endless mass of movement before us, and the closest description I can relay was that – it appeared as a ‘sea of rabbits,’ it was an incredible sight – and we stopped.

Dumbfounded, we climbed down onto the middle of the road and into this mass of rabbits, wading around in disbelief, delight, amazement, and livid youthful exuberance.

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REALITY

Our exuberance continued in the middle of the road, in the middle of the mass.

Once convinced that what we were witnessing was absolutely real, we climbed back into the truck and reluctantly began to move ahead; allowing as many of the animals as possible to part in front of us out of harms way.  I do not recall the end to this sea of bouncing shadows but I am convinced that there were many, many thousands of rabbits on the roadway that night.  What an extraordinary event! – as the shadows thinned and the highway became lonely again we continued to reassure each other of what we had each seen.  I am still amazed when I try to comprehend the numbers.

Over the years the event remained a principle topic of conversation between our group of friends when we gathered.  We agreed too that whenever we attempted to share this event with others, it was met with understandable skepticism – too improbable, no-way.

Our consensus became to avoid telling the story so we only spoke of the experience when we were together.

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WITNESS !

One day, one of these friends was having a conversation with a local businessman, the businessman reluctantly hinted of a strange experience that he had encountered while crossing the Everglades years earlier, on the very stretch of highway we had crossed.  My friend (Dewey) noticed the businessman’s (Glen Fox) hesitation in elaborating more and with a few simple questions and statements found that indeed someone other than our small group of friends had the same experience  – and on the same night!

After so many years of withholding this unimaginable story from others, the two shared a common and very relieving laugh together – my friend later told me that the atmosphere was joyous and similar to the reunion of finding a long-lost brother.

We had witnessed the event together, in a common vehicle, and met with utter frustration in repeating the story to others over the years, but as a group we always had each other to reassure.  This poor fellow had traveled that stretch of highway alone and had met with the same frustrations in communicating the event to others over the years – I could only imagine his relief.

Also this businessman had researched the event and attributed it to a drought in the Everglades which was followed by a series of large vegetation fires.  These fires had driven the rabbits into groups and then massed them onto the only high ground around in the area, the highway.

Needless to say, unloading and retrieving my trailer was much less eventful.

As friends we returned to our homes, apartments, and lives much closer from the extraordinary (and very real) experience of that night.

We had witnessed a living sea of rabbits, incredible!

-and then there was the waterbed deal.

@ Sept. 21,1974

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