A Day in the Swamp with Coyote Peterson
My friend Coyote Peterson is a cool dude.
Coyote is an adventurer/animal conservationist; he’s like a mix between Jack Hannah and Bear Grylls (without the ‘I can rip out your larynx’ special forces training). I’m convinced Coyote’s got a bit of a screw loose; I mean, anyone who willingly dives into methane-belching waters of muddy swamps to dig around for critters within must be a bit cuckoo, right?
I guess I am too, because I spent the day with Coyote and long time friend (and talented camera-man), Chance, in the bug-infested, goopy muck of North Bass Island, looking for reptiles, diptheria, and brain eating amoebae.
Why would I do such a thing?
To entertain you, dear readers.
We’re still working on the uncut, uncensored, fully-nude episode that we’ll finish very soon, but for now, here’s a preview:
Stupid Early: Middle Bass to North Bass
We get up at the buttcrack of dawn for a quick introductory segment. For those that know me, getting up this early means a couple of things: 1. Santa has arrived 2. I’m traveling somewhere exotic.
We can now add a third: Kayaking 2 1/4 miles to North Bass Island. While groggy, I make my way without dying, or getting eaten by lake monsters.
We get to North Bass Island, located about 3 miles south of Canada on Lake Erie. There’s obviously no physical border between Canada and the US on the water, but it’s heavily guarded by hissing Canadian geese —with knives — and disreputable canoeing beavers.
Tread at your own risk, border-running drug smugglers.
More introductory shots upon landing, and then we hit the dense woods to find swamps, which is a simple process: just follow your nose to the rotting plant smell, then, dive in.
I’m over-prepared, wearing old Converse and ripped jeans; going for the Walken circa ‘Deer Hunter’ look. My biggest concern (and Marti’s) and reason for wearing sturdy denim is getting bit by snakes or leaches on my man parts.
Coyote finds a baby snapping turtle that smells like a homeless, city-dwelling bigfoot. The turtle really likes me (you can tell from the pic below).
Coyote teaches me about snapping turtle handling, and how to tell if it’s a girl or a boy (girl turtles have bows).
I soon discover Coyote has told me a big fat dirty lie. I was somehow convinced in my city-dwelling nature naiveté, that there’s an “off-season” for spiders on North Bass Island. Quite the opposite —there are spiders everywhere: in the trees, on the ground, paragliding across the sky, smoking cigarettes, and walking across the fucking water like eight-legged jesuses.
In my last post, I admitted my horrible fear of heights. Well, I hate spiders 100X’s more thanks to a little movie aptly called, ‘Arachnophobia’ (Imagine ‘Jaws’ called ‘Galeophobia’), mixed with heat stroke. I was ten, got heat stroke from playing in the sun all day, had just watched ‘Arachnophobia’ and had hallucinations of spiders crawling all over me and my family. I’ve been terrified ever-since.
Coyote gets a massive spider caught in his hat, and I scream like ten-year old me when it climbs on his face. Chance collects a massive spider on his back, but I can’t run for my life because my Converse are stuck in the mud.
More on the spiders in a bit.
We kayak over to an old pier mid-island where I’m surprised to find a Vineyard behind an abandoned dance club now serving as a house for hornets, swooping swallows, and the ghost of Tom Collins. People actually live on this island. A concept I find extremely hard to believe until breathing in the gorgeous, Caribbean-esque backdrop to the pier.
This IS Lake Erie, right?
Coyote sneaks over the cement dock and dives headfirst in the retainer rocks, grabbing a massive water snake. A struggle ensues, and at first I think Coyote’s hamming it up for TV, then I realize he’s getting bit, a lot, and is not joking around. He then pulls out this monstrosity, and it tries to french kiss him.
Coyote tells me the snakes have an anti-coagulant in their bite, making the strikes look much worse than they are (read: bloodier). I misinterpret his statement as an invitation to let the snake bite me to which I say “fucking no”. Coyote survives with a little less blood, and the snake goes docile as I sing Marvin Gaye promising to buy it a juicy mouse for dinner.
Speaking of din, we’re hungry, so we take a SAG authorized lunch-break, replete with beef jerky, trail mix, granola bars, and other healthy farty foods.
After food, we pack up and head towards the tip of the island, where a nightmare landscape awaits…
We crash into the woods carrying our kayaks, and walk through the tall weeds and reeds, past a newly hatched spider egg, where thousands of baby spiders are crawling around inside a giant web. I want to jump out of my skin, but press on through to the duckweed covered marsh.
Coyote says, “See, that wasn’t so bad…”
As he says this, I look down to see one of the biggest spiders I’ve seen in nature crawling on my shoe. I want to scream, but I face the fear. Then, I notice not one, two or three more spiders, but a dozen or so crawling on top of the water.
On the outside, I’m fine.
Here’s a little pictorial diagram of what was going on internally:
They say you’ve never lived until you get in your first fight.
I’ve been punched in the face, and it doesn’t compare with having your biggest fear crawling on your shoe very near the opening to your pant leg.
I run away back to the safety of base camp.
Chance walks up and hands me a large bottle of Bulleit whisky. Thinking he might coo me back to life with verbal salve, he instead picks up his camera and starts filming my quasi-breakdown.
That’s what friends are for…
Coyote excitedly tumbles out of the reeds with a freshly hatched baby snapping turtle. It was just about get eaten by a very large water snake. I name it Dr. Paco Octopi, because it’s so fun to say.
I take a deep breath (and drink) and head back into the woods towards the marsh with my eyes closed. The spiders are waiting for me but I hurdle past and hop on the kayak (very difficult with eyes closed), and I paddle away as hard as possible. Coyote lets Dr. Paco go, and I hope the spiders don’t get him.
Where am I paddling?
Into the slimy marsh that looks eerily similar to a scene ‘Apocalypse Now’. Instead of the Viet Cong, I’m informed we’re looking for frogs and massive snapping turtles.
The sun begins to set, and Coyote wades patiently around the perimeter of the marsh looking for signs of swamp monsters. I ask if he has any steel mittens, so I can the fun, but he’s fresh out of armor. I wonder which finger would be the worst to lose for a writer…
It gets dark and the mosquitos decide to have a Roam About Blood Sucking convention, swarming everywhere, but we push on in the dark, and I try to catch frogs by mesmerizing them with my flashlight. Coyote, batting 1,000, catches yet another animal in the frog below. He let me name it Miss Piggy.
We head out of the swamp into the darkness, and pack up shop for the day. Instead of staying on the island, we traverse Lake Erie in the dark under a gorgeous star-lit sky, with an autumnally orange moon hanging low in the distance. I feel happy—giddy even— rowing the 2 plus miles across the bumpy waters back to Middle Bass.
I got to be a kid for the day, get dirty, kayak, explore the woods, swamps, and marshes and learn about the region/its fauna (boo spiders), and it felt, well, great.
Maybe Coyote isn’t crazy. Maybe he’s had the right idea all along.
If you’d like to learn more about Coyote Peterson and his adventures, please visit COYOTE PETERSON
(All photos used in this blog were taken by Mr. C. Peterson and Chance Ross)