Animal magnetism

Sometimes I think we Floridians are an apathetic lot. Then I think, "Eh, who cares," and go to the video store.

Yes, it's true that our environment is threatened by gluttonous developers and their Baby Huey projects (overgrown and mildly retarded). No, we seldom raise an eyebrow when they pave a field to build another business destined to be as useful and attractive as a cat turd.

But what appears to be apathy toward destruction is really a Buddha-like serenity. We can be calm because we know that in the end, nature will win. Somehow nature got the reputation for being fragile when it's actually tricky, aggressive and harder to get rid of than a drunk at a house party.

This is especially true in Florida. We, after all, preserved the alligator so well that they now outnumber our high-school graduates. A troupe of wild monkeys, a non-native species, grew and proliferated here in less time than it's taken to repave Livingston Street. People in the Bible got all worked up about plagues of frogs, snakes and bugs -- stuff that is highlighted in our guide books as something tourists might want to check out. All our roach motels, mildew sprays and surge protectors amount to fighting a dragon with a broken toothpick. No matter what we do, nature will find a way to get in and ruin something. Have you ever noticed how a place will go out of business and within a week will be so covered in kudzu it appears to be the lost temple of some ancient religion instead of the Bubble Room? We're not overrunning nature, we're outrunning it.

Act natural

Or trying to outrun it. We try to stem the tide of creatures because there seem to be new ones all the time. Take Oviedo's dreaded Plague of Chickens. Chickens overran an intersection there and started a live game of Frogger with motorists, causing driver panic and a public-safety hazard. We're talking about an animal that doesn't come in a pack or a swarm ... it comes in a bucket. Yet it was able to menace the alpha species by walking around. They eventually took to hanging out in the parking lot of a local Popeye's. The simplest solution seems to be to herd them into the back door and watch them come out the front door next to a side of beans and rice. This might be met with wah-wah opposition from residents who became unglued when it was suggested the chickens be moved. By now they may have considered the chickens' self-destructive antics as a cry for help, loaded them in the church bus and trotted them off to Parkside for a self-esteem group.

That same week we got the news that monitor lizards were overrunning DeLand. A monitor lizard is like an alligator that someone peeled the crust off of. They are huge, poisonous and have appeared in Japanese monster movies because they look like they could up and eat Tokyo. Oh, what wouldn't I have given to have been there the first time some put-upon DeLand husband was asked to go shoo a lizard off the porch and found himself face-to-face with a reptile the size of his putter, hissing and spitting noxious chemicals like Linda Blair when the priests told her the power of Christ compelled her.

Fight or flight

Getting rid of the monitor lizards seems like it ought to be pretty easy. First off, tell them you know where to get some chickens. If that doesn't work, show them some brochures on DeLand. Monitor lizards are very cool and wouldn't want to be stuck in a one-horse town like that. Besides, they've probably already eaten the one horse and are making their way to Animal Kingdom to get them a gorilla. I just hope I'm there when one turns up in someone's seat on the Countdown to Extinction ride.

Then there are the pigeons. If you've been to Lake Eola recently you know the bird population there has gotten so great that Universal could easily tack up a sign that says "Bodega Bay" and add the park to their Hitchcock exhibit. Pigeons will eat anything, adapt easily and have no problem humping in the middle of public thoroughfares, so they're a lot like spring breakers, and their ghastly numbers are just as hard to keep in check.

But pigeons are smarter than college kids. You can't just get rid of them by telling them that MTV is in Panama City this year. One way to dispatch them might be to get them into their "carrier" mode and give them urgent communiqués to bring to the French Pavilion at Epcot. There they'll be called "squab" and eaten with heavy sauces. If this increases the French population, the German Pavilion can declare war. If that gets heated, we could build a Serb Pavilion and watch everyone shut up and behave themselves.

Nature is far from a pitiful weakling around here and can, with one good hurricane, wipe out any development like the big Monty Python foot. It will bury us all one day, and then we'll wish we hadn't been so quick with the Miracle Gro and the Sierra Club memberships. In the meantime I'm off to rent "The Day of the Triffids." You call it apathy; I call it environmental awareness.

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