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Michiana Chronicles writers bring portraits of our life and times to the 88.1 WVPE airwaves every Friday at 7:45 am during Morning Edition and over the noon hour at 12:30 pm during Here and Now. Michiana Chronicles was first broadcast in October 2001. Contact the writers through their individual e-mails and thanks for listening!

Michiana Chronicles: Animal Planet

Jeanette Saddler-Taylor

Like wildebeests out of the cage, after the last homebound year and a half, it was road trip time. Although a curious thing was that that road trip became a wildebeest trip. Unlike my friend, Rosemary, who literally will go to the ends of the earth to see exotic animals, I’m not the biggest animal fan in the universe, so it seemed odd that after 18 months of going almost nowhere, I went over 3500 miles to look at a lot of animals. Having not gotten out much, I clearly was desperate to go somewhere—anywhere!

In March of 2020, Larry and I had thought to go to Key West. We had read Silas House’s book, Southernmost, largely set in Key West and it captured our imaginations. Well, that didn’t happen, but the idea lingered, so as soon as safely possible—i.e., after vaccination and a lessening of the rumble of the plague wagon, we climbed into the Prius and set out to see “Southernmost” for ourselves.

At the suggestion of my son, Joseph, our first overnight of the odyssey was spent in northern Georgia at Red Top Mountain State Park where we stayed in a lovely cabin and saw lots of deer. 

By the time we reached St. Augustine, there were dolphins frolicking in the beautiful, sunlit bay.

Then, possibly the highlight of the trip, in Florida City, right along the highway, there was a big, fat pig trucking along the edge of the road seemingly unphased by the traffic. It was such a stunner, that I didn’t even have time to grab my camera, but there was no mistaking it and it’s something that I won’t soon be forgetting! A little internet research revealed that are about 500,000 of these critters roaming in Florida and they can be hunted without a license. If only I had known: but no camera and no gun. Just can’t take me anywhere!

Onward to Key West where I had expected to see the six-toed cats at Hemmingway’s house, but had forgotten about the chickens wandering the streets. After all, it’s been over a year and a half since I read the book, and as I said, I’m not your first choice for animal husbandry facts. There they were though, lurking under cars like dogs do in Nepal. Apparently, they were introduced to the town when cock fighting was outlawed and their owners just put them out to fend for themselves. They’ve been a crowing success at it too. There they are: roosters, hens and chicks and, unlike the pigs, they are protected. No freelance harvesting of dinner in Key West.

Having seen “citified” animals, it was on to the swamplands to look at gators, turtles, and lizards. Some fish too: all just lazing about in a languid Southern manner. Looking at them napping in the midday heat made us slow down and feel leisurely as well. 

Down on the Gulf Coast, there were pelicans posing on pier posts, much to the delight of this passerby. If the ocean wasn’t enough of a delight, this made things ever more picturesque. This America is so good and varied; wonders just abound. Especially after 18 months of being homebound. Makes you look around with a greater sense of wonderment.

Then, finally, as we wended our way back north, we looked mightily for bear which road signs warned of in Alabama, but the bears must have been warned as well, because we saw neither hide nor hair of bear.

But, paydirt in Tennessee! While technically not wildlife, it is a wildlife story. In Dayton, Tennessee, we saw the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial. There is a museum, but in what I suppose to be a remnant of the pandemic, it was closed tighter than freshly-sealed canning even though we were there during the posted time. Frankly, a big disappointment, because my Honey will tell you that I love monkeys.

Reporting from “Wild Kingdom” this is Jeanette Saddler-Taylor


Music: Theme from Mutual of Omaha's "Wild Kingdom" - 1969 recording by William Loose