Here's looking at you.

I took this picture in the Everglades some years ago.

When I was growing up in Winter Park, FL, we used to see alligators in the lake in front of our house all the time. The only time we gave them a thought was if the dogs were down at the lake with us. They do love dogs.

In high school, I swam the lake every day--about 1/4 mile across and back. I'd get back, all tuckered out, and waiting for me was 'Big Foot,' our tame Purple Gallinule.

Purple Gallinules are migratory. Big Foot and her partner Limpy, would arrive every summer, nest and raise their young in the cattails along our lake front. We fed her bits of bread (what did we know?) She'd stand on the railing of the front steps of our house and peer in the kitchen window. The first person to spot her, got the bread, and opened the back door. She'd come up the back steps, right into the kitchen, snatch the bread, fly out the door and down to the lake.

I learned two things from our lake and Big Foot. When we moved to Lake Sue in Winter Park, my dad and I would row out every day after school to fish . The water back then was crystal clear. I would hang over the bow and spot bass for him. Within a few years, the lake became slitty. Daddy blamed the ski boats, but I know now it was the fertilizer everyone was using on the lawns that stretched down to the water's edge. By the time I graduated from high school, the lake was clogged with algae and plant life, some of which grew so tall it would tickle my stomach as I swam the lake.

From Big Foot, I learned to love birds. She was my first introduction to what turned into a passion for wildlife and conservation. Our poor lake, and that wonderful bird, informed my thinking, and eventually led me to pursue a degree in biology, and do a little writing. :-)