I built a campfire the other night, right before sunset. While the sun slid down into the water, which rippled with pink and purple and rose and gold reflected light, and the sky gradually grew dark, I watched the flames flicker and leap. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

It would have been if I hadn’t spent so much energy worrying about alligators. My campsite is right next to the water and the fire pit is about eight feet away from the edge of the shore.

I don’t know what my thing is about the alligators. I mean, yes, the dogs are the perfect size to be alligator meals, and yes, alligators are actually much faster than they look when they’re resting, and yes, they’ve got the whole dinosaur, primeval, lumpy reptile thing going on…

But still, people don’t often lose their pets to wandering ‘gators.

And while this park definitely has alligators in it — I’m fairly sure I saw an eye peering out of the water at me the other day and my neighbors claimed they’ve seen one clearly — the alligators are just as likely — more likely, actually! —  to be small. Two foot long alligators, not ten foot long. Rodent-eaters, not dog-eaters.

In the darkness, though, the water felt much too close.

At one point — and this was rather cool — I thought I saw a shadow by the edge of the water. Not an alligator shadow, an animal shadow. Like a cat. I told myself I was imagining things, and then the shadow started moving. It was on the other side of the fire and it wandered by the edge of the water, a dark motion against darkness. For a couple minutes, when I wasn’t sure whether it was really there or not, I thought of fae and fantasy, creatures out of Patricia Brigg’s novels or JK Rowling. Then it moved enough into the light that I was sure it was real and I decided it was probably a raccoon.

Yesterday my neighbors found a snake in their campsite. I am 90% sure that it was a garter snake, but the dad told the kids it was venomous, maybe just to make sure they stayed away from it. Why take chances, after all?

And when I was walking Zelda, we came upon a turtle in the road. It immediately stopped being a turtle and started being a dark green and yellow rock, head and feet drawn inside. Zelda was more curious about why I was stopping our walk to take a picture then she was about the turtle. I guess turtles don’t smell as interesting to dogs as Spanish moss does.

I also had to chase a little lizard out of the kayak. It wasn’t an anole, which I’m used to seeing everywhere. Instead it was brown and patterned. If I had more data, I’d try to find out what it was, but as it is, I think of it as mystery lizard. I considered taking it kayaking with me, but decided that it probably wouldn’t be very happy and if it fell in the water, I’d feel guilty.

This morning, while walking Z, I saw another critter in the woods. No idea what it was, except maybe a very big armadillo? It was far enough away that I didn’t get a good look at it, and moving quickly, but the silhouette looked wrong for every animal in my mental repository of Florida appropriate animals. Including armadillo. Anteater and tapir were the shapes that came to mind.

So yes, animals. Reptiles. Great campground. I love all the little moments of excitement that random strange animals bring into my life.

Today’s plan — some writing, hopefully lots of it, some kayaking, probably not enough of it, and then a relative visit in the evening to see the Christmas lights go on and listen to Christmas music. Tomorrow I’m on the road again, although headed nowhere in particular.  I can’t believe it’s December already. I am as frustrated as can be that I’m still making no progress on Grace, back to wondering whether someday I just need to give up. But today won’t be the day.