Monday, February 8, 2010

LION COUNTRY




NEVER SAY..... "Pick me" for a job no one else wants. Trust that others with experience just may know a bit more than you do. As a meter reader, I had a habit of volunteering for routes that had only one good aspect and nine bad. I guess you could call it tunnel vision. It happened when I wanted to read that horrid route in Jupiter on the vague chance that I might see Burt Reynolds. Did I learn from that day? Nope.


There was another route that was avoided like the plague by the old time meter readers. Lion Country Safari. Lion Country was an early stop on a route that covered maybe eighty miles of impossible to get to ranch meters. I ignored the "impossible-to-get-to" part and zeroed in on the Lion Country part.

"Pick me," I begged.

No one else wanted it, so I found it laying on my desk one morning. Since it was such a monster route, I had to be trained on it first and would keep it for several months. At that time we were not paid hourly. Some days were easy and short, some long and miserable, but they tended to even out on a monthly basis. Lion Country was an overtime route.

The next month when I was on my own, I was really excited. I knew it would be a long day so any extra time I spent at the park would be on me. The cooler was packed and I prepared for a day where the sun would most likely set on my hiney.

I stayed a bit long at the nursery where the babies were and at the chimp area. Then I came to a very large fenced in area that I couldn't remember. I could see the electric drop to a meter that was blocked by a reed fence covering a wire fence. I walked around and found a gate whose chain held one of our company locks among others. Seeing no animals, I used my key and entered.

I located the meter and walked about 200 feet inside to read it. I had my back to the reed fence when I heard a voice behind me that I recognized. It was one of our new construction guys who was there to engineer a new meter location.

"Do you know you are in that pen with 10 leopards?" Jim whispered.

Since Jim was the same guy who had burst my bubble about Burt Reynolds, I laughed loudly thinking he was pulling my leg.

"Shush," he hissed, "look in the tall grass by that tree."



None of the pictures are mine.

Holy crap. By that tree, the ground was littered in spots and fur. Fortunately they appeared to be sleeping.

"Don't run, just walk out slowly and as quietly as possible." said the unfamiliar voice which I later learned was that of a Lion Country worker.
In exaggerated slow motion and a pounding heart, I made it to the gate and let my self out. It was a cool Florida morning, but I was sweating. The leopards never moved. Phew.
Turns out there was a peek thru hole under a flap in the reed fence to observe the meter and I should never have been in that enclosure. It was one meter my trainer had failed to show me. I noticed it hadn't been read in a couple of months. They removed our company lock from the chain that day.
After I emptied my frightened bladder in the proper location, I decided to join the drive thru tour of the lions. I had been warned that they slept a lot and it were not very interesting but I still wanted to see them up close and roaming free. At that time I was living in Loxahatchee which was minutes away and I could usually hear the lions roar all night from my home. Cool. Now I was finally going to visit my nighttime serenaders.
My work truck was a "spicy brown mustard" colored little pickup. I nestled into the line of cars and off we went with our zebra colored LC truck leading us. No, the lions weren't active, in fact they weren't moving. I was beginning to feel that well fed lions and leopards are the laziest animals on earth.
The caravan of cars stopped to observe a pride lazing by the road who were not impressed with us at all.

Slowly however, one large lioness raised her head. She picked me out and her eyes locked on mine. I could not break away from her gaze. She slowly but deliberately raised off the ground and with eyes still locked on mine, she stalked my little truck.
It dawned on me then that lions could easily kill by fear alone. All I could see were those amazing eyes. They mesmerized me. My breath was coming in tiny puffs, like I was afraid to show movement or life. The world only contained two of us at that moment.
I lost sight of her for a instant as she got close to my vehicle, then I felt a huge weight drop into the truck bed, rocking the whole vehicle. Not turning around but watching via the rear view mirror, I saw her press her nose against the back window leaving a smeary smudge print. Her nose was about 10 inches from my neck. I was not sweating this time but freezing cold.
She eventually lost interest and leaped out of my truck. By then I am sure I was on hundreds of feet of 35 mm home movie film. This was pre-video days. How thoughtful of me to make the drive thru interesting for so many. Why she picked me, I don't know. Perhaps because the color of my truck was rather "lion" colored.

I saw Jim before I left and he was still with the maintenance guy. When I told them about my lion adventure, the LC employee informed me that had she wanted to, the lioness could have pushed my rear window in with no problem. Best to know such things only in hindsight.

The sun did set on me that day and my last pump meter in a remote pasture was read by flash light while battling mosquitoes. That was definitely not cool nor fun.
Did I regret the long hard day. Not at all for it gave me a fun memory for my rocking chair and a blog post 30 years later. However, I did start listening more carefully to those with experience from then on. Honest, I really am capable of learning.

24 comments :

  1. What an eventful day! You must have had some scary moments! You are a brave woman!

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  2. Patti, I urge you, nay, implore you to write a book!!! What an experience! (just one of many)

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  3. WOW-What an adventure. Sometimes I feel bad to be laughing at your "misfortunes" but you tell these stories so well I can't help it.

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  4. Your adventures and the way you write, about them... makes me... almost forget to breathe Patti!

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  5. Have you visited Turpentine Creek Wildlift Refuge, near Eureka Springs, AR? It has grown and expanded in the 30 years I lived here, but have yet to convince my husband it would make a great place to stay and spend the night!

    He is not as nearly the animal lover I am.

    TCWR, in part, is a rescue effort of those individuals who find keeping a wild large cat species, a mistake, and it almost always is. in the late 80's most governments in our area banned the keeping of wildlife longterm.

    A few area large cat people were featured in newspapers but if you followed them through the years, most relinguished their cats, when they either escaped mauling, escaped their confinement, or some other unthinkable tragedy happened.

    Great story: Another spot I'd like to visit is the drive-through somewhere near Springfield MO; maybe Little Rock AR or Springfield MO zoo?

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  6. I think I probably wouldn't Have been able to wait for a proper location to empty my bladder, it would have emptied right there. I would have only hoped for a dry set of clothing. LOL Yes, I also think you should write a book, on your adventures of a meter reader among other jobs.

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  7. I do enjoy your adventures. Delightful. Keep writing. More, More!

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  8. Wow---what adventures you had, Patti. Too bad you didn't write a book. Maybe your blog is your book now!!!!

    I cannot understand why someone had told you about that possibility --when you were trained. GADS--that is scary. Those Leopards could have eaten you up!!!!! Yipes!!!!

    Like you say, you lived to tell your experiences. Now --you can relax and just talk about them. All I can say is WOW.....

    Besides the leopards, that was some experience also with the lion.... Awesome!!!!!

    Hugs,
    Betsy

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  9. Reader wil,
    I was not really brave for I was scared silly. Thirty years later, it doesn't look seem bad.

    kenju,
    Thank you so much for your confidence in me Judy. I can't do "one word" but I am pretty sure there isn't a book in me either.

    Olga,
    Please don't feel badly and please do laugh... I do. Thank you so much.

    Wanda,
    Thank you so much. There were times I didn't breathe so well either.

    Nitwit,
    That is one of the advantages of my new automatic Scoopfree. It will free up my times for short trips. I wanted to see the Elephant Sanctuary also. TCWR is on my list.

    Patty,
    Thank you so much.
    That was the reason for hurrying to find a restroom. The leopards were as close as I have come to having it scared out of me.:))

    Linda
    Sure glad you like them for there are a few more left. Thanks.

    tikno,
    Thank you and welcome to TNS. You certainly came a long way and I will check out your blog.

    Betsy,
    My trainer had not been shown where that meter was when she was trained and had just written it up as CGI--can't get in.
    It was a perpetuating error. I made sure the person I trained was shown how to safely read that one and put a map with the route to show how to get to it safely.

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  10. As scary as that experience sounds, I would have loved to have been in that truck with you. I'm not sure I would have joined you in the leopard pen though. That's a little too close for comfort. What a wild experience, patti!

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  11. robin,
    I wish you had been also. Those eyes can not be properly descibed. They totally looked inside me and turned off my fight or flight response. I could not move. Awesome feeling.

    Amanda,
    Wasn't then but is now.

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  12. I echo kenju's plea! You MUST write a book. I'll buy all your copies. This was unbelievable. As if Leopards weren't scary enough. I was transported into Lion Country along with you. Brave woman, I salute!!:-)

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  13. I gotta say you are a braver woman than I am. However, if I didn't know...I might have done the same thing. There have been a lot of things I've done that have given my sweet overworked guardian angel the horrors.

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  14. lostworld,
    I can't tell you how pleased I am that you and kenju think I am book worthy. That is a super compliment and I accept it happily. Thank you. Trust me, if I ever got so full of my self to try such an adventure, I'd give you both a copy for you would be the only ones interested. I do know my limitations but again, thank you.

    Amber Star,
    You nailed it. It would only have been brave if I had known the leopards were in there before hand. I am pretty much just a stumbler who manages to survive.
    Your angel and my angel must have interesting coffee breaks together.

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  15. Thanks for the visit! The creator of the wall was astonished that it was still in such great condition. I saw him two years ago, when my daughter and I were visiting him and his wife.

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  16. you and animals are just meant to have adventures together!
    I chose to think that the lioness felt your spirit and just wanted to travel with you for a bit

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  17. Write the book!!!!!!!!! and reserve me a copy!

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  18. Reader Wil,
    He did a wonderful job, it looks new. The detail is amazing.

    Dianne,
    Oh, how I would like to believe that. Afraid she thought I might be tasty.

    Oklhdan,
    Awww, bless your heart. That makes three copies. Seriously, I love that you think so. Pretty sure I don't have it in me though.

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  19. So glad to read your blog for the first time. I love the big wild cats. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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  20. What a fascinating and deeply Frightening story, my dear....Any of those animals could have attacked you and we would never have gotten to meet you here in Blogland...This was an incredible thing to have happen. And wasn't it good that Jim was there to give you that first warning...! Meter Reading sounds like very dangerous work--sometimes. (lol)

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  21. Sheri,
    Thank you so much for stopping by and visiting TNS. Haven't seen your blog yet but will visit today.

    OOLOH
    You know, if he hadn't said anything, I may have just walked out blissfully ignorant and those lazy leopards might have just watched. All in all, I am glad he was there also. Pretty sure I had a patch of grey hairs show up that day.

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  22. Sheri,
    Oops, yes I have seen your blog. Judy sent me. Sorry about that.

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