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Bayler Daniels "Trouble in the Glades"
A Day in the Glades (Part 1)
Morning in the Glades
The sun rose hot in the Glades. A blanket of mist hovered above the banks and the caramel-colored water of the tributary. A soft breeze filled the air with a musty, pungent smell. The grunt of a large alligator sounded in the distance. “Big ole bull,” Bayer said to his dog Shellie. “Judgin’ by the sound, probably callin’ to a good-lookin’ female”—he smiled to himself—“or warnin’ some young bull he’s on dangerous ground!”
The croaks of blue herons could be heard flying overhead, as two snowy egrets waded through the tall marsh grass along the banks of the brackish water. A covey of coots made their way, chirping and diving for the school of menhaden, toward] the mouth of the runoff, while a snakebird dove under the water and reappeared twenty yards away. Mullet were jumping and swimming in the shallows.
He could hear the hum of dirt daubers flying along the bank as they worked on their nest and collected food. The early morning sounds filled the Glades with activity of life but still offered a calmness and sense of peace for Bayler, which few would even notice or care about.
Bayler Daniels started his day as he had since he was ten years old. His old leather snake boots, once brown, came up to just below his knees. The boots smelled of shellfish and gray mud, which covered the bottom of the runoff. He kept his gray coveralls tucked into his boots to keep them from getting wet.
He wore a blue canvas belt from his stint in the navy, which still fit as it did when he enlisted. A weathered leather sheath hung from the belt, holding the skinning knife his grandpa had given him on his twelfth birthday. “It was sharper than an ole woman’s tongue,” his grandpa Tyler Daniels used to say. It was fourteen inches long from the hilt to the point and had a well-worn Tung-oiled handle pressed together with brass rivets. His grandpa had made the knife over sixty years ago. Bayler used the knife often and could work it as if it were part of his hand. Next to it was a pouch his wife, Whynetta, had made from canvas for his needle-nose wire cutters.
Real fine day to be out here, Bayler thought as he paddled his eighteen-foot johnboat through the water. It was olive colored at one time, with a wide beam and a tunnel hull, and ran a shallow draft. The boat was better than fifty years old, scratched, and weathered; it smelled of fish, bait, mud, and sweat. It was not that Bayler didn’t keep it clean; his dad, Payton Daniels, had taught him better than that. However, it was a fishing boat, and the years of fishing had embedded the scents that were now a part of it. It had a fifty-five horsepower outboard, with a pull start, which ran almost like it did when it was new.
When Bayer got back from his stint in the navy, his dad sold him the boat and went to work for a fertilizer company over in the town of Immokalee, thirty-five miles from Copeland. It was good to get back to the fishing and trapping that Bayler had always known, and he easily returned to life in the Glades.
Bayler continued to work his way down the tributary off Chokoloskee Bay, checking his trotlines, placing the meat fish into the port-side box on ice, and tossing the ladyfish and salt cat in the starboard side for the fertilizer company. He then checked the barb on the hook. If it was dull, he sharpened it; if bad, he replaced it. Then he would re-bait the hook, toss the line out away from the boat, and let it settle back in place.
In the back of his boat sat Shell Cracker, 110 pounds of half-blood German shepherd, marsh wise and alert to everything Bayler was doing, keeping an eye out for anything that seemed amiss. Shellie had been coming with Bayler since he found him wandering on the road between Copeland and Sweetwater. Shellie was only a pup then and nothing but skin and bones when Bayler first saw him, eating a blue crab he had caught in the shallow tide pools along the trail.
The pup pawed at the crab until finally pulling it up on the bank. When he had it on dry ground, he’d step on its claw with one paw and grab the other claw, crushing it in his teeth. Then he’d grab the first claw under his foot and do likewise. Once the claws were out of the way, he would break open the shell and eat the insides. His muzzle bore signs his education had a price. So Bayler named him Shell Cracker. “If that ain’t the dangdest thing I ever saw,” Bayler mused. Shellie quickly filled out on dog food and table scraps but never lost his love of crabs. Bayler seldom had to say anything; Shellie just seemed to know.
Bayler was a tall man, six feet two inches with broad shoulders, well-seasoned by hard work in the Glades. His hands were strong and calloused. He kept his hair short and was clean shaven except for his mustache, which he had since his momma let him grow one. He wore an old navy ball cap with “USS Reeves CG-24” embroidered on the front. He did not work out at any gym; he just worked out at life. Bayler could lift a fifty-pound pail of fish in each hand and walk from the back of his truck to the fish scales at the fertilizer plant without pausing for a rest.
His life was clean and uncomplicated. He preferred straight talk and figured that there was no need of hand waving or arm movement to get across what he had to say. He believed the Bible; his manners and speech gave no cause for people to think any differently. He didn’t consider himself religious; God is, God said, and that pretty much summed it up. He took his family to church on Sunday morning and evening, as well as Wednesday night for prayer meeting, and Bayler read his Bible every night for an hour.
Bayler was not afraid of much in the Glades and figured he could handle anything that came up. The marsh was full of gators and such, but he respected the Glades and the balance of life. Besides, the gators wouldn’t be getting too close, unless they became curious. His dad taught him at an early age to keep a good sharp ax in the boat “case’n a gator needed tendin’ too” or he was lucky enough to come upon some heart palm cabbage.
Things had changed a lot from when his dad and grandpa were trapping out here. Baylor pulled up the first hook on his trotline and took off a nice-sized mango snapper. He put on another piece of clam and tossed the hook back out and continued working his way down the line. He looked over at Shellie. “What cha think, Shellie?” Shellie glanced at him as if he understood. Bayler smiled and turned back to his work.
Just then, Shellie started to growl. “What’s wrong, boy?” Bayler asked, as he followed Shellie’s gaze, and saw the marsh grass spreading apart. Whatever it was, it was big, and Shellie didn’t like it. There was barely a sound, just the faint rustling as the blades of dry saw grass brushed together. Then Bayler saw it enter the water. Anaconda, should have known, he thought to himself. “Good boy, Shellie, good dog. We’ll just leave him be.”
Bayler finished running the trotlines and went to work on his crayfish traps. He had twenty-five traps still left; it would take a good hour to check and bait the rest of them. This line of traps ran along the northeast edge of Chevalier Bay. He pulled his boat around to the first trap where its float bobbed in the water, used a mooring hook, and grabbed the float, then pulled up the trap. There were about two dozen crayfish in the trap, so he put the keepers on ice in the front of the boat and released the small ones. Bayler then re-baited the trap with some of the scraps and carcasses of yesterday’s catch, lowered it back to about the same place, tossed out the float, and moved on to the next trap.