I’ve told you before about working at The Ponte Vedra Inn and Club in north Florida. I worked there for almost 10 years–probably the happiest time of my life.
On my new job, room and board was a large part of my compensation. I lived on the second floor over the front desk and lobby. It was perfect for a young single guy. I was spoiled with daily maid service including freshly-pressed sheets. I ate all my meals in one of several dining rooms. I ordered from the menu just as the guests did. All room and board were considered non-taxable income.
The Inn was still experiencing what turned out to be the last few years of a dying era in United States’ vacationing trends. The Inn was an American Plan hotel, meaning breakfast and dinner were included in the room rate. Starting in March and lasting into June, old-fashioned steamer trunks would arrive prior to their owner’s arrival. These spring guests would stay for a month or more. They wanted the same room and dining room table each year. Breakfast and dinner were served in the Inn’s main dining room. They had a choice of a la carte lunch at the golf club or Surf Club.
At dinner, I was often joined by other staff. One was Anna Cain, the executive housekeeper. My grandmother had been a hotel executive housekeeper so I understood how important her role was. I was 22 or 23 and she was a good 30 years my senior. She had been a redhead, but by then was gray.
It was during those visits over dinner that I learned she liked to fish. By then, I was managing a 10,000-acre inactive hunting preserve owned by the club. McNeill Pond, a well-stocked largemouth bass pond, was deep in the preserve woods and not easy to find.
I invited Anna to join me for an afternoon of fishing. From then on, we were fishing buddies and friends. The Club kept a couple of boats there and I kept an outboard motor at the lodge. Catching fish was almost guaranteed. We released the big ones–often eight pounders or bigger. We kept the one and two pounders to be given to employees and friends. I had always kept fish on a stringer in the water, but not at McNeill Pond. That was like inviting an alligator to dinner. We brought along a cooler.
One afternoon we had caught more than enough and headed for the Inn. It looked like there was going to be a pretty sunset so instead of driving through the woods, I took a road through the old bird-hunting fields where we had an open view to the west.
We had gone a mile or so when I spotted a great blue heron standing in a creek. He was flapping his wings, but going nowhere. I waded out into the creek where I could see his foot was caught in a jaw trap.
The preserve was large and easy for poachers and trappers to access. The locals, known as “Florida Crackers,” had fished and hunted the north Florida woods and swamps for generations. I was happy to consider several as my friends and was not surprised to find a trap in the creek.
I tried to help, but the big boy was having none of it–poking his sharp beak at me when I got close. I knew he would not survive the night trapped like that.
There was a campsite not far away that a Boy Scout Troop used. I knew there was some small rope there. The sun was going down so I needed to hurry. Anna wanted to stay with the bird, which was a smart move, as I would have likely bounced her out of the Jeep driving too fast on the dirt road. Cutting some rope and grabbing a long straight stick, I headed back.
Anna must have talked to the trapped bird the whole time I was gone because he had calmed down. I tied the rope to one end of the stick and, after several tries, slipped a noose-like loop over his head. Anna was now in the creek with me. With the noose around his neck, I could control him, but was now afraid of choking him.
To my surprise, as I held the stick, Anna reached out and took hold of his beak and held on. That gave me time to loosen the noose and hold his wings close to his body. Now the trick was to step on the trap hard enough to open it. Luckily he was trapped by only one toe, so little pressure was needed to open it just enough. His toe was freed. The noose was removed. As we both let go–off he flew. I threw the trap as far away as I could. We were off, feeling good–with a story to tell.
I lost track of Anna over the years, but, whenever I see a heron, I always think of her.
Life goes on. Follow the rules, get the shots and help us all. Thanks
Bill Minus is a storyteller who lives in Chestertown and writes about observations and memories.