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Tracker

The 120 pound panther “jumped on the table and walked right up to me.  She began sniffing my neck and behind my ears.”

Thirty-three years ago I woke up in the morning expecting the doldrums of being a volunteer at a writers conference, instead, I had one of the greatest experiences in my life. During my first semester at Edison College in Ft Myers, Florida, I volunteered to help with the setup for a writers convention on campus. This convention included local authors, one of whom was James P. McMullen, author of “Cry of the Panther.” When volunteers were asked to pet sit for Tracker, a  120 lb Florida panther. Tracker was Jim’s inspiration for his book, and companion. James would introduce Tracker to the audience and then she would be brought in her crate to an empty classroom where I would watch her while he was conducted his session with aspiring writers. James told me “You can let her out of her crate if you want to” as he closed the door on his way back to the conference.

Tracker wasn’t exactly tame. James had been left a bunch of acreage in south Florida by his parents and when he was awarded custody of Tracker he simply put a pet door in the back door of his house so she could come and go as she pleased. She would hunt and on occasion, drag the kill into his house. Jim quickly learned that he had to get rid of all the carpet and replace it with tile.

Tracker was in season, and obviously not comfortable as she paced in her crate and howled. She panted and seemed to not be able to get comfortable. Not realizing that he was making a joke about letting her out, I decided to open the door to her crate. Upon releasing her from the crate it dawned on me that she might not be happy with me! I decided that my best course of action was to sit on one of the tables and pretend I wasn’t there. She sniffed the open door and padded out of the crate. She paced the perimeter of the classroom, pausing to sniff here and there. Eventually, she decided that she wanted to investigate me. She jumped on the table and walked right up to me.  She began sniffing my neck and behind my ears. Despite the fact that she could have easily killed or maimed me, I wasn’t scared of this majestic cat. Instead, I felt only compassion and I wanted to comfort her. She had sniffed me almost head to toe, drooling on me in the process, lingering at the back of my neck. She wound herself around my left side and pressed her head into my chest. Reminiscent of a big house cat, she seemed to demand attention. Slowly I reached up and began to stroke her head and scratch her chin. This pleased her well, so she laid across my lap.

Tracker sprawled across the table with her head and front paws in my lap. She was happy when I rubbed her ears and scratched her chin. She did not purr, rather grunted and huffed demonstrating her she approved of my attention. Likewise, when I stopped she would huff and press at me with her massive paws. Much to my chagrin, when she was really happy she flexed just like a house cat puncturing my jeans and unfortunately my leg.

Tracker really calmed down when I rubbed her belly. When I tried to stop, she’d howl until I commenced to belly rubs again. When James broke out of his session to come check on us, he opened the door to the classroom and was surprised to see Tracker out of her crate and in my lap. Tracker sat up and hissed at him. Jim chuckled and said that he really hadn’t expected me to let her out of the crate. He told me that he was going to be wrapping up in an hour and asked if I was okay until then. I told him I was fine. Tracker once again expressed her displeasure with Jim with a howl. He closed the door and went back to the conference.

For the next hour Tracker lay across my lap, content as long as I stroked her belly and rubbed her behind the ears. When Jim came back, he walked in the room, squatted and called her by name. She jumped up and off the table, and soundlessly strode up to her best man.

She may have been upset that he loaded her up in a crate and drove her to a writers conference, but they were family and the bond was evident as she greeted him and he played with her.

 

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Unfortunately, I did not have my camera with me when I was with Tracker, but this is a photo of a cougar in the Grandfather Mountain Zoo I took in 2003. Florida panthers, cougars and mountain lions are the same cat. For more information about the Florida panther please visit this site.

Spectacular Sunset

In 1988 I was living with my grandparents in Fort Myers, Florida. I was playing tennis, going to college and working at Harmon’s Photo where I was the assistant manager. I did some custom lab work for them in trade for being able to use the lab. It was one of those late summer days in Florida where the heat kicked off an afternoon storm. Storms usually came from the Gulf of Mexico moving towards the east and usually around 3:30 in the afternoon. On this day the storm kicked off a little later in the day, causing the clouds to linger over the horizon as the sun descended below the horizon creating a spectacular sunset.

As I pulled into the driveway the last drops of rain were splattering on the hood of my car. I looked behind the house as the clouds were beginning to turn red. At this time in my life I carried my camera with me almost all of the time, but my tripod and cable release were in the house. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to photograph the scene, I opened the front door and ran inside to grab my tripod and cable release. Finding what I needed in my bedroom, I turned around and ran back out the front door and around the side of the house to set up my camera and tripod. I set up overlooking the canal behind the house in hopes of getting the reflection from the water that mirrored the sky in the photograph.

I loaded a roll of Fuji RVP 50 slide film in the camera, metered the scene, adjusted accordingly and proceeded to shoot the sunset until the sun dropped below the horizon. the resulting image is natural, no photoshop skills required.

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Photo taken with a Nikon FA 35mm slr Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens on Fujichrome RVP 50 iso film.

The Graffiti Artist and the Rapist

the star player of the basketball team had raped one of the women, and that she was only one of several women

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In the fall of 1990 I had moved to Tampa, Florida to finish up a bachelors degree at the University of South Florida. As a transfer student working and carrying a full schedule at the same time I didn’t have a lot of spare time, but on this afternoon I decided to grab my camera kit and wander around campus looking for a good subject. USF in 1990 was a large campus sparsely covered by buildings with sidewalks that meandered from building to parking lot to building and so on.

On one of these sidewalks two coed students crouched down frantically drawing. They suddenly stood up and hurried farther down the walk and into the common area of one of the buildings. I approached the section of sidewalk where they had been working and found “Coach lets rape happen” scrawled in chalk. I grabbed my flash from my camera bag, connected the off camera cable to the camera and photographed the message.

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Being new to the school, I was puzzled and a little shocked by the message so I followed them to the common area of the economics building. I looked around and found a flyer taped to the glass on the cigarette machine that resembled a ransom note.

 

By this time the sun was down and I continued my journey in darkness towards the Sun Dome. I hurried my pace wanting to catch up to the women and find out what, and who this was about. USF didn’t have a football team in 1990, but they did have basketball, soccer, baseball, softball and others teams that could have been the subject of the complaints. Luckily they were using a flashlight and I saw them not too far ahead. I jogged over to them and asked about the messages they were posting.

When I asked what this was about, they asked if I was working for the school paper, which I denied. I expected a relief, but they were hoping their messages would get published. They went on to tell me that the star player of the basketball team had raped one of the women, and that she was only one of several women that had been raped in the past year.

I wrote down their contact info and took a couple more photos of more graffiti and found my way to the Oracle newsroom where I introduced myself and passed along the story, and that I had photos to run. It would take a year of investigative reporting by other writers, editors and myself before the player in question was removed from the campus, but some degree of justice was meted out.

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