When I visit Lake O, I always think of my pet flying squirrel, and his reaction to it.
Below: Flying squirrels are elusive, tricky to keep as pets, so fast that they are almost impossible to photograph, but adorable looking!
In the past week, I talked with two people who thought that Lake Okeechobee was built by the Army Corp of Engineers. One person thought this, because it was not on an 1837 map by John Lee Williams of Pensacola. Williams doubted the existence, size, and location of the lake. But it was on an 1825 British map. The lake was not accurately mapped or surveyed until the Second Seminole War, after Colonel Zachary Taylor reached the lake and fought what we all know as the battle of Lake Okeechobee on Christmas Day, 1837. Before Taylor, the other non-native who could have visited the lake was Spaniard Hernando de Escalante Fontaneda, who spent many years as captive of the Calusa, 300 years earlier.
Below: 1837 map by John Lee Williams
Archaeologically, there are aboriginal remnants of villages and people who lived around the lake, and have given the name to what we call the "Glades Culture," or "Belle Glades Culture." In 2007 when Lake O was in a drought and the water was down to record low levels, 30 different prehistoric archaeological sites and villages were documented. Also was found prehistoric excavated canals, and significant mound sites are nearby like Fort Center and Ortona. The means that Lake O was abundant with fish and food and could support villages around it. It is believed that hurricanes may have also wiped out some of these villages.
Below: Lake Okeechobee and the connecting waterways in south Florida, by the South Florida Water Management.
In 1926 and 1928, two devastating hurricanes hit Lake O, killing maybe as many as 3,000 people and flooding the towns around the lake like Belle Glade, Moore Haven, and Clewiston. The government started building a series of dikes to hold back future destructive storm surges, and it was visited by President Herbert Hoover, who observed construction of the dikes. So I can understand why some people thought that the lake was constructed by the Army Corp of Engineers, because of the 100 mile long dike and series of canals.
Below: Hurricane damage to the town of Belle Glade. From State of Fla. Photo Archives.
Below: Coffins stacked up to remove bodies after the 1928 hurricane. From State of Fla. Photo Archives.
Below: Hoover Dike, by the South Florida Water Management District.
In 2007, my Dad's health was declining such that he could no longer take care of the flying squirrels. So they were released by a wildlife rehabilitator, except for one that could not be released; a three-legged flying squirrel I named Stubby. He could still climb and hang upside down in the cage, but was not as fast. I would let him out of the cage each night to explore around the room, where he would finish his exploits by curling up in a towel on my lap.
One of the first times that I was bringing Stubby down south, he was curled up in a box, in a cage on the passenger seat of my truck. I stopped for lunch at a picnic area on Lake O, south of Okeechobee City. I guess that the stillness or quietness of stopping for lunch made Stubby curious enough to come out of his bed and see what was going on.
He climbed up the cage and looked out. Flying squirrels are nocturnal and already have big eyes, but it looked like his eyes got even bigger as he viewed the vast expanse from the beach along Lake O. It was almost as if he was saying, "What happened to all the trees?"
Below: Another adorable flying squirrel photo.
Stubby was a handicapped squirrel and had some health issues, but as long as I had him, his large cage in the house was right next to a big window so he could always be comforted by seeing all the trees in the hammock that surround my cabin.