Sue Cocking has hiked through the densely wooded Florida Trail in the Big Cypress Preserve, canoed through mangrove tunnels in Biscayne National Park and wrestled a 100-pound tarpon for a tag-and-release program.
Shes also been frog hunting in the pitch dark of the Everglades with a fourth-generation commercial frogger, gone pork chopping a controversial hunt of feral pigs from a helicopter and diving to catch stone crabs by hand.
So venturing out to hunt pythons in Floridas first exotic snake hunt, an assignment she chronicles in todays paper, is just one more adventure. Cocking is just doing her job as The Miami Heralds outdoors writer, and as an outdoorswoman at heart, shed probably be doing it anyway.
She approaches her beat with the enthusiasm of an adventurer who was first lured to the Keys in 1979 by the outdoor lifestyle.
Cocking worked as a radio newscaster and reporter then as a charter boat captain before landing the ultimate job at The Miami Herald. To her love of fishing, camping and hiking, she added scuba diving, a must, she believed, for anyone covering the outdoors in the Sunshine State.
I just try to cover what people would want to do, she said, even for those readers who only want to live vicariously through her stories. Those tales range from the annual lobster mini-season to todays story about the start of the state-sanctioned python hunt, aimed at culling the invasive species.
Cockings on-the-job adventures have provided fodder for plenty of lively dinner conversations, like the time she was chased by a skunk, an ostrich and a dog all in the same day, while snake hunting in southern Georgia.
Then there was the story of the sunken wreck of the Spiegel Grove off Key Largo. Just after Hurricane Dennis in 2005, Cocking was told by divers that the 510-foot, 6,880-ton ship, which landed upside down when it was sunk as an artificial reef, had turned right side up.
I said, Thats not possible. So I went down there and dived it. If you visit it today its like God himself set it perfectly upright. Thats chilling.
Nearly two decades since she first started the job, Cocking is still as passionate.
Its the best job at the paper, Cocking said. Who would want to do anything else?
You can read Susan Cockings coverage online at www.MiamiHerald.com/outdoors.