Alligators are a common Florida attraction.
Growing up near the Everglades my friends and I could ride our bikes westward on Wiles Road until it abruptly terminated into a watery ditch dividing our civilization from their 1.5 million acre wet-wonderland of mangroves, sawgrass, stalking panthers, and the occasional 18 foot Boa that was once a pet to an owner unknowledgeable that baby snakes too grow up. At the apex of midday, they would lazily sunbathe on the distant bank totally unimpressed and disinterested in our human presence.
Short of doing something objectively stupid–say diving in blindly splashing vaguely toward their young while screaming Marco Polo–we were never on their diet.
Driving from Fort Lauderdale to Fort Meyers on Alligator Alley there are stops in the desolate nowhere of the 137 mile segment of highway where you can stretch your legs and snap a photo of a malicious-enough looking hyper-predator as it also eyes you immobile from just a thirty-feet gulf of canal and indifference.
Every Florida Zoo has one as do many gas stations near Orlando. Florida is home of Gatorland and several Native American reservations where you watch non-Native American actors practice the decidedly non-Native American tradition of alligator wrestling. (Alligator wrestling was touted to Native American tribes as an exciting, albeit, inauthentic, way of generating revenue–prior to the more lucrative, but equally inauthentic, tradition of gaming.)
As my friend and I had toured Wakulla Springs by boat, we had just that morning viewed a half dozen alligators separated from us by the hull of our boat, twenty feet of water, and their severe disinterest in humans not actively teasing them.
Learn about how to spot your own personal alligator here:
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But despite having seen dozens of alligators in my time, there had always been some protective barrier–a fence, a canal, a boat, or even just simply a large gathering of people.
I had abandoned my unenergetic friend at the Wakulla Springs Lodge to hike part of the linear six mile Wakulla Springs Trail as I wanted to see the forested confluence of the Wakulla River with the Sally Ward Spring. Upon my desolate arrival there was the obligatory “Warning Alligators” sign. I slowly crossed the bridge looking toward the banks and upriver. Nothing. I allowed my body to serve as a mosquito and fly buffet for a few minutes longer–still nothing.
I hiked another couple of miles before turning around. When I reappeared at the river crossing I saw a distant floating log. I paused on the shallow bridge now devoid of bugs and other annoyances and fantasized that I was being offered a lonely alligator encounter all my own in the middle of the north Florida woods.
Then I noticed the log had quite sharp teeth and a thrashing tail. Either the arborous victims of the logging industry had evolved into shape shifters and were seeking revenge on humankind, or I was being offered a lonely alligator encounter all my own in the middle of the north Florida woods.
The alligator then noticed me, and turned toward me at an accelerated rate of speed.
I did what anyone would have done–I retrieved my Samsung and proceeded to record a two-minute YouTube video to be followed by several pictures where I leaned into the lethal creature as if attempting to offer notes and stage direction.
Quickly it identified me as either being too big or too stupid to attack and tried to hide underwater.
Eventually it needed air and allowed it’s head and front legs to float buoyantly to the surface.
I interpreted this series of movements–minding it’s own business, noticing me staring and wading over to investigate, strategically estimating my size, hiding, and now remaining still in the hopes that my sight was based upon movement like his Jurassic cousin–as this: “You scare me. Please go away.”
I smiled into it’s dark eyes, whispered “thank you,” and walked calmly away with the totally irrational feeling of having communed with nature.