I SAW MY FIRST EVER FLORIDA ALLIGATOR TODAY!!!!!!!
Just yards away from me!!!!
Phew. Ok, I'm calm now.
But still really really excited!
I want to give you the history first, though, if you'll allow me...
My grandparents moved to Florida when I was about 19. The first time my mother and I visited we looked for alligators. There were all these waterways near the house and on walks we would look for them.
We never saw any.
We saw a lot of garbage though.
So one day I see a half submerged soda can and I say, "Look, there's an alligator."
It became our joke.
Every time we'd see cans floating in the murky waters, one of us would say "alligator."
Ok, so to you it's not funny.
How about this-- is this funny? --
My aunt used to live in a community on a golf course. Very pristine, same, neat. All the house's back yards sloped gently into water passages. I found out that there was an alligator problem there. (Starting to sound familiar?) Alligators, stealth, hungry and menacing, would climb up onto people's back yards and eat their cats and dogs.
I still never saw one though, so I was disappointed.
Today my aunt Sheila and I went to Loxahatchee National Wildlife Reserve. We arrived near 4 pm to be there during a time she aptly described as being the best time for "birdnoisiness."
Now let me say this. You get there by car. You come up a road and stop at a bulletin board that tells you to take a yellow envelope, put $5 into it, slip it into this short pillar with a tight slit, and park. There are no Rangers. No "please don't dump bodies here" signs. No guides, no fences, no nothing nowhere no how.
It's a swampy marshy space cut up by sandy levees you walk on, meeting with other long stretches of other levees flanked by clear brown shallow water, reeds reflecting in still surfaces, small ducks fishing, Egrets-- flying, landing, hunting, birders quietly watching through binoculars, photos being shot through large lenses to see camouflaged birds in tall naked trees, the punch of muffled sound as an elegant massive Great Blue Heron glides overhead, gnats buzz in ears, the sun sets red aglow over the monochromatic scene, splashes by turtles, and the scant person, miniature figures in the distance.
I asked a friendly birder about alligators. He shrugged, "Yeah, I see 'em all the time." "But," I asked fearfully, looking around at our unprotected surroundings, "What's between you and them if they want to eat you?"
"Nothing, I guess." He says nonchalantly.
The hope, I guess, is that they've had their fill of domesticated pets that day.
We rounded a corner. Still no alligators. Sheila pointed to a log floating in some water grasses. "See that," she pointed, "Alligators hide so well here, you might think that's just a log, but it's really an alligator." I looked hard, squinted.
Nope, still a log.
Turning to move on I was stilled, stunned in my tracks.
Ten yards away, slowly and heavily moving across our path, was a four footed, long tailed dinosaur.
Just before moving down the sloped edge into the water it stopped and hunkered down, legs disappearing. It became the enigmatic shape from The Little Prince. Snake swallowing elephant or hat, you decide.
We stood there for a long time. It sunned, we contemplated.
Just as we were about to take a long, circuitous route back, it sleepily slipped into the water.
We walked by the spot it had tanned in.
I didn't breathe much.
And then I saw two more. Big uns.
There is nothing like looking at an animal like this with little between you. Ain't no joke, son.
I feel satisfied. In all the 16 years Sheila has lived here she's never seen one walking. Most have just seen nostrils in the water. They look so big and and slow. But few who've been caught in their jaws will tell you there's nothing to worry about. Alligators can indeed run. Fast.
If one chases you you're supposed to zig zag because they're peripheral vision isn't great. I'm not sure I'd be able to remember that if one was chasing me though, I'll admit.
(I was too shocked by seeing the alligator to take a picture. But Sheila, aka "quick draw" got one. As soon as she uploads it I'll post it.)
Zow. I still can't believe it.
A.R.M. Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge
10216 Lee Rd.
Boynton Beach, FL 33437-4796
Visitor Center: 561-734-8303