My friends would have you believe that I’m fearless in the presence of alligators, especially when I’m drifting close in my kayak attempting to get that one-in-a-million photograph. Truth be told, I have a very healthy respect for them, a thirst to understand them better and a highly motivated desire to spot them before they spot me. I know my place on the food chain and I’m pretty sure I’m not at the top.
My first encounter with an alligator was on a bayou in Mississippi when I was still mostly oblivious to the notion that an alligator could be in my vicinity. It was a habit of mine to go down to the dock of my apartment complex each evening, sit on the dock with my feet dangling a couple of feet above the dark water and toss stale bread out to a small gathering of ducks that anxiously awaited my arrival. I looked forward to those few minutes of blissful relaxation each evening, and never anticipated what would happen next.
One evening I was feeding bread to a trio of ducks, listening to them chatter happily as they paddled directly beneath my feet. Without warning the water beneath my feet erupted in jaws and feathers and startled quacks as a denizen from the deep exploded upward tossing a duck backwards into his gaping jaws. I remember shrieking and jerking my legs up onto the dock while the two remaining ducks took flight. I watched horrified as the gator swallowed the lifeless duck.
The next thing I knew I was on my feet racing for the apartment. I slammed the door behind me and breathlessly repeated over and over “Gator! Gator! Gator!” to my, then, husband and his friend. I imagine I wasn’t very coherent and must have been in shock because they were having trouble understanding me so I yelled, “A gator ate my duck! Go look if you don’t believe me!”
We all filed back out of the apartment and down to the dock where the almost 8′ alligator was slowly swimming to the other side of the creek. Then I heard those magical words, “Holy sh*t, she did see an alligator.” Well duh. Thanks for the vote of confidence jack***.
I spent the next couple of days guilt-ridden over the fate of the innocent duck that I had inadvertently led into the jaws of death. I was also strangely thankful that the gator had gone for the duck and not my dangling legs. The Mississippi Department of Fish & Wildlife came out a few days later and trapped it. I don’t know what happened to it after that, but I never did go down to feed the ducks again. I also don’t swim in dark water.
Oddly enough after the encounter, instead of becoming fearful of alligators, I became fearful of sharks. I joined a local herpetology club and learned as much as I could about alligators. I’ve always loved reptiles and amphibians and understood that the alligator was just doing what it was designed to do. I still haven’t figured out shark phobia; maybe it’s because they’re sneaky and fast.
Most weekends you can find me somewhere in Florida, usually in a kayak, trying to “get the shot.” I’ve drifted close, accidentally drifted over, and even waded chest deep in order to get a closeup of an alligator (although that last one was only a 3 ½‘ footer.) I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting them, but I always keep that first encounter in the back of my mind. It’s the one you don’t see that may very well be the most dangerous.
See also: Kayaking With Alligators