We dragged a green flat bottom boat across a muddy field. It was August as memory serves, warm, humid and sunny. The boat was halting as it got caught on the thick grass. The hundred or so yards from truck to water’s edge took several minutes.
As my high school buddy, Mike, and I neared the bank, we could hear birds and other creatures depart the area. They weren’t of a mind to tolerate any more company in their swamp – let alone two knuckleheads noisily dragging an aluminum boat.
We put in near some cypress knees. As we did, the sunny skies gave way to a filtered shady glow. Ripples on the surface of the water glinted as they moved away from our boat.
We had come to this little slack water fishing spot in hopes of catching brim or frankly, whatever was careless enough to jump on our unskilled anglers’ hooks. We searched for an auspicious-looking place to drown a few worms. We had no motor, just a couple of short wooden paddles. Even so, they were sufficient to the task. We glided smoothly under the cypress canopy. We saw cranes studying the shallows for little fish. We watched turtles in their repose along overturned tree trunks. The buzzing of insects made a sound barrier between the worlds of swamp and not swamp. We had fully abandoned the age of machines for a place built of more primal stuff.
Mike and I fished for about an hour, trying a couple of different spots. One of us spied a little alcove that appeared to have more promise. We put our fishing poles inside the hull and quietly paddled toward it.
Mike and I suddenly remembered that we urgently needed to be somewhere else.
We had gone a couple of hundred feet when a very large piece of dark driftwood quickly flicked its tail and slid off the bank in front of us. We looked silently at one another. We didn’t need words. We knew.
In the oblivious way that only teenage boys tread headlong into things, we had unwittingly wandered into the living room of Alligator mississippiensis otherwise known as the American Alligator. This fellow was around eleven feet, tip to tail. As females usually top out around nine, it was reasonable to assume this bumpy aircraft carrier of reptile flesh was likely male.
If you’ve ever crashed a party and had all the other guests silently turn and look as you stood in the doorway, this is what we felt. Alli-G might have been willing to share his swamp for a minute, but there’s a rule of thumb in gator country – for every one you see, there are probably three more you don’t.
Mike and I suddenly remembered that we urgently needed to be somewhere else. I think we probably could have paddled that boat up the side of a greased igloo. Fishing was over.
In hindsight, we were much more likely to have been bitten by a cotton mouth water moccasin as we dragged the boat, than we were to be menaced by the big boy out among the cypress trunks. Thankfully, neither peril presented itself.
In many ways this little adventure is a good metaphor for the person I am today. I was raised by country people who themselves would have been less shaken by such an encounter, but my upbringing was just citified enough that I have a story involving an unchaperoned encounter with an alligator. While I have never fit very well in either world, I feel lucky for my glances into both.