Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Looking for Alligators, With Cocktails and Sweaty Palms

Alligators horrify and fascinate me. I was reminded of this when reading a fascinating post about alligators on the Charleston travel blog Vacation Rick, which reminded me that "alligators are just as much a part of Charleston culture as sweet tea."

Here are a few facts from Vacation Rick that might keep you from sleeping tonight: "(Alligators) are carnivores, meat eaters that feed at night. If you think you are safe in a tree, think again. Alligators can leap 5 feet or more out of the water if they see something to their liking. They can even snatch a bird out of the air."

Now that I've just popped a Xanax, allow me a few anecdotes that illustrate (but don't even begin to explain) my love-hate attitude toward alligators.

Five Minutes at an Alligator Farm

Years ago, I went out of my way and paid good money to visit an alligator farm in Florida. I was excited as I walked through the gate, because I'd never seen an alligator (aside from movies and pictures). And then, when I spotted my first gator--a big toothy one--I broke into a sweat. A wave of panic seized my soul. What the hell was I doing?, I wondered. I was out of there in five minutes, tops.

You'd think I would have learned a lesson. Not the case.
Alligators abound in DeBordieu, S.C.

At DeBordieu, Enough Was Enough

My friend Edward, who lives in Charlotte, is lucky enough to have friends who own homes in DeBordieu. It's a high-cotton gated community in South Carolina's coastal "low country." Several years ago, Edward had been given the use of one of his friends' homes in DeBordieu, and he invited me to join him. We spent several days relaxing, swimming, and enjoying the pristine natural environment.

But enough with the peace and quiet, already. Around the third day, the numerous warning signs about alligators had a hold on me. Late one afternoon, as I was making cocktails, I turned to Edward and said, "Let's go look for alligators."

Edward agreed a bit too easily for my nerves. We joked about taking pieces of raw chicken with us and calling out "Here, kitty kitty kitty." Instead, we took our cocktails, jumped into our hosts' golf cart (everyone drives around DeBordieu in golf carts), and headed for the various pools of brackish water in which these terrifying/compelling reptiles lurk.

Eyes Above the Water

It took effort, but here and there, we spotted a pair of eyes just above the surface of the murky water. At each pair of eyeballs, my heart pounded, my palms sweated. Edward got out of the cart to get a closer look. "Get back in!" I yelled. "Let's go!"

We drove on to other creeks and ponds, with me hoping for/fearing a closer look. I hasten to add we weren't the only ones 'hunting' in golf carts for alligators, and I don't even think we were the only ones with cocktails.

We were about to give up when, finally, a baby alligator rose to the surface briefly, then disappeared. I nearly passed out, for where there's a baby alligator there's likely to be a Mama Alligator and she would not be pleased and there we were in a golf cart with no real protection against Big Mama and Big Mama could probably outrun this ridiculous cart and just seeing Big Mama would probably cause us to lose all sense of reason and suddenly forget how to drive the golf cart and...and...and I just popped another Xanax.

Will I ever go looking for alligators again in a golf cart, with cocktails? I'd like to say "Of course not." But just today, I was reading about a recent novel that The New York Times' says is one of the year's best, and I'm tempted to buy it. It's called Swamplandia!

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  1. My first experience seeing alligators was as a four-year-old at the old Steinhart Aquarium is Golden Gate Park.

  2. It always amazes me when I see these signs that they even have to put them up. The funny thing is that you see them in place like DeBordiu and Kiawah which are some of the most expensive places to live down here. I quess otherwise we want folks to get eatten by the alligators, possibly future Darwin Award winners.
    Yeah for the golf cart and the cocktails! The two definetly go together!

  3. Gators and cocktails - wonderful :P
    I've never seen an aligator... we don't have them in the UK, except in zoos I guess. I think I would be a bit frightened if I got too close though :S

  4. Love the cover art on the Swamplandia book!

  5. Just remember that if they chase you, you should zig zag. They are not good zig zaggers, so it puts you at an advantage.

  6. JuJu, after a cocktail or two, I'm already zig-zagging, so that won't be an issue. But thanks for the tip!

  7. Amazing the amount of courage a cocktail will give you. And never say never...

  8. Gators are good eatin' as I understand. DH tried some when we were down Louisiana way a few years back. I think fried alligator is about as close (other than a zoo) that I'd like to come to one those.

  9. Don't think they're just in freshwater ponds either. I'm from Pawleys Island and we had one in the salt water creek behind our house for years. We nicknamed her Rose. My mom accidentally tapped her with the kayak paddle one fourth of July.