A True Story as told from the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia.
There are some people who are fools. No other way to explain actions people sometimes take—I mean foolish risks they take, inexplicably. Not the acts of older teenage boys that are based on growth hormones—”Betcha 100 bucks I’ll cannonball that alligator!” Nope.
We are speaking here of the acts of grown men and women who should know better, like the ranger told me about. Four grown adults with a raw chicken on a rope standing on a picnic bench with an alligator chasing them. If you weighed 700 lbs which would you prefer to eat? A four pound chicken?
At sunset I emerged from the Trembling Ground Swamp Trail on to the concrete apron-walkway that surrounds the Okefenokee Swamp Marina. There is a nine or ten foot alligator that lives in that small body of water. It is a wild creature that spends its days eating, or digesting—then hunting for more food.
In the evening light my eyes adjusted and I observed a man standing on the boat launching apron across the inlet. He was maybe 55 or 60 years old. At first I thought that he cast quite a long shadow but then I realized that he was standing at the tail end of the alligator as it sunned itself on the warm concrete. “Wow, he is awfully close.” I thought. The man stood very still. Like a statue.
Moments became minutes; he did not move. Neither did the alligator. I thought, “The guy must be frozen from fright.” Ten minutes went by before the man moved half a step closer to the beast. Ten more minutes became 11, then 12; I had never observed anyone who could stand so still for so long with mosquitoes buzzing about. Ever so slightly he began a long and tedious crouch. Ten minutes a little lower, 10 more a little lower still. The alligator remained totally still.
It was at that point that I decided that this man intended only to touch the tail of the alligator. His left hand went slightly forward. He began talking very softly to the animal—which didn’t move a muscle. Not a flicker. Not a twitch. Not even a nervous shudder. The man spoke again softly, perhaps reassuringly like you might approach a wild horse. But of course a wild horse doesn’t see a person as a food source.
His crouch became deeper, lower. How would he move quickly enough from this crouched position to escape? Would he reach out quickly with a “your-it” sort of touch? Or would he gently, ever so tenderly stroke the tail of the beast. The more his crouch evolved the more I realized that this fellow had no escape route except the water and the water meant no escape—at least a bad bite, maybe worse. Behind the man a concrete wall with a rope railing would interfere with any quick escape. The alligator’s position ,if it turned right, would be to its advantage. Everything seemed to stop. No birds sang. No squirrels chirped. No frogs bellowed. Dead quiet.
The man was a statue. Unmoving. The gator could be dead. I was sweating. Trying to keep my automatic camera shut-off from getting in the way of this important photo-op. Would the gator turn right, cut off the man’s escape and eat him in front of me? Or would the man come to his senses in time to save himself.
Then it happened. So fast, so smooth, so quick that a motion detector would have missed it. So quick that just pushing the shutter button took too long. BOOM. The gator turned left—the man jumped backward —the gator was in the water. The man stood there. He looked disappointed that the alligator declined to eat his old tough body. He didn’t get his touch.
He looked around to see if anyone was watching. He didn’t see me behind the dock post. He didn’t see Miss Minna laying quietly on the concrete thinking it was a nice nap after a long walk.
I’ll bet money that he tells his friends he touched it. Who could deny it? He was a hair’s-breadth away from being an alligator meal. Somewhere in his youth or childhood he must have done something good.
IF you REALLY want to know how to catch an Alligator check out the next blog post.