Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Gators On My Mind

Bert Gildart: Just north of Everglades National Park, here in Big Cypress National Preserve, alligators are always in the headlines. Two days ago a caretaker at the Visitor Center discovered upon reporting to work that a ten-foot alligator had plopped itself near the door.

ALLIGATOR: Not good for business he apparently concluded, and called in rangers, and together they began the task of moving it. With a long stick to which a loop was attached, they adeptly cinched shut the reptiles mouth. Next, several men further immobilized the beast with the power of their own muscles and then moved it into a trap. Moments later they placed the creature into a canal where it joined dozens of its own kind. Apparently, the gator had not found a way through the barrier fence, but instead had come in from a distant swamp…

A wandering gator, simply searching for water during, this, the dry season.

Events like that always perk up the ears, and then the stories began to flow. Here at Midway Campground, located just a few miles from the Visitor Center, Camp Host Jack Rupert recalls that just last winter, a man made a routine of walking his black Labrador retriever at the fringe of the pond, right where the saw grass and reeds obscure anything that might be lurking nearby. Jack said the campground host cautioned the man over and over, but the camper persisted in allowing his dog to wander off leash near the brush. The man and dog had a pattern the gator apparently recognized, as one day, bang!

ALLIGATOR: Jack said the gator grabbed the 80-pound lab, pulled it into the water, and held it there beneath the surface until it drowned. The man was so traumatized that he loaded his RV and left before rangers could arrive and fill out a case-incident report.

“It was a sad situation,” said Jack, “but everyone had warned the man. He simply didn’t listen. As a result, he gave alligators a bad name.”

Despite the anecdotes most everyone we’ve met here seems to enjoy seeing alligators. However, there’s a segment that apparently doesn’t and doesn’t mind taking matters into their own hands, despite laws. Yesterday as we drove a small dirt road through the swamps of Big Cypress we came to a dead alligator that a ranger later told us had been poached.

VULTURE: We might have bypassed the animal except for the smell associated with putrification—and the presence of the vultures, which perform a vital function keeping the country clean.

Gators have long been of interest to me and, once, Bruce May, a good friend, and I canoed well over 100 miles through the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. The trip was part business, as I had wrangled an assignment from the United States Information Agency to produce a story on the Everglades. And, so, we had flown from our homes in Montana to canoe the Everglades. The story would be syndicated overseas and I wanted to do it right, and so we took our time, absorbing the area’s remarkable history and its natural history—learning much over a ten-day trip about alligators.

We canoed from Everglades City to Flamingo and though the entire area appeared to be gator country, there were days in which we saw everything but these anachronistic creatures. Generally, those days were ones where we passed through the broad waters of the Turner River, and passed the old historic Watson Place. But then we entered what naturalists call the Nightmare.

THE NIGHTMARE & BRUCE MAY: What a remarkable place. Red mangrove grew thick, and beneath their stilt-like roots white ibis probed the muck, searching for snails. In one place the tide went out, and to make forward progress, we had to get out and push our canoe. Several times we sunk up to our knees into centuries of leaf mold. Then, shortly thereafter, we pushed our way clear. That’s when the tide began to return, and that’s when began to see gators. And not just one, but gators every few feet.

Literally!

That evening as we canoed through the Paleozoic setting searching for an elevated camping platform called a chickee (a wooden platform that places you high above the surrounding swamp) we could hear the sounds of the jungle. Once we heard what we thought was the roar of bull gator. It was after all March—mating season—and the timing was right. That night Bruce and I could talk about little but gators and how fortunate that we’d found our chickee and weren’t lost and drifting around amidst the no-seeums, and the alligators.

CAMPGROUND: Now, 20-some years later and I’m back with Janie, and finding it exhilarating to recall some of my memories, particularly as we cycle the loop around our campground.

Appropriately, we find two gators, though both are small. Cautiously, we move from the road to the edge of the pond for a closer look. Both are simply lying on the bank slightly concealed, and we agree these descendents of the dinosaurs are indeed a most remarkable creature. Quickly we depart, afraid they might loose their natural fear of people should we linger.

What’s more, night is beginning to settle in, and we don’t complain that our hard-sided Airstream Trailer is not far away.



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