Never Smile at a Crocodile

I had a neighbor once who spent his teenage years dealing cocaine and watching a man shot dead in the Everglades. After the shooting, he made a break for it, running for his life, and spent a few years namelessly following the Grateful Dead. That is not a story you easily forget. It came back to mind when I looked at my map of Florida’s national parks and noticed “Everglades”. I love nature and the fecund life force of the swamps appealed in January, but then I remembered my neighbor. Even so, I was still thinking about going. I know, I know…

I asked the guys at the car park whether it was a good idea. In their very limited English, they shook their heads hesitatingly and said “No, I think… no. You… no.” I could tell they didn’t want to discourage me, but at the same time, figured it was unlikely I would come back should I venture into Everglades National Park. It is, after all, huge. It’s one of the largest parks in the US, at nearly 1.5 million acres, according to the nps.org web site. And we already know it’s dangerous.

If a naïve white woman with a camera shouldn’t go into the Everglades, her only other choice is to see what’s safe nearby. Maybe that’d be good enough. And, hey, look – there’s an Alligator Farm just a few miles from the entrance to the park. And an orchid farm not too far away from there? Perfect! It took me a little more than an hour to drive down from Coconut Grove, but it was an enjoyable route and it was interesting to go down a gravel road that dead-ends in an Alligator Farm. I mean, how often does that happen, really?

The crocodile is not a reptile I am very familiar with, unless you count buying belts and handbags in foreign countries. Still, the live variety was new to me. I’d heard they were fairly harmless as babies, and the adults had a reputation for dragging people under and eating them, but otherwise, I had no information. Here’s what I learned at the alligator farm:

1) People usually get killed by alligators (and caymans and crocodiles) by making stupid mistakes. The primary mistake is assuming the alligator is not real, is a statue or a stone thing, and getting close enough to be in range, or even throwing things at it or touching it to wake it up. The reptile is then interested in eating us. The second big mistake we make is slightly less stupid: we don’t notice our surroundings or the hungry alligator, and then we panic once attacked, which means we tend to lose the ensuing fight.
2) Alligators don’t eat very often. They don’t need a meal that frequently. The alligator farm feeds about 1000 pounds of meat total to their 200+ alligators about once a month. Then daily, there are snacks for the motivated reptile in the form of “feeding time” for entertainment of tourists. This happens at 3:00, and I was there to see it.
3) Even behind a chain link fence, they are scary. I suspected this would be the case. I had it confirmed when one of them clawed with gusto at the fence in order to get to me. I was the only thing on the path, so I am sure I was the target. I am grateful for superior technology.
4) A swamp boat is only two feet off the water at best. An alligator can vertically leap out of the water to a height half the length of his body. They are more than four feet long. You are doing this math, right? I did not take the much-touted swamp boat tour.

After a wander around and then watching the feeding and learning a little about alligators, I had a look at the reptile house. They had anacondas, pythons, a king snake, and a few others. Only a couple of them were awake and moving much, but it was neat to see. I like snakes as long as they are not hungry or irritated. After the snakes, I had a look at the baby alligators (at various stages of growth), the tortoise, the cayman and a couple of other rare creatures, including an African Nile Crocodile. Then I spent some time photographing the many pretty tropical flowers in bloom, and I suppose that’s no surprise to you if you’ve been following my blog.

From there, it was on to the orchid nursery. They made a movie after a book called “The Orchid Thief”, some years ago. It had to do with the vast number of orchid species that are only found in the Everglades, some of them still uncataloged. The nursery was no disappointment, with many exotics for sale and a number of beauties in bloom. The sun was starting to go down so I hurried to catch what light I could use to photograph the flowers. I wished fervently that I had enough of a green thumb to buy some smaller bare-root plants and raise them. Of course, the State of California would have laws against such importation, so I didn’t try it. But I doubt I would have succeeded given my track record with rare plants. I’ve gotten an orchid to bloom more than once, but I suspect it was luck.

Finally, after all that time in the Florida sun, it was time to pack it in and get on back. After all, the parking guys might be worried. I leave you with a final thought from Peter Pan, and a few extra pictures from Keys.

Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin
Never smile at a crocodile
Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile
You may very well be well bred
Lots of etiquette in your head
But there’s always some special case, time or place
To forget etiquette
For instance:
Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can’t get friendly with a crocodile
Don’t be taken in by his welcome grin
He’s imagining how well you’d fit within his skin
Never smile at a crocodile
Never dip your hat and stop to talk awhile
Never run, walk away, say good-night, not good-day
Clear the aisle but never smile at Mister Crocodile

–Lyrics from eLyrics.net

Advertisements
This entry was posted in North America. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s