“Why would ANYbody dump old tires HERE of all places?” I was outraged. I was also from Alabama and was used to seeing this exact piled-up configuration.. Every service station and shade-tree mechanic had a hill of discarded treads. But out in the Okefenokee Swamp?
This was the mid-’80s and Mike and I were on a brief honeymoon about 10 years after the fact. We had taken a small boat with a trolling motor out into the Okefenokee. Sometimes Mike would cut the little engine and just paddle so we could absorb the “silence” of the wild. But even after a decade Mike could still be startled by my outbursts. Uh. Come to think of it, he still can after almost four of them.
“Ahh, . . honey,” my South Georgia boy drawled. “That ain’t tires.”
“Well, WHAT is it then?” I smirked. I knew tires when I saw them.
“I almost smirked again. But then I saw the pile wiggle. Alabama tire piles don’t wiggle, Tumble maybe. But I still couldn’t believe my eyes. For once I was speechless. I also felt a shiver go down my spine. We had come for a nice little outing in the biggest blackwater swamp in North America. A wetland wilderness covering 438,000 acres in Georgia and Florida. When Mike suggested this trip, I thought to see a spooky alligator or two in the water (from a distance), and stick that experience in my memory book. I wasn’t figuring on so MUCH wild. Hungry wild. And there was just a bare few inches between me and the water. Water with piles and piles of big gators with big teeth.
“Can’t this thing go any faster?” I urged.
As time went by, I came to understand that alligators were a fact of life in South Georgia where Mike’s — and now my — home was. There was even a swamp on the family farm on some back acreage. But though gators came in there periodically, fortunately not at the same time as me. Animal Control occasionally had to get one out of the road, but not often. This was mostly farm country. But, the creepy critters would sometimes show up in local ponds. One actually tried to make himself at home in Mike’s mama’s fish pond one time. Though God help the gator that got between his mama and her fish. But, truth to tell, the Almighty must like tough farm women better than gators. Cause He stayed out of it.
A few years ago I flew down to Florida for a week’s rest at my sister-in-law’s near Mt. Dora. Sheer exhaustion had taken its toll on me. All I wanted to do was lie out in the sun or shade in a lounge chair in the bright, beautiful park by the lake — a lake sprinkled with glittering stars. I had a book and a puzzle, but never got very far into them. The drone of pleasure boats and tourist planes, the sound of distant voices carrying over the water, the light constant breeze, and the healing sun upon my bones and taut nerves, often lulled me into a much-needed doze.
Sometimes in early evening I would walk out to the dock with Julia and Walt and sit with their friends. When I mentioned dozing in the park, one woman asked what would happen if an alligator happened upon me while I slept. The lake was of full of them. You could hear their primal grunts and bellows occasionally, and sometimes they would come up to the dock itself. I turned my tired eyes upon the woman, who couldn’t know the treasure I had found in sun and breeze and silence, nor how fiercely I had staked my claim upon it, and said, “I guess he’d run.”
Now, a few years later, with long hours and sleepless nights behind me, I recently went hunting for gators. No. Not up close and personal. I wanted to snap a good shot with my camera and run for cover. But they wouldn’t cooperate.
Here’s the deal. Mike and I took our camper to Mississippi recently. (More about that trip coming up on another post). We camped by Okatibbee Lake at Twiltley Branch a few miles outside of Meridian. There was a little pier near our site, and by it was a warning about alligators. Oh, boy. I’ll see one before we leave, I thought, and I’ll get a picture. Maybe even get one from the camper steps — oh fearless wilderness person.
We camped there for three whole days and I kept looking for gator signs. But the only bellowing I heard was from some fishermen off at the distant boat landing cussin’ a blue streak. I kept looking at the large dire warning on the alligator post. “They just about promised me an alligator,” I complained to Mike.
“That’s okay, honey,” he said, “they were probably eaten by the Cajuns who came by here in ’05. Orrrrr. It’s cold, wet, and rainy, and they’re just lying low. Take your pick.” Well, I didn’t get to have a pick. They just didn’t show up for my photo shoot. Dad blast it.