The Gator at Sam’s Club

Can you believe how North Carolina had eight (severe) shark attacks in just three short weeks?  I’ve been going to the beach regularly my whole life, but this makes me seriously reconsider my pastime.

I think the thing that is really frightening is that all of these attacks were in shallow water.  I mean, who’d have ever thought that a shark large enough to sever a limb would – or even could – be swimming in three feet of water?

So, with all these shark attacks in the news, it got me thinking about other creatures with big, sharp teeth that lurk in water, and of course, my mind came to alligators.

Today’s Throwback Thursday tale won’t be from the Way-Back Vault, but rather, it’s something that happened not too long ago.  Remember last month when I told you about What Happens in Florida Stays in Florida, and in that post, I mentioned my recent sighting of the alligator at Sam’s Club?  I told you then that that was a story for another day… and today’s the day.

Now, in case you didn’t realize it, Florida is actually a giant swamp.  (Yes, really.)  A lot of the state used to be under water (even in my lifetime), until engineers devised a way to fill in the water holes and build on them.  Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons we have so many sinkholes here.  So, per our state’s law, when someone builds a structure on what used to be swampland, they must provide a certain square footage of watershed on the property.  As such, we have watersheds in front of just about every commercial property I can think of.  (Some people might refer to a watershed as a retention pond.)

A couple of years ago, I dropped my sister off at Walmart then I drove around the parking lot until she was ready.  During the few minutes she was inside, I drove by a ditch (which was not their official watershed) that had filled with rainwater, and I noticed something moving.  Now, keep in mind that this ditch was three feet away from the parking lot!  Well, if you guessed the thing I saw was a gator, you’d be correct.  A small alligator, about five feet long, crawled out of the ditch and walked in front of my car!

(That’s where my friends up North usually gasp in horror, but it’s actually not that uncommon.)  I sped back to the front of the store to pick up my sister so she could see, but by the time we got back, we just saw his tail as he was going back into the water.  Unfortunately, it was nighttime, so the photo I took didn’t turn out.

Anyway, my point is that when I have friends visit from somewhere other than Florida, if they want to see an alligator, I generally point them to Walmart or Sam’s Club where I see them most often.  Which brings us to today’s story…

Sam’s Club & Watershed

A couple of months ago, Michelle and I were at Sam’s Club.  As we pulled in the parking lot and past the watershed, we spied a large alligator (about 13 feet long).  I thought it would be cool to blog about it if I could get a decent photo, so we parked and started walking to the watershed for a closer look.  (Don’t worry, it was fenced in.)  As we crossed the aisle in the parking lot, the gator was sunning himself on the far bank.  He was quite handsome and regal with the sun glinting off his fangs back.  I was so excited to be able to get a good photo of such a large reptile.

Can you see him in the water?So as we neared the fence, the sun was shining something fierce.  It just so happened that we both looked down for only a split second because it was so blindingly bright, and when we both looked back up, our gator was gone!  Not only had he run quite a distance to get back into the safety of his watery home, but there weren’t even any ripples in the water where he entered!

How about now?Seriously, it wasn’t more than two seconds that we each looked down, and he had to have traveled 30 feet to get to the water’s edge!  I was of course overcome with disappointment that I couldn’t get a good photo, but more than that, I was amazed at how quickly and stealthily he moved!  It sure made me appreciate that chain link fence between us that much more!

So to conclude, I apologize that I didn’t get any good photos of my friend, but so that I don’t leave you empty handed,  I’ll instead share a photo of a creature I took at Blue Springs a couple of years ago:

At Blue Springs

Let’s talk:  Would you be comfortable with only a fence between you and a 13 foot long reptile in the wild?  Do large creatures reside outside your Walmart?  Did you have a clue alligators could move so quickly?

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January 18, 1977

Alright!  For the past several months, I’ve been hearing all you people to the north of me complain about your snow.  Well, I just want you to know that just because I’m here in Florida where it’s been a steady 90+ degrees these past few weeks doesn’t mean I’m oblivious to your plight.  For today’s Throwback Thursday, I will share with you the story of the first time I ever saw (and fell in love with) snow.

I was a sheltered kid.  My grandparents raised me.  My grandma didn’t drive, and my grandfather suffered from a deep depression after he retired so he slept most of the time.  As such, I didn’t get to go anywhere very often.  Furthermore, I never even left the state of Florida until I was thirteen years old!

However, shortly after I turned seven, I vividly remember being woken up in what seemed like the middle of the night.  My granddaddy shook me awake and told me to put on my pajama bottoms, my slippers, and my robe so I could go outside and see a surprise.  While I did indeed love surprises, I also loved my sleep, and I didn’t want to get out of bed!  I whined a bit while Grandma found my clothes, then we went outside in the dark to find Granddaddy standing by the car with his camera.

Surprise!  It had snowed here in Central Florida!  It was so exciting, I was literally speechless.  I remember thinking – This is a lot colder than I ever imagined it would be.  I wanted to play in it right then, but that’s when they burst my bubble and told me that it was still nighttime and I’d have to go back to bed.  They only woke me in case it melted before I woke up.

I was crushed.  I wanted so badly to build a snowman and make snow angels and throw snowballs.  (I had no idea that we didn’t have nearly enough snow for all that fun.)  When I got back to bed, I couldn’t sleep.  I was certain that if I fell asleep, all that beautiful, white goodness would be gone when I woke.

Surprise!  When I woke up, it was still there!  We took more pictures by the car, and Grandma didn’t even wear shoes!  (She loved the cold just like I do now…  However at the time, I was freezing and I have no idea why she didn’t make me put on a coat!)  Even my dog, Duchess, got to join in the fun.  I figured I could stay home and play in it, but my grandparents made me go to school.  (Nope, we don’t get snow days here in Florida, even on the rare occasions we do get snow.)

However, when I got to school, my disappointment soon faded when I learned that we were immediately taking an unplanned fieldtrip to the nearest overpass.  We took the kindergarteners’ blue and red vinyl nap mats, and we parked at the bottom.  Then we all climbed up the side of the overpass, and we slid down the snowy cement on the mats.  (For those of you wondering why, we don’t have hills here in Florida, either.)  We “sledded” down the side of that overpass for hours!

It was lunchtime before we had to go back to school, and by then, the snow started to melt.  By the time school let out, when I got outside, there was no evidence at all that it had been a day unlike any other here in the Sunshine State.  I was sad that we didn’t have any more snow, but it had been a great day.

So imagine my surprise when I got home and Granddaddy had indeed built me a snowman with the snow he could scrape off the car.  He only had enough for the body, and he had to pick an orange off one of our trees for the head.  He used the lid to my favorite clown cup for the hat, and his own real pipe (that he didn’t smoke, but was a gift from someone in the Japanese government when he was there for the reconstruction).  Sure, it was small, but sure enough, I had my own personal Frosty the Snowman there to greet me when I got home!  And after I saw him, Grandma recycled his body and mixed him with sugar to make me a homemade snow cone served in a cup with no actual cone.  (As a kid, I thought it was so delicious… As an adult, I think it was SO gross that she fed me snow that had been scraped off a dirty car!  Ewww!)

But all in all, I think waking me up in the middle of the night so I didn’t miss the snow was one of the coolest things my grandparents ever did for me.  And that was indeed one of the best and most memorable days of my childhood.

(As an addendum, I’ve seen snow here in Central Florida three other times that I can think of since then, however, each of those times, it melted as soon as it touched the ground.  I’ve never again seen it stick like that around here.  So perhaps now you can appreciate why when I moved to New York for a few years, I absolutely loved the snow and still do.)

Let’s talk:  Have you ever sledded down the side of an overpass on a nap mat?  Did your parents ever wake you up in the middle of the night to see something?  Do you remember the first time you saw snow?  Would you ever ingest anything that was scraped off a car and could not first be washed?