Welcome to the gator rodeo

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Recently I was regaled with a tale about a friend's travails concerning a transient alligator who decided the pond behind his house looked like a Motel 6 for reptiles.

I sat and listened to him go on about how his wife was looking for a new residence high atop a hill, how his son was charging admission to his friends to get a peek at the scaly saurian, and how various and sundry characters, most clad in overalls, hip waders, and a plug of Red Man, would ring his doorbell at all hours of the day (and especially night) and offer their services to rid his fishing hole of its Jurassic Park lookalike.

I personally can't understand all the hullabaloo over alligators.

Email newsletter signup

I guess it comes from growing up in the south end of Butler County and playing around in the Persimmon Creek swamps from the time we were old enough to head out on our own.

Even back in the days when the swamp lizards were on the endangered species list, there was always a pretty good population inhabiting the sloughs and backwaters south of here.

One of the first things that you learned growing up was that when you were working trotlines or limblines in beaver ponds at night you always took your paddle and hit the water right

above the line before you pulled it into the boat.

That way, if there was a snake or turtle or especially one of those aforementioned large scaly critters dining on your catch, odds were they would let go before they became an uninvited guest in your johnboat.

It was always easier to get rid of a bitten-in-half fish than it was to rid yourself of a very irate moccasin whose sole purpose was to turn you into a snake pincushion.

At least gators were big and usually just as eager to stay away from you as you were keep your distance from them.

However, there is an exception to every rule.

Let me tell you about the great gator rodeo. This once again involves the dynamic duo of Marvin and Newton.

They were off to visit one of their favorite uncles who happened to live on the banks of a beautiful little river here in South Alabama.

The Patsalagia River always had a lyrical sound to its name, and as it winds it way through Crenshaw and east Butler counties, it loops and bends and crosses and forms quite a series of oxbows and cutoff lakes. Remember back when you had to visit?

Your parents would take you to your great-aunt Mabel's where the most exciting thing was watching her anniversary clock spin round.

You'd do anything, including helping your Uncle Claude clean out grease traps, to keep from going batty from boredom.

This was the situation that Marvin and Newton found themselves in. The one advantage that they had was the fact that it was just a short jaunt from Uncle WC's (everybody's got some kinfolk whose name was just initials) to the backwaters of the river.

So off they headed before they got caught by some blue-haired relative who believed that neck hugs should be given with the same power as a Ken Lucas sleeper hold.

Marvin and Newton were wandering around the woods, jumping over cypress knees, looking for little turtles in the shallow pools, trying to identify every tree and bush that they saw, when they happened upon a bend in the river.

As the laws of gravity and rivers dictate, wherever there is a bend in the river and favorable currents, a sand bar will usually form.

They looked down from the bank onto the pure white island, then spotted something foreign looking.

It was an alligator.

He had come out of the water, and was enjoying the early fall sun while lying on the sandbar.

Newton and Marvin quickly dropped prone so the gator couldn't see them, then began to plot their stalk so they could get closer to old Mr. Scaly-Back. Carefully and quietly, they began to work their way out to the edge of the bank.

The sandbar that the gator lay on in repose was right at the edge of the river, underneath what we commonly call an "undercut" bank.

Know why they call it undercut?

Because all the dirt has been cut out from under it by the river.

I know physics.

One of its basic laws states that everything has only so much strength and that when you exceed its weight limit, then gravity takes over.

Marvin and Newton forgot about this during their stalk.

So there they lay, perched right above the gator, when once again gravity won and the bank began to crumble.

The fact that the their combined weight neared the quarte- ton mark might have accelerated the process just a little.

Suddenly, Newton found himself watching Marvin sailing through the air to land straddle the back of a sizable gator.

To quote Marvin, "I don't know who was more surprised, me or the gator.

He looked at me, I looked at him, and we both realized that we were looking at the ugliest critter either of us had ever seen."

Remember the comments about gravity.

Newton swears to this day that there are certain places on this earth where there is no gravity, and one of them is on the banks of the Patsalagia River.

He knows this is true, because he watched his brother Marvin levitate straight up off the back of that gator and make the twelve foot leap back up to the top of the bank without touching a hand or a foot to the side.

As he put it, "the next thing I knew, there stood Marvin, panting like a dog, saying, "I think that gator's just a little bigger than we thought." I guess sitting in your great-aunt's parlor isn't all bad, after all.