Before 2013, I’d never seen a wild alligator. We’re talking almost 40 years of no wild gator sightings in my life and I’m a native Floridian who’s traveled all over the state. Now, in my 37th year on this lovely planet we call Earth, I see two sightings in the same year in the same area? What the hell? As stated in my previous article about my first sighting, I ain’t talking about controlled environments. I ain’t talking about purposely going out looking for gators. When I say wild, I mean wild. I wasn’t looking for them. We just happened to be in the same place at the same time. Last time, I had to think about what I saw when I saw it because I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. Same thing happened this time but I got the creeps from it due to the size of the gators.
I was supposed to be working out of town for an event but got confirmation that it wasn’t a busy day and not the right day to show up for it so I used that time to take a much needed walk because it was kinda cool outside. I chose to finish exploring the area behind Festival Bay Mall and north of Kingspointe Parkway. I drove to the mall and because it’s such a failure of an establishment, the parking area where the Van’s Skatepark used to be is completely closed off to traffic. I parked outside of the barricades and walked towards Cinemark to begin my exercise.
Back there, they have a weird type of tree that I should’ve taken a picture of. It looks like long pea pods hang from the branches. Hard to explain. There was a little bird that was walking along the sidewalk chirping away with a fast and funny strut. Should’ve taken a pic of that, too, because I have no idea what kind of bird it was. I started off at Oakridge Road where a canal begins and I’m not surprised at the litter I saw in it. As you can see in the pic, that shopping cart has been there for a while.
The canal runs parallel with the Florida Turnpike. Only a short barbed-wire fence separates civilization from the highway. Pretty easy to jump over. Not much to see other than giant electric polls and trees. Only small fish and tadpoles were in the canal which was being overrun by plants. A bird that looked like a little red falcon swooped past me. It was too fast to snap a pic of. I kept on walking past the canal and saw some ducks and ibises. The ducks bounced when they saw me. The ibises didn’t give a damn about me.
I approached a pair of bridges, both of them rusty and worn out, one of them locked, neither of them passable by car, and nearby was a dead tree destroyed by termites. It was still standing but when I touched it, it sounded like crumpling paper. I knocked on it and it was practically hollow. I gently nudged the tree and only a little force would’ve sent it toppling over. I left it alone. The weather will take care of it soon enough. In that area, the canal splits. The water level is extremely low and I could see rubber tires at the bottom. Disgusting. In that area were ospreys, a Sandhill Crane doing a fly-by, and turtles that bolted on sight.
The bridges are too rickety to support the weight of a vehicle but a bike or person can cross safely. I went to the other side of the canal to walk along the retention pond and it had moorhens in it. The pond was bigger and deeper than I thought it’d be and had clean water. The temptation to take a swim in it is definitely there. Walking northbound, I saw another smaller retention pond that I had no idea was there. It wasn’t visible even when I was walking along the canal. The water in it isn’t as clean as the big one.
There’s a divide between the ponds and a fenced in area along the big one. Looking through the fence, I saw something that didn’t fit in amongst the foliage. At first, I thought it was a shredded tire. I took out my camera to zoom in for a closer look but right at that moment, the damn thing moved and the gator it was attached to splashed quickly into the water. Scared the shit out of me! Turns out what I saw at first was its tail and when I saw the size of the gator making all that ruckus to get into the water, man, my heart started racing. I shit you not! I’m glad that fence was there.
At that point, I started looking around at every step, and I mean EVERY step, in case anything tried to sneak up on me or if I snuck up on anything. Having walked past that fenced area and looking in the water for that big gator, I saw another tail and just like the other gator, as soon as I went for my camera, it hauled ass into the water, too. What are they, camera shy? Or did they think it was a gun? That one scared me, too, because now I had TWO big gators to deal with. We’re talking at least 10-12 feet each. I went to the high ground and stayed there until I spotted them in the water. I did something dangerous at that point.
As a photographer, getting that shot or getting that video is important. There was an opening to walk into the fenced area, the same area where both gators came from. I’m a risk-taker, I’ll admit that, and I love adventure. I’ll even admit that I love danger. Safe danger, if such a thing exists. I walked into the fenced area, high grass and all, and took the risk of getting a closer shot of the gators or encountering another one. Trust me, all of my senses were working in unison. I ain’t gonna try and walk up on no alligator in its house. I ain’t that fuckin’ stupid but since the other two ran away, another would likely do the same. I know they’re naturally afraid of humans.
I made sure my exit had a clear path and if it got blocked somehow, you’d see a black man jump a fence quicker than a gangbanger running from the LAPD, I promise you that much. My exits were closer to me than any gator could ever get. The problem was I was between waterways. A small water area behind me and then my fence. Water in front of me and my other exit was off to the side. I walked with extreme caution. At the first sight or sound of anything suspicious, that would’ve been it for me but nothing happened. Those were the only 2 gators out there.
Those gators went all the way to the other side of the pond to get away from me. Racists! One of them continued sunbathing while the other was doing lookout in the water. On that other side, the ground is higher up from the water and then goes back down. I could’ve snuck up on the gator and thought about doing that for some awesome video but that was too risky for me. Being that close, safe danger wouldn’t exist. I walked up on it from the front instead. When I got too close, it didn’t get startled like the first time we encountered each other. As you can see in the video, it just casually got up and went back into the water. Pretty safe to say we freaked each other out for that first meeting.
One of them went back to the other side where it came from initially. The other one seemed to be playing games because it didn’t run. It submerged itself and reemerged in a different spot a little further away each time. I’d love to play hide and seek with it someday (not really) but I had other errands to run. What did I learn from all this? I don’t know if it’s a certain time of year, if these were chance sightings, or if I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but I won’t be swimming in any lakes again anytime soon. Kayaking, of course. But swimming, no can do. And I’ll be more cautious of things that look out of the ordinary. In retrospect, the first big gator I saw, its tail looked like Godzilla’s. A shredded tire? What the hell was I thinking?
You won’t see me petting an alligator ever but I notice online a lot of people ask where they can see wild alligators in Central Florida. Not in a theme park setting, not an attraction, not an airboat ride, not in captivity, but wild like what I’ve seen twice now this year. All I can say is don’t go looking for it. It’s kinda like love. When it happens, it happens. There are more adventures up my sleeve and some of the spots I have in mind already have a danger factor not including alligators but after what I’ve been seeing lately, I’ll have to tread even more carefully and respectfully when around water. You wanna see true wildlife, venture off the beaten path like I do and don’t have any expectations. That way, when you get spooked by a gator or a bear or whatever, oh, you’re gonna remember it. “Holy shit” is the term you’ll use when it happens. Probably more than once.