Jim Abbott on Travel
Postcards from Florida
9:51 PM EDT, March 11, 2012
The Postcards column often is laced with whimsy, but today's edition is powered by fear.
That is still the primal emotion that takes over when I'm in the same neighborhood with an alligator. As a resident of Florida, I should walk in perpetual fear, considering there's a good possibility that a gator might be lurking in almost any nearby pond or wooded area. As a precaution, I try to stay in my car as much as possible.
But that's not the way one experiences Orlando Wetlands Park (cityoforlando.net/wetlands), a 1,200-acre wildlife preserve east of Orlando in the rural town of Christmas. The park has been around since 1987, transforming reclaimed water from the Iron Bridge Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant into a habitat that supports more than 150 species of birds visible on more than 20 miles of berm paths, hiking trails and birding routes.
And there are the alligators.
Official-looking signs are posted everywhere: "Alligators are present. Do not approach, feed or harass the alligators."
This policy will not be a problem, because I adhere to a strict "live and let live policy" with gators, with the emphasis on the living.
Wandering the expansive wetland trails on a recent impromptu visit, it was obvious that I would need to rely on the gators to keep their end of the deal — because, apparently, they were everywhere.
"See any gators?" I called out to a couple of returning hikers.
"Yeah, about 25 or 30," one replied.
That's about 24 (or 29, depending on your estimate) more than I needed to see. Yet, as I turned alone off the gravel path onto a grassy trail between a pond and a wading-bird marsh, I had yet to see one, prompting a mixture of disappointment and relief.
Then, I saw him: roughly a 10-foot gator stretched out along the path, either sleeping or contemplating lunch.
Have I mentioned that I was wearing pointy-toed cowboy boots? A poor choice for a getaway.
Calculations of speed and distance cluttered my math-impaired brain. How fast do gators run on land, for how long? My knees turned to butter, which is not a figure of speech. At about 20 feet, I turned and walked away, trying to look relaxed while checking over my shoulder all the way.
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