When I was a boy I had to take swimming lessons from some young lady that I’m sure was a good teacher and pleasant person, but I hated it. She would throw things to the bottom of the pool and expect my brother and me to go get them, like a baby throws down its bottle just to see how many times daddy will pick it up again. Well I wasn’t in to either game.
As I aged, I still didn’t like going under all that much but I did enjoy canoes and kayaks. In college, a friend and I would take a canoe to a pond just to practice maneuvering around and racing. When M and I lived in Gulfport, MS, I had a sea kayak that I would take out past the breaking waves until I couldn’t see land, and just enjoy the waves and the tide. We moved to Arkansas and I felt like I needed a white water boat. I took my old 14′ Necky Looksha down to South Louisiana once in a while and cruised around the bayous, but there was swift water close to home now that I was compelled to explore. Before I traded the long boat for a shorter one though, I took a final swamp cruise and that’s where a giant alligator propositioned me.
At the house where my in-laws last lived, in Stephensville, Louisiana, we could sit on the back porch and listen to the gators’ mating calls – a beautiful, haunting sound.
The experience is a little different when you can’t see the creature proclaiming it’s appetite.
I had pushed off in my kayak from the back yard of M’s parents’ cajun hideaway, and cruised through the channels behind the homes until I reached an area where I could leave the residential area and enter the wild, untamed, marshy wilderness. I was paddling silently, being careful to control even the drips from my paddle blades and not disturb anything that might be inclined to slither onto or into my boat, which had me seated at water level. I was following a channel made by the little bit of current produced when the water was at higher levels, deeper into the swamp where light beams break in only when the foliage allows. Mosquitoes buzzed and once in a while a sac-o-lait* would break the eerie silence with a sudden splash and I would struggle not to pee in my own boat with each startle. Once I gained full control of my bladder, that’s about when I heard the low, hungry call of a gator looking for love. It was off to my left. I couldn’t see anything, but I suspected something could see me. I reached with my paddle to the front of the kayak to turn it around when I heard a response, and I swear it was a little sweeter, higher pitch, from my right. I was in the middle of someone’s date night, and you know, two’s company and three’s a crowd. As I got my vessel aimed back at civilization, I heard a second response from the water that was deeper in the swamp, and decided to paddle fast instead of quiet. I made it out feeling like a state inmate who hit his parole release day without ever meeting “Bubba.”
Swamp excursions were apparently not my thing, so I tried the local Lake Palourde. I planned a solo crossing of the 17 square mile lake, so I packed a lunch. This lake and this area was once the home of the Attakapas Indians, known to be cannibals, and is still a home to majestic bald eagles as well as quite a few crawfish and crabs. This lake was also the spot where the original 1917 Tarzan of the Apes movie was filmed, but I wasn’t there for that.
I pushed off from a parking lot close to Brownell Tower, where the eagles nest and the silent movie was filmed. I paddled serenely across the calm waves and enjoyed the fact that no man, woman, or animal was viewing me as a sex object, for once. Because that gets so wearisome. . .
I tried a lunch break out in the middle of the lake, but the waves were just aggressive enough that my food would not stay put on the deck of my kayak, so I settled for a quick drink and paddled on to the other side. The scenery here is spectacular, in its own deep south style.
I found a spot on the northern side of the lake to tie to, and I was just finishing my on board lunch when I spied a curve in the water a few feet away. The curve was animated, and it had a head, and a few more curves behind it, tapering off to a point. It didn’t seem to take any notice of the big red object with a man protruding from the top, and I didn’t call out to it. We went our separate ways.
I paddled out into the open water again, and once again was charmed by the scenery and the push and pull of the mild waves of the lake. After a few hours of this trip, and making it back through the white caps in the middle, windiest portion, I was finally approaching the Brownell Tower area again when I saw a family walking on shore, and pointing at something. I paused so as to not interrupt this family’s vacation time, when the Dad raised his voice for his son to come to him. He then cautioned me that they had just seen a rather large alligator in the water. I looked around a few times and finally found a pair of eyes about 10 yards away, gazing at me as I was ogling at them.
The gator rose to the surface and showed himself to be about as long as my boat. Once again commanding my bladder not to suddenly release as was its present inclination, I froze, looking eye to eye with a monster in its own territory. I knew better than he did that there would be little or no contest if he wanted a piece of me. It was mating season, and I wondered what he was hungry for. I didn’t want to be involved in any of the possibilities. We locked gazes for what seemed like 30 minutes, me trying to send brainwaves in whatever reptilian telepathy I could muster, and finally, I sent the message: “I’m a lawyer. Professional courtesy.” With that, he gave a nod, turned, and left. And my education and licensing paid for itself, right then and there.
*cajun for crappie; french meaning “bag of milk”