“On your left, ladies and gentlemen, is the Ashley River. We often have dolphins come up from the river mouth in Charleston and put on a display for us. On the right side of the dyke is fresh water. I’ve seen several alligators already today in this pond and if we’re lucky they’ll still be there dozing in the sun. Please don’t stand up now or point or shout. You’ll startle them.”
We were at Magnolia Plantation and Swamp Garden and had been expecting a colorless, autumn garden with a few tired buildings. What we got was a spectacular water landscape reflecting golden foliage, artfully constructed bridges and wildlife. The autumn flowering camellia was in bloom as well as many azaleas. There were thousands of autumn and winter flowering camellias, twenty thousand, in fact. I was entranced.
Click on pic to enlarge.
Spanish moss hung dreamily from live oaks, sweet bay magnolias and bald cypresses – the latter with its knees, or breathing roots, poking up from its base like little gopher statues. Great blue herons, large and little egrets, lizards and turtles posed for my camera.
We were on a “train” trip – a tractor pulling two open carriages with canopies – around the Swamp Garden. Jimmy had been enjoying a cup of tea whilst sitting on a swing seat in dappled shade under a wisteria-covered trellis. When the “train” pulled up I rushed him so that we could have the first choice of seats. We sat next to a loose strut that banged every time the wheel under us hit a rut. Of course we only realized this after the train had filled up and moved off.
But right now the train was creeping quietly up to an alligator.
“My camera’s just died,” I whispered to Jimmy.
“The battery is dead.”
“I can’t believe you!” he hissed at me. “How many pictures of flowers have you taken?”
I hung my head in answer and in doing so saw down on the bank, just beside the train, no more than ten feet away, an eight foot ‘gator.
Seeing it too and thinking on his feet, Jimmy whipped his phone out of his pocket and started clicking away. As I did the same we looked like a couple of accidental tourists, phones on outstretched arms, taking poor quality photos on our must-have technology instead of using a decent camera like seasoned travelers. All I have to show for this exciting brush with the wild is new wallpaper on my cell phone.
We saw baby ‘gators, big “Bubba” and all sizes in between sunning themselves on planks in the pond put there for that purpose. They dosed next to turtles that were apparently unaware that if chomped for dinner (alligators don’t chew – they rip and swallow we learned) they could satisfy an alligator’s appetite for an entire month.
The whole wildlife encounter left us so ridiculously pleased with ourselves that the dead battery incident, though not quite forgotten, was not the major irritant that it might have been. Better still, Jimmy had noticed earlier in the day on our entrance ticket that we could come back to the plantation for free once within a week.
“We could come back tomorrow!” I suddenly realized. “I’ll charge the battery tonight, we’ll come back, take the boat ride and then if we don’t see any alligators from the boat, we could walk back along the train trail and see them. It’s not far if we walk from the wildlife observation tower.” Jimmy gave me one of his looks. How shall I describe it? Pained and dubious. “I’ll pay for the boat ride,” I enthused and settled the deal.
If you live in Florida you’ll think me silly, but I could hardly sleep for excitement.