We set off on foot on the nature trail at Magnolia Plantation to hunt ‘gators after a wasted boat trip where the captain/guide nudged all the alligators into the water rather than slowing down for a viewing. “Do you think we’ll see any alligators this early in the day? It isn’t very hot yet.” Alligators, being cold-blooded, don’t hibernate but aestivate, or lie in a state of torpor during extreme heat. Jimmy and I aestivate after lunch most days.
“Do you really think this is safe?” The impatient tour guide had informed us that alligators can swim at 15 mph, run on their little stumpy legs at 35 mph and using their tails, jump up to five feet. So once you’ve upset them . . . hmmm . . .rip and swallow, rip and swallow we’d been told. If a turtle can satisfy them for a month, a human “bean” must be good tucker for at least six months. “I wonder how recently they’ve eaten?”
The day before, I had seen a man gamely striding around the Plantation on two artificial legs. The image of him and the size of the alligators’ toothy, bone-crushing jaws played on my mind. Being one of the oldest reptiles on the planet, alligators are certainly survivors and I didn’t fancy my chances in a face off. “Do you think we’ll see ‘Big Red October’?” He’s the 50 year old resident of the estate measuring 14 feet long and weighing 800 pounds. “They told us there’s never been an alligator fatality in South Carolina.”
Beginning to jabber with nerves, I distracted myself by photographing egrets, herons, turtles, coots and moorhens, having completely forgotten that snakes were known to nest in logs near the trail – some of them, like the cottonmouth, being poisonous – until Jimmy reminded me. I then tiptoed prissily down the center of the wide, well-trodden path.
As we walked the nature trail alongside the pond, all the strategically placed basking planks in the pond were empty except for the tantalizing snacks of turtle perched on the ends. Having taken a particularly pleasing photo of a cormorant with his wings outstretched, drying them ready for his next fishing expedition, I began telling myself that all was not lost; it was a lovely day for a walk and I had some good photos to show for it.
I was just beginning to stroll as we rounded the bend onto the straight piece of trail where the camera battery had died. This, it suddenly occurred to me, was where we had seen most of the alligators the day before. The basking planks, like little ski jumps, were aimed towards us so we were unable to see anything until we walked further and alongside them.
“LOOK!” and I throttled Jimmy as I grabbed the binoculars hanging around his neck. The telltale triangular ridges of the ‘gator’s back were just discernable to the naked eye, but I wanted to be sure so squinted through the binocs. “There’s one! There’s one!” but Jimmy was snugged up too close to me, tethered as he was by the binoculars’ strap, to see anything but my ear.
Click to enlarge photo.
Eeny meeny miny moe.
Will he hang on until I’ve had my nap?
As we hustled along the path, two alligators were clearly visible on planks erected 30 to 40 yards out in the pond. “The light’s wrong. The sun is shining into my lens. I need to walk further down and shoot back at them.” But I fired off a couple of “rounds” at them anyway in my excitement.
Jimmy paused while I took the photos and then began to stride off when I snagged his arm and sank my fingernails into it. “Lo-o-ok,” I barely said on a breath, and Jimmy followed my gaze with his eyes. No more than three paces ahead lay a 10 foot alligator dozing happily in the mud beside the path. Had Jimmy walked on, she (well she reposed in a languidly female way) could have taken his leg off at the knee with hardly a twitch.
Jimmy reviewed the situation while I snapped a few more pics using my zoom lens. My feet were rooted to the spot. Caution held me back but stupidity kept me there. “We can get back to the plantation house this way can’t we?” asked Jimmy, indicating the path past Ms. Jaws.
“I’m not walking past her.”
“She’s asleep. She won’t bother you.”
“Nope. I’m not getting any closer.” After a close encounter with a buffalo at Yellowstone, I’d become a little more wary, although at 35 mph neither of us had a chance even now if Ms. J. had decided it was lunch time. She was sleeping prettily with her mouth closed but I knew 70 some teeth lurked inside her enormous head so I zoomed in on it for one last shot, then backed prudently away and Jimmy followed suit.
As we retreated, we passed several smiling hikers, cameras in hand, striking out on the nature trail. I had thought to warn them of the alligators but then thought heck, let them make their own fun!
National Geographic won’t be breaking down my door with a contract to be their intrepid new nature photographer but I do have a rather splendid photo of a cormorant doing his batman impression.
After ascertaining that it would be safe to walk back to the ‘gator pond at Magnolia Plantation (it was a designated wildlife trail after all) we fixed on a nine o’clock start for the morning so that we could snap the alligators (snap, ha!) and then “do” Charleston in the afternoon. Finally getting away at 10:15, we turned up at the boat dock, last to board and huffing and puffing, to be greeted with “You English?”
“Yes.” Puff. Puff.
“Well this is what you would have had,” the tour guide said with a grand sweep of his arm, “if you hadn’t been so greedy.” Jimmy and I exchanged puzzled looks and didn’t put our minds to his comment until much later when we realized that he had been talking about British taxation in the 1700’s and the American War of Independence. Charming man! Jimmy muttered to me, “Nothing’s changed then,” referring to current exorbitant taxation in Britain.
Memories are long in the South. The not-very-civil American Civil War is still referred to as “the recent unpleasantness” and the British are obviously still a target of derision for some people nearly 250 years after the Revolution.
Prince Not-So-Charming seemed to be having an off day as he puttered his passengers around a pond that had been “built” by erecting dykes filled with “sweet” or fresh water. Sweet water is siphoned off the top of the high tide when the salt water sinks to the bottom as the river ebbs. Used originally for hunting and fishing on the estate, the pond is now serves as a conservation area. Duckweed formed an unbroken surface on the water which looked like a bilious green carpet sturdy enough to walk on, but we easily cut a swathe through it leaving a wake of clear dark water behind us.
Ms. Excitable here sat front and center pointing out all the wildlife as Prince N-S-C had informed us, “You do the lookin’. I’ll do the talkin’.” True to his word, he cruised quickly past several basking alligators on the outbound trip, not even giving us a chance to lift our cameras, while he droned on and on. Then he nipped so close to the ‘gators on the way back to the dock, he startled them into the water so none of the passengers got much of a look – just heard the plop.
We arrived back at the dock after half an hour of a supposedly 45 minute trip. My photos were few and out of focus, out of frame or just plain boring. We saved ourselves the expense of a tip for the indifferent tour guide, but we would have to hunt ‘gators on foot.
Could this be my most dimwitted plan yet?
Posted this at 6 am then hit my own like button. Speak of dimwitted!
“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.
A pretty flower.
Another Pretty flower.
Yet another pretty flower – all of which look pretty much alike after viewing dozens of pink and white blooms.
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.
Spanish moss. Please click to see enlargement.
Cypress “gopher” knees. Please click to see enlargement.
Please click to see enlargement.
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.
Please click to see enlargement. No alligator pics. Yet.
Please click to see enlargement.
Please click to see enlargement.
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.