When it comes to alligators, Florida gets all the attention. There are hundreds of thousands in the Everglades and more than a million in the state, so it's no wonder they spot an occasional stray on the golf course.
But did you know they range as far west as Texas, and all the way north to North Carolina, and in some states are on the rise? (Have you checked the statistics at your favorite swimming hole lately?)
“Alligators responded to the warm spring weather and made appearances earlier than normal in 2016 along Myrtle Beach and other SC waterways,” reported The Sun News. In July, they killed a 90-year-old woman just outside of Charleston.
Having learned of this unexpected attraction in the state we are currently traveling through—on a waterway, no less—I naturally kept my camera around my neck and my eyes peeled for those characteristic horny ridges protruding just above the surface. (Look in center of photo, behind the reeds.)
By the way, did I tell you about our Thanksgiving plans? We docked the boat in Bluffton on the May River. We briefly considered the down-home country fare of the local diner, which promised lots of thick, creamy, fatty, meaty gravy...
...but stuck to the plan to attend Pope's annual family reunion. The feast began with Bluffton oysters—a tradition in the Lowcountry—served outside on a lovely warm day, under massive trees that predate the Civil War.
Then we progressed into a buffet with the usual turkey and trimmings, served up by a few dozen of Pope's cousins, uncles, great-nieces, and the like. But I'm getting ahead of my story. It's the locale, not the food or the family, that got my heart racing and put my photographer's instincts on guard.
We dined on the grounds of a former rice plantation, owned by a not-too-distant ancestor. Much of the real estate, including the rice paddies formerly tended by 386 slaves (up until the Civil War) now makes up the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge. The former rice ponds are surrounded by a system of dikes.
The family heirs live and raise cattle on an in-holding, a large estate at the end of a long dirt road, right smack-dab in the middle of the wildlife refuge.
Which makes for an interesting commute, because the former rice paddies are full of wild alligators. (Anyone up for walking to work today?)
Oh, there are birds and snakes, too, of course, but aren't those big horny beasts with their exceptionally long jaws infinitely more interesting?
Not one to willingly let such a fortuitous opportunity pass, I decided to forgo the usual after-dinner nap in favor of a brisk turn along the road in search of wild alligators in the canals and ponds of the former plantation. I was not disappointed.
Besides the five I saw swimming—or, more accurately, lurking—in the water, a large adult specimen appeared on a bank practically under my feet, just outside the entrance to the plantation. (Look at lower left of photos--the big gray horny blob with tail just touching the grass.) He seemed innocent enough--lazily sunning himself, probably--but, for the sake of prudence, I kept my distance.
Not the usual holiday fare, and certainly not something we considered when making our plans.
Alligator for Thanksgiving, anyone?