Monday, March 15, 2010

Little alligators

This past week we were in Florida, doing a sweeping ecological tour of Keys and Atlantic Beaches, the Everglades, and our ever favorite, Ocala National Forest. Despite my newfound affection for mud season, I was terribly happy to be in sand and sun.

One of our favorite tasks, as parents, seems to be scaring the children. Despite our best efforts and several panther crossing signs, we did not get to see a Florida panther in the Everglades. Nor did we get to see any bears in Ocala National Forest, despite bear crossing signs there.

But we did see alligators. In fact, a lot of alligators, including some really hopelessly cute baby alligators. At Anhinga Trail, I couldn't tell if the buzzards were waiting for an alligator to die or the alligators were waiting for a buzzard to get careless, but they were certainly wary of each other. At Ocala, we saw a stingray in a spring pond, and all of us snorkeled above it, treating it with much more deference than all the other fish who swam away from us.

Wood storks, egrets, tricolor herons, swallowtail kites, anhingas, cormorants, white pelicans, a purple gallinule. A really wonderful tern signal at Coot Pond. Birds are all common enough in south Florida, but completely exotic to us. Crabs and man-o-wars. All respectable critters in their own ways. But still, the scary animals are the most fascinating ones.

So I spent a lot of time this week remembering Quickfoot and Lightfoot, Maurice Sendak's little alligators, the quarreling siblings who were fascinated and repelled by the big hungry alligator. And often, I felt like their Mama Alligator, fruitlessly trying to keep them out of trouble with her warnings.

But at least I got to learn that baby alligators really are every bit as cute as the ones Maurice Sendak drew.

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