By Linda Lovely
Growing up in Iowa, I became personally acquainted with my fair share of barnyard animals—cows, pigs, horses, goats, and chickens. My sister and I also fussed over an assortment of household pets—goldfish, parakeets, and dogs. On circus and zoo visits, we oohed and ahhed over the jungle’s more exotic inhabitants from elephants and monkeys to lions and hippos.
Yet none of these inter-species encounters prepared me for cohabitation with the wet and wild creatures we met during the dozen years we lived on barrier islands in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
This gator did change our lawn-mowing practices. My husband always kept the blades between his size 13 shoes and the drainage canal. If mama crawled up on the bank and started doing push-ups—that’s exactly what they looked like—he did not interpret her open yap as a grin. That’s when Tom decided it was Miller time and headed inside.
We saw gators most days. Our house was on the golf course and the gators appeared to have their own favorite holes. Our golf foursome adopted home rules for lost balls whenever errant shots landed near gators—even if they appeared to be mid-snooze.
I’m told large gators—those in the say the 12-foot and up range—can only run 11 miles per hour, and they can’t keep up that pace for any distance. I’m also told humans aren’t a preferred food source. These ancient reptiles prefer bite-size meals.
Yet observation encouraged me to respect these creatures and give them a wide berth. I’ve seen them spring from the water in a blur of fury to capture a wading heron. And, even though the creatures might prefer multiple small snacks to a giant meal, I’ve seen a gator push a full-grown deer down a waterway. En route to a dinner party? Not an answer I’m keen to know.
With regularity, we saw tourists (residents called this particular human subspecies “tourons”) feed marshmallows to gators and poke and tease them with sticks. Once I even watched a golfer smack an alligator on the snout to get him to move away from a golf ball. I’m still surprised the alligator didn’t attack. Maybe he was allergic to dumbbells.
Now that we live in Upstate South Carolina, I like being able to dive off my dock without first scanning the surface of our lake for floating “sticks” that might turn out to be alligators.
Nonetheless, I’m glad I shared their territory for a time. To me, alligators will always remain mysterious, alien creatures that inspire awe and fear that my characters can experience in a variety of situations—even with no reptiles in sight. Alligators also are certain to have at least walk-on parts in any novel I set in the Lowcountry. (They earned more than a walk-on in DEAR KILLER, my first Marley Clark Mystery.)
So what animals do you find mysterious? Do you use the emotions that creature encounters evoke to color your human characters’ reactions?