Tails, Trails, and Tales
© Copyright 2018 by Frank Mann
Having a father who took my brother and me to the woods from an early age, and showed us an appreciation of His creation was a blessing. A blessing equally as good was to have married a girl who also loved the out-of- doors, though she never had a chance to experience it as directly as I had. But when after being married only ten years, I suggested we buy a place out of town in the “country”, she diplomatically brought out her veto stamp, and said let’s talk about it again when we’re empty nesters. Toting kids ten miles to school was not something she wanted to take on, along with all the other challenges of long distance commuting.
Fast forward twenty years, and the now empty nesters have the little piece of paradise a dozen miles east of downtown Ft. Myers, including fifteen total acres, with over three hundred feet on the beautiful and historic Caloosahatchee River. Our rural jewel is still immune to the ills which accompany the fastest growing area in the U.S., which is greater Fort Myers. Abundant bird life, water and land varieties including my favorites, the wild turkey, and small game are routine daily visitors, including alligators, frequently of good size. A quick turkey story. My wife was emptying breakfast dishes into the sink one morning and glanced out the kitchen window into the side yard. Knowing I was playing games with her, she said, “Franklin, did you set up your turkey decoys out there in the yard?” But before I could answer she shrieked, ”They’re moving!” I sprang to my feet. Sure enough, three magnificent full grown jakes were feeding their way along, not fifty feet from the house. And so it has been, with a mother otter and two babies, and later a real prize, a Momma, Daddy, and three kits, all a beautiful fox family, which made home under a little trailer in the side yard for a year. Daddy fox would routinely slip onto our porch and steal the leftover cat’s food most nights. Our generous feline would also share with the possum and raccoon, both of which called under our house their primary residence. Adam and Eve could not have had it much better.
Shortly after moving in, we discovered an interesting fact about the water fowl and their feeding and roosting habits. Many of the birds nest down river from us each evening, but feed upriver from us during the day. We noted that shortly after daybreak many varieties, especially cattle egrets and white ibises, while fresh and rested in the morning, will fly up river toward their breakfast about twenty five feet above the river surface. But when returning to their nests for the evening, after making a hard living all day, they are barely two to three feet above the surface, plumb tuckered out and ready for bed.
To me the gators’ approach to parenting is unique in the world, especially the way Momma carries the babies right in her mouth, protecting them during the first few vulnerable days. It’s not above their Daddy to come along and gobble them up, if they’re caught alone and off guard. Those prehistoric reptiles appear both in the river and in the two acre pond in our back yard, where for several years now we have watched annually a young female raise several sets of babies. We’ve seen hatches of as few as four little ones and as large as seven. Her first hatchlings appeared when she was barely four feet long, and I felt for the strangely attractive little creature when I pictured the huge male brute forcing his affections on the little lady at such a young age. But it was a joy to watch the babies grow from only five inches long to upwards of twelve inches or better, over their first year. Momma was never more than a few feet away from her darlings, who would scurry to her if they heard us approaching anywhere near. But every year, as the new babies appeared, last year’s group would gradually disappear into other parts of the pond or perhaps the river itself, venturing out independently into their expanding world of approaching adulthood.
An exception was a little fellow, maybe eighteen inches now, who took up residence in a cement pond between their home pond and our house. That pond once had a working fountain, which kept the ten foot diameter, two foot deep frog and minnow home filled with fresh water. The fountain sprayer had long since broken, and the water was fairly polluted, none of which seemed to bother the tough skinned toothy resident. Still, my conscience nagged at me as the dry season arrived, and the water got very shallow, and even more odiferous. I even built a little ladder bridge so my young friend could get out on his own if he decided to seek finer quarters. But no. He had found a home, was the big gator in charge, and had no plans on leaving. Well, if he wouldn’t take care of himself, I’d just have to intervene, which I did. Using a fish net with a six foot pole, I snagged my little tenant and walked him the one hundred feet over to his birthplace full of clean fresh water, crammed with all the littles critters he could ever eat. What a good boy was I. Even my wife said it was about time I had done right by our friend “AL”.
Next afternoon, as I guided my riding mower past the polluted former gator home, I glanced into the putrid water hole. “My Gawd!”, I exclaimed to myself! What to my wondering eyes should appear, but an eighteen inch alligator, on the same rock Al loved, sunning himself, just like Al had done for the year before, looking very much like my little rescued buddy, Al. And I will tell you that little bugger seemed to have an expression on his toothy face which said, “Don’t mess with me Big Fellow. I’ll find my way back no matter how many times you take me out”. And I swear he seemed to be extending his middle of three fingers upwards, directly at me. Far be it from me to ever try again to improve the life of our little neighbor. I got the message, just as plain as though he had emailed me.
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(Frank's two previous stories, A Resurrection To Remember, and Jungle Cruise From Hell, have been combined as a paperback book called Jungle Cruise From Hell To Hereafter. Click on the link to buy the book at Amazon.
Frank's story list and biography
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