Saturday, December 15, 2012

Fifteen Ducks

     I saw some specks on the water and walked down to the pond like an old Indian, without crunching leaves underfoot.
     There were fifteen ducks--fledglings, with green, black and white uniforms--paddling away as though on holiday.  Couldn't they smell the alligator just fifteen yards away, hugging the edge like a burglar in the bushes?
     I saw it up close, that alligator, last week.  It looked like a dead raccoon with its tail swirling in the current, its head quite still.  I felt the shock, almost primitive, that accompanies any encounter with wildlife, and stepped back, holding my breath, staring at the macabre thing--so completely other.  It was only three feet away.
     "Whatever you do, don't feed the alligator," I've been warned by self-appointed wildlife experts in Lochloosa so often that the order is now etched in my thought-bank.
     "What exactly would a person feed an alligator?" I ask.
     The thought of feeding an animal whose evolutionary roots can be traced to antiquity chain as though it were a pet wouldn't occur to me.  That would be like feeding the feds.  Feeding creatures means you identify with them, and want to nurture them.  You'd have to think of the alligator as having hunger like yours, and sophisticated needs.  You'd  have to imagine it has feelings.
     "People throw them potato chips, and burger buns, for instance," my experts say.  "Then they start getting friendly, the gators, and come out of the water and chase you down."
     In fact, there are on-line sites that tell you how to get away from an alligator who's chasing you.  Don't zigzag.  Don't try to trick a gator.  Don't wrestle with it.  Run as fast as possible in the opposite direction. 
     Alligators make good time on land, but they can't outrun you,
     These sites also describe tactics for getting out of the jaw-clutch of a gator in the water, though your chances of escape aren't much slimmer.
      First, scream, yell and thrash about.  Alligators don't like a lot of noise.  Second, poke your fingers straight into its eyes.  Third, once it starts the "death-roll," which is its primitive method for drowning you, stop moving and play dead.  When an alligator thinks you're dead, it may release you.  Maybe you can get to the safety of shore before it grabs you again.  Maybe...
     I don't expect to be partying with alligators, or sharing my potato chips with them, or my hamburger buns.  Friendship with an alligator is about as inviting as friendship with my federal prosecutors.  Having to call these guys "my" prosecutors is already too intimate--as though we actually know one another.  As though we could share a laugh together.
     Maybe the ducks are aware of the alligator, but have calculated their odds.  A three-footer like the one in my pond can't fit a duck in its crooked maw, can it?  Why deny themselves a little sport, those fun-loving ducks, on account of a little whippersnapper of a duck-eating reptile?
     "Reptile" means "to creep stealthily under cover of water."  Baby alligators eat insects, little fish, and snails, then graduate to rats, snakes, birds and raccoons.  A three-foot alligator has eighty razor-sharp teeth.  It might be able to eat a duck, but it would have to be very hungry.
     In dreams, alligators symbolizes a threat or conflict.  If real life is just another version of a dreamscape, the alligator in my pond represents an aspect of my current experience.  Alligators and crocodiles are also Western symbols of greed and treachery, so it's no small surprise that alligators appeared in my pond once the government enacted its raid on my clinic.  In many traditions alligators and crocodiles belong to the mythic forces of death and rebirth, falling into the water and reemerging like night swallowing day in an endless cycle.
    Among the Pueblos and Aztecs, a crocodile gave birth to the earth, and in Mayan tradition, a great crocodile carries the earth in a conch-shell on its back.  In many traditions, the alligator is an embodiment of the Underworld.  That's why I follow the movements of this alligator very closely.  And why I keep thinking about calling the game warden to have the creature "removed."
     Is there a game warden for federal agents?
     Those fifteen ducks have suggested a name for my pond:  Fifteen Duck Pond.  It's strange, I guess, and sort of oriental, but I need a name, and the usual ones--Green Pond, after the pond I sought out for respite on bike rides in my youth, as well as the beautiful color the gumbo clay sends up,  or Red Fox Pond, after the fox I saw at dusk last year, or Big Trouble Pond because of its temporal association with the government's troublesome interventions in my life, or Frog Hollow Pond, because the diminishing frog population has found a sanctuary here--don't seem apt.  The county requires that I give my pond a name, however, for it to list on its topographical maps.  So I'm waiting for the pond itself to suggest another.
     Meanwhile, I'll keep counting the ducks.  If the number stays the same, I know they're safe from the threat lurking below the surface--and the name, Fifteen Duck Pond, might be a charm.

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