Saturday, May 14, 2016

‘GATOR HUNTING IN LOUISIANA

“The most interesting thing about a postage stamp is the persistence with which it sticks to its job.” Napoleon Hill

A week ago, we set out for New Iberia, Louisiana on a photography mission – that of taking shots of various scenes to accompany poems in my new book, A Slow Moving Stream. Since that time we have done a mini-tour of most of the tourist spots in and around New Iberia, and Dr. Victoria Sullivan has taken most of the photos needed for this volume. However, the subject for one photo did elude us for a week, and today we finally located the subject for a poem entitled “The Kingdom”: an American alligator…or a Cajun alligator, that is… fresh from a habitat you readers will never guess from whence he came.


As we aren’t watchers of the TV show, “Swamp People,” we hadn’t mastered the technique of locating the elusive ‘gators before setting out on this great hunt, but Dr. Sullivan was once a naturalist in the Everglades (about 45 years ago), so I felt confident that, if called upon, she might know how to wrestle with this armored reptile if we accidentally stepped on one that was sun-bathing.

 We set out on our first hunt to Lake Martin near Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, turning down a road that threw up huge clouds of white dust as we spun toward the lake. The weather was at a sultry 88-degree peak, and I sorta’ hoped that I wouldn’t have to exit the AC in the car to get a good look at a ‘gator taking a sun bath. We stirred up dust along the ‘gator trail for twenty minutes before I spied something looking like an oversized log in a lagoon covered with floating Salvinia.



Hey là-bas!” I exclaimed. “Got one on first try.”

“Too far away,” my naturalist friend said. “I’ll put on my wellies and try to get a closer shot.”

I envisioned what I’d tell the Acadian Ambulance workers when they showed up and found me in a tree overlooking the lagoon where the ‘gator was cleaning his teeth.

But my intrepid friend didn’t get into the water, and the ‘gator nosed away without lifting his head enough for a clear shot so I was spared a 911 call. We continued down the dusty road until I began one of my allergy coughing spells and decided to hunt apace at Avery Island, Louisiana.

By then, the idea of exiting the car in the soaring heat and humidity had caused me to begin rethinking the photo shoot. Unfortunately, years ago someone told me that my biggest character trait was persistence, and I felt a little pull of disappointment when I considered turning back.

Back in the 80’s when I first visited Avery Island, I had seen alligators almost swarming beneath the platform of Bird City on this island, and had shivered as I climbed the steps to the platform overlooking the nests of American egrets.  Yesterday, as we began the climb to the top of the platform, I looked around the first step and not one ‘gator dozed in the murky water. At the top of the platform I looked down again and spied a cluster of four turtles on a log — but no ‘gators. After a half hour of staring into the sun and watching all the birds make their graceful landings to feed their young on the nesting platform, we spied one alligator nosing his way into a clump of rushes, but he was still too far away to photograph with any success. By that time, I had begun to experience something I hadn’t felt in the three months of spring I had spent on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee – I had begun perspiring.

“I’ve broken a sweat,” I informed Dr. Sullivan. “Time to look elsewhere.”

“You know, I saw a sign advertising an 18-ft. replica of a ‘gator named Monsurat tacked to the wall on the front porch of the ticket office,” she said. “Maybe it would do for a picture to accompany the poem.”



“I’m not going in and ask about that thing,” I told her. “But if it’s the best you can do…”

We got in the car and drove back to the ticket office. When she came back from her shoot, she said she had asked where the alligator was, and the clerk in the office told her, “It’s out on the back porch,” as if the animal was still alive and entertaining tourists. Dr. Sullivan showed me a photo of this stuffed critter with its mouth open wide enough to hold a small pirogue, and I laughed derisively. “Won’t do,” I told her. “This is a serious book of poetry.”

We spent an afternoon tweaking the photos we had, trying to make a ‘gator rise out of the Salvinia large enough for a good picture, but it became so pixilated, we had to give up.

This morning I got up at 6:30 with ‘gators on the brain again. Suddenly, the light dawned. Zoo of Acadiana!!! We telephoned Zoosiana, as it's called, and were told that they owned several American alligators. Within fifteen minutes we had joined a line of people holding the hands of little people and pushing strollers into the small zoo that is the answer to the question every parent in Acadiana asks come the week-end: “What will we do with them on Saturday.” We circled through a maze and came upon a small cabin within a fenced off area where three long, fat alligators lay dozing. Ten minutes later, we were spinning homeward, seven or eight photograph shots of Louisiana alligators in hand.

“From Tennessee to Louisiana, $50 worth of admission fees and four tanks of gas later, we have a photo of something we might have found in the coulee behind the house here in New Iberia,” Dr. Sullivan quipped.

“Well, this beats that caricature at the Avery Island ticket office,” I retorted. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to see Zoosiana. Remember that Buckskin Bill Show where the guy at the end had to close his show with ‘Baton Rouge needs a zoo!’ all the time he was on the air? At least, we didn’t have to hound people to donate to a zoo here in Cajun country.”

“Yeah, but what happened to all the ‘gators that lived on 5,000 acres of lowland E.A. McIlhenny donated so they’d be protected?” she asked.


“They must have let the performers in ‘Swamp People’ ashore,” I said. “Besides, we didn’t need the three we found in the zoo. And I’m glad you didn’t have to wade into the water looking for a good angle to shoot the picture. I read that a child can walk faster than an alligator can run on land, but in water they move faster than the swiftest fish. I thought I heard a clucking noise in the sedges at the island…”  
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