by Steve Millburg
Wild Times on a
Nothing livens up a family canoe trip like a
We were paddling around a bend on the Hillsborough
River just northeast of Tampa, a half hour into our two-hour trip, and there it
was. The gator seemed to be posing as it sunbathed on a log that stretched
halfway across the river. It faced away from us, but we still had to pass
within 15 feet of its scaly tail.
My wife and I thought it was
My 11-year-old stepdaughter, Taylor, had been terrified of
the 6-foot gators we had seen earlier. Her apprehension flared up again, but
then gave way to a gush of wonder at this close encounter with the prehistoric.
My sister-in-law, Mikey, couldn't decide whether to scream at the
beast or to scream at me for leading her and her children to what obviously was
going to be certain death.
And my 9-year-old stepson, Paul, wanted to
As a former Floridian, I knew that wild gators are scared of
people and that they'll virtually always leave you alone as long as you
reciprocate. I also knew that they're potentially deadly. I wouldn't have let
Paul pet one with a 50-foot pole.
Though we were just a few miles
upstream from the office towers of downtown Tampa, the river twisted and turned
through a cypress swamp as wild and primeval as a dinosaur's dreams. We saw 14
gators by Paul's possibly exaggerated count, all of them 4- to 6-footers except
for the monster on the log. Great blue herons and snowy egrets stilt-walked
along the banks, flapping away ponderously when we grew too near. Turtles
basked on logs in single file, like patient shoppers waiting in a slow-moving
We also saw a water moccasin draped over a log. Mikey
wasn't too thrilled about that, either.
Still, most of us had a great
time. Afterward, my wife said, "We've seen a 10-foot gator up close. We've seen
a water moccasin up close. We've seen a lot of things we never thought we'd see
"Yeah," Taylor retorted, "we've seen a lot of things we
never intended to see up close." but she was smiling as she said it.
Gator Safety ---
Alligator attacks on humans are rare, but they can
happen. Here are some ways to minimize the danger.
Don't feed gators.
It's illegal in Florida. The beasts lose their fear of humans and learn to
associate humans with food.
Don't swim if gators are near. They have
poor eyesight, and they may think you're a wounded, thrashing animal.
Don't approach gators. They can outrun you over short distances.
Don't bring a dog. To a gator, it looks like lunch.
Self-Guided River Trips, Rentals
& Shuttles Interpretive
What to Bring Canoe/Kayak Retail Sales Special Events
I See? (list) What Might I See? (list
9335 E. Fowler Avenue
Thonotosassa, FL 33592