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canoeing and kayaking near Tampa, Florida
Content of Articles Southern Living
November 1993
by Steve Millburg

Wild Times on a Tame River

Nothing livens up a family canoe trip like a 10-foot alligator.

A part of Florida unchanged for thousands of years...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 beautiful.

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 pet it.

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 checkout line.

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 up close."

"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.



MORE ARTICLES
Canoe Trip Glides Through the Real Florida
Florida, My Florida
Tampa Canoe for an Hour or Two
Canoe Ride Catches Wildlife Up Close
Wild Times on a Tame River
Paddle Away from all Your Troubles
Florida Canoe Trips: The Hillsborough
Taking a Glide on the Wild Side of Florida
Hillsborough River Becomes a Canoe Trail
A Peaceable Kingdom Awaits Those Who Step Into a Canoe
Quietly Taking In Nature
Paddle Into Paradise

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