One of the defining qualities about living in southeast Texas is the weather. Winters are warm; spring, summer, and fall are hot. Right now much of the nation is buried in snow, and this native Midwesterner has been getting a little restless and missing the Winter Wonderland. Here on the Gulf Coast it has been a warm and sunny ‘winter’, and as I hear others up north complaining about snow, I’m often complaining about not having any. In contrast, the folks back home are wishing for my sunny and 65 degree ‘winter’, and it just emphasizes that we all tend to want whatever it is that we don’t have.
This weekend we decided to get out and enjoy what it is that we do have, and my wife, my youngest son and I took advantage of a balmy ‘winter’ day to go for a hike. Brazos Bend State Park is less than an hour away from us, and after a decade of living in West Houston we decided it was high time we went to check it out.
I had heard before that there are alligators in the park. This really isn’t surprising or shocking, considering every neighborhood around here has warning signs for alligators. Although we know they are around, lurking somewhere in a local bayou behind your back fence, it is rare that one is actually spotted or thought about as we go about our day-to-day lives.
So I was aware that there would be alligators here. What I was unaware of is that in this park alligators are the main attraction. The question wasn’t whether we might see an alligator – the question was how many. We checked in at the nature center, and sought out professional advice on what to do if attacked by one. The answer was that if we leave them alone, and stay 30 feet away, they will leave us alone. Simple instructions and easy enough to follow.
Throughout the day we eventually encountered several dozen alligators. When you see that first alligator on the side of the path not more than a few yards away, instinct tells you that this is not safe, probably not a good idea, and maybe you’d be better off a thousand miles away shoveling snow. But the strange thing is that after you walk past fifteen or twenty of these predators, the intensity fades a bit and they stop being frightening creatures to fear, but fascinating creatures to respectfully admire. From a respectful distance. At least that’s how it happened for me, and it’s interesting how quickly the mind changes gears like that.
Our day of hiking in the woods was beautifully transformed into a day of hiking through amazing coastal marshlands offering spectacular vistas, a variety of birds, friendly fellow hikers, lots of turtles, and of course plenty of alligators.
As we turned around and headed back the way we came, towards the end of our walk we encountered what appeared to be the biggest alligator of the day. Like a grand finale, he was larger than life, not next to the path, but actually right there in the path. The fact that he was not anywhere around the first time we walked through made his presence even more ominous, and I could only assume he was on the move and hungry! The healthy respect we had for the gators was back in full force, and we did the only logical thing we could do and walked past him. He turned out to not be very interested in us, and the fact that we were walking by was a non-event to him. But it gave the three of us a memory that we will probably be talking about for a long time.
I plan to start marking my calendar up with days to spend not just with alligators, but with my family, doing things that get us out of the house and into new exciting adventures. I have become far too agreeable to living life in a rut. It is much too easy to sit at home doing nothing, but it’s a lot more fun to go out and leave some footprints in new places, and experience new things together. The path is out there waiting for us. We just need to get motivated to go out there and walk it.
At least that’s the way I see it.