If you’re interested in visiting the Arctic, please send me an email, MSL@MarkSethLender.com
© 2013 Mark Seth Lender
All Rights Reserved
Spring clings to the Spanish moss. Comes up from the swamp in sheaves of mist. It brings the nesting herons home. And raises the blood in an ancient’s bones.
Wake up from the wintery mud where they sleep alone. Slide into that swamp they call their own. They stretch, halfway out of the water and expand their throats like over-stuffed pockets. And all around that water starts to dance. Like spit on a griddle. Like ants in your pants. Like boiling oil. It doesn’t have a choice – the bigger the gator the deeper the voice.
But down where the dancing starts it’s only silence humans can hear. I know. I’ve ducked my head below where a person ought not to go, and listened: The only thing that greets your ears is the scrape and the rake of alligator toes. Only another gator knows what all that dancing means…
She hears (what you can only see) and moves on over to the Alligator of Her Dreams.
Ignited by her cold-blooded heat he burns, and bellows all the more. Her emotions bulletproof, close to the vest, but when all is said and done she leans her head upon the leather-studded back above his massive chest. Completely still. You can barely see her breathe, or him.
Possession is a two-way street when all the lovers are armed to the teeth!
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park at 100 years of age has a name too old to change even though, nothing Prada, no Gucci boots find their origins here. They never did. There is instead a large and well cared for collection of rare reptiles and a gem of a swamp, the only one left in the entire area. Not only alligators abound but hundreds and hundreds of nesting egrets, herons, storks and even roseate spoonbills. That swamp is their moat, and the gators are the posted guards. Nest robbers read them like a neon sign:
Trespassers will be eaten!
While true it is also too much the Hollywood version. In the movies. On TV. And consequently in our nightmare dreams. We think we know Al the Gator but we don’t. His hunger portrayed as ravenous is only occasional. His temperament quite variable. This I say from personal experience.
You can turn your back on the gator St. Augustine’s calls Bob. Sipowitz? Not so much. And both of them know their names. Each will slowly swing his head around and look at you if you call to them. And after a while, you will see clearly that each face is unique and identifiable. Which leads to the presumption that the alligators also recognize and distinguish their individual selves and quite likely us one from the other.
Alligators keep a military order. The penalty for Little Gator eating what Gig Gator believes to be his can a crushed head. Likewise the snowy egret who ventures incautiously close to water ends badly. Yet Alligators, male and female, cold blooded though they be, have a tender heart. Once they choose each other they are loyal and gentle. This in their own terms. Not like us. And not so different as we might have thought.
If you plan to visit St. Augustine bring a camera. A telephoto lens (between at least 300 MM up to 500 MM) plus a good medium zoom like the Canon 70-200 would be the ideal combination. However, the birds are close enough – and the gators big enough – that consumer cameras are sufficient for most people. Spring is an exceptionally good time for birders as the plumages are spectacular, the behavior rich, and baby birds loud and plentiful. Not to mention, the gators will be bellowing.
Here’s what bellowing alligators sound like, up close and personal:
Mark Seth Lender reading Bellows on Living on Earth(PRI)
The Alligator Farm in St. Augustine, Florida has its very own gator-filled swamp. In spring that swamp is also home to as many as 600 pairs of nesting egrets, herons, wood storks and roseate spoonbills. The gators keep the birds and their nests safe from a host of predators but, there is a price to be paid.
Low Rent high Price
Birds of Many Feathers weave and dance and settle in to guard their fragile eggs. All these nests: of many shapes fastened to branches thick and thin high and low. Hidden in the tropical green of cypress. Sequestered in the cup-shaped pockets where palm fronds join their prehistoric trunks. In plain sight upon the topgallant of a great live oak where only the widest wings set sail, or touch down. The swamp below is a remnant, reduced to a vanishing point reptilian and dark. The canopy above is where the wealth resides, shimmering like the many-colored light of planets and stars – Birds among alligators, by the hundreds of pairs! Danger is the rent. When rent is due, there will be no partial payments made.
Soft soft silent s-curve of tail in sans serif lower case, only a ripple for a wake. Only eyes and nostrils show, no more remarked than a shelf of water-worn stones when water is low.
Drifts at the gate.
Waits… waits… waits…
Snowy Egret dips too careless and too close, wingtips clipping water. Better to thirst. Better heat than trip those golden feet to cool in the sulfurous spring where an ancient device lies ready to be sprung… All is undone.
Roseate Spoonbill on wings hued of sunrise, so confident in color and in form, the clapping bill a rounded gentleness, glides down to an untimely end. Jaws like vice grips, clamped in that unchanging Alligator grin.
Bobcat and Raccoon will not set foot here. Nor Climbing Possum, Creeping Snake. Every would-be robber of the nest fears the cut Alligator takes. Thus Great Egret finds repose here, Wood Stork and Spoonbill find retreat. Safe from the thieves they fear the most dear, while the Doorman only charges what he eats. Symbiosis by the bite dear, wing beat by wing beat
To hear Mark Seth Lender reading Low Rent High Price on Living on Earth (PRI) please click the player below:
Learn the “Backstory” of Low Rent High Price. Listen to an interview of Mark Seth Lender by Living on Earth Senior Editor Eileen Bolinsky
Sandhill Cranes: Salutation to the Sun
Patient, elegant, Sandhill Cranes linger upon the flooded plain. Patient and austere. Here by night for the shallow safety this boundary of water provides, they stop to rest a while. For the sake of the food they found nearby they linger, and pay homage, a temporary domicile, a temporary feast. Turning toward the East they form a long and upright line, and prepare their Salutation to the Sun.
They are in shadow, below the worn down mountain that looms, and like the landscape though weathered and tread upon by boundless heat, by bottomless cold, Cranes persevere. Waiting. Then walking one by one they arrange by reference to the low steady wind. Barely ruffling they slowly bend, like stalks of wheat heavy with seed. Watching. Stillness heavy in the air, they breathe. Then comes the golden scimitar of sun. And catapult themselves into the glare – and they are gone.
Two remain. Only two. They lean as if their muscles are spring steel. The ice in bracelets crackling at their feet stepping high they break clean away, loping slow they gain ground and speed, wing beats so deep they kiss the crystal clear beneath, until at last they rise. They make the long turn down the lake, a shadow play in tandem not a meter below their elegant forms. These two, among all others, truly mated pair.
Mark Seth Lender reads Salutation to the Sun on Living on Earth
The Sandhill Cranes are extraordinary. Usually, when I travel far from home for birdlife I hope to see many kinds of birds. But this one species is more than sufficient reason for the trip. Here’s an interview which my editor Eileen Bolinsky did with me about the Sandhill Cranes of the Bosque del Apache where the birds winter over before their long spring migration to the points far north.