Alligator Allegory

My grandparents were the first to build a home along Lake Pasadena in St. Petersburg. It is called a lake, but it is more a retention pond with a dream and a small island in the middle.

When I lived in St. Petersburg as a child, there was always an alligator guarding the island, keeping a close eye on the dense residential neighborhood that circled the lake. We lived on one side of the lake, our grandparents on the other. We walked its shores daily in the 1970s. 

Each evening, a neighborhood family would go to the lake and toss marshmallows to the alligator. Dangerous, dumb and illegal.

As a result, the gator would swim toward the shore the second he saw people—like me and my sister walking to our grandparents’ house. He was like a beagle puppy recognizing the treat lady, but the treat lady was every human, and the beagle was an 8-foot dinosaur who ate small dogs.

An unleashed dog or two would disappear, then animal control would remove the gator. Within months, another one would emerge in the lake. 

As a kid, I was spellbound by the Pasadena alligators. I knew the rules, stayed back and watched with respect. I was as enchanted as I was terrified. I knew that if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. I also knew they did not know the difference—or care—between a marshmallow, a hand or a poodle.

I often wonder how alligators find their way to ponds in busy neighborhoods. These ponds are man-made indentions designed to collect and divert rainwater. Does it rain alligators when we are not watching? Do alligators stroll the streets at night with their Realtors?

The answer likely has to do with the pipes and culverts connecting the ponds. I could find out, but I like the notion of alligator rain too much to ruin it with facts.

All this is to say there is a small alligator now living in the fenced retention pond near our home. He has become quite the celebrity. In fact, my wife, who is not happy about a 4-foot carnivorous lizard nearby, softened recently and named the gator Pretzel. 

At age 56, I am as fascinated by Pretzel as I was at age 8 with the Pasadena gators. Our dog, Rigby, and I, stop at the pond several times a week to check on Pretzel, who, on sunny days,
is sunbathing safely on a fenced-in shore. This
is Florida. Gators can materialize in any body
of water. 

Wildlife officials advise leaving small alligators alone in their ponds. If you don’t bother them—or feed them—they should not bother you. If the alligators get too close to homes or doorways or kitchens, call the state nuisance alligator program  at (866) 392-4286.

In general, just leave them alone. Our family will keep a close eye on Pretzel, monitor his growth, preach common sense, keep the marshmallows at home and simply savor another freaky Florida perk. OS

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