On the negative side 5

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis in Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge
Yeah, it’s been one of those not-posting weeks, which is how it goes sometimes. So, once again we dig into the archives, back in the days when I was shooting negative film, before I got serious and switched to slides (much less digital, which came even later.) And so we find ourselves in May, 1994 – geez, over 21 years ago! It doesn’t seem that long at all. A couple of friends and I were vacationing in Florida, only my second visit (the first being a family trip 16 years previous to that – man, now I feel old.) We were down on Sanibel Island, and had rented bikes to tour around, including doing a pass through J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. Let me help you out here: If you have not ridden a bike in a while, it is not best to start with someplace that has sand trails, especially not on a hot day.

Anyway, I was on a quest for cool critters – shocking I know – and stopped at one point to peer through some foliage at a pool that I could just barely make out. Revealed through my efforts, really not very far away, was the first alligator I’d ever seen in the wild, floating placidly. Not an impressive specimen as far as gators go, being somewhere in the vicinity of 1.5 meters, but it was a gator! And right there! I mean, they’re remarkably prehistoric-looking reptiles, pretty much only found down in the southeast corner of the country, quite exotic when compared to the fauna found everyplace I’d ever lived before that. Even on that previous trip, we’d only seen captives, so this was my personal milestone.

As images go, it’s okay, but that’s it – nice textures and lighting, but not even fartsy. There wasn’t much I could do about the foreground leaves almost blocking my view, the ones that produced the green blobs, but I think they give a faint hint of peeking through the foliage – nowadays I’d be tempted to frame them better to enhance that aspect. It was some time later, after the print was hanging on my wall, that I realized how much of the body of the gator can be seen underneath the water.

Funny, I can almost pin down the exact date this was taken, since it was on the same trip as the first shots here. Knowing our passage across the state, I can say this was likely three or four days later.

Traveling with others that have different interests means that you spend only a portion of the time doing what you really want to do, so within a few years I did a solo trip, the first of many, and was able to dedicate my efforts to exploring and photography. On my return to this refuge, I was wondering if I’d be lucky enough to see an alligator again, and was sitting in the car filling out the donation form at the head of the wildlife drive when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. In the channel right alongside the drive, less than four meters away, a massive gator was cruising by, so close that I couldn’t even frame its head with the 75-260mm lens I had affixed – I had to wait until it passed a bit further off.

American alligator Alligator mississippiensis in roadside channel
This one was pushing three meters, many times the mass of the first, the size that says, “Don’t get out of the car” – compare the eyes with that above. But yeah, welcome to the refuge, and it was the first of many images that day that would convince me to keep returning to Ding Darling. If you visit Florida (much less live there,) and don’t go at least once, you’re a doodyhead.

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