Driving past a pond one day with my family, I noticed how pretty the sunset was over the water and lily pads. We stopped, so I could get out and take a photo. I nearly stepped on a gator! I stopped and kept my foot above the ground, and then I slowly backed away. The magnificent beast paid me no mind. It was at that moment that I learned this:
Where we live, at any given pond or body of water, there is probably an alligator hiding out, carefully camouflaged, doing his or her alligator thing! I was thankful to walk away with my foot and life that day. I was also thankful to have been allowed into the presence of such a great predator. Since that day, I have been blessed by other encounters with alligators. Perhaps they sense my spirit of respect and admiration. Maybe they know I mean them no harm. We can occupy the same area and go on living our best lives. I often tell visitors and people new to the area about what I’ve learned from gators. If people are aware, and if they take reasonable precautions with their pets, children, trash, and selves, then we can all coexist and thrive. The habitats where gators typically live depend on them to keep the ecosystem in balance—so other species of plants and animals can live, healthy and well. It is a win-win for all, if we can co-exist!
Close To Nature
As far back as I can remember, I have longed to be close to nature. When I was a little girl, my parents and I would walk through the woods behind our home. We would follow trails through the trees, cross a little brook, and pick blackberries. I also remember sitting in the yard with my cat just enjoying being near one of God’s creatures in the sun. Throughout my life, anytime I was outdoors, walking in the woods or along the shore, or with animals, I felt more at peace. This is still true for me today.
When life becomes stressful and difficult, I find my peace outside. Whether it is day or night, warm or cold, sunny or rainy, it is just a peaceful place for me. I also feel closer to God outdoors. It is easier to pray. I look up at the clouds or the stars, and I feel a connection. The same is true for my angels. I have lost loved ones including my sister and best friend, my grandparents, my best friend in college, and more. Sometimes when I am outside, I feel like I can speak to their spirits in Heaven and they hear me. I also believe that our loved ones send signs of their love and messages of hello from Above through nature. It might be a ray of sunlight, a rainbow, or the call of a hawk. Many people believe that a cardinal is a visit from a departed loved one. Regardless, the sign is usually profound and unmistakable—you just know. It leaves me with a warm and comforting feeling of being loved and reassured that everything is and will be all right.
Recently I have been wanting to create a space in our yard where I can be alone and with nature and experience some peace, a place to pray. Today I finally made that place. I took a piece of a large tree that had fallen during a hurricane onto our fence. I set it up as a small seat. I can sit beneath the live oak and magnolia trees next to our azaleas and be surrounded by the scent of foliage, dried leaves on the ground, and the sound of birds’ wings above and squirrels’ chatter. I am so looking forward to using the space. It does not require me to drive anywhere in particular. It will always be there for me, just outside my door.
After time in nature, I always feel refreshed. Encountering wildlife invigorates my senses. Once, while walking on a swampy trail with my husband Rich, we saw bear tracks and a large beaver! The beaver paid us no mind. We froze in our tracks, not wanting to disturb him, and knowing that they can be aggressive when they feel threatened. We were like two little kids—excited for the rest of the day! I felt the same way the first time I encountered an alligator in the wild. I nearly stepped on him! I later learned that this was Mojo, and that Lisa and John of Alligator Alliance knew him quite well. It was after that first encounter that Rich and I came to pick up trash in Mojo’s habitat whenever we could. I remember seeing John and Lisa’s Adopt a Highway sign not too far from there. I thought, “ How wonderful!” And then the day came that we met! Rich and I were checking on another gator, Beau, and picking up trash. Lisa and I instantly connected! Since then, I’ve learned a lot about alligators and have been blessed with new friends—Beau, Lisa, John, and now Kathy!
I want all people to experience the magic of the outdoors. I want them to care about preserving wild places. We depend on the existence of wild ecosystems for the very air we breathe and so much more. Beyond the physical needs, I feel the wilds fulfill some of our spiritual and emotional needs, too. Maybe that’s why I’m so passionate about preserving and conserving wildlife. It is a big part of me. I don’t think that longing to be close to nature will ever leave me! I’m fine with that!
For Those of Us Who Love Reptiles
For those of us who love reptiles, Winter is especially challenging. We don’t get to see our beloved and inspiring creatures, as they are in a state of brumation. We miss their presence. We look forward to Spring so very much! We occasionally get a glimpse on a warm day, when they may come up for air and sun. For the most part, though, they are invisible. I recently had a sweet reminder of approaching Spring when a flower appeared! In the middle of Winter, in a pot of soil, when I thought a plant was dead and gone, new life appeared and bloomed! Pink, fragrant flowers reminded me that the promise of Spring is not too far away! Days are getting longer. Soon, alligators and turtles will again be seen basking on pond shores! Then, we will get our periodic dose of joy and ancient magic from a gator sighting or a turtle glimpse! These gifts from our Creator keep us going! As I am typing this, a rainbow has appeared in the sky in front of me! It’s another reminder of a promise from Above. I am cheered and comforted by it.
The Value of Creatures
The Bible mentions animals a number of times. I wondered if alligators were mentioned. I did a little research and came upon verses in the books of Genesis, Leviticus, and Psalms. One translation mentions a “land crocodile,” which people were instructed not to eat. Several mentions are of a Leviathan, which is supposed to be a crocodile. It symbolizes a struggle, something for a person to fight. Also, the Bible states that humankind is to have “dominion” over all plants and animals on Earth. I believe this means different things to different people. I personally feel like humans are to be good stewards of creation. We may have power over it, but it is in our best interest to use our power wisely. Conservation and preservation are passions of mine. Not only is it kind and respectful to treat nature well, but we depend on all of it to live. To me, “dominion” means being good caretakers. We don’t merely own and rule over all living things. Creation is a gift to us. We must cherish it. As human development grows and people encroach on wild habitats, there is an increased need for coexistence. Wild spaces should be preserved, too. Alligators and crocodiles are predatory species that keep the ecosystems they inhabit in check and in balance. Recently, I learned a cool fact about a rainforest ecosystem off the coast of North America. Eagles catch salmon and deposit their remains in the forest. As the fish decompose, they provide nutrients to the soil for the trees that grow there. This is a prime example of the value of every living thing. I cringe when people say they don’t like alligators! You don’t have to think they are pretty to respect and value them. (But I do!)