Saturday, 18 February 2012
Never Smile at a Crocodile
All our trips have a certain commonality, forbye the collection of mosquito bites and pedalled miles. It's a tick-off of iconic fauna, be it the grizzlies in the Rockies, the rheas on the Pampa, the bison by the Great Slave Lake or Nessie in the Loch. You've not completed a visit, gained your credibility tag, until you've scored that, sometimes elusive credit. There's a procedure to collection, one that has to be completed in the requisite order. No sightings can be made until: firstly, the valued fauna has been awarded tourist board status, to wit, it must appear at least three times in every piece of visitor propaganda. Mysticism and fabulism are no impediments to inclusion, which is why Nessie should be the Crest on the new Scottish coat-of-arms. Secondly, there must be the indirect confirmations of potential sightings. They come in varying forms: diners offering ''gator Po-boys", gas stations selling Grizzly chewing tobacco, roadside directions to the Official Monster Exhibition. Finally there's the evidence that officialdom believes in the icon's existence: the request that makes you wonder why would you want to feed or harass an alligator, or the more ominous newspaper headline reporting 'bear attacks jogger'. This visit being to the Deep South our quested fauna has to be a snake and an alligator. We've carried out all the due diligences, moved through the various stages, scanned the brochures, clocked the menus, looked over every bridge at all the part-submerged logs and trees trying to tick off a crocogator. All to no avail. So far the script is running to form. No serpents, no amphibians. So if they won't come to us, we'll have to go to them. It's time to canoe a bayou.
With time our eyes start to tune in, we become accustomed to picking out the good 'gator haul outs, spotting the telltale signs of mud slides, the sheltering part-submerged logs, the tangles of trapped, floating vegetation. These, the perfect bed for a dozing juvenile, whose parent will be close at hand, only I can't see it, - yet. Spotting them in the shadows, their eyes and nostrils their only evidence, moments before they sink.
Guesstimating, and overestimating length with a fisherman's elasticated rule. They're big, but it's not quite warm enough yet. It will take a bit more sun for the real monsters to emerge. Unlike the Scots' monster which only requires the post-pub closing time of a summer's tourist season to surface.
It's strange this feeling, this mixing in the same milieu with the last of the dinosaurs. The slow, silent water, the scream of a disturbed osprey, the deliberate stalk of a hunting heron, the ragged tatters of grey moss dripping from the swamped, naked trees. A lost, primordial world. Or it would be, if it wasn't for the distant hum from the local chemical plant. This frisson of imagined, possible danger, a danger that plays on your subconscious, such that when a giant catfish broaches the surface between your paddle and your hull, it takes several moments for your heart rate and your kayak to stabilise.