Saturday, August 08, 2009

Footloose and fancy-free? Not so much

“And stay away from the lakes,” the HOA orientation woman, says. “It may not look like it, but there’s gators in there.”

The orientation group stares at her with our mouths half-open.

“Oh yeah,” she says. “We just pulled out a seven-footer last week.” A seven-foot alligator. Living fifty feet from my brand-new home.

“And because it’s been exposed to humans, they euthanize them.” Gator, euthanized, for living in my lake. “It’s done humanely by the Fish and Wildlife Service. Well, actually, they contract it out to someone, but anyway. Once they’ve been around humans, they can’t be rehabilitated.” She pauses. “And don’t forget, all the lakes are interconnected through underground systems, so don’t think there aren’t gators in your lake. Believe me, they’re there.”

“Gators?” a shaky woman asks.

“You can’t see ‘em, but they’re there, believe me.”

Am I scared? Horrified? Both? I shoot a look at Matthew and mouth “OMG,” meaning, “freakin seven-foot alligators fifty feet from our brand new home.”

A friend told us, “If you walk the nature trails, your dog will get fleas and ticks. Oh, and so will you.” But, the realtor had us believing in the recreational possibilities of our dog walks on the nature trail. That’s bunk too?

The HOA woman tells us, “And the snakes on the nature trails—let me tell you that I don’t walk the nature trails. Moccasins, cotton mouths, Southeastern rattlesnakes….” I shoot another look at Matthew. He looks kinda blank.

“I tell you, one time, I was in my golf cart, and there was a moccasin right in my path. He was mean, they’ll strike unprovoked, and he was lookin at me,” she trailed off. “I turned around and went another way.”

Tick infestations, alligators, vicious snakes, what sinister place have we moved into?

“And if you get a flat tire on your bicycle on the nature trail at night, don’t feel around for it. There could still be a snake tooth in there.”

Me, terrified, “Do bear bells work?”

The whole room turns to look at me like I’ve just appeared from outer space. “You know, bear bells. You wear them in the woods. The bears hear the bells and are afraid that something’s in their area so they hide. Bear bells?” Everyone turns back to HOA lady.

“Well I’ve never heard of that, and I have no idea.”

The sheriff, who’s been silently sitting at a desk the whole time says, “I’ve never heard of it, but I wouldn’t trust it. Just don’t walk those trails after night.”

We leave, afraid of ponds and nature trails. I thought, “If I stay away from the ponds—which I had no intention of visiting in the first place—I’m pretty safe from alligators. I doubt they’ll come as far as our house exploring out of the water.” Much later I think, “Reptiles are cold-blooded. Are snakes really striking wayward bicyclists on trails at night?” I’m not a fish and wildlife expert, but I am confused. And ticks? I used to be a nature-hiker (remember the bear bells?); I’ve had enough ticks in my life to know how to get rid of them, and I’ve seen enough Discovery Channel horror stories to know what Lyme Disease looks like. No, I’m not out of the woods, but at least I feel a little better.

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