I’ve kayaked in Florida for about fourteen years and in that time, as one who does it to view wildlife, have been amid more than two thousand wild alligators (by last count, several years ago).
People make them out to be far more dangerous than they are. They flee like deer when they spot you. This isn’t to say something can’t happen! A wild animal is unpredictable (so is a tame one). But the vast majority of people who have been attacked (the chance is less than being struck by lightning) have been swimming where they shouldn’t be swimming or harassing the animals, especially during mating season, and especially near their young.
The point is that the most dangerous thing I do on days when I set out to view these awesome creatures is driving my car to wherever I’m going. That’s danger. More than 30,000 die in the U.S. each year on roadways (in a good year) while the nation often goes several years without an alligator fatality. Look at all the roadside crosses. Look at all the trucks that careen past.
The nation is currently caught up in a frenzy of consumerism (which is quickly degrading the very nature people in kayaks set out to enjoy. God’s first temple is nature. I’m always plucking styrofoam cups, non-biodegradable fishing line, and plastic water bottles from the shores and water).
Also more potentially dangerous is getting lost, which has only happened to me twice, including last Friday, on a winding waterway with adjoining sloughs just west of Cocoa Beach near the Lone Cabbage Fish Camp (which is now not nearly lonely, with a busy road running hard by it).
I simply couldn’t find my way back. What I was sure was the right channel turned out to be a dead end. Or, a passage was so shallow I had to drag my kayak over it.
Along the banks were dozens of free-range cows — the largest bulls I have seen anywhere (including Texas and Africa). They’re longhorns and were warning me away with large bellows — near water they could easily traverse.
Meanwhile, clouds gathered overhead, some drawing up water into dark underbellies, thus threatening rain. It’s never good to be in a boat if there is lightning, and while I had a cell phone with me, I wouldn’t be able to take it out of its plastic dry-bag if it was raining.
Naturally, I started to pray, especially — and vocally — imploring the help of the Virgin Mary. I also called the fish camp to try to get a notion of how to return. A man there who pilots an air boat told me to avoid the sloughs and aim generally for power lines on the horizon, along the roadway. This greatly helped me keep my orientation (I couldn’t get GPS to give me a good idea) and eventually, after paddling past a few more menacing bulls, and of course the heads of alligators, and pulling the kayak in shallow water, I made it to a muddy shore, yanking the kayak out as my feet sunk into deeply into thick mud that I could pull my right sandal out (I had to bend over and pull it out by hand). Then I had to get the kayak up a very steep embankment and walk half a mile to a boat ramp near the fish camp where my car was.
All in a day’s nature-viewing.
Was there a lesson in all this?
When I got to my car after rinsing off the muck, I looked toward the fish camp and raised a hand to bless it, thanking God with the Sign of the Cross.
As I did, I noticed something I had not before: my hand was pointing directly at a white plaster statue on the porch, depicting the Virgin of the Miraculous Medal. It was unmistakable: alabaster. Near the entrance.
Did I misperceive?
When I called the camp to request a photo, I was a bit startled to hear that there was no such statue there.
— Michael H. Brown
[resources: Michael Brown retreat in New Mexico and Pilgrimage to Medjugorje]