Gator Food

There are several reasons why I fell into a complete and utter state of panic when our canoe capsized in Lake Myakka. I try not to panic for no reason at all.

Here’s what happened. Steve, our friends Dave and Tara, and I were on spring break in Florida, and we decided to go canoeing in Myakka River State Park. Myakka was close to where we were staying, and promised lots of chances to see alligators, herons, and other wildlife. The water was pretty choppy and the wind was brisk when we first got in the water, but we were able to get to a calm stream that wound lazily through the everglade.

That was when we started to see things like this:

And this.

There were alligators everywhere!! They were sunning themselves, swimming in the water, and at one point, our canoe drifted a little too close to the greenery where one was lurking, and it flipped over with a tremendous splash and dove into the water. Freaked me out, man. Freaked me out. This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I flipped out when our canoe tipped over and I found myself swimming in this alligator soup. Because they were EVERYWHERE!!

The second reason earned me a boo from everyone in the car as we drove away from the park after the incident, Steve and I still dripping wet. When I was a child, I told them, I read a story in Reader’s Digest…(“Oh, boooo!!” “Geez, some Reader’s Digest haters in here!”) about a lady in Africa getting pulled under water by a crocodile. A man rescued her, but not before she lost her arm to the croc. True, it was in Africa, and it was a different species of lizard, but all the same, this story managed to thrust itself to the front of my mind. Might have added to my fragile state of mind.

After our nice, relatively peaceful canoeing, we headed back to the dock. This meant that we had to go through the choppy lake waters again. We cleared a spillway, and decided to linger and take a few pictures. (Um, we were going to do this lingering earlier, but when we stopped in the stream, the current pushed us toward a spot where alligators were hanging out. That put a stop to THAT.) Here’s all of us, just moments before the tipping happened:

Hmmm, Dave’s head didn’t make it. Oh well, you get the idea. Fun, carefree, sunny moment. But as we started to head for shore, something went wrong. A wave threw the canoe off-kilter. Steve leaned to the high side. I didn’t know what was happening, so I leaned to the other side. And – Tara said it was like slow motion – the canoe slowly toppled over, pulling Steve and me into the murky depths.

Well, waist-deep depths, at least. I stood up, gasping in disbelief. Steve yelled to put on my lifevest and grab our possessions – water bottles, hats, etc – that were floating away. Tara and Dave swung their canoe around and paddled back to help us.  Um, but it’s probably now that I should mention that I pretty much fell to pieces, loudly wimpering, “I don’t want to be gator food! I don’t want to be gator food!!” I could feel the reeds at the bottom of the lake curling around my ankles. I was biting my finger to keep from screaming. The options weren’t looking good: our canoe was completely under water, Dave and Tara’s canoe wasn’t going to hold four of us, and the shore seemed a long ways away. Panic! Panic! PANIC!

The one good thing I did discover is that even when I’m in a panic, at least I follow orders. I dutifully tossed our stuff in Tara and Dave’s canoe. Steve directed me to hold our canoe with one hand, and hold their canoe with the other, and we slowly pulled it towards the shore. I was very much freaking out, constantly scanning the water for telltale gator eyes and stamping my feet on the lake bottom, hoping that would scare them off. Tara tried to assure me that she would bop any gators she saw with an oar. Dave kept saying to me, “You’re doing good, you’ll be fine.” Steve, on the other hand, even though he was my fellow possible-gator-meal, though the whole thing was outrageously funny. I could hear him giggling behind me as we walked our canoe to the edge of the lake.

We dumped the water out of the canoe and relaunched into the lake to get to the dock, staying close to the side where the water was calmer. “Honey,” Steve said, still snickering. “It’s good to know I can count on you in a crisis.” By then, I was able to see the humor in the situation, and could laugh at my silliness.

In all honesty, even in the middle of my panic fit, a part of me was telling myself, “Pull it together! Pull it together!” And when I ran out of the water to the grass (Dave told me to go to shore, so I did. Steve didn’t hear him and thought I was abandoning ship), I had to laugh at my own ridiculousness. It was a funny moment, I realize this. And there were lots of laughs over the whole thing during the rest of the week. Because it’s fine to be afraid of alligators, but who communicates it by yelling “I don’t want to be gator food!!!”??

(On a side note, when Steve went to the canoe rental place to return the oars and lifevests, he told the guy about our little adventure. His first question: “Are the canoes OK??” )

Now I know I am afraid of being eaten by alligators. It’s good for a person to know their fears, right? Totally.  And as we neared the day that we would be making our return trip to Indiana and mourning the loss of Florida, I said, “Hey Steve! There are no gators in Indiana!!” So there, a good thing about coming back.

Anyone would like to share their funny moments of panic? Surely I am not the only one.


  1. //

    I’m laughing outloud and FREAKED out at the same time… and wishing I was IN a canoe next to you at the same time… though your writing is so fantastic, that I feel like I am. Oh, Rach, makes me love you. Wow… glad you’re not gator food. Hilarious 🙂

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