Fountain of Youth

By Mark Zlomislic

I was wary of taking an airboat ride through the Everglades. Call me old fashioned but I don’t like reptiles with huge jaws, razor sharp teeth, a bite with 2125 pounds of pressure per square inch and no emotional center in their brains.

The Floridians seem to treat gators like stray cats. One guide says “there must be 4000 gators in this particular lake and the locals go swimming here all the time.” Sure, I thought, but do they come out with all their limbs intact?

The boat ride turned out to be enjoyable. We saw egrets and storks and beef cattle on the edge of the glades chomping away on the greens. If I were a gator the first thing I’d go for was the bovine on the bank and then wash it down with some Girls Night Out Merlot.

The guide took us to a place where the gators hunted. We saw a ten foot long gator in stealth mode. Its eyes and head were barely visible. The guide explained the difference between a gator and crocodile. The gator will probably swim away from you while the croc will swim toward you. I didn’t see the guide getting in the water to test his theory. He knew to be aware of what lies under the water. Crocs, I found out have the strongest bite ever measured on living animals; 7770 PSI. This would be like getting crushed in a metal compactor.

After the tour we were treated to a gator show. An expert from Gatorland stopped by with “Buttercup” a two foot long gator that had its mouth duct taped. He explained that its bite was worse than a full grown Rottweiler in vicious mode. We all got turns holding the baby gator. Its skin was cold and smooth. I was holding a piece of pre-history and thought it was interesting how humans turn nature into tourism.

In the spring light everything looked beautiful. I looked at the gator and saw 150 million years of endurance. In a strange way the gator had consistency. You knew what to expect from a gator. There were no surprises. If you were to cry out, “What the fuck, you took a chunk out of me while I was holding you” your explicative would be out of place and a sign of stupidity. Did you expect otherwise, perhaps some Dr. Oz care and tenderness? Gators, like humans, are op- portunists. During times of scarcity, a hungry gator will eat just about anything, including carrion, pets, and humans.

The gator doesn’t need to work on its weaknesses. It doesn’t have to control its anger or deal with its eating problems. It doesn’t chase after illusions. It just is what it is.

The resort we stayed at had a pond with a fountain in the center. A few small gators inhabited the space. The residents made sure they were well fed. One gator seemed to enjoy the Doritos I was feeding it. So did the Peacock that spread its train and iridescent plumage. The bird was sacred to the Hindus and the Greeks thought them to be symbol of immortality. Early Christians placed them next to the Tree of Life.

It made sense for Ponce de León, the Spanish explorer and conquistador to believe that the Fountain of Youth was in Florida. I certainly felt enlivened there and could understand why Stan and Nancy left the harsh Canadian winter behind to chase the sun.