Memorial Day always seems to conjure up images of family gatherings, outdoor barbecue and some sort of water fun to kick off the unofficial start of summer. We managed to fit in all three in a way that was untraditional for us but certainly memorable.
Kayla is down in Biloxi visiting Brad for a few days now that school is out for her and while he's off most of the time she's there, he did have to work today so we headed over to spend the day with her. Here was one of our stops on the day's activities:
Now if we'd just been driving down the highway and saw the gator farm, we'd have never stopped but Wayne was checking area attractions on the Internet and it was the airboat tour that caught his eye. Both of us have always wanted to ride in an airboat and when we asked Kayla if she'd be up for it, we got an enthusiastic yes. She was, however, far less interested in holding the baby alligator, even with a rubber band around his snout. Believe it or not, that one is about two years old and he was probably about 18" long from his nose to the tip of his tale.
There were about a dozen of us in the airboat which headed out into the swamp. We've had several days of record-setting heat so it felt good to be skimming along the top of the water with the temperatures in the mid-90's again today. Narrow waterways like the one above opened up into small lake-like areas and then we'd take another water-path through the trees to the next open space, all the while looking for gators.
They weren't hard to find. This one, in fact, came crawling out of the reeds when called. She answers to the name "Stumpy"...I didn't ask if that referred to her physique or to the fact that she chomped off some poor unsuspecting tourist's arm when it was dangled too close to the water. Actually, she came looking for her favorite treat...marshmallows. It seems the airboat drivers were in the habit of tossing them to the gators up until a few weeks ago when the state game people told them to stop. Now the gators are going through sugar withdrawal.
Those ripples in the water are another gator swimming toward the boat. When the driver imitated the sound of a baby gator and splashed his hand in the water, the gator made a bee-line for the boat thinking there was a baby in distress. He wasn't coming to rescue it; he was looking for dinner.
Only about 1% of the gators born in the wild survive with the other 99% being part of the food chain for other animals, including larger gators. So while it would be easy to criticize this outfitter for feeding marshmallows to wild alligators, they're also collecting eggs from the nests then hatching and caring for the young gators until they're big enough to return to the swamp. There were a dozen or so 4'-5' gators in a concrete enclosure the airboat driver said would be released in another few weeks. Even they would be just snack size for the really big fella we saw. Well, technically we only saw part of him as there was a lot still submerged but they estimated he weighed close to 1,000 pounds. The area lost so many gators during Katrina, they're working hard to restore the alligator population.
It wasn't all narrow waterways...we had a few wide-open spaces where the guide got the boat moving at a good clip. We skimmed over grass just like you see on CSI: Miami and, of course, he managed to splash some water up on us too. I think Miss Kayla would have made a much more careful driver.
What better way to end the day than with a cook-out...we just let someone else do the work. In this case, it was the folks at The Shed. The decor is intentionally backwoods...where else would you find a fire pit made from an old cast iron bathtub...but the barbecue is pretty darn good.
And just like that the day was done. Close the book on Memorial Day 2012...it was fun and different and memorable. Best of all, it was spent with family, and that's how it should be.