When we first got to the Sunshine State, I kept taking photos of every palm tree and alligator I saw. The palm trees seemed so exotic to me. And the alligators! The first time I saw one, I was on a boardwalk, out of its reach. But then we started seeing them everywhere, lying sleepily along paths that we were walking along, or swimming in drainage ditches. Once I got used to the alligators, it was easy to think of them as harmless logs, and I had to keep reminding myself to be mindful.
Because I’m used to hiking in woods without poisonous snakes or any kind of predator that can hurt humans, I have a tendency to be oblivious when I’m walking along. I was parking my bike outside a nature trail in one parking lot when a teenage girl called over to me, “Stop! You don’t want to park your bike there.” I hadn’t even noticed the huge alligator stretched behind some of the other bikes. I might have rolled my bike right into him if she hadn’t stopped me.
Later that day, we stopped for a turtle that was crossing the road. At the sound of our car, the turtle immediately pulled into its shell, stopped right in the middle of the pavement. I scooped it up and took into the nearest pond, climbing down under the trees and putting it into the water. As it swam away, I thought to myself, “I should have checked for alligators first.” Of course, I should have thought of that BEFORE climbing down the bank.
I wonder, if I had grown up in a landscape with alligators and poisonous snakes, if I would have learned to be more mindful, more observant, more aware.