Light a Distant Fire is set in my home state of Florida. Writing the story of Osceola gave me a chance to learn more about my favorite reptile, the alligator. While driving around the state doing research, I also heard stories of people’s encounters with them.
An acquaintance said that one morning when she cracked the front door to let her little poodle outside for his daily dump, he refused to go. She tried to push him out, but he made a high-performance u-turn, fled between her legs, and hid under the couch. She opened the door wider and saw a five-foot alligator waiting on the front porch.
Most people who’ve lived in Florida a long time have gator stories, especially golfers. (this video is worth waiting through the usual ad) http://abcnews.go.com/US/photo-captures-huge-alligator-roaming-florida-golf/story?id=29558822
Florida cowboys have the same problem golfers do. In my pre-vege days I was eating a gator burger at the Desert Inn’s bar in Yeehaw Junction. The two guys on my left were discussing how to chase alligators out of the cow pasture. They agreed that a hard rap on the snout with a short, stout stick sent them on their way.
I was thinking I’ll bet cowboys in Wyoming don’t have that problem, when the guy perched on the bar stool to my right asked me, “So, does gator taste like chicken?” “No,” I replied. “Iguana.” “Oh,” he said. “I know what iguana tastes like.” And he did too. That’s the kind of place the Desert Inn is. (Rattlesnake meat, now, that taste reminds me of chicken).
Alligator stories, especially tall tales, go back over a hundred years. Here’s an excerpt from a guest book at a hunting lodge on Florida’s west coast. This reveals my terrible handwriting, copying it onto one of my notecards. If someone remembers reading this in Light a Distant Fire please let me know. I haven’t re-read the book since I proofed the galleys in 1987.
Many, many years ago, I spent much of every summer at Girl Scout camp west of Jupiter, Florida. Our army surplus platform tents were located in a row along the top of an ancient sand dune ridge maybe thirty-five feet high. (I don’t think I’m exaggerating, but if I am, keep in mind that my house was about 15 feet above sea level. So this ridge seemed alpine to me).
In the vast wetland below us a large bull alligator had made a den in the swamp at the base of the ridge. At night we could hear him booming. So 25 years later, when I wrote about the time Osceola’s people were starving and he went after the huge alligator named Grandfather, the scene was vivid in my mind.
To be continued…