I don’t remember the first time I met Waldo (Wally), but I can assure you it would be memorable if you didn’t have Alzheimers. I am from the country…rural Penna., and the move to a big city, Tampa, was an unusual feat for me. I love it from the first day. The weather, the sea air, the challenge and more. Tampa was in such a state that when one got off the plane, it was walking down outside steps, walking to the covered over baggage collection area…sorting thru the pile of luggage that they had taken off the plane, then taking your bag into the inside of the airport to get yet more of a walk to the passenger pick up area and drive away. I believe I met Waldo with a broken hand….could be, he had lots of fractures in his time. Waldo was country. Country Florida…the real thing. Very few people in Fla, if they are not born there, actually get to experience country Florida. I was a lucky one, and Waldo was my mentor. Few people, outside of Florida, know that little lizards (Anoles) about 5-6 inches long are very common in Fla, and the kids love to play with them. They take the lizard by the body and rub the head/face of the lizard back and forth across their ear lobe. The lizard get mad and grab the earlobe; it doesn’t hurt. And they stay hung on for 15-20 minutes before getting bored or tired and dropping off.
So, Waldo and I were north of Tampa on a small stream, but Waldo called it a river. We were way upstream on the river and that’s why the size of about 20 ft across. There was a small park there with about a parking area for 5-6 cars. The river came to an area where the course was altered by man many years ago to be used as a power source of a water wheel powered mill. The pond was about 80 ft in diameter and due to the alteration, the water made a circular path before rejoining back onto its normal configuration. The pond was partly covered by lily pads and some other water plants. The water and lily plants also grew up the bank of the pond for at least 10 ft. Waldo pointed out a baby alligator on a lily pad that was maybe 10 ft from the waters edge (that one could not see). Waldo rolled up his pant legs and started towards the gator. Being from the north, I figured that, like me, he would sneak up on it and grab it by hand directly. Instead…he flat out Dove out into the pads and came up with the little gator. I Was Impressed!! There could have been literally ANYthing under those pads. Glass, rocks, wire, metal, the MOTHER….Any thing. Obviously Waldo knew the area, but I still think he would have done it anyway.
Waldo came back up to me from the water area and asked if I was aware of the kids practice with anoles, and I assured him that I have done that same thing many time. Then he asked me to let the gator bite me on the heel of the hand to show me how it worked. The gator was barely over a foot long and of course, I was ready. It bit me, and I swear I think it’s teeth touched in the middle. It had one hell of a grip. ANY movement at all on my part and the grip would tighten. After getting a little comfortable (on my part), I was told to not move and watch. It was a good 15-20 minutes before the gator eased off and let me free. Then Waldo told me…I want you to remember this in your explorations of Fla., the big ones are the same way. They don’t let go. I DEFinitely remembered, and tho I’ve caught little gators since then, this image I’m posting was when I was at NASA putting my camera out Remote…within 100 yards of the launch pad. This one is the biggest I’ve caught.