Alligators and Grizzly Bears



"So, I learned then, that gold in its native state is but dull, unornamental stuff, and that only low-born metals excite the admiration of the ignorant with an ostentatious glitter. However, like the rest of the world, I still go underatting men of gold and glorifying men of mica." -Mark Twain


All my life, for some reason, the local crowd felt compelled to make sure I knew, “Moon ain’t afraid of nothin’!”


I thought, “I’m afraid of lots of things, most of them intangible, hard to look at and admit.”


So, I filed the locals freely distributed observation in my 'male-role-model- folder’.

In the childhood world of Captain Kangaroo[2] and Mr. Rogers[3], male role models were in short supply. It seemed unmanly to wear a cardigan in the beautiful neighborhood and teach children how to feed Mr. Hamster. Nonsensical in Ackerman, most local kids had already been feeding some farm animal since they could walk that didn’t live in a cage in an apartment in New York.


I settled on Daniel Boone. “Daniel Boone was a man. Yes, a big man. He was brave, he was fearless and as tough as a mighty oak tree.”[4]


So, every afternoon after school, I watched Fess Parker throw knives and hatchets and shoot muskets. The problem inside the Ackerman city limits was there weren’t many good reasons to throw knives and hatchets or shoot muskets. So, I practiced on the oak tree in the backyard, with mom’s kitchen knives and our dull camping hatchet. Fortunately, I didn’t own a musket!


Daniel was brave, fearless and as tough as a mighty oak tree. But there was something else I liked about ’ole Dan. He was fair, caring and gentle, often defending other pioneer families at the risk of his own life. Most tough guys I knew weren’t very caring or gentle. At least, not that I could tell. Most ‘gentle’ men didn’t seem very tough.


My real role model was Moon. He resembled Daniel Boone, or did Daniel Boone resemble him? Don’t mishear me. Moon is flawed, very flawed. But I first had to see and admit my own flaws before I could ignore the mica and see the gold.


Next morning, during our interview, curious, I decided to test the “not-afraid-of-anything” hypothesis, so I asked Moon, “Daddy, are you afraid of anything?”


Moon cleared his throat, there was a long silent pause, he was deep in thought. I could tell that I’d asked a significant question in the hierarchy of Moon’s perceived values.


Finally, he said, “Yeah, yeah I am.”


“What?”


“Well”, pause… “Alligators and grizzly bears.”

“Why?”


“I reckon it’s because they’ve both tried to stalk me and eat me.”


“I guess I wut'n mind gettin’ eaten ’cause that happins real fast, it’s that stalkin’ I don’t like.”


He then launched into a story about crappie fishing in Loakfoma Lake[5] in the Noxubee County Refuge.


“I was down there a crappie fishin’ and I paddled my kayak out to an island and tied it off and got out to start a wadin’ with my jig pole. I noticed a few big alligators while I was a paddlin’ in.”


Note 1: Big alligators at Loakfoma is a gross understatement. It’s more like a bunch of T-Rexes in a bathtub making hungry grunts, lying around in the shade and mud of the cypresses waiting to devour someone.


Note 2: To reiterate Moon does not like fishing out of boats. The purpose of the boat is to get to good wading places away from areas easily accessible from nearby roads that have usually been overfished.


“I landed a few nice crappie, a findin’ a couple here and there in four to five feet of water.”


Which meant he was wading in moderately deep water.


“As I waded along, I noticed a group of button bushes that extended out there about fifty yards or so off one of them islands. I was a thinkin’ those should be ’bout the right depth. As I got farther and farther from the shore, I noticed out of the corner of my eye in the open water, what I first thought was a log a driftin’ in the waves. Before I realized it was a huge gator that thang had cut me off from that island.”


That’s when most people panic, pee themselves, flail the water and disappear forever unless there happens to be a gator hunt. Then they only find relics like rings, watches, necklaces, bones and teeth.


“What did you do?”


“When I realized it was a stalkin’ me, I knew not to panic.”


Easy said, harder to do.


“Then what?”


“I was at least fifty yards from that island, so I tried to figure out the best angle to take to keep some distance between me and that gator.”


Note 3: Angles take on significant importance when Moon’s being stalked.


“I slowly turned around careful not to make any commotion and picked out that best angle. I stayed on that angle one slow step at time. I kept my eyes on that gator realizin’ that at any second he might submerge and attack me.”


Gators first grab their prey with their powerful jaws and drown them, then drag them somewhere and store them for a future dinner.


“I felt into my right pocket and made sure my knife was handy in case I was gonna’ have to fight it. But I don’t thank I’d a stood a chance. Them alligators have tough hides. I sped up a little bit when I got to shallower water now a focusin’ more on the safety of that shore. When I looked back, that gator had disappeared. I decided not to go back out there.”


What kind of crazy person even makes that kind of statement? More crappie or death? Hmm.


“I walked along the bank of that island back toward that kayak a thinkin’ I would get back in that boat and try out another place.”


Fishing would have already ended for most people and they would have checked into the local hospital for an electrocardiogram.


“I spotted my kayak a floatin’ in the distance. I left that island and waded out there toward it.”


Moon’s kayak has a homemade anchor system consisting of rope and a cinder block.


“And I’ll be damned, that same gator was a floatin’ in them waves twenty yards from my kayak a waitin’ on me. He knew exactly what I was a doin’; those thangs are smart and know just how to stalk you and get ya’. I had to wade backards to that island. I picked me up some big sticks and started a throwin’ ’em out there at that gator. It finelee’ moved on. I waited a little bit and waded back out there and got in my kayak and went to another place. That’s why I’m afraid of them alligators.”


“Yeah, me too!”


“What about Grizzly bears?”


“Well one time I was a fishin’ up there on the Kenai and it had been a rainin’ steady for four or five days and that river had silted up. I knew a creek with clearer water that ran into that river. It was a ways away, so I hiked down there in the rain to try it out.”


I noticed some big grizzly tracks in the mud when I walked down that trail to that creek. That rain had let up a little bit, so I fished for an hour or so but didn’t get no strikes. So, I decided to head back up there to the campground.”


When I got back to that trail, I noticed a pretty big saplin’ a leanin’ across the trail. That's when it dawned on me, “That weren’t here when I came down this trail.”


I could tell it had just been broken because I could see that green bark. What that bear was a tryin’ to get me to do was leave that trail and walk through that brush. Remembrin’ them grizzly tracks, I hesitated and started to lookin’ up there in all that brush beside the trail. It was a startin’ to get a little dark, it never gets too dark up there.


When I was a lookin’ in them bushes, I saw a big clump of brown hair. I squinted just a little bit and looked closer and it was a giant grizzly bear, just a waitin’ on me. If I’d taken one step off that trail, he would have eaten me alive.”


“What did you do!?”


I froze and stood real still for just a moment and then took in a couple of them deep breathes and let ’em out real slow a tryin’ not to get too afraid. Them bears can smell fear. Then I started takin’ one slow backards step at a time. I was a thinkin’, if I could get that proper angle back toward that water, it might decide to leave me alone. I knew not to turn my back.”


Note Repeat: Angles are important if you ever find yourself being stalked by alligators, grizzles or anything else.


When I cleared that brush, I kept a walkin’ slowly backwards one step at a time toward that river. When I got into them rocks, I got me another angle a tryin’ to increase that distance between me and that bear. About twenty yards from that river, I turned around a tryin’ real careful not to move my arms or head too quickly. I kept my eyes a lookin’ back up there toward that trail. You never wanna turn your eyes on somethin’ like that because that’s when they’ll charge you because they know they can get ya’. So, I kept my eyes a lookin’ up there for as long as I could before I turned around.”


“What were you going to do if it charged you?”


You can’t outrun no grizzly bear! By then I was a hopin’ I had made enough distance to swim for it, if he charged. Then, I changed that angle again and started a walkin’ faster along the bank of that river. I’d stop ever now and then and look back to make sure he wasn’t a followin’ me.”


I don’t mind bein’ the hunter, but I don’t like bein’ the hunted, it’s just somethin’ disturbin’ about that. That’s why I’m afraid of them grizzly bears.”


“Me too!”


When your role model can admit fear, it makes him or her real--flesh and blood, vulnerable, human. It also helps you admit and face your own. Courage is resistance to fear, not the absence of fear and that’s not mica, it’s gold.

[1]Mark Twain, Roughing It, vol. 1 [2] Captain Kangaroo, Wikipedia, “Captain Kangaroo is an American children's television series that aired weekday mornings on the American television network CBS from 1955 to 1984, making it the longest running nationally broadcast children's television program of its day.” [3] Fred Rogers, Wikipedia, “Fred McFeely Rogers (March 20, 1928 – February 27, 2003) was an American television personality, musician, puppeteer, writer, producer, and Presbyterian minister. He was the creator, showrunner and host of the preschool television series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which ran from 1968 to 2001.” [4] Daniel Boone (1964 TV Series) Daniel Boone is an American action-adventure television series starring Fess Parker as Daniel Boone that aired from September 24, 1964, to May 7, 1970." [5] Loakfoma Lake, Noxubee County, MS, bivy.com, “Loakfoma Lake is a 600-acre lake that is located in the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge.”

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When I first penned Moon and Sunn I included a truck load of chapter endnotes. I felt I needed to verify just about every historical detail of the entire book! After endless research editor Bobby Ha