Ready for a reptile rodeo | VailDaily.com
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Ready for a reptile rodeo

Barry Smith

(The story so far: Four guys, me being one of them, have set out on the road to make a documentary of whatever happens. We have a big camera, a real professional looking microphone and a passion for life. One of us has fleas, due to a dog encounter on day 2. Our documentation continues.)I spent my childhood in a land that was literally slithering withseveral varieties of poisonous snakes, including, but certainly not limited to, the water moccasin.The water moccasin, commonly known as the &quotcottonmouth&quot (and the more familiar &quotAHHHH! SNAKE! AHHHH!&quot) is not versed on the old adage that &quotthey’re more scared of you than you are of them.&quot No, the cottonmouth has no time for rural wisdom, as it’s far too busy chasing you down and killing you.It’s taken me at least 10 years of mountain living to finally getused to the fact that it’s safe to step over a log while hiking in the high country. Where the cottonmouth dwells, I didn’t dare step over a log. It was drilled into me as a kid that behind each log I encounter there awaits a very eager cottonmouth ready to pump my ankle full of poison. So ingrained was this terrible image that I was 24 years old before I could reach around a Holiday Cheese Log for a cracker.So, given my life-long aversion to reptiles that kill you, how, youmay ask, did I come to be sitting atop a 400 pound alligator?First, let me share with you what I know about alligators:1. If you see one, go the other way.That’s all. Clearly I’m no alligator scholar, but I get by.(Hey, come to think of it, that very same answer could also apply to my knowledge regarding cottonmouths AND Holiday Cheese Logs.)Forgive the digression. Trust me, I haven’t forgotten that I’m still perched atop a 400 pound alligator.&quotWe don’t do gator wrasslin’ shows after Labor Day,&quot says Irvine, the owner of the Alligator Farm in Hooper, Colo. &quotBut we’ll do one special for you.&quotI’m flattered, because this means he thinks we are a &quotreal&quot documentary crew (hint: BIG CAMERA), but I’m also terrified, because I know that this means that I, being the host of our little production, am now going to have to do something gator-related for the camera.What? Oh, yeah, I did say alligators. Yes, in Colorado. See, this land sits on a hot spring, and the owners take advantage of the warm water to raise the tropical fish tilapia. When a tilapia is filleted you are left with 75 percent waste. The fish remnants could not be dumped on the land so, rather than ship them to the landfill, they bought a bunch of baby gators back in 1987.The gators eat the fish guts. Brilliant bit of eco-management, I think.Now, 14 years later, the cute li’l fish disposals are huge, terrifyinggators. And, as I think I’ve mentioned, I’m sittin’ on one of ’em, one that I can only hope has already had his share of Purina Gator Chow (&quotNew, Improved Barry Flavor!&quot) today.As the gators got bigger, word started to spread that there were gators in Colorado. The Tilapia Emporium (or whatever) became the Alligator Farm, with gator wrasslin’ shows twice a day, souvenirs, gator jerky and so on. They also have an impressive snake collection, which I managed to get through without incident.&quotOK, who’s first?&quot Irvine asked the crowd of about 20 gator lovers. &quotHow ’bout you?&quotHe pointed directly at me. This was bad, because what he meant by &quotwho’s first&quot was &quotwho’s going to be the first to not only get very close to, but actually sit on, this huge alligator that we have just lassoed and dragged, thrashing and hissing, from our makeshift swamp up to the shore and lashed its top jaw to a post that it could easily bite through and proceed to chew up the punk that dares to sit on top of it?&quot&quotYou, documentary guy!&quotI don’t wanna be on TV anymore.I wasn’t paying attention to all the gator sittin’ warnings and procedures that Irvine explained a few minutes earlier, as I was pretty clear that that information would only be useful to those who were actually stupid enough to do anything besides jump in their cars and drive home at once. So, he had to talk me through it again.I approached the gator with wobbly knees. No, that sounded wrong I mean MY knees were wobbly, not the Jesus, I’m scared.&quotGo real slow,&quot Irvine said. Yeah, no shit.I straddled the alligator, waiting for the next command.&quotNow, sit right there, let him know who’s boss.&quotIrvine, I don’t think anyone would have a problem determining who’s boss in this new and exciting relationship. Most people are gonna go with the one who could bite the other one in half.Oh, hey, look. I’m sitting atop a big ass scaly gator. I have, on Irvine’s insistence, slipped my fingers in his mouth and am attempting to lift his 100-pound head for the sake of a snapshot. I want my mommy.Does he (the gator) know that I am a friend to both mammal and reptile, was a vegetarian for many years and that I actually object to such rodeo-style cruelty? Does he know that I have never owned a garment or accessory made of alligator? Does he know that Irvine, the Gator Guy, has just instructed his two employees, the guys who were sitting behind me on the gator, to get off of him, leaving scrawny, petrified and overly-hydrated me all alone on top of him? I’ll bet he knows that.Good gator. Gooooood gator.Maybe the warm water will soothe him.(Next time: While Barry &quotfreshens up,&quot a 10-year-old sits on the gator.)


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