Welcoming Spring, Weeds, and Critters

weedsSpring has arrived in Florida, and I’ve been busily harvesting the winter crop of weeds. Naturally talented and experienced in weed production, I’ve got some real state-fair-worthy competitors. Unable to convince the deed restriction board that weeds are the new grass, they had to go.

After pulling off an arm starting the mower that has been sitting for 4 months, I set off on my journey that would be best be described as if it were an adventure game. Pollen flying in the breeze, I first maneuver over Armadillo Pit which is covered with holes dug by those nasty creatures and resembles Whack-A-Mole. Priceless wonders left in the yard all winter are uncovered: a football, 2 beach towels (seriously!), the deflated remnants of the blue ball the dog popped, and an arrow from the archery set. Next is the treacherous turn toward Weed Field while dodging the briar-covered Fence of Doom that runs along the conservation area.

Stop! Let’s discuss.

What is a conservation area?

I moved to Florida 13 years ago from North Carolina and had never heard of such a thing. Real estate agents tout the benefits of the natural view of a “conservation” lot. You believe you will be living on the cusp of nature and imagine deer calmly roaming behind your home in a tranquil sea of greenery provided by the trees and lush foliage. There is even a premium price added for the privilege of enjoying the view. I’ll take it!

Once you move in, you realize the true meaning of “conservation lot”:

  1. It is the leftovers of the swamp land your home was built on. (Seriously…I was in a store one day and a guy was reminiscing about the days when my neighborhood was a swamp. He also wished he had bought the land).
  2. Wild thorny plants grow over the fence and take over your yard. Traveling covertly underground, they surface ten feet from the fence. Pulling them out of the ground is nearly impossible but does make a challenging game of tug of war.
  3. Packs of raccoons live back there and attack your trash cans in the night…exposing all sorts of embarrassing items on your driveway.
  4. When it rains, 1000s of frogs sing so loud it is hard to have a conversation in the house.
  5. Armadillos rule the night in your yard, and the dog is scared of them.
  6. There are rattlesnakes big enough to eat a Smart car.
  7. During the winter all the vegetation dies, leaving you with a brown, dead view and the ability to now see the crazy person that sings at the top of his lungs at 1:00am and realize he is drunk…and barely clothed. Close the shades quick!!
  8. There are wild pigs and a small chance that they will tear up your entire yard leaving you no choice but to resod it – it happened to my friend.
  9. Oh yeah….best of all…there is an alligator living behind you.

Conservation = Swamp

…but it sounds so much nicer doesn’t it? Basically I moved into the middle of a zoo.

Living amongst alligators

It took a year for me to get over the fact that there were alligators in every retention pond on every block in Florida.

What do you mean there isn’t a fence between us like at Busch Gardens?? Are you people crazy?

I would walk the neighborhood constantly scanning for them in a paranoid schizophrenic kind of way while plotting the route to the nearest car I could jump on if need be. Reports of people finding alligators banging on their front door or under their parked car fueled my fears. Occasionally I would see their head surfaced atop the water. Then slowly over the years it became a fascination, and I hoped to see them. Out-of-towners would be treated to the official neighborhood alligator tour, and I considered producing some souvenirs. You get used to it. Snakes became my biggest concern. If you missed my snake encounters, check that out.

alilgatorThe resident alligator behind my house came through the yard one day many years ago. Grabbing my video camera, I began filming my personal National Geographic documentary. Done exploring, as they do during mating season, he was returning home to the swamp conservation area behind my house, and I zoomed in close.

Watching them walk is like traveling back in time and observing a dinosaur. It’s absolutely fascinating and almost surreal to watch. Then for a second…because it was zoomed in so much…a moment of panic ran through me when I forgot there were thick bushes between us. Adrenaline pumping, I dashed through the house to catch it coming into the backyard from the side of the house. He effortlessly crawled under the wire fence back to the pond, and I realized the frightening reality that the fence is a false sense of security.

On occasion I hear it roar, and he sounds like a lion. His calls for a mate are deep, muffled, and grumbly, and I don’t have the heart to tell him I think he’s alone in the pond. You’d think by 2011 they would be on the internet or something. I’m guessing by the giant splash as he descends into the water (like a boat being launched) he’s over 10 feet long now.

So, back to mowing. I’m always on the lookout for snakes and alligators. Every few minutes one of those evil conservation vines touches the side of my leg causing me to jump 10 feet, and this is called getting the most out of your aerobic workout.


  1. I laughed out loud when you said the alligator was big enough to eat a smart car! Ha! Ha? He lives behind you! You hear him roar! You’ve seen him close enough to film. Ahhhhh!!!! It does sound pretty, though. Swampy, but pretty. Can I come over?

    • Come on over Kelley! It is a good excuse to wear stylish safari gear and boots. I’ll give you the tour. You will have to sign a waiver form but that’s just standard paperwork stuff and is not intended to make it sound dangerous. Includes complimentary picture of you standing by a pond just right so it looks like you are petting an alligator.

  2. And I thought *we* had some challenging critters to contend with. Even a black bear is preferable to a prehistoric leviaton ambling through your yard!

    I wonder if Decon make ‘gater repellant.
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    • Ha ha. I don’t think so. They don’t scare me anymore. I love walking and looking for them. I have had to wait for them to cross the street late at night, but like I said… It’s fascinating to see them move.

  3. I worked in Michigan for years, sometimes as a lifeguard…but after years of growing up in Florida with alligators in every lake, I always had a hard time dangling my feet off the dock into the water. And then I went to Africa where I went white water rafting with crocodiles. Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.

    • I know what you mean. People waterski in the water here and there is no way I’d get in. Only at the beach. Aaaa rafting with crocs!!! I would be praying the whole time I didn’t fall out.

  4. Whoa. I’m from Southern California, and when I moved up to Portland, OR, seeing a real cow was huge for me. I couldn’t imagine seeing an alligator, let alone living with one as a neighbor! While it sounds totally awesome if you like that sort of thing, I’m not too sure how I’d feel about letting the cat out at night!

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  5. Rattlesnakes, alligators, armadillos, and wild pigs. I’ll never complain about snow again.

    Great post, as always, Melinda. But now I’m worried. Isn’t there a teenager in the neighborhood you can pay to mow the lawn?
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    • I have one right in my very own house. I actually like mowing as disturbed as that sounds. I think it’s nice to get outside since I’m always on the computer. It is the snakes that scare me. I grew up seeing a Copperhead almost everytime I mowed. If I see one it takes days not to think every belt and cord laying in the floor is one.

  6. I don’t think I’d ever be able to let my kid outside if there were alligators in the yard. That’s freaky. My aunt had a friend who used to feed the alligators marshmallows. That ended when her fluffy, white little canine, who looked very much like a furry marshmallow, disappeared.
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  7. Hi Melinda,

    I knew I made the right choice when I stabbed a map of Southeastern United States and landed in Virginia. The wildest animals I have to contend with are yahoos on hunting trips. Beer, guns, bloodhounds and rusting pickups do not mix. And did I mention they have guns? I left the city of Brotherly Lugers to get away from daily gunfire!

    What about NC? Is that a safe haven for ex-city dwellers who are not quite ready for the great conservation lots of Florida?


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    • I think NC is a training ground with the snakes and bears (no bears really where I lived). I actually think bears sound 10 times scarier. I’ll take an alligator any day.

      • I agree. Unless I am sorely misinformed, I think I can outrun an alligator. 🙂

        However, it’s not like I’m TRYING to become the next host of Wild Kingdom. Training ground? Pshaw! Thanks for the warning. LOL

        Maybe we’ll swing west – take our chances with rattlers and scropions 🙂


        Mitchell Allen recently posted..Appealing LagniappeMy Profile

        • You may be misinformed – some say alligators are capable of short bursts of speed up to 30mph. Rumor has it that that is false and that alligators can only manage 10mph however the person making those claims has not been seen since his Florida conservation area vacation.

          So you may be better off with those scorpions. I don’t think they run very fast – just check your shoes, and more importantly any outdoor toilets.
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          • I actually witnessed the one I filmed run the entire length of the house in a few seconds. The UPS truck came barrelling down the street and scared him.They can move faster than us when need be..but not for long. Then he swaggered his way to the pond. 🙂

  8. Hi Melinda

    Wow I would never venture outside if I had to share the great outdoors with all that wildlife! Sitting here in the comfort and safety of my suburban home here in Perth; all I have to contend with is the heat lol

    Alligators are obviously more friendly than crocodiles. If you got that close to a croc you would be their next meal, or at least dessert 😉 In fact, sadly tourists have been taken when not believing the signs that say “Don’t swim here, crocodile area”.

    A guy has just survived an attack (that is a rare thing, the croc usually wins) but was injured quite extensively. Not many live to tell the tale.

    You have that great ability to find humour in every situation Melinda and probably just as well after reading what you have to look out for in your swampy oops conservation area 🙂

    Patricia Perth Australia
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    • Oh yea..Crocs are a different story. I wish I could see the gator behind my house but the brush is too thick to see the water area well…and I’m not stepping past the fence for any amount of money. If I could I would hang out and watch him because I just love seeing them.

  9. Hi Melinda,
    That sure sounds pretty scary. I’ve never encountered an adult alligator before. I got quite scared of the baby alligators I’ve seen from a friend’s personal aquarium before – so I know it’ll really scare the heck out of me if I get to meet an adult one – up close! However, I’m not much afraid of snakes, but when it comes to alligators, I’ll definitely scream and run away! Maybe I don’t like “snakes that have legs”! Oh, happy mowing! 🙂
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  10. Loved the post! But I’m not sure you want to publicize that you’re a natural talent in weed production. Narcs are everywhere. And when they discover that you protect your crops with gators, you’re bound to attract unwanted attention.

    Sorry for the lonely alligator. Perhaps if someone told him that chicks don’t dig a guy who’s foreplay includes deep, muffled, and grumbly moans. Trust me. I know.
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    • Ha ha I thought that too when I wrote that and wondered if I would end up on someone’s weed blog as a related article since things like that tend to happen to me.

      Lol that might be the grumpy alligator’s problem!!

  11. Alligators??? ALLIGATORS?

    (Yes – read my lips – alleeeggaattooorrrs.)(Name that movie!)


    I can barely deal with the raccoons.

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