Chris Johnson: Wild Kingdom comes to the suburbs

November 17, 2013 

As someone who grew up in the boonies, I've had my share of run-ins with wild critters -- and not just at family reunions.

Some of it likely is genetic. My grandfather was a pro boxer who was so fast that he could catch a rabbit. My dad was just straight crazy and liked to catch rattlesnakes and such just for fun. One time he caught one, put it in a bag and then in the back of my grandmother's car. Unfortunately for my grandma, he forgot he'd caught the sucker, and he got loose in the car and slid up under grandma's feet when she had to slam on the brakes. She wasn't happy about it.

And I've had my share of run-ins with snakes myself, but I hate them. I see a garter snake, and it might as well be "Snakes on a Plane 2" because I'm gonna be saying things that would make Samuel L. Jackson say, "Dude, ain't no call for that kind of language! It's just a snake!"

I've also had my share of run-ins with other critters including bobcats, lizards, deer, gar, sharks and gators. I'm pretty sure I've even had one encounter with a panther, even though they're not supposed to be around these parts anymore. Of course, if you saw the boonies where I grew up, you really wouldn't be surprised if a T-Rex had been running around unbeknownst to folks.

One of my favorite critters to encounter is the alligator. Yeah, they're creepy and look like they belong in Jurassic Park, but for some reason I like them. They kind of mind their own business, like me. And they're kind of funny looking, like me.

As a kayaker, I've seen my share of gators out there on the water. Mind you, I don't do whitewater kayaking where I have to wear a helmet because you're not going to see any gators that way. I'm more the kind of kayaker to explore creeks, branches, swamps and river sloughs. And that's usually where I stumble upon gators. During one trip from Hatchechubbee Creek to Lake Eufaula, I had 11 gators pay me a visit. And I've seen gators in the 10- and 11-foot range that'll make you a little nervous -- even though it's the lit

tle 4- and 5-foot gators who are faster and more curious about large red kayaks.

But this past week, I had a critter encounter like none I've had before. On a cool November night, less than a quarter mile from my house in the middle of the suburbs, on a busy street, something caught my eye. Something that looked like an alligator.

"No way," I said aloud after passing it. There's no water within a quarter-mile of that street, and whatever I saw was heading toward a very dry field. Yet, I backed up to double-check, and, sure enough, there's a suburban alligator crossing the street.

I called my wife and simply told her to drive down the road. "There's something you gotta see. Hurry!"

My wife figured I'd run out of gas because that's the kind of thing men of my genius level tend to do on occasion. Then she nearly ran over my new friend. I had to wave my arms like someone trying to escape a chainsaw-toting serial killer to get her attention and protect my new friend. I snapped a photo or two and tried to help him cross the street without getting run over. But gators aren't very cooperative critters.

Fortunately, my wife has seen a few episodes of "Gator Boys" and believes she is qualified to catch a gator, especially one who's only about 3 feet long … or at least supervise the catching of a gator. She offered a lot of helpful advice:

• Jump on his back!

• Grab his mouth and hold it shut!

• Stick your head in its mouth and see if it clamps down!

A local science teacher stopped and called 911, which dispatched a deputy whose general take on the situation was "What do you expect me to do?" Fortunately, his law enforcement training kicked in and he did what you're supposed to do in that situation -- borrow a science teacher's umbrella and poke at it until it hissed and got really mad.

But the gator did eventually cross the street unharmed, if slightly annoyed. So, somewhere in the very dry field behind my subdivision is a slightly annoyed gator freezing to death in a cold, dry field. And somewhere nearby are likely his mama and daddy.

If I stumble upon this little fella again, I'm gonna bring him home. My wife's cat has looked lonely lately. Just hope I don't put him in my wife's car and forget about him. Although, the look on her face when he appeared under her seat would be priceless.

-- Connect with Chris Johnson at

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