On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Florida Gators vs. the Florida gators
When he was a Grad Student at the University of Florida, the Footloose Forester witnessed the sudden development and equally sudden departure of a bizarre fad that could only have been dreamed up by a bunch of wild college students. That was the epic sporting challenge during the early autumn of 1970 when the Florida Gators vs. the Florida gators set the campus abuzz. The sporting challenge pitted Florida Gators who had two legs against the Florida gators that had four legs. Side-betting spectators on land pitted Gators against Gators who were rooting for either the big, slow gators or the smaller but faster ones that were in the water. One particular fan favorite was a big, ugly upstart with one blind eye. Only a Gator from the Gator Nation would understand.
During the summer of 1970, the State of Florida invested time, money, and effort in ridding Lake Alice of its smothering blanket of water hyacinth. The aquatic plant Eichornia cassipes has been dubbed by plant scientists as the worst aquatic weed in the world; and Lake Alice was clogged full of it, to its very banks.
Lake Alice is really a large pond at the edge of the university campus at Gainesville. Although it is located in an attractive setting situated across the road from several apartments for student housing, the residents would only occasionally see aquatic birds patrolling the few lanes of open water near the middle of the pond. That was prior to the dredging operation. For most of the past, Lake Alice had been largely ignored. That was probably because the tall, emergent, and surface-obliterating water hyacinth plants obscured the sight of water, except near the middle; thus rendering its environs as unappealing.
Only when the pond showed a large expanse of open water, did the workers set to mowing the grassy banks adjacent to the roadway that encircled Lake Alice. The banks were getting more appealing each passing day, partly because the mowed grass made walking easier. Some decades earlier, access to the pond had been part of an architected plan; when two earthen jetties had been built and extended some 30 yards out into the lake. Now it was possible to walk out to the end of the jetties; to see the fish, the birds, and the gators.
Fast forward to early in the autumn of 1970….as the daytime heat began to drop off and after students had completed their classes for the day, more and more of them showed up to enjoy twilight strolls along the banks of the now prettier Lake Alice. That is when someone noticed that more than one alligator was in residence there; and the gators had begun to approach closer and closer to the sloping banks near shore.
Word soon spread after someone tossed a marshmallow into the water and witnessed a tussle among the alligators for the marshmallow snack. It did not take long before small groups of students appeared with bags of marshmallows and placed odds on which of the alligators would appear first in the circular queue for a marshmallow when it was tossed into the water. Within a few days, however; the marshmallow toss took on an unlikely turn. One of the bigger gators gained an advantage by coming all the way to the shore line to be closest to the action. He was easy to identify because he appeared to be blind in one eye; his yellowed left eye socket made him ugly to behold.
At the height of the nightly marshmallow tossing competition, someone discovered that by rolling a marshmallow down the bank, several of the gators would come entirely out of the water in a scene of spirited competition. Henceforth, students would take odds on which gator would be first to get to the small marshmallow as it rolled down the bank. Mr. Ugly Eye was the “crowd favorite” possibly because everyone knew him by sight. He was also the one that usually was waiting offshore when the sun was going down and the students began to show up. How did the Footloose Forester know all these things? Because he went daily to his nearby office on the opposite shore; and because he made it a point to learn something about the habits of the gators, as he passed by before going home for dinner.
It was quite a sight to see 3-4 Florida Gators betting on 5-6 Florida gators in a sporting contest that was so dangerous that the university authorities put a stop to it almost as soon as they discovered what was going on. The marshmallow rolling season was short, but it was exciting.