Weekend Wanderer: Gators in the Monongahela

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You may recall my absurd attempt at camping last summer.

Our campground neighbor drove a pickup truck, the kind with a cover that lowers over the truck’s bed. A Google search tells me this is called a “tonneau cover,” and Google Translate tells me “tonneau” is French for “barrel.”

I learn a lot of useless information writing this column. I’m pretty obnoxious at parties.

Each night, our neighbor propped up the tonneau cover and reclined in the truck’s bed. He slept like that, which is our first problem. Our second problem is the thud I heard late one night. It meant one thing.

The tonneau cover had likely slammed down over our campground neighbor. Trapped, he was surely suffocating.

I probably should have checked on him, but the lightless campground meant I’d never see the python/ ax murderer coming for me.

So I listened for the sounds of our neighbor banging on the walls of his truck, begging for release.

No sound ever came, but I added our neighbor’s possible death by tonneau cover to my list of worries for the night.

I explained my concern when the next morning found him alive and well, having never been trapped by the tonneau cover. My worrying had protected him.

“You worry about the weirdest things,” he said, shaking his head as he poured a cup of campground coffee.

My campground neighbor – and my husband, for that matter – do not appreciate the insulating nature of worry. Worry keeps the bad thing you’re worried about from happening. Don’t believe me? Talk to my campground neighbor.

You can.

He’s alive because I worried.

Currently, I am worried about my oldest child, a high school sophomore about to attend a marine biology camp in the Outer Banks.

My concerns range from the practical (sunburn, making friends) to the unstoppable (alligators, sharks).

The alligator thing is rough for me. I have vacationed in the Outer Banks my whole life. I was conceived there, which I shouldn’t know but do because my mom thought it was a good idea to tell me that story.

It was not a good idea to tell me that story.

I never knew alligators populated the Outer Banks. But a side effect of having an outdoorsy husband is learning rather terrifying things about nature.

Skeptical? Pennsylvania has 21 species of snakes. A tick can kill you. The Appalachian Trail has hosted more than one murderer.

I probably shouldn’t read my husband’s outdoors magazines. Or listen to his video chats. Or go camping. But I do, and that’s how I found out about the Outer Banks alligators.

I have been that close to death my entire life and never knew. Worse, because I didn’t know they were there, I couldn’t worry about them.

But now I know. So now I worry.

“They don’t live in the ocean,” my husband said.

Well, my friend, a Google search yielded many stories about alligators frolicking in the surf of the Outer Banks. And one story about an alligator getting walked on a leash along a tourist-speckled beach.

Listen, if all the alligators were on leashes, I’d have no quarrel with them.

Information, like worry, is protection. Researching Outer Banks alligators is how I learned about Pennsylvania alligators.

According to Penn Live, 25 alligators have been found in Pennsylvania in the last 22 years.

Most disturbing is an April 2015 sighting of a seven-foot alligator in the Monongahela River. It was never found.

Have you guys seen Alligator? Lake Placid? Do you know what happens to alligators roaming unfettered beyond their normal habitat?

Google Maps says the Monongahela is 322 miles – on toll roads – from Bucks County. Seven years is plenty of time for that alligator to cover 322 miles.

Another alligator was found chilling amongst the fruit and vegetables of a grocery store. A plucky three-year-old had surreptitiously tucked the alligator into his mom’s purse for the trip to the store.

I think we can all agree a three-year-old deft enough to not only have a pet alligator but secret it away to the grocery store is going to rule the world someday.

He’ll probably populate it with alligator sanctuaries which, according to Penn Live, is where many of these wayward, “unwanted” alligators end up.

I kind of think all alligators are unwanted, but I was never enterprising enough to smuggle one to a store while I was still a toddler. So I don’t get to make that decision.

I’ve added the Monongahela River and grocery stores to my list of worries.

So rest assured – if you plan to kayak the Monongahela or buy a banana, my worry will keep you safe.

Last week, I read about a Villanova herpetologist. He was part of a team that identified a new species of extinct lizard.

What if it’s not extinct? What if it was small enough to weather extinction?

I’ll add it to my list of worries.

Just in case.

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