Friday, February 5, 2016

Nature's Classroom and the Little Chomping Machines

When I was in sixth grade my elementary school class took a trip to "Nature's Classroom."  For those who don't know, "Nature's Classroom" was where students learned about the outdoors and nature for five days.  Now a days, it's only three days.  Here's the link for those who wish to know more.

I think it's a great program, but honestly, I found it kind of boring.  Anything and everything that we did there I had already done with the Boy Scouts of America.  There was one day that we shot B.B. guns and archery that again, I found boring.  Why find shooting a B.B. gun exciting when I was already shooting a shotgun out hunting?  Why find shooting a simple bow exciting when I had already shot a somewhat expensive compound bow?

Now don't get me wrong.  There were a few exciting moments.  But there was one moment that I look back on, and wonder if it was age appropriate. 

As I said, I was in sixth grade which meant I was eleven years old.  I can't remember if we went in the Fall or the Spring.  So that would have made it 1987 or 1988 when I went. 

Near the end of the week we were all given nets and told to pick up a few critters in the Hillsborough River.  We mostly picked up fish along with a few crawfish/crawdads.  We then took them back to a wondrous room.  It was filled with all sorts of tanks of fish, more fish, different types of fish, rabbits, Guinea pigs, baby chicks, mice, turtles, and one tank that held two juvenile American Alligators.

These alligators had to have been born recently.  They were only about 14-16 inches and most of that was tail.  I mean, I had a pet bearded dragon (later in life) that was as big as these alligators. 

Now what made this interesting was that our instructor told us we could pet and hold the rabbits, Guinea pigs, mice, various other animals, and ....... the alligators.  I thought, "wait, we can not only pet, but hold the alligators?"

You have to remember this was either 1987 or 1988, and the American Alligator came of the endangered species list on June 4th, 1987.  So being able to legally hold one was kind of surprising for a kid.

Our instructor took some of the crawfish we had caught, and then feed it to the alligators.  I have to say, it kind of surprised me how an alligator ate.  They would literally crunch the crawfish in three bites, and then shallow it.  You could heart the crunching and everything.  Even as tiny as those gators were, they had some powerful jaws.

Our ever so gracious instructor told us we could handle the alligators, but not to put our fingers near their mouths.  She had a kid who did that a few months back, and it wasn't pretty.  And after I saw what the gators just did to the crawfish, I had this horrible image in my head of those gators stripping the flesh off of a kid's finger.

But yeah, I had to handle those gators...... but very carefully.  I ever so carefully picked up the gators (one at a time) around the middle making sure to keep their mouths away from everything.  The funny part is that they didn't squirm around or anything.  Anyone who has ever had an iguana or a bearded dragon knows they don't like to set still if you hold them for too long.  These gators didn't mind being held.  They didn't move their feet around trying to climb on or up me. 

In the end it was the one big thing that I remember from Nature's Classroom.  But I am still kind of split.  Was I too young to be handling a chomping machine like a baby alligator?  Or, was it important that I was able to hold them since I remember that moment to this day?  Maybe I should have just played with the bunnies?

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