I stood shaking on the edge of the pier for a long time, noseeums nipping at my ankles, arms pulled in over my breasts and fingers curled in front of my lips. Back arched forward, knees slightly bent. Everything curled inwards, shielding myself from it all. Surrounded by harmless cypress knees and cozy fall leaves, but I’m in my fear stance. Trembling like a ripple as I try to rationalize diving in, convinced every stick is a scaly predator waiting to snap.
“Hollywood ruined us,” we laugh. Throwing sticks into the impossibly clear water of Morrison Springs in rural North Florida. Breath held in, looking for a deadly, jaw crunching snap the moment it lands. Exhaling, relieved and disappointed by the vibrating ripples instead. Silence and stillness.
And yet, “Why do people live here?” Alligators are foreign predators to us, so despite the e-conciliation from forum comments that they would leave you alone if you didn’t bother them, we couldn’t help but yell and shake and jump up and down prepping for a dip in the springs. Bare feet pounding on concrete docks, fingers shaking out the jitters. Here we go…
Nope. I run, I stop, toes curl around the edge of the dock and I look down. Why is this so hard? The water is so clear, it doesn’t look like it will hold me. I’ll fall right through to the blue bottom where underwater caves swallow divers for a few hours. Morrison Springs is a popular southeastern scuba spot– but today, in early November, it’s a quiet, cloudy amphitheater filled with our giggling screams and gator fears.
My nerves get the best of me, and I watch Caleb jump fast and immediately pull himself out by the rickety ladder. The quickest dip I’ve ever seen. Maybe I could do it, but the lurking fear of scaly predators pushes me away. He climbs out shaking the shock off of him with a wild, adrenaline grin. We grab the towels and head for the van.
The moment I’m off the dock, I know I can do it. Distance gives new perspectives. Just let go, be bold.
Bravery is easier on solid ground. On the dock again, I count down and chicken out. I look down and line my brow. I throw more sticks and wait for the bite. The mist is flowing in from the far corner and the warm day is getting colder. It’s looking more and more like a set for a horror film. “You saw how quick I jumped,” Caleb reminds me. “Just 10 seconds, in and out.”
“But what if theres an alligator under the dock?” We know we’re being irrational, but once fear has a hold, it won’t let go.
I breathe deep. I watch the birds dive into the springs and tell myself I am one. The birds are better prey, and they’re less afraid. I can do this. I am a bird. Spread my wings, deep breath… I frown and curl in again.
“I really don’t want to jump again. But I will if you promise to jump, too.” He says, reluctantly.
“Ok,” I breathe deep. “Pinky promise. And I won’t break it, I promise.”
“Only, we can’t jump at the same time cause there’s only one ladder to get out.” We laugh and I woop to the trees as we hug and smile at our silliness. Is this really that scary?
“Well, you’ll jump and attract the alligators, and then they’ll get me when I jump in– so I want a natural burial with no embalming, ok?” I (half) joke.
Caleb backs up, takes a deep breath, and plunges into the water. Without time to think, I swallow my fear and jump in after him.