I want to tell you a funny story. Way back in 1989, during my early years of nature sound recording, I visited the Alexander Springs Wilderness Area in Ocala National Forest, not far north of Orlando, Florida. The date was March 29 and it was unseasonably hot and humid. I canoed about a mile downstream into the heart of the wilderness. At one bend in the creek, I spied a Limpkin foraging along the shoreline. I had never recorded a Limpkin, so I got excited and followed him for nearly an hour. But to my dismay he never said a thing. The humidity began to drive me frikkin’ crazy. I fell into a negative state of mind and soon decided it was impossible to record the dad-blasted bird. So I canoed like a madman back upstream to my van. I threw everything inside and took off down the road, only to discover that my air conditioner was broken. In a fit of complete frustration, I decided to drive north to the Smoky Mountains (a full day’s drive), just so I could cool off a bit (I kid you not).
I was having an enormous battle in my mind. On the one hand, I wanted relief, and a loud voice was telling me to keep right on driving, that it would be an absolute waste of my time to go back and wait for that stupid Limpkin to sound off. But another loud voice argued the opposite, telling me that I had promised myself that I would camp where I’d seen the Limpkin, and that I owed it to myself to give it a try. “You never know,” that voice would say, “maybe you’ll snag a recording of the night-crier himself!” Then the other voice would snap back: “Bah, impossible, don’t turn around, keep heading north!”
For an hour the two voices wrestled. I mostly heeded the voice that said “keep driving north,” but in the end, the other voice won out. I pulled off the road and gave myself explicit orders: “You go back down there Lang, camp next to the daggoned creek, and just sweat it out. You’re right, you won’t get anything in the way of a recording, but you owe it to yourself to try.” So I clenched my teeth and drove back to the creek. I tossed my gear in the canoe, and headed downstream to the Limpkin spot, cursing the whole way: “Lang, you are an idiot— this will never work!” Hurriedly, I put up my tent, ripped off my clothes, and threw myself inside just as the sun was setting. In a pool of hot sweat, and with an inner voice repeating “idiot, idiot, idiot,” I eventually fell asleep.
At around 1 am, I was startled awake by loud calls from across the creek: kreeow, kreeow, kreeow, kreeow. Oh My Gawd, the Limpkin is calling! I was totally unprepared. I stumbled out of my tent without a stitch of clothes on. I couldn’t find my headlamp. I fumbled to locate my gear, tripped over my microphone cable, and fell to the ground. I struggled to locate my parabola, finally got it hooked up, and began creeping barefoot in pitch black darkness toward the creek, recording the Limpkin as I went. I was smiling, elated. Then I heard dripping water and realized I was right at the edge of the creek. I remember thinking: “You’d better not go a inch further or you’ll tumble headfirst into the water”.
What happened next startled the b-jeezus out of me. A huge roar suddenly erupted right in front of me. Oh My Gawd #2! An alligator is bellowing only ten feet away. My heart raced. I wasn’t afraid . . . I was excited . . . hyper-excited. I couldn’t believe my ears. An Alligator and a Limpkin, calling back-and-forth, a sound event “beyond my wildest dreams.” Kreeow, kreeow, kreeow the Limpkin called, and the Alligator answered with his resonant roar:
Limpkin and Alligator calling back-and-forth in the Alexander Springs Wilderness in Ocala National Forest, near Orlando, Florida, 1 am, 29 March 1989. Recorded by Lang Elliott. Monaural parabolic.
End of story.
p.s. Another alligator sounds off at times much further off. Can you hear it?
p.p.s. The limpkin and alligator appear to be alternating, the gator calling when the limpkin is quiet and vice versa. Certainly not random, eh? Almost a “duet”!
p.p.p.s. At the time I made this recording, I had little or no fear of alligators because I thought they wouldn’t attack someone my size. In recent years I’ve read of alligators chewing the arms off of fellows far bigger than I, and fully clothed to boot. Perhaps I was a wee bit stupid way back then?
p.p.p.p.s. This is not a soundscape in the strict sense of the word. It is a monaural parabolic recording and it’s rather brief. But it’s pretty cool nonetheless, don’t you think?
p.p.p.p.p.s. Ahhhh . . . such a sweet memory. How exciting were those early years!