My mother taught me to be open to art, not as something separate from life, but as itself alive and dynamic. She taught me that to be a reader was not simply a gateway to good marks but a portal to engaged citizenship in the world. These lessons I took with me through high school and college, but in graduate school I forgot.
This gatorphobia is as centrally entrenched as all my basic knowledge: Fire is hot, water is cool; alligators are rapacious beasts sent from Hell to gorge themselves on the innards of innocent boys. It’s primal.
Language itself had turned sharp-edged on us; to negotiate a conversation—that to an outsider might have sounded innocuous but that to us was laden with dangerous secrets—was like picking your way barefoot through a field of broken bottle glass.
In my experience, the most effective antidote to the heat is what I like to consider the unofficial summer sport of the South: tubing. Other parts of the country tube too, of course, but they may as well be knitting. In Oregon or Nebraska, tubing is just an incidentally wet version of a stroll in the woods, the spiritual equivalent of a hundred other outdoor leisure activities. In the South, it represents one of the only possible escapes from a greenhouse climate threatening to replace human life with ferns. Southerners are forced to tube.