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The burning sensation started working from my foot up my ankle. I took my eyes off the ten-foot alligator down in the drainage ditch to see the fire ants crawling all over my foot and ankle.

I jumped off the nest and started brushing frantically to get every last ant off of me.

After Grace, my daughter was born, The Navy stationed the family back to NAS Jacksonville, Florida on a Humanitarian Reassignment.

The Navy created a billet for me at NAS Jacksonville at the Ground Electronics Maintenance Division. I was in charge of the VHF/UHF Receiver Facility. Our mission — ensure that the Air Traffic Controllers could receive air-to ground-communications from the airplanes.

The VHF/ UHF Transmitter/ Receiver Site was two buildings separated by 800 feet. One building was for the transmitters; The other for receivers. Each surrounded by a VHF/ UHF antenna farm. The runway, a line of thick brush and ivy-covered trees separated the site from the main base. We were invisible from the world with the woods on the south and the St. John’s river to the north.

For fifteen months, the receiver site was my sanctuary.

To get to work every morning, I had to cross the end of the runway down by to the river.

Stop! Look both ways. Cross when clear.

Drive down a gravel road to the sanctum.

Since the Navy created the position for my convenience, the workload was relatively light. I kept my equipment up and in good working order. When I completed my work, I spent many days walking alone around the patch of woods and along several tributaries near the site.

I encountered all kinds of critters there: raccoons, armadillos, snakes, alligators, and bugs — many, many, many BUGS.

One day while on my way home from work just before crossing the runway back to civilization, I saw two guys with fishing poles frantically waving for me to stop. They would look back at me then look down.

Was someone hurt? What were these guys doing fishing here anyway?

Besides, this part of the base was for official access only. The two young sailors could have gotten themselves in trouble.

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Gator’s Ditch

I stopped my car, got out, then walked over to them. The two young men were excited and wanted to show me what had interrupted their fishing ambitions.

A drainage pipe about three feet in diameter for stormwater runoff protruded out of the ground into a ditch. The ditch sloped steadily down to the river. From years of draining, the water had created a pool at the entrance.

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Sunning itself in that muddy pool was a huge alligator. This gator is what created all of the excitement. The critter had to be at least ten feet in length. A mature barrel-chested beast in which I had no desire to get too close.

In my mind’s eye, I could see myself leaning too close to the edge, earth giving way and me ending up in that pool with him. Cautiously, I maneuvered around. I wanted to get a better look.

The gator just looked up at us. Perhaps, sizing us up for a meal. I wondered what it ate to grow to such size. My guess was rats and other vermin that came to drink from its watering hole.

While I was standing there admiring this powerful, beautiful, dangerous creature from the safety of several feet above him, my right foot began to burn and itch. The sensation was rapidly traveling up my ankle.

I jumped like a guy who had stepped on hot coals barefooted.

Fire ants were crawling all over my shoes, socks, pants, and leg.

Frantically, I brushed until every last one of those pestilent creatures was off me.

Walking over to my car, I took off my boon docker and socks. The little menaces had left welts all over my foot and ankle.

That day I discovered:

It is not the big thing in the distance on which we become fixated that causes us most of our pain, but the many little things right in front of us that we overlook.

We easily fixate on that big scary future until we get bit by the problems we live with Today. Tackle the little things. The big thing usually never comes.

Writer, philosopher, humorist, observer of life, an all-around lovable guy.

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