My daughter and I arrived on the first day of August in the sweltering heat at the Charleston International Airport eager to move into our new house. In six short minutes we claimed our bags and in less than 20 seconds were outside in the taxi line. What a refreshing difference from the labyrinth of Amsterdam Schipol Airport. We eagerly climbed into the freezing cold air conditioned taxi with a sigh of relief and gave the driver the address to our new house on Daniel Island. The driver asked me the cross street to take after the exit. She turned and looked at me and pulled her sunglasses down with an inquisitive look and a furrowed brow after I responded, “I don’t know, we’ve never been there.”
Talk about a leap of faith. I found our new house online in one of my daily searches in Amsterdam knowing we had to repatriate at the end of my daughter’s school year. As soon as I saw it listed, I immediately knew it was the house for us and we put a bid in that day. We were under agreement soon after and started to get a little excited thinking about a warmer and sunnier life in Charleston, South Carolina. I’m not totally crazy. My husband flew to the US and FaceTimed with me looking over every inch of the place before putting down our deposit.
After arriving at our new digs, our taxi driver, knowing where we had moved from, handed me my bags, and said “You need to be careful of the pond around that corner. There’s big alligators in there and you need to stay away from the edge of it.” My daughter and I looked at each other with wide eyes and quickly went up our front porch stairs. My first thought was, thank God we have a six foot tall fence around our backyard, and then I wondered, “Can alligators climb stairs?”
As I rummaged through my purse to find the code to open the door, a green gecko plowed past my hand and climbed up the door. My daughter was so excited ‘Look, there’s a gecko!” I had to hold my scream in. All I could think was “it kind of looks like a baby alligator.” And then I thought, “What was I thinking? Where have we moved to? And that all this wildlife wasn’t included in the online sale description.
A few days later, taking a break from unpacking, I went out on my balcony to get a bird’s eye view of my street. I was alarmed to see a giant bird, who had obviously been thinking the same, perched like a statue on our neighbor’s balcony eyeing the baby birds in their front tree. I scurried inside, shut the door, and called to my family to see this ginormous bird. We must have watched this thing for 20 minutes as the mama and papa bird from the nest took turns crashing into him. The bird of prey didn’t even flinch. And then I couldn’t watch anymore.
Living in Amsterdam prepared me a bit for this new normal of wildlife here. A surprising 10,000 parakeets live in Holland. Our back garden housed a family of four loud ones my husband happily fed every day. Along with these tropical birds, I would see grey herons as prevalent as pigeons, large red crabs, the usual rats and mice that inhabit a big city, and the Heineken clydesdales clomping down my street.
While there’s no wild parakeets here, there’s loads of creatures great and small lurking around every corner. One day when my husband was working from home, he came to find me unpacking boxes to share with me that the landscapers weren’t able to take away the pile of leaves near our back gate because of snakes. I responded “Snakes? Plural?” I immediately sat down and googled “snakes that live in SC.” And up popped “Common Venomous Snakes of SC.” There are five different types of venomous snakes here. FIVE! That same night I startled my husband screaming in my sleep. He woke me up just before I was gobbled up by our neighborhood alligators. I immediately scheduled a pest control visit to come out that morning.
My taxi driver was right. While walking around the large pond, far away from the edge, with warning signs on all sides of “DO NOT SWIM” and “Alligators May Live Here” on them, I spied a medium sized gator gliding in the water close to shore. I stopped a woman walking by me and asked, “Is that an alligator?” She said, “Oh yes, but he’s a small one. I saw a monster of a gator last week on the grass over there, about eight feet long.” I asked her why an eight foot alligator wasn’t removed from here. She informed me gators won’t be removed unless they’re aggressive and then went on her merry way. She left me standing there wondering why animal control would want to wait and see what might happen with an eight foot alligator on the loose.
I can handle the very large bugs, the pretty white cranes and the little turtles here and there. I enjoy the butterflies and the caterpillars, bright green frogs that suction themselves to all outdoor areas of my house (even pillows), and can even turn a blind eye to the long squishy worms after a pouring rain. I enjoy watching fish jumping out of the pond to catch insects and the squirrels gathering nuts for… wait, there’s no real winter here, why are they gathering nuts? I am joyfully surprised at the opossums and armadillos darting across the road. I’ve even gotten used to the geckos that scurry everywhere. I was left feeling very unsettled, however, after reading about coyotes jumping six foot tall fences stealing cats from my neighbor’s yards in the Daniel Island News last week. And just this morning, on Live at 5 News, I stopped dead in my tracks while feeding my dogs to hear the newscaster say that traffic was stalled in North Charleston due to a very large alligator in the road. It’s no wonder so many people in the south have guns, cause it’s a jungle down here.