I Think I’ll Call Him ‘Freckles’

A pied beauty cruising a local pond

Bands of color help newly-hatched and young alligators hide themselves from predators. As they grow, the patterns and colors remain visible, although they begin to fade; asked to name the color of an adult alligator, most people suggest gray, black, or brown.

The alligators I see cruising our ponds and bayous or sunning on their banks tend toward a solid gray, so it was quite a surprise when this freckle-faced fellow surfaced at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge. Over the course of three weeks, I watched him take on several challengers in what I assume were territorial squabbles; by the time I took this photo, he seemed to be the ruler of his pond.

He was by any measure the most beautiful — and unusual — alligator I’ve encountered. While alligators weren’t a part of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s world, I’m sure he would have recognized him as one of the ‘pied beauties’ celebrated in his poem.

Pied Beauty
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.


Comments always are welcome. As always, you can click on the image for greater size and detail.

56 thoughts on “I Think I’ll Call Him ‘Freckles’

    1. Even the first time I saw the alligator, the poem came to mind — but because of ‘dappled’ rather than ‘freckled.’ That came later. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  1. As soon as I read “pied beauty” in the photograph’s caption I thought about the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I soon found you had it in mind, too.

    Not remembering what brinded means, I looked it up. The American Heritage Dictionary traces it back to “Middle English brended, probably from brende, past participle of brennen, to burn, from Old Norse brenna.” It’s not often we think of alligators and burning at the same time.

    1. I suspect that’s Hopkins’s best-known poem. Those of us who received our schooling when education was understood differently probably memorized it.

      I learned what you added about brinded just last night, as I was putting the post together. I kept reading it as brindled, and had to go exploring to be sure brinded wasn’t a misprint. Sure enough: both words are rooted in Middle English and Old Norse.

    2. Have you read about Hopkins’s adaptation of the sonnet form into what he uses here: the so-called Curtal sonnet? This is one of only three poems where he used the form. I thought of you when I read in the link that he was interested in the mathematical proportions of sonnets.

      1. Thanks for the link. I don’t remember ever reading about the curtal sonnet. I may have mentioned that for years I’ve been nursing the idea of an article about the mathematical interests and accomplishments of people well known for non-mathematical things. For example, President James A. Garfield came had come up with an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

  2. I love the sounds and the way he uses words in this poem – I should make time to read more of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry. I’ve heard brinded used in describing the colouration of the coats of animals which I think fits in well with the effects of burning – the darker and lighter streakiness.

    1. I read that this is his own adaptation of the sonnet form: it’s called a curtal sonnet , and this is one of only three poems where he used the form.

      I never had heard the word brinded until I found it in this poem. Our word for the same thing is brindled. The words have the same roots, and obviously are related. We use the word to describe animal coats, too: especially horses and dogs.

      1. Yes, brindled is used here too and more common. I think that brinded is an older form. Now I’m thinking about it, I realise my memory of the word comes from Shakespeare…so not so current, LOL! (It was one of the witches in Macbeth: ‘Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.’)

    1. I took the photos of the babies at a different pond, one that was well supplied with old reeds and grasses that made great nesting material. It looks to me as though there are two broods in that photo: the alligators in the reeds look larger than the ones on Mama’s back. They’ll lay 10-50 eggs, so even if the raccoons and such manage to grab a few, there are plenty of babies to keep the species going.

  3. That’s the prettiest alligator I’ve ever seen and I saw a lot of them living in Florida. Next time you see him please let him know he would do well to stay in that pond he’s conquered. I know some Hill Country cowboys that would see a great pair of boots in that freckled hide.

    1. You know, I had a passing thought about boots when I saw this fellow. He’s lucky he’s living in the refuge. I believe I’ll remove that reference to his exact location. There are times when I don’t provide a location for a rare or threatened plant, and it might be wise to do the same for him. Not every cowboy lives in the hill country, and there are reasons there are ‘no poaching’ signs around.

    1. What tickles me most about the alligators is the strength of the maternal bond. The babies stay with their mother for two years, and the mothers are quite protective. The thought of those jaws being sensitive and gentle enough for the mother to carry new hatchlings to the water in her mouth is amazing.

        1. I just did a little more reading, and there’s a lot of variability in the information. I’ve always read they lay 10-50 eggs, but the Smithsonian puts the number at 35-90, and the range of time for maternal protection seems to be from 1-3 years. I suppose it all depends on where they live, what conditions are like, and so on. What’s unquestioned is that the mother protects the young until they’re well able to fend for themselves. It seems agreed that once they reach 4′ in length, they can defend themselves — except from other gators and humans.

  4. Great shot, Linda, so this is the most beautiful gator you’ve run across, polka dots & moonbeams, although I don’t think anyone can call him a pug-nosed dream. And that poem is unusual too, and also great! Really like the idea of looking at all sorts of creatures and landscapes as dappled and beautiful, as they certainly are.

    1. ‘Dappled’ was a word I learned early, in relation to sunlight. Dappled light shining through leaves is probably the most common example. ‘Brindle’ came along later, after I moved to Texas and met brindled dogs and horses. It’s entirely possible that I memorized the poem’s word as ‘brindled’ rather than ‘brinded,’ just because I read it that way for years.

      There’s no confusing this alligator with the other beasties in the pond. I think I see a hint of a self-satisfied smile on his snout, too. He may not know how handsome he is, but he knows he can defeat any challenges to his authority.

    1. He’s in a pond with nice water flow, plenty of fish, and lots of birds intent on the fish, so I think he has everything needed for that long and happy life. Whether there’s a suitable girl gator around I can’t say, but nature usually finds a way!

  5. “Freckles” does seem an apt name for your buddy there. Since he has become by your estimation the ruler of his domain I doubt any wise guy alligators would give him a tough time over such cuteness. As a child we had several dogs and one in particular that we rescued from a pound we also dubbed “Freckles” for all the spots on his face.

    While not many skies might be described as “dappled” (maybe one with mackerel clouds) those of us who photograph landscapes know the pleasure of a cloud dappled sky over an all blue one.

    I am sure I must have seen your alligator nursery shot but don’t recall. It is about as darling as alligators go, I would guess. Those young ones are quite the cuties…as alligators go. :)

    1. I did post one photo with some baby alligators on their mother’s back, but that was three or four years ago. The photo I linked to here is from this year’s crop, and there were a lot of them. It was taken in January, just before our big freeze, but by February 28, the critters were out of the mud again and apparently doing all right. I have photos of some large groups of young’uns that emerged post-freeze, and the number of ‘teenagers’ in the ponds this year makes clear they didn’t suffer too badly.

      As for dappled skies, how about this?

      1. Reptiles are cold blooded after all. And apparently mud is a great insulator. That’s a wonderful sky. Is it yours? I’d love to wake up and see that developing in the sky.

            1. Oh, heavens. There are so many blogs and so many posts I sometimes surprise myself when I run across an old one of my own that I’ve forgotten.

  6. Isn’t it amazing how we don’t normally think of wild creatures having “individual” physical traits? An alligator is an alligator. Many wouldn’t take the time to notice whether it is gray or brown or “brinded”. (What a great new word you have provided!)

    More motivation to take more photographs …….

    1. This alligator’s so unusual it would be easy to spot him in his pond, or on the road, or in another pond, for that matter. The ones who amaze me are the hunters, ranchers, and game managers who can identify the various deer, bobcats, and such who roam their land. Even the possum who visits my bird feeders is easy to spot — the last eight inches of its tail are pure white. All it takes is that second — or third, or fourth — look to begin to know who’s around.

    1. Isn’t he unusual? I looked at a good number of alligator photos, trying to see if this kind of patterning was common, and apparently it’s not. Variations do pop up; I was lucky enough to see this one.

  7. Weirdly, the lovely coloring of your gator reminds me of the coloring of Abyssinian cats. I imagine your speckled friend would like to come across a cat, no matter the coloring. Great shot Linda!

    1. I had no idea what an Abyssinian cat looked like. I can see the similarity, particularly between the cat and the more rusty/reddish portions of the alligator’s pattern. As for cat-as-tidbit: you bet. There’s a reason visitors are cautioned to keep their dogs on a leash. A puppy snuffling around in the grasses surrounding the pond would be irresistable.

    1. Deep questions, there. I suspect any hints of an alligator smile are just as sincere as crocodile tears: which is to say, they’re not. While we pondered one another, I saw a slight smile on the face of my freckled friend, while he, no doubt, was deciding whether I might be dinner.

    1. I suspect there’s no safer spot in the world than on that mama’s snout. The biggest risk might be getting tossed off if something got her attention, or if she decided she’d like to find another lounging spot. They really are adorable babies, and they clearly prefer being together. I enjoy that trio on the tail, too, stacked up on one another like little logs.

    1. Attacks on people are rare here. I know of only one, and that took place when a drunken fellow jumped into a bayou for a midnight swim despite the sign cautioning people to stay away out of the water because of alligators. As the saying goes, “There’s no accountin’ for folks.” As the article you linked mentioned, “That particular area there is a crocodile that’s local to that area and you just about see him every day, so you simply don’t jump in the water.” Exactly.

      Just once, I’ve seen an alligator with prey it’s taken. I think the prey had been in the water for some time, making it hard to identify, but it might have been a pelican. There’s no mistaking that s-shaped curve, that’s for sure.

    1. His smile’s been described as ‘self-satisfied,’ ‘sly,’ and now ‘smug.’ I think they all fit. ‘Secure’ and ‘sneaky’ probably would fit, too.

    1. I never thought I’d consider a full-grown alligator cute, but this one qualifies. He reminds me of a pair of twins who were in grade school when I was. They were freckled, red-headed, and plump, and everyone loved them.

  8. He does look like King of the Pond! And Freckles is a great name for him. I never realized there were variations in the colors of these critters (but then, I never paused long enough to make that determination either!!)

    1. Now, that would be a parody: put “King of the Pond” to the tune of Roger Miller’s old song, “King of the Road.”. I did know that these critters had some color and pattern variations, but I never magined anything like this. It will be interesting to go back to the pond and see if he’s still around.

    1. I certainly never had imagined such a fancy creature! Even though we talk easily about nature’s variety, when it shows up in such striking fashion, it’s always a surprise.

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