Now there’s a ten-dollar word if I ever saw one. Friggatriskaidekaphobia is the ugly spawn of Frigga, the Norse goddess for whom the day Friday is named, and triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen. The very existence of the word  illustrates just how deep fear and superstition are ingrained the very fiber of humankind. In fact, an estimated 20 million people – in the United States alone – are affected by real fear over this date.

It ought to go without saying that fear over a date on the calendar is more than just a little irrational. But then, humans are irrational by their very nature, or at least that’s my unlettered opinion.

As I was writing this, I paused for a moment to consider whether I suffered from any crippling phobias myself. All I could come up with was the very real fear of 23-letter words that I could neither spell nor pronounce. But there was a period during my Riverventure canoe expedition when I did experience an episode of unexplainable fear and near panic. This is what I wrote then:

I feel like I’ve always had a healthy respect and admiration for our apex predators in the wild, especially those that present the occasional hazard and inconvenience  to us humans. But as I closed in on the coastal plain, I contracted an irrational case of “gator phobia.” Dozens of 14- to 16-foot specimens sunned themselves along the shorelines of the river, including one that quietly slid into the dark water and stalked my canoe from behind for several hundred feet.

Alligator on the Santee River, South Carolina

At Santee State Park, the staff was abuzz over news of a nearby non-fatal alligator attack on a man who was swimming in Lake Marion during a company picnic. There were newspaper clippings posted on the bulletin board replete with color pictures and the gruesome details that were hardly fit to print. Soon, the cold-blooded creatures occupied most of my waking thoughts. When I paddled over a submerged log, it was a gator. A harmless mud turtle was a gator. When I heard a splash or a bird flew overhead and cast its shadow across the water, it was – you know the routine – a gator. The phantom creatures in my head became a far greater hazard than any real one would be.

With passing time and additional encounters, however, I became philosophical about their presence, eventually embracing them as a living metaphor for the disappearing wilderness of the great Coastal Plain. I no longer looked into their cold eyes with fear, but instead saw fear and mistrust reflected back at me. With exploding suburban sprawl and more frequent contact with humans, cohabitation would not bode well for these misunderstood animals and I sensed they knew it – September, 2007.

If the fear of a very real creature that could easily wrap its jaws around a canoe and launch me into a death spiral to the bottom of a muddy lake can be overcome, there may be hope yet for sufferers of the above titled f-word. So relax, come out from under the bed, go to work, and enjoy this phenominal Friday the Thirteenth!

Posted in Essays, General | Tagged ,


  1. Posted January 13, 2012 at 11:20 am by Kristine Whittaker | Permalink

    I love your sense of humor, Richard, and I definitely needed a laugh today. (nothing to do with the date) Thank you.

  2. Posted February 13, 2012 at 9:26 am by Jake | Permalink

    I have been there and done that althugh I never did get the T shirt. A very large crocodile took me out of my kayak when I was studying the Mkuze River in Zululand after a major cyclonic flood. But, there are no ill feelings and I feel much the way about crocs as you do about gators. Both species have the most incredible eyes when seen close up.

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