The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

The Everglades and Mystery

Jonathan Cameron
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2006

   The Florida Everglades possesses a unique mystery in more ways than one. One aspect of the nature of mystery is that it is a kind of subtle reality that is not readily accessible. In this reflection, my intention is not to discuss my inaugural, first-hand account of the Everglades in scientific terms, or in relation to fact versus fiction, but how the River of Grass affected me on a personal level. The airboat tour in the Everglades produced a sense of wonder that is challenging to recount, and paradoxically it was both a question and an answer. I will explore this paradox in relation to the travel to Coopertown, our experience with Scooter, and my perspective as an English major as a witness to the River Grass.

   Tamiami Trail, or Southwest 8th Street, is a familiar road. I have used it on most days of the week when coming and going from school, my grandmother's house, or other activities. It is part of a routine, and my familiarity with it makes it commonplace and nothing of special significance. The assumption underlying the previous sentence is that there is a correlation between familiarity and commonality, or assigning insignificance. While this may be human nature, it is of course not necessarily justifiable. Whether or not humans create the significance of something is beyond the scope of this paper, but certainly significance transcends what we consider familiar.

   This ingrained familiarity with Tamiami Trail was called into question when I crossed Krome Avenue in a westerly direction. Practically speaking, there is typically no need to go this way, and there is always I-75 as a preferred alternate. However, this is much closer to home and it is unfamiliar territory. While I had seen the River of Grass many times, albeit from a safe distance, Tamiami Trail suddenly became a very untamed place. The wetlands of the Everglades appeared to encroach nearly on the edges of the road almost immediately after passing a suburban housing development. Crossing Krome Avenue was like crossing a border into a different country.

   It was a bit of a shock to be reminded how close the Everglades are to my life of routine. It was never a question of knowing whether the Everglades were near, but rather appreciating its proximity, its role as a life-giving resource, and its history in relation to transformation over time. The sharp ecotone separating human development and the Everglades made this journey into the River of Grass a kind of sudden leap into mystery.

   After a short drive on Tamiami Trail, I arrived at the Coopertown outpost. With a population of "008" this was certainly no longer Sweetwater. Generally speaking, the further west one drives in either Miami-Dade, Broward, or Palm Beach Counties the newer the development. However, this rickety outpost for airboat tours had been in business since 1945. After some waiting at the outpost, our airboat and guide were ready to take us through the wet prairie.

   Upon jumping in the airboat, our guide introduced himself without, at first, even saying his name. Scooter, as he later called himself, communicated ruggedness, and a deep-rooted, experiential familiarity with the Everglades. Without saying anything as such, his composure and Deep Southern accent gave the impression that he was a kind of caricature of an Everglades airboat tour guide.

   Scooter's stories and sound bites about the history of the Everglades, its flora, and fauna was clearly shaped to appeal to the ears of tourists, but this did not seem to hinder the inherent mystery of the Everglades. Scooter's "faulty" airboat engine, references to Native American folklore, and poisonous pond apple all emphasized an element of danger, but this was not what gave the Everglades its mystery. The element of danger, and the unknown, that Scooter talked about was rather a result of the mystery that the Everglades already possessed. Therefore, while Scooter's tailored version of the Everglades partially revealed the nature of the River of Grass, there was also the sense that the place had much greater significance than what was portrayed. In the case of Scooter, while he seemed to answer some questions about the Everglades, the proceeding group discussion regarding the airboat tour revealed exaggerations, questions about the accuracy of what we were told, and standards for who decides what is accurate or trustworthy.

   As an English major, I naturally look for metaphors, imagery, and themes hidden between the lines, and this can also be applied to my experience as a witness to the Everglades. Words or phrases in literature might contain multiple layers of meaning, and as a result, enriches the body of a work. In one sense, the Everglades is like a tapestry of metaphors and images. These include the variety of insects behind each sawgrass, the alligators beneath the dark water, and the Purple Gallinule chicks hidden in a thicket. These threads of the tapestry are within arms-length, but are still inaccessible.

   This inaccessibility is one way of describing the mystery of the Everglades. It is a mystery because we know there is something there, yet it is not completely within reach. While science is invaluable for giving us a better understanding of the Everglades, and thereby giving us a kind of access, it is still only part of the tapestry.

   The mystery of the Everglades is part of the attraction. Of course, with more study and expeditions my knowledge of this place will be greatly augmented. In this sense, many initial questions about the Everglades will be answered and a greater understanding will result. At the same time, these answers will likely prompt new and more complex questions. I anticipate that the mystery and mystique of the Everglades will remain, but it will be from an informed perspective rather than one of ignorance.

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