The Everglades: From Beginning to End?
FIU Honors Seminar IDH 4007

Naturally Canoeing

Daniel Decespedes
IDH 4007
Professor Machonis

Last week, we went on a bit of an expedition. It was an experience that most of us had never been exposed to, and one that many of us probably feared. Many a mind probably thought, "We're going to canoe Nine Mile Pond?" Most had probably never been on a canoe before, much less travel for nine miles without an engine of some kind! You could sense this feeling in the air, as we seized our canoes, two by two.

I, on the other hand, felt at ease, confident and excited awaiting the challenge ahead. I had the good fortune of having been canoeing before, and for about the same distance as our impending adventure. And, after some precautionary instructions, we shoved off. The following occurrence made me laugh and think about our human nature as native city dwellers. Who could have predicted that we would have brought our traffic nightmares to this other world! As the class approached the first mangrove tunnel, our road rage and our rush-hour driver's instincts kicked in. We all knew that thirteen canoes could not pass through five feet of water, but we tried it anyway. What ensued was our first lesson on the canoe. Canoeing is not for the sake of transportation; we are not canoeing to get somewhere. We are canoeing to enjoy what is around us, what we couldn't have otherwise seen unless we were sloughing. It's funny how this happened at almost every pass. We are conditioned to take every trip as a race; if we are going somewhere, we better get their fuss. It's a good thing we had stops on our trail, otherwise we might have been done an hour early.

As I learned on our expedition, canoeing is completely a team sport. I thought, "I've canoed before, this should be a breeze." I didn't expect to spend the first two hours of the trip trying to train my partner. I spent the morning yelling "Paddle on the other side! Faster! Slower! Back on the other side! Backwards! Slow down!" By the end of the trip it wasn't my arms that were tired, but my throat. I'm glad I wasn't on the front of the canoe, otherwise I would have gotten a taste of the everglades - literally - as my partner did. It was quite humorous to see my partner ferociously paddling directly into small mangrove islands, watching him realize that he was going headfirst into the branches. After twenty or so occurrences, he was conditioned to slow down and look where he's paddling. When we finally got in sync, canoeing became a breeze.

As we began to grasp a mastery of the art of team canoeing, our adventurer's side creeped out. As we began to lead the pack, we approached two openings ahead; one with a trail marker, another barren and open. As the little Indiana Jones inside of me began to yell, I told my partner, "head for the right!" Apparently the same Indiana Jones was inside my partner, because without further discussion we were alone and off of the trail. In hindsight, it was very funny to hear the others behind us call out, "Where are you going?" And our reply must have been even funnier, as we cried out, "Don't worry about us, we'll be fine! Just stick to the trail!"

Our egos must have gotten just a little bigger, as we tried to cut through the loop created by the trail. What we didn't think about, was that others before us had gone through this trail, many times and for many years. If the trail markers take you left, there is probably an excellent reason. We discovered this reason quite quickly, as two minutes into our trailblazing course led us to a cove of spike rush, impenetrable mangrove, and the happy voices of the rest of our class just beyond the wall of roots. Desperately, we searched for a little opening to attack, in order to return to our group. From behind, we could hear our professors, calling out to us, "Are you guys o.k.?" The Jones's inside of us got out again, as they yelled, "Yeah! We're fine! Just go ahead!" Finally, we found our opening, just about a foot wide, and still thick, but at least we could see our group beyond it. As we backed up to get impulse into the opening, we preparing to launch ourselves into imminent attack from branches and grass. Lurching into it, we learned first hand why the markers existed, and the great wisdom contained in numbered P.V.C. pipes. Finally, we returned to our expedition group, and found our way to the lead of the pack again. Our next mishap was finding ourselves so far ahead, that we didn't see our leaders anywhere. But this time, behind us we had three other canoes that thought we were the leaders. As sacred as Guy Rule # 2 is, we could not admit to our unknowingly rebellious faction that we were lost. Finding ahead nothing but openings without markers, we decided to go forward. Finally, we found an opening to a pond. We said to ourselves, "This is it! We've made it!" As it turned out, it was not our entrance pond, so we paddled ahead as our worry built. Along the way, we encountered an alligator, but he offered us no help as he went under upon our approach. Finally, another opening appeared at the end of the pond. And, as we advanced through it, we finally found the row of concrete and cars where our adventure began. We made it, and thanked the powers that be that we didn't find ourselves alone in the everglades today because of those pesky Indiana Jones's inside of us.

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