The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

"Playing"

Erin Dominguez
IDH 4007
Spring Semester 2006

   I think I have a fear of growing up. Even though 21 is still considered young, it's not the same as being young at the age of 5. Sometimes it's hard for me to fall asleep at night. There's so much worrying to be done. Sometimes I jump up from a deep sleep and run to my desk because I just remembered something that I forgot to do. I worry about getting rejected from grad school, my family, my friends, bills, and yes, even world hunger. Sometimes it's difficult to just put those thoughts out of my head in order to catch some shut-eye. Other times, however, I can't sleep because of a particular noise. This noise starts right on schedule too. Anywhere between 11pm and 1am, I start to hear the sound of metal clanking and a little rumble. It lasts for about three hours and then stops until 7am when it starts up again. That's my little Kirchoff, a little Russian dwarf hamster. The metal clanking comes from his little nibbles on the side of his cage and the rumbling comes from his wheel spinning. I'm 21 years old and I have the same pet as my 6-year-old neighbor, that's almost pathetic. I really am hanging onto my childhood.

   On Thursdays, I try to sleep in because I don't have class until 2pm. Last Thursday, I received a 7:30am wake-up call. To my surprise, I wasn't tired when I answered the phone. Kirchoff didn't keep me awake that night. I couldn't even remember if he made any noise. I got out of bed, still talking on the phone, and opened my bedroom door. For t he past month I had kept his cage in the hallway at night because his nocturnal activities were not doing my beauty sleep any favors. I grabbed the bag of hamster food to feed him and tapped on the side of the cage.

   "Hey Kirchoff...good morning, baby. Hey, wake up. Yo... Kirchoff?"

   He was curled up by his little igloo. I started to bang the side of the cage. He didn't budge.

   "Oh NO." I whined into the phone.

   "What? What's Kirchoff doing?" The voice from the phone asked.

   "He's DEAD!" Then I felt the tears coming. All this over a hamster? I really am a child.

   My roommate Jess, my friend Rachel, and I went to a nearby park and buried the little guy under a tree and carved the initial K into the tree with a butter knife. Coincidentally, the next day I'd find myself digging in the dirt once again.

   I had class in the Everglades the next day. We were going to pull up some invasive exotics and we were told that if we brought some friends along to help, we would get extra credit. I didn't want to pass up the opportunity for extra credit, but I had to figure out a way to convince a friend that we were going to have fun digging in the dirt. A majority of my friends are afraid of getting a little dirt under their nails.

   "WOW! This is crazy! A person could get so lost out here!" I brought my friend Rachel with me to class because she's one of the few of my friends that can appreciate nature. She was very impressed with the car ride. Cruising down Krome Avenue was like entering a time warp. We had just left the busy commercial traffic of Kendall and entered an area of plant nurseries and fields of crops and tractors all around. It was a big contrast.

   The point of class that day was to pick exotic plants and throw them into trash bags because they're not beneficial to the Everglades. They were not meant to be there anyways. Not only did we just have to pick them, we had to make sure we pulled up all the roots. These exotics proved to be quite evasive and hardy. I felt like I was back at home with my mom. Every morning Ma gets up right before sunrise and pulls up weeds in the front yard. This is a part of Ma's morning rituals. As Dr. Graham said, weeding can be therapeutic. Ma probably tries to get me outside to help her for that reason. She can never get me to help her though. I'm terrified of the snakes that we find in the yard and I always manage to suffer from some allergic reaction to the weeds. These exotics that we were plucking were just weeds to the Everglades. Great, I thought, I'm turning into my mother. I know that I'm getting older, but do I have to turn into my mother?

   Perhaps it was the extravagant breakfast that I didn'teat that morning or the allergic reaction I had to those exotics that made me feel faint. I went to take a break for a minute to grab some water and once I started to feel better, I walked back to where the rest of my class was, and that's when I noticed that it looked like an Easter egg hunt. When I was a kid, the adults would put money in one of the little plastic eggs and the kids would go crazy and totally neglect the rest of the eggs and they just looked for that one special egg. We were picking around the native plants, making sure to only pull out the exotics. Everyone was searching and digging and holding bags like a bunch of kids. They even brought out an axe to cut down tree branches; it was like they were desperately seeking some special plastic egg.

   This is what I love about this place and this class. We get to play. That day everything reminded me of what it was like when I was 5 years old in South Carolina. My family lived in an area that didn't have much to do, it was just a military town. There were a bunch of trees in the playground that I played in. All the kids just played in the dirt and climbed trees. That isn't much different from what we do in the Everglades.

   Even previous classes seemed similar to how things used to be when I was a kid. All the times we were in the water reminded me of the summertime when my childhood best friend's family and my family would cram into one car and drive to a place called Kiawah Island. I remember my friend and her brother would throw me into a fresh water lake despite my lack of swimming skills. Ma and their mother would panic and start screaming at them and I'd just surface to the top of the water. I'd always watch them play in a canoe from the picnic table because my mom wouldn't let me go with them. Now I was finally able to get into a canoe-TWICE. It was also very nice that my classmates never threw me in the water unexpectedly.

   Hiking through areas that were affected by the series of hurricanes last year reminded me too much of the aftermath of hurricane Hugo. The barren areas where the winds blew down trees looked like my backyard after Hugo hit Charleston. Walking through hammocks reminded me of the times my friends and I would go into the woods (because that's all there is in Charleston!) looking for old cemeteries and trying to scare each other. Throwing periphyton at my classmates is kind of like the times we threw play-dough at each other and it would get stuck in our hair and on our shirts, much like the many times I've gone home from class with periphyton stuck in my hair.

   "It's really relaxing out here. No wonder you like it so much." I was glad that Rachel got a chance to go out there. She said she had a lot of fun talking to my classmates and spending time outdoors. She was reading through my journals about two previous classes and she asked me what I was going to write about in this one. I couldn't really decide. It was the last class time spent out there in the hot sun and I was feeling nostalgic. Then I started to think about the past four years of my life in college. It all seemed so serious, with long nights of studying, exams, and a lot of equations and formulas that I can't even remember. This class was a drastic change from my regularly scheduled program, but it was exactly what I needed. Monday thru Thursday, I had to study my butt off and go to class and work, but Friday, I could go out and play. I guess that's really important to a 21-year-old girl who needs to grow up eventually.

   Even though the theme of the course is "Looking Toward the Future," I took it in as looking into the past. I'm generally a girly-girl, I like make-up and fear spiders, so I couldn't figure out why I enjoyed being in the Everglades for two semesters. During this time in my life I'm supposed to be looking to the future, but I find myself wanting to be a kid again, but there was never any time for that during the last four years. I've gotten the chance to go outside and play again one last time before I have to go into the "real world." We've been learning about restoring the Everglades and looking into their future, but really, the Everglades restored us, at least I feel that way. Sometimes it's a good thing to go back into the past and relive moments because the future is too unpredictable and scary to think about.

   Kirchoff isn't around to keep me awake anymore. It was a little pathetic how emotional I got over his death, but he was a pet that I had for two years. I even called my mommy and she felt sorry for me so she sent me a package of candies. I realize I can't blame a little hamster for my lack of sleep anymore. I need to stop worrying about the future and just shut my eyes. At least when I wake up in the mornings, I know for sure that I can just go outside and pull up weeds or exotics to release the stress.

   
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