The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Different Seasons

Karina Donadel
IDH 4007
Spring Semester 2007

   This past September (during the wet season) we had a pleasant walk along Anhinga trail as a class. It was quiet and desolate and we were all alone and ready to learn. I remember holding my notebook uncomfortably but writing everything Dr. Graham pointed out and sketching each thing out (because I knew I would later on forget) - I was determined to learn as much as I could during our trips to the Everglades, pen in hand, notebook in the other, binoculars around the neck, and a fresh mind. I was not surprised to see we were the only people there, but didn't think further into it because I had plants to sketch, names to write down, brand new binoculars to figure out... everything was foreign to me. I became a bit paranoid that in the middle of each sketch a new name was being said as the class kept moving forward and I would miss names trying to ingest the previous ones...(pause). The day progressed.

   After ending the Anhinga trail, but before entering Gumbo-limbo trail, Dr. Graham showed us this 'tourist tree,' the tree the trail was named after; I of course wrote a few facts about it, but paused when it came to sketching its peeling bark - how do I do that? Before losing track of the class trying to figure it out, I reached over and touched its bark and felt its skin peel in tiny clusters under my fingers - I knew I would remember.

   While still rustling the small leftovers of tree peelings, I felt that I had been slapped in the face as soon as I stepped inside the trail. It seemed like there was years' worth of humidity concentrated inside this place and that it had almost solidified amidst the trees. Trees whose enormity and wild life within them made this concentration even more present; I was no longer trying to reach for my pen, but trying to adapt to the sudden change. Although beautiful and rich, I could not see the end of this trail and felt an urge to float away from there - a desire that wasn't impossible to reach considering I could almost crawl up the thick air. But the trail did end, with me afoot and back in the open glades, with pieces of humidity stuck between my skin and sweat, stuck in my memory.

   That day was the first and last day that I wrote or sketched anything down, because the following day I could not remember specific names nor facts, but moments of conscious contact and sensations seemed imprinted on my sensory receptors. From then on I knew I had to maybe even forget about a notebook, hope I could remember names for quizzes, but really pay attention to how I was communicating with the Everglades, and how it was communicating with me so that I could truly learn anything about it and myself.

   I revisited the Anhinga trail in January, now the dry season, not with my class as scheduled, but as it turned out, with my boyfriend. My boyfriend - a man so estranged from nature that having a picnic inside is what a picnic should be. A man that does not go to the Everglades, has never been to the Everglades, and would have never gone to the Everglades.

   I had gone to see the difference of the trails with the change of wet to dry season, and the first and most obvious was the amount of people present... I even had to look for parking! I explained to Gino that it was because of the amount of birds present, but he waved me off and stared into the distance, facing what was to come, as if he was in a duel, thinking to himself how I could have talked him into this, finally muttering, "Nature...EWW!"

   Ignoring Gino's lack of interest, I suddenly felt alone. Not in its physical sense as when we first came here as a class, but in a way that I had no one to instruct me when I came across new life, no one to share the excitement with. I had my bird book in hand and my binoculars, but I knew that it wasn't enough - of course names and facts can be important, but I like to know the kind of information that a bird book cannot tell you. I'd spoken to my classmate Hector about their trip as a class, and he sounded so excited about all the new things they had learned and come across; now I felt left out, with only myself to rely on amidst such a rich season.

   Yet as I pulled out my binoculars to look at an anhinga, I felt them being snatched away from me. "Let me take a look," Gino said indifferently. I did. I cautiously explained to him its name and how to differentiate the male from the female, trying to keep his interest. He then shifted the binoculars to focus on an alligator that was resting under the shade, "It's...huge." I started to see a shift in the day's outlook, now the day was not going to be about trying to figure things out by myself, but to shift some knowledge acquired from previous Everglades experiences to somebody I thought would never even go there.

   We came across some friendly birds/ducks that I did not remember seeing before, so I knew I had to pull out my bird book and try to identify them...just under what section? Ducks because of their webbed feet? But what about their hooked beaks? Gino pulled the bird book away from me and started looking himself, noticing their deep green eyes and hooked beaks. I took in this moment and did a mental recording of us standing together, looking at something new, in a new place, on a different season...he browsed through the pages, and I browsed through his pages, searching for this other person that was new to the both of us - "It's a cormorant," said a passerby. Indeed it was, according to the bird book. Then we walked around and saw many great blue herons, turtles, gars, little blue herons, and some others that I could not identify. I noticed many old couples enjoying themselves, giving us a smile and nod as they walked past us; I wondered if they saw their young selves reflected in us, rustling through pages and squinting for hints.

   Going through the Gumbo-limbo trail I talked to Gino about how the strangler fig takes over and suffocates its prey. "That's the way nature works, it's murderous and suicidal, it's violent and unforgiving," he said. But right before leaving, I made him reach over and touch the peeling tourist tree, as I once did for the first time, knowing he would too remember this; also knowing that now each time he thinks of me in the Everglades on a Friday afternoon, he will rustle the peeling bark between his fingers.

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