I have always been proud of the fact that, while I'm
rarely exposed to it, I am not afraid of hard work. I could count on one
hand every time someone gave me a chance to prove myself, every time I was
given the chance to show my own steel. Friday afternoon I drove home with
my windows down, feeling great. True, 90% of my upper body was cursing at
me with the fluency of a sailor-but I was buoyed by a small bubble of pride.
Before that Friday I knew next to nothing about
canoeing. In fact, I think it's safe to say that I knew more about the
digestive system of a worm than I did about canoeing. But Friday brought me
face to face with my very first canoe-and, of course, the paddle. Despite
my ineptitude, my partner took a good-natured view of my mistakes and
laughed a lot. So did the rest of my classmates-even when it was their
canoe that we were bumping into! There was of course a drawback to all this...
When offered the chance to write a haiku based on our
canoeing experience, mine had more to do with-well you can judge for
yourselves...here it is.
Look left, A marker!
No, I said Left! Quick left! UGH!
Pardon us mangrove.
I don't think my poem reflected much more than a funny
anecdote of the whole experience-that I'm simply a terrible driver. My
almost complete hopelessness left me with little attention to spare for my
surroundings. It has little to do with the gorgeous environment that I was
paddling through. While on shore, the mangrove trees were mysterious and
fascinating-while in the canoe, they were obstacles. While the water never
ceased to be clear, cool, and inviting-it became an increasingly stubborn
medium that I had to paddle through. I didn't see much in the way of
wildlife. Beside tiny fish, lots of large spiders, a frog and one bird
(that I was too tired to even attempt to try and identify) nothing was
seen-but plenty was heard. The plants, however, put on a great show.
Cattails, spike rush, buttonwood-and of course the ever present Red
But even through the haze of pain and frustration The
Everglades left its mark on me. It was the mark of the Bladderwort. You
see I've always loved biology and I've read more than my fair share of
biology texts, and any general biology book will feature at least a
footnote on the Bladderwort. That little carnivorous plant always had its
place right between the Venus flytrap and the Pitcher plant. But something
odd happens to your way of thinking when you read about something long
enough and often enough and never actually see it. It sort of becomes
unreal. Legendary, even. That's what happened to the Bladderwort. I've seen
Pitcher plants and Venus flytraps before, but for all I knew, or even
cared to know, the Bladderwort wasn't really real. Even if it was, it was
most likely found only in a place that I was never going to be in-like East
Africa or South Asia.
I saw it early on in the trip (when I still had energy
to look around). "Look! How pretty!" I said to my canoe partner, "It looks
like a tiny green forest down there!" When Dr. Graham lifted a piece out of
the water and called it "Bladderwort" the whole world did a complete 180o.
I wanted to shout, "What! You mean it exits?" When a piece got passed
around towards me I didn't want to touch it. I was afraid of what touching
it would do to my state of mind. Would it all turn out to be some elaborate
joke? Or worse, was this whole scene being played in my imagination and I
wasn't really in a canoe but in my own padded room, giggling quietly to
myself? The pressure of my partner's extended hand forced me to reach out
and touch the plant that I'd known about since grade school but never given
any more credence to than the Tooth Fairy. "Yes, you exist," I told it.
Not too long ago I was given a survey on the
everglades to collect data with. I chose to limit my population to
education majors since I thought it might be interesting to see what future
educators knew about their closest National Park. I found two strong
tendencies: most were long time residents of South Florida-and most knew
little about this precious place. It's right there! It's been there for
years, and so have they! They've heard about it, some even think its
important...but they have never taken the effort to know it.
Many of them know more about The Grand Canyon than
about the Everglades. I actually find this depressing. I can hear them now,
"That what? Oh the Everglades! It's..." waves hand vaguely in some direction,
"...that place. Isn't it endangered or something?" This inspires real
confidence in the educational system. What are they going to say to their
students? Will they say anything at all? I'm not sure whether I want them
to even bother to mention the park. Who knows what they might say, "The
Everglades is a swamp in Homestead where alligators and many types of birds
and fish live."
The Everglades is beautiful, true. The Everglades is
wild, true too. Endangered, Rare, Precious, the home of a wide variety of
endangered and/or fascinating plants and animals-all true. But most
importantly, The Everglades is REAL! How do you raise awareness for
something when the people who have hold of the minds of the future are
ignorant of it? To these young teachers the Everglades is their
"Bladderwort", and that is the "kiss of death" for any cause. They need to
see it, touch it, drink it, work and sweat in it. I would like to take all
these Future Educators of America on a canoe trip-for all our own good.