The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Row,Row,Row Your Boat
Right into a Mangrove Tree...

Rossana Wasfia Gomez
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2006

   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. I canoed!

   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 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 Mangrove.

   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.

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