The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Peeking Eyes

Tanisha Grey
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2005

   Fifty stout roots reaching out from the shallow water to touch the undersides of their host tree, short, quick ripples lap each root an inch high above the beach's apparent water level; the sole mangrove enjoys its own breezes on Shell Key in the Florida Keys. Just one of Clyde and Niki Butcher's vast collections of photos of Florida's greatly feared wildlife and profoundly undiscovered wetlands. Greeting its patrons, the studio boasts a life-sized photograph of a fork in the middle of a water-roadway and an alligator peeking through the sawgrass blades at the photographer by the far end of it: the essence of the Everglades.

   I walked through the aisles of the studio and through the hearts of all the 'gators in their own homelands, while I smelt the breath of each multi-toothed reptile as they sunbathed, their jaws wide open. Every angle, the lens pondered to get the perfect shot. The Ghost Orchid breathes in and out in synchronized perfection: blooming buds arrested at birth. As my path turned through the gallery, and the collection spread, quietly the twelve seagulls gathered in fellowship to wash their clothes in the bay just before sundown, while the clouds watched angrily on Butternut Key.

   I never realized how much lush land Florida has but seems not to flaunt. The journey was long and tiresome to meet the tropics hidden along the Tampa - Miami connection. The beginning saw the burning eyes of nightlong gamblers, whose boots braved the soil outside the casino at Krome Avenue. Beyond The Miccosukee Indian Casino, there were no more tall buildings, no Publix Supermarkets, no ATM's, just blue sky kissing green and brown earth. For someone like myself, who's accustomed to city-slicking convenience, I got a bit agoraphobic, wide spaces for miles. Forty-five minutes and thirty-seven miles later, the bleached blue one story rooftop was not misplaced. It wasn't the homemade thatch roof like the Indian village, nor was it the 21st Century low-rise commercial structure I had expected. Its interior however revealed an unlikely collection of timeless masterpieces.

   Cuba's wing is mountainous. The Wildlife Federation named 2002 the year of the mountain, and Butcher was prime suspect for capturing the spirit of the hills, the rocks, the plateaus, and the cliffs in our communist neighbor's territory. There's a grassy natural "replica" of the Mayan Pyramids about 100 miles south of the studio and less than 12 inches from my face, the black & white pictures are so colorful, every detail visible. Dazzling, while fresh, cottony clouds hovered over the herd of blacks and grays, offsetting their grave, yet sharp presence in every window. Along with Cuba and many of America's beautiful postcards, I visited every part of Florida with every turn. My pants cuffs were wet as I walked away from the Loxahatchee tributaries and the sun met my acquaintance on the Rock Island Prairies. Some majestic rivers I've never known existed are just a few miles away from our back yard.

   My eyes welled for a few moments just before the receptionist flurried around the bend to see about me and my questions. I wondered why we as Floridians allowed for so much of our natural land to dissipate. Had we ever acquainted ourselves with our own local attractions? Have foreigners been the chief appreciators of our backyard? Since we haven't valued our own gardens, exotics along with upstate snow flurries flock to our rainy Septembers, blossoming buds, congregating seagulls, roaring panthers, snapping 'gators, and our famous warm Decembers; while we collect their funds, sit back and remain unconcerned about our backyard diamond.

   Consequently, time and energy are now being spent to undo our damage of neglect. Recognition of this treasure has been overlooked, apparent in the search and research of Clyde's photos. If our lives weren't as filled with capitol gains and fictitious pursuits of wealth and unused education, then we could be more whole individuals and stronger peoples, much like the Miccosukee Indians.

   Developers want our treasure. While the natural ecosystem of the Everglades is essential to its inhabitants and its longevity, their dollars-in-hand argue that land equals money, just as in the situation of the "Miami Circle," a recent Downtown discovery of a possible Tequesta Indian tribe artifact at the mouth of the Miami River. The discovery of the artifact caused a huge uproar between archeologists, naturalists, conservationists, and developers. The developers, of course, wanted to develop and keep on track with the 100 million dollar scheduled twin tower residential high-rise; however they met with due opposition. If we are not careful, the Everglades will fall under the same scrutiny and the outcome may be different from what most might expect.

   I left the building, bidding the attendants a fair day, when six pairs of peeking eyes spotted me from the water. Also, there was a 3½ foot alligator at the roadside along with a red-bellied woodpecker, who walked me to the road. Only if I had some kind of camera extender to take a real close-up, would my day be full.

   After making friends with the birds and the alligators, I went along my way. Experiencing the Everglades and bonding with its natural fossils, history and culture is a nice back rub: relaxing your soul and rejuvenating your mind enough to invigorate your spirit. The once abandoned backyard had now been discovered by me, an unlikely city-slicking college girl who otherwise would never have met the sawgrass and its peeking eyes.

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