The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Hidden Treasures in Life

Nigel Hart
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2003
Prof.Machonis / Dr. Graham

   I've begun to contemplate what the Everglades and the Everglades Honors class have taught me. Since my decision to go back to school, after 10 years in the hot Hawaiian sun working in the construction trade, I usually don't think about how I am affected by my classes. My focus was just excelling and receiving another A in a class and moving on to the next challenge. I just felt it necessary to hurry up with my education and attain my degree. But as we sat there in the hardwood hammock, discussing our readings on how our experiences in the Everglades and our class have enriched our lives, I realized that I would miss this experience when it was all over. Now listen, I'm not saying this to get an A. I really mean it! The questions are thought provoking and the different answers that my fellow classmates offer illustrates the beauty of our diversity. Such is the Everglades; it is a hodge podge of diverse plants, animals and terrains. This experience in the Everglades has shown me that in order to see the beauty in something that doesn't immediately strike you as beautiful, you need to slow down and observe it carefully to begin to appreciate its loveliness. As I contemplated this experience I compare it to that of a gold miner; for him to find gold in the earth he needs to dig deep and move a ton of dirt to discover just an ounce of gold. The Everglades is also like this; it is subtle and hidden, I needed to move beyond the beaten path and get off the scenic road to see its diversity and uniqueness. I needed to pay attention and look at the details and see how they relate to one another.

   The Everglades that I've come to understand and appreciate is not a kind place, it is rugged, hot, humid and wet. Such is life. Yet the world in the concrete jungle is also unkind. But it is my attitude and how I view life that affects my view of it. I'm not saying to look through rose-colored glasses, but like viewing the Everglades you need to look carefully at it to appreciate it's wonder and beauty. A comment by Ansel Adams regarding the Everglades states, "This is not a landscape for picnics, or for nature appreciation, but for the testing of souls." He was right concerning the everglades being a place, "...for the testing of souls." and it's also true that the Everglades, "is not a landscape for picnics". The Everglades is not a Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon or the Grand Tetons, where you can look and be awed by the scenery. But when Adams states, that the Everglades is not a place, "...for nature appreciation", I believe that he might not have taken the time to carefully look for the beautiful Florida Tree Snail. Maybe his perspective of nature appreciation was limited to great landscapes and not the smaller less obvious beauty of snails or birds such as the Roseate Spoonbill, the Great Blue Heron or a plain looking Anhinga. (It was this viewpoint in that era that perpetuated the idea of the Everglades being a swamp without any appreciable beauty that needed to be drained for progress and development.) But it is this subtle and quiet quality that makes the Everglades a hidden treasure. Even the top predators such as the American Alligator and the Florida Panther travel silently in their attempts to stay hidden. The beautiful tree snail with its different and diverse colors is hidden in between the branches of its host tree. As I walked through the trail I had to walk slowly and look carefully at the crevices of the tree trunks to find these hidden beauties. I don't think I could have seen them, if I was just strolling along and not carefully and purposefully looking for them.

   Another great experience of the reality of the hidden beauty of the Everglades happened during our slough slog. As we were sitting down for lunch in the cypress dome, I began to look at all the different flora around me such as the orchids and bromeliads. The hidden Green Treefrog in a PVC pipe and the Mosquitofish attacking the hair on my arm were all hidden creatures that I would not have seen, if I didn't get off the beaten path and patiently sit in the cypress dome to observe what was around me. Probably out of all the animals in the Everglades it is the smallest animals that are the most aggressive and bold, such as the mosquitoes and the Mosquitofishes. Some Mosquitofish had black and white stripes like a zebra and as I would try to slowly catch them in the palm of my hand and they would leap out of my hand escaping into the air like a salmon swimming, then jumping up a waterfall. Yes, I was still paying attention to the class discussion concerning Zora Neal Hurston's novel, "Their Eyes were Watching God" and how the protagonist Janie Woods has a dream to escape from her current condition to find her voice and her self worth. The icing on the cake was at the end of our walk in the dome. We ended up at the northern end of the dome. The amount of flora was incredible (the mosquitoes were also in plentiful supply). The exhibition of the bromeliads was incredible; they were all over below and above us. The Spanish Moss was the longest I've ever seen and the natural beauty of the orchids was astounding. I was also amazed by the natural picture they portrayed, it was not as a man made landscape of strategically placed plants here and there, they were everywhere all competing for what little natural resources was available in the cypress dome to sustain themselves. I was turning from one side to the other in amazement looking at all the different plants, or maybe I was turning so much in a futile attempt to keep the mosquitoes away. I didn't expect this in my wildest imagination; it has left an impression with me. I had to share it with my brother in law and sister. They now want me to take them on a slough slog and I hope I don't get them lost. But seriously, at times life is the same way, you need to dig in the dirt and move a ton of it to find an ounce of gold. The digging is the sloughing through the water to find the beauty and gold within the dome. You can miss the hidden treasures within the dome; I would have looked at the dome and said to myself just another bunch of trees. I would have never contemplated going into them to excavate their visual fortune and explore its rich biological diversity.

    Between my best attempts at being a full time Mr. mom and student, I have not managed my time in a way that allowed me to be still to meditate and reflect on the issues that affect my life. This past week I've done some of that and I've come to realize that I need to stop and smell the orchids and pine trees along the way. I need to be more creative with the time that I have, to contemplate how my educational and parental experience is changing the how, what and the why of my life. Yes, Life is like the Everglades you need to get off the beaten path and look carefully for the tree snails of life.

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