The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

My Return to the Everglades

Isabel M Sanchez
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2006

    My parents divorced when I was about eleven years old. My father would get visitation rights every other weekend, and he would usually take my siblings and me to tourist attractions, since he lived in a very small apartment. We spent weekends at the Miami Science Museum, the Miami Seaquarium, and various parks around Florida. Unfortunately, being children, we became bored.

    My siblings and I had memorized the exhibits at the Museum, had seen every animal show offered at the Seaquarium, and yawned at the aspect of playing on one more metallic play set. My father was running out of places to take us. It got to the point that we would spend weekends with him deteriorating in front of the TV set. Thankfully, one day he decided to take us to the Everglades.

    My father is very big on tourist attractions. For example, on our way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at a meteor crash site, a dinosaur bone yard, and at the site of the world's largest metal roadrunner. I suppose he wanted to show his children as much of our country as possible. After scouring several Miami brochures, he decided that the Everglades would be a good place to take us that wouldn't include a million gift shops, or sleazy tour guides. One would think he would have taken alligators and rabid raccoons into consideration, but thankfully he didn't.

    I believe we spent months exploring every aspect of it, never getting bored. We explored the Gumbo Limbo Trail, the Anhinga Trail, and even camped out in Shark Valley. I can still remember the smells of the Everglades, as well as the sounds, and the scary stories my grandmother would tell us as we were camping about how zombie soldiers who died conquering the land were going to climb up through the ground and eat our brains.

    All this flew through my mind as I jumped off the airboat last Friday, into the Everglades. As many times as I had visited with my father, I had never left his side, or ventured off the trails. In fact, I had always been in awe of the Everglades, so to actually step foot into it was a little frightening. As I watched the professor and my classmates jump in, I realized that if an alligator or any other carnivorous creature were to come near us, I would probably not be the first person bit, and the screams of my classmates would give me enough warning to jump back in the boat. With my new found confidence, I stepped off into the unknown.

    At first the ground felt mushy, and a little disgusting. Then, as I took in the beauty of the Everglades, I forgot about my disgust, and fell in love all over again with the River of Grass. I felt completeness with nature that I had never felt before. Standing there, getting slowly sucked down into the limestone, I realized that all of us were connected, and I had nothing to fear.

    Besides being scared of alligators and zombie soldiers, I was also scared of harming the Everglades. I know the fundamental rules of every national park, no touching or feeding the animals, so to actually be allowed to touch the saw grass, and step foot into the actual Everglades was a little jarring. What if the sun tan lotion from my legs killed some saw grass, which in turn ruined the habitat of a purple gallinule, which would leave the alligator with nothing to eat? What if I stepped on and killed an underwater creature?

    I knew that our professors would never do anything to harm the environment, and that put me somewhat at ease. My brain has been imprinted with facts concerning how fragile the Everglades is and how vital it is to South Florida, so I believe it's going to take me some time to be comfortable with gallivanting through the saw grass and eating our surroundings. I suppose being told by my father not to touch anything, in case it is poisonous or in case it will turn into an alligator and eat you, has stayed imprinted in my mind. That is why I found it so terrible and cruel that the airboat operators possibly still feed the animals marshmallows.

    Every park ranger I met when I would come to the Everglades with my father would tell us the same thing; please do not feed the animals, because then they will lose their instincts to hunt and might attack humans. So to hear that a person who basically lives off of the Everglades was doing that was shocking. Don't they realize that they are hurting these animals? Of course, they are helping their business, but at what price?

    Everyone I mentioned this to was horrified. My father and siblings were appalled to hear that the animals we would spend so many weekends with were being fed rubbish and trained to hang about one particular spot, all for the amusement of tourists. Here we are, expecting to find nature at its finest, when instead we are presented with trained animals.

    That was the only negative aspect of my return. When I got home, I called my father immediately and told him how I frolicked in the muck. Naturally, he was a little worried, but when I told him, "All the kids were doing it, Dad", he calmed down. In fact, I think I told everyone that I came across that day that I had been cavorting through the Everglades. Some people could not believe that our professors had actually sanctioned that activity, and that they actually joined in. Others asked how they could join the class.

    I will not let marshmallows ruin my return to the Everglades. The feel of the dirt and the slight pull of the current is something that I will not soon forget. Even though it took me four washes to get the smell out of my sneakers, I will treasure that moment forever. Although it bothers me immensely that some of the animals I basically grew up with are being harmed, I know that the rest of them are in good hands. I also know that I plan on dragging everyone that I know onto some sort of an airboat, and coercing them into jumping off with me. I think that is an experience that everyone should go through. I cannot wait to see what future classes hold for me. Hopefully they will not include rabid raccoons, hungry alligators, or zombie soldiers.

   
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