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
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
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
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
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.