We did many different things in the last Everglades excursion. We went back to Anhinga Trail to see it in its dry season. We heard Everglades Park officials and employees talk to us about employment and volunteer opportunities in the park. We saw some old missile storage facilities that were constructed during the era of the Cuban missile crisis. We also met Dr. Mike Norland, the man in charge of the Hole in the Donut Restoration Project. Later, when I was able to absorb all that I had experienced that day, I felt as if I had witnesses the cycle of life -- Genesis or some small frame of evolution before my eyes.
The "Hole in the Donut" is a project intended to eradicate the Brazilian pepper tree from an area of the Everglades where it has choked out the natural habitat. The Brazilian pepper tree, although very beautiful and aromatic, has thrived too well in the area, and threatens the natural vegetation of the marl prairie. The Brazilian pepper is not native to the Everglades and I am told was probably introduced by birds or humans to the area. The Brazilian pepper trees are remove by destroying them and a few inches of topsoil leaving the bare surface of the Everglades substrat and the limestone. Now with the limestone exposed and some soil remaining, the natural forces of the environment may impregnate and retake these once dense and overrun plots of earth. The engineers are reclaiming the land to the southeast first so that the natural South Florida winds will aide in the germination of native vegetation and prevent return of the pepper tree. Alligator holes have conspicuously been left behind so as to recreate the natural deeper water areas of the marl plains that surround them.
Standing there on top of the raw dregs of the Everglades, I felt as if I was seeing into its naked soul. I felt uncomfortable seeing it this way, especially here in the absolute "coeur" of the Everglades National Park. It was completely absent of life; striped and unclothed before me. Given all that I learned about the Everglades up until now, seeing it peeled and uncovered was awkwark. To the south and east of me were the marl prairie in its natural state, to the north and west were the walls of Brazilian pepper trees, about 12 feet high. I was standing on the front line, where the battle was being waged. It was man against nature for the better of nature. I was standing on fragile soil. This will be a slow war as the workers can only work in the dry season. It will take about ten years to eradicate the pepper tree, it will take longer for the natural habitat to return.
In the past when we went into the marl prairies, I walked and realized that I was a visitor. I knew very little about it so I proceeded with caution, trying not to miss anything. The Everglades always seemed bigger and more grand than me. It was a force to be reckoned with. There is a big difference between the sight of large earth movers on the outskirts of the Everglades, and the sight of them deep in deep in her sanctuary.
Of course, the object of the project is to give back the natural process of the Everglades. So the cause is good. The state of apparent extinction was only remedied in seeing the former plots that had been successfully reconciled just one year earlier. There was hope that this apparent "destruction" of nature would actually allow an exiled habitat to return. The first site of the earth movers was reminisce of destruction efforts in order to construct large buildings or parking lots.
The irony that I have witnessed is the destruction of a landscape in order to save it; man against nature to protect her. We are saving her from rape and leaving her alone to heal in her own way. We are paying big money contractors to bring their big toys to an overgrown sandbox and destroy all sign of life. This time however the ending will not be reconstruction of large symbols of civilization. Man will not look out on his work afterwards and smile at his ability to create, he will be content at his ability to free and restore a natural habitat. The finished product closer resembles the return of life after a nuclear fallout. Like the book of Genesis, life seems to come from nowhere. I could have been there during that phase of evolution when life first buds out of dry, vast earth. Dr. Norland played a godlike role in the effort. His superior knowledge of the environment coupled with his ability to "move mountains" made him the perfect man for the job. He is no doubt rewarded generously for his abilities. He is a deconstruction expert who has been given the unique opportunity to give something back to the earth. Hurrah for the educated man!
Similarly, the resurgence of life at Anhinga Trail seemed to resemble a sort of Genesis. The abundance of wildlife resembled a painting in a way that I often imagined the earth long before man -- or during creation if one may. The difference this time was noticeable the moment we drove into the parking lot ... more tourists. The last time we went to Anhinga, there was much more water and vegetation, but far less wildlife. At the very beginning of the trail, where the first time we marveled at a Strangler fig, we hardly even noticed it in the presence of the alligators, a multitude of birds, fish, turtles, and ...oh yeah, the absence of mosquitoes. We formerly relied on the use of binoculars in order to catch a glimpse of the wild. This time, they were hardly necessary as the gators were hanging out only feet from the trail. Everywhere we looked there were sounds and signs of life. Even the sky was dotted with layers of birds. It is easy to comprehend the association to my Genesis theme.
The change of seasons in south Florida bears an affinity to the rebirth in northern states during the spring. Rightfully so since some of the species seen in the Everglades this time of year are tourists too. This is the first time that I have actually witnessed the migration effects, or the change of season effects on south Florida's wildlife. I know it all too well in my native Ohio and Michigan. This time I was able to see where birds go when they migrate and go south for the winter. Some end up here in the Everglades with us. Too bad they can't take more of the mosquitoes with them when they return.
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