Standing waist-deep in saw grass, a flawless graysky framing an unrealscene where river and reeds become indistinguishable,Karen gazed unimpressed. The sublime natureof this ecological experience bordering so unbelievably close to herown urban existence did not seep into her mind or psyche. Perhaps the seven applications of gel she had put on her hair that morning in order to prevent as much frizziness as possible was impeding the correct reaction, but that's not likely. Much more probable is the inference that Karen was not an outdoors type of person, in fact, only the most serenely beautiful sunsets ever tempted her to hike outside, and the Everglades with its apparently monotonous landscape was not making even a dent of an impression. Not to mention that it was raining, ruthlessly pouring down on her and the rest of her class, making her gel effort of the morning practically useless.
She wasn't even really standing in the saw grass; it felt more like she was imperceptibly sinking into the mucky bottom. Sure, she might imagine that she could move around on the spongy surface but, in truth, she knew that if she remained immobile for more than a minute, the earth would commence to slowly swallow her, drowning her inch by inch. She moved around uncomfortably. Always acutely aware of her lack of balance, ever since a ballet teacher had pointed it out to her, Karen now felt as if her woman-child inadequacies were on full display. Her eyes darted sloppily around to see if anyone noticed her ineptitude in the new terrain and quickly looked down as she realized they were all too enthralled in their own conversations and eloquated experiences of nature to pay any mind to her.
"Isn't this great?", she heard one girl say.
"I can't believe all of this is so close to where I live and I'd never been here before. There really should be more educational awareness programs. I wonder why I was never taken on a field trip to the Everglades? Wouldn't it be challenging if our school became involved with primary schools to...", whether this curly-haired speaker went on a diatribe in response to the first girl's remark or simply for the sake of talking was beyond Karen. She lost interest rather quickly in their conversation and rather unstealthfully moved away from them, refusing to hear the rest of the genuinely exciting questions and remarks. Why did everyone seem to speak in questions and exclamations? She hoped her utterances did not come out as paradoxically contrived and gushing, even though every word from her mouth was always carefully planned and carried out.
Besides, she missed the interest in their words and could only see their lack of geographical grasp. Rather than this insipid terrain, what seemed really amazing to her was the thought that 75,000 years ago this was not as it is. In its place, stood a parcel of a mass of land twice the size of what it is now, 300-400 feet further above sea level with a chilly, semi-dry climate. A miniature limestone Sahara, Karen had thought at the morning lecture, and although not very accurate, the idea was fascinating to her as was the thought that she was standing on territory where mammoths, saber-toothed lions, and elephants had once roamed. How much more engrossing that landscape must've been to witness. Anyway, at least she could've stood on firm, stable ground, however porous.
She shook her head, hoping to end her drenched musings, realizing that her ideas were more potent in this environment and that knowledge made her want to leave all the more. Suddenly, as if a silent prayer had been answered, she heard the airboat driver say, "I think its time we all head back to the boat and find us some alligators".
Karen had never thought she'd feel such relief at the mention of finding alligators, and from the mouth of such a thickly accented man, too, but if that entailed getting back on the boat, she'd happily look for one herself. With that, she clumsily climbed back on.
Fighting back the chills caused by the combination of rain, a Sawgrass bath, and the wind stirred up by the air-boat propeller blades, Karen found it hard to see anything all that interesting in the couple of alligators they managed to see. Swimming right up to their boat, due to marshmallow feedings she heard murmured in back of her, the alligators looked dangerously docile. For a few seconds, Karen believed she could go in with them, but only for about three. Everyone stood up for a better look and Karen did the same so as to not seem a recluse, but she found something unnerving in the magnified image of their amber-tinted, vacuous eyes that yet seemed to have something to say, although she wouldn't have put it that way. She sat back down and after a minute so did everyone else and they moved on.
Continuing on their wet journey, they spotted a few birds. Their gray and white feathers, however, did little to awaken Karen from the daydreams that the fluidly stolid landscaped had spawned. Past, present, and future blended subconsciously in front of her as they passed scene after scene of ingeniously crafted ecology, and for the last half of the boat ride, Karen felt neither wet nor cold. Pragmatically, she thought musing would be the best way to pass the time quickly.
Nearing the end of their ride, the
boat stopped and the airboat driver strained to stare into a bush of some sort.
Its name was
probably given, but Karen paid no attention. A family of purple gallinules was
supposed to be sheltering there from the rain.
Someone, then began to call out to them and slowly, they cameout. They seemed
to be perfectly accustomed to humans
gawking at them. To Karen, their purple and blue hued heads and breasts were a breath of fresh air. They seemed possessed of so much color. Even the babies, whose brown and gray feathers were only just beginning to transform themselves were
seeped in a melodious palette.
They also reminded her of something. A family outing perhaps, a bird lesson from a father she thought she remembered once having,a painting she once drew in purple and blue crayons that triumphantly stayed on her mom's office desk for years - she wasn't sure. Like an old photo album, images popped out at her that she couldn't glue into a coherent whole; too much black-and-white for her Technicolor upbringing. And so with these Technicolor birds who reminded her of something blandly but engrossingly incomplete, as they lived in a black-and-white system whose charm escaped Karen, or so she thought. With this final sight, the airboat left the spot and retreated to where they had begun, and Karen had to struggle not to look back.