The Everglades: From Beginning to End?
FIU Honors Seminar IDH 4007

Beyond the City

Michelle Marie Odio
IDH 4007
Professor Machonis
September 12, 1997

The Everglades possesses an "other-wordly" quality that is difficult both to explain and understand. It is one of those places that reminds those of us who live in the "civilized" world that we are only a paved road away from a harsher way of life. In the modern world, we humans mark our achievements and successes according to what we can make and build, like skyscrapers and airplanes. The Everglades has similar achievements: its buildings are the trees that dot the landscape, its airplanes are dragonflies, birds and the other creatures that freely dominate the skies.

I find it amazing that one street, if followed in one direction for enough time, will take you from a bustling, modern city and university to an ancient and solitary wilderness. It is this contrast that most fascinated me during our last meeting. Furthermore, it is this and other contradictions that capture the spirit of the Everglades and, ultimately, ourselves.

Initially, I was intrigued at the thought of enrolling for a class that takes place outside, be it out in the sun and/or out of the classroom. A good friend of mine had spent a summer collecting snails in the Everglades, and though that was not my particular interest, I enjoyed hearing the stories about traipsing through sludge and treating hairline sunburns in the middle of the night. When I learned about this course, I thought I might be able to create similar stories. I was also drawn to the notion of working with my hands and getting physically involved in my work.

The first and last time I went to the Everglades was over fifteen years ago. A vague memory of grass and water was the sum total of my recollections. I figured I was, in some sense, familiar with the terrain. However, nothing could have prepared me for the vastness of it, the way the "River of Grass" fully envelops you and makes you realize that your immediate presence has not truly made any difference. You become merely one of the many living things that daily makes its way through the hammocks. You cannot forget this place, and it does not care to remember you.

Furthermore, it is as though being so far away from daily life and civilization allows you to put aside, and perhaps forget, the conditions that society usually places upon us. While we were riding on the airboat, rain continued to fall at a relatively steady pace. Had I been walking in FIU's parking lot at the time, my thoughts and behavior would have been different. I would have pulled out an umbrella. I would have started walking faster and avoiding the puddles. I would have cursed the gods for not granting me a parking space near the school grounds. I most certainly would not have sat in one of those puddles, tilted my head back, and let the rain fall onto my face and into my mouth. It was as though, at that moment, there was nothing more natural than to enjoy the feel of the water that was falling from the skies.

Additionally, it was also spellbinding to learn about the diversity of the Everglades. Sometimes, we tend to have preconceived notions about something, and no matter how much evidence exists to the contrary, we cannot disprove them to ourselves. I believe that this is true ofthe Everglades. The two words, "Everglades" and "swamp", were synonymous. I thought of the area as a huge region of mostly mud and nothing else. However, once you actually get there, you see that it is actually bursting with life. If you look at it from afar, it is a landscape dotted with trees; if you study it closely, you find that what was once seemed to be a mere clump of mud is now a thriving plant and animal community.

These are some of the aspects of the Everglades that left real impressions on me. The thought of forming a part of such a place is extremely enticing. It is an area that helps us understand that the words "nature" and"civilization" do not necessarily stand in contradiction to each other.

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