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

One Step Forward,Two Back

Michelle Marie Odio
IDH 4007
Professor Machonis

The Everglades area is a lonely one. For every person you meet, there are scores of plants and animals to help you remember that you are not the sole proprietor of the River of Grass. However, as far as people go, their presence within the Everglades is a true rarity. For those who must remain here. but also need human contact this place can be hell: nothing but miles upon miles of water and sawgrass as company. Everything around you can become a threat to your existence: every sway of the sawgrass, every sound made by a bird as it calls to its own, is an attempt to wrest you from your safety. Yet,for those who seek to flee the trouble and rigors of "civilized" life, these threats are more than simply a tolerable burden. They would rather be surrounded by the screeching of birds, by the roar of the wind, than the hustle and bustle of a city.

The history of the Everglades is fraught with stories of men who sought refuge within the cypress trees and palm fronds of the River of Grass. The area was populated by a curious mix of Indians, black ex-slaves, and white men. The Indians were seeking to maintain their culture intact from the encroachment of the white men, and moved into the Everglades: they were initially the only people who knew the secrets of the area and the secrets to life there. Runaway slaves, who had fled their imprisoned lives, went to the Everglades searching for a freedom that had always been denied them. Oddly, there were also white men in the Everglades: their rejection of society and its rules had driven them to the area. Outcasts in another world, in the Everglades they were just another group of people seeking to live out their lives in the way that they wished to do so.

Living in an area so obviously hostile to human life must ingrain certain attitudes, beliefs, and fears into those who attempted to do so. For men who had so much to run from, having others surrounding them, whether or not they were in similar circumstances, was threatening. People who exist in vulnerable circumstances are constantly on the lookout for situations that could become menacing to them. For the characters in Killing Mr. Watson, Mr. Watson himself was a living embodiment of those threats that left them feeling vulnerable. He was everything that they feared. His presence, though one much like their own,imperiled their lives. His life, though innocuous in and of itself, seemed to hold them back. Despite the fact that they generally tended to like him, every step he took forward made those who surrounded him feel as though they were being pushed further back.For those of us who travelled across Taylor Slough last Friday, it is easy to understand how situations that are beyond our control can drastically affect our own situations.

Every step taken through the muck is an exercise in which someone must become aware of his or her own body. Every step takes on more meaning than simply away by which to propel yourself forward. For every step, you must acquire balance and strength in order to avoid toppling over into the water. However, time is against you, since the longer you stay rooted in one position, the more difficult it is to extricate yourself from the mire that closes in around your feet and ankles. The footsteps of those who trudged ahead of you beat a path for you to follow, but they also leave indentations in the soft ground beneath which further hinder your efforts to move ahead.This is what Mr. Watson represented to his neighbors: he blazed a path that many were eager and willing to follow, but with someone that they were not sure they wanted to become seriously entangled with. The fact that he aided them and allowed them to move forward was counterbalanced by their fear of him, and their belief that he could permanently stop their efforts to survive in this wilderness. Out in the wild, the presence of one man was more of a threat to their existence than the unknown shadows that surrounded their lives in the Everglades.

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