I was sitting in my laundry room the other day sorting through piles of dirty laundry, courtesy of my seven year old son (who seems to change his clothes every five minutes) and I found myself thinking, "If he only knew the complexities of the Watershed, the Everglades, the South Florida Water Management District, and the Biscayne & Floridian Aquifers maybe he wouldn't change his clothes so often." But then again maybe if he knew these things he would, like so many people in South Florida, not care.
We all sit here, on the very edge of an entirely unique eco-system that does not exist anywhere else on the face of the Earth. Yet, the majority of the South Florida community is concerned not with the health of this eco-system but rather with the availability of "credit". Credit which they can use to buy the right clothes, the right SUV, the right set of fake boobs and the perfect pre-fab, cookie cutter house in the right Kendall subdivision. Hence, they can appear to be successful members of this consumer driven society. Now I realize that this is a blatant generalization and that it is a rather cynical view of humanity. But, let us not forget that in this society appearance is everything. And if that is really the case, what does humanity mean in this place, in this time and in this society?" You are probably asking yourself, "What does a contemporary conceptualization of humanity have to do with the Everglades?" Well, to me, the key to humanity can be found in the Everglades and the rest of the natural world beyond it. In the biological sciences there exists the concept of "niche." I have always understood a niche to be a place or a condition in which the abilities of an organism are best utilized and best suited. Essentially, a niche is a place where an organism can belong and be successful; it is a place where it fits. All organisms on the face of the earth have found a niche somewhere and barring human intervention they have flourished in those niches. They have adapted to the world around them. It is only human beings who seem incapable of adaptation and thus expect the world around them to adapt to their presence.
Is that then the characteristic and the nature of mankind which distinguishes us from other beings? Is our humanity wrapped up in our seemingly boundless ability to alter the land which sustains us and impose our unrelenting need for growth and expansion on the rest of the natural world? Or is our humanity defined by our ability to be humane and sympathetic and our capacity for love and compassion? If the answer is the latter, then in what context does that humanity exist? Just like the niches of other organisms, human beings need a niche in which to reaffirm humanity. I doubt seriously that a subdivision in Kendall is adequate for anyone to discover sympathy, compassion and love. There is no humanity to be found in a manicured lawn with a "No Trespassing" sign. Neither is there any humanity to be found in dry, barren, desolate, lifeless, "former" Everglades.
So where then are we to find humanity, where does this abstract concept exist? Does it exist in the individual or is it a social phenomenon? Perhaps this humanity is a natural phenomenon that is founded in the natural world. I believe it is a combination of all three. The Aborigines of the Australian continent and many Native American as well as African tribes believe in a concept known as animism. Animism is the belief that every thing on the face of the earth including the rocks, the rivers, the animals and human beings has a spirit. It is further believed that all of these spirits are connected in a very intimate way. Human beings are not, as the Western World believes, beings separate from this collective unconsciousness, but rather we are a part of it. We have a place, a niche, within the broader context of the world and if we lose sight of that context or if we destroy that context then eventually we too will cease to exist.
This can be seen environmentally or spiritually. For example, we know that if we destroy the Everglades we will lose our water supply and the physical environment will no longer be able to sustain life. However, it is not only the water supply that will be lost. We will also lose an environment in which we can experience the childlike awe and wonder of existence. It is a place where we can experience one of the rarest and most unattainable things for man kind...peaceful coexistence.
The Everglades and the natural world beyond it are living examples of life in balance. Each organism plays a role in the overall health of the entire system. Each one has a vital role in the existence of every other organism that surrounds them. We, who have become estranged from each other and the very world in which we exist, need these places to show us, to remind us how to live. We need them as a living reminder that peace can not be built by putting up walls, carving boundaries out of stone and creating arbitrary racial and national identities. It can only be achieved when we remember that we are all individually part of a broader context in which we are vital to the existence of every living thing on earth.
You are probably thinking, "Whoa, did I miss something? I saw a few alligators, but I seemed to have missed the whole 'meaning of life in the Everglade thing'." And that is fine. Maybe for you the Everglades is just a really cool, relaxing, interesting place where you can see a few alligators. After all, that was what I was expecting when I went on my first airboat ride. But as I sat there, with an alligator just inches from me, I began to feel afraid. And as I contemplated that fear I began to realize that it was not really fear that I felt. It was awe. And that awe reminded me of when I was a child. It reminded me of a time when my perception of the world was one of beauty and amazement and possibility. That brought me to musings over mankind and humanity. So for me, the Everglades are much, much more than just a recreation spot. It is a place of contemplation and of possibility. And if it is the same for others as well, then maybe, one day it truly can be a place of salvation and humanity. That alone is reason to try to preserve it and keep it alive.