There were two gators in the borrow pond as my new canoe partner climbed into the vessel which we were about to maneuver through the Everglades together. I thought to myself "Please, God, don't rock the boat". Neither of us were especially adept at the art of canoeing; in fact, it was to be her first time ever in a canoe. I just prayed that 1.We would not be joining the gators in the pond and 2.We would not be tipping this canoe at all today.
I wonder if Lt. Hugh L. Willoughby had thoughts like this when he decided to embark on his trans-Everglades trek with Ed. Brewer. Granted, both men seem to have been of the outdoorsy-type, and therefore were fairly familiar with operating a canoe in a safe and efficient manner. But, what if Brewer had turned out to be a prankster, or worse, what if MY partner turned out to be a prankster, and we ended up tipping the canoe in the Everglades of all places?! I mean, after all, this isn't like overturning your canoe in a nice ole Wisconsin lake. There are gators 'round these parts!
However, none of these awful things transpired, and in fact, my partner and I learned to work together really well and did a good job of getting ourselves through the Nine Mile Pond Canoe Trail.
As we paddled along, there were times when we talked and laughed loudly and were probably very annoying to those around us, but there were other times when the beauty of the scenery around us (or maybe it was just pure exhaustion!) made us both very quiet and allowed us to just "be" in the Everglades. As I looked around me at all that was there--above me, below me, around me--I tried to conceive what it would have been like for Willoughby and Brewer, out here for a month with nothing but the mangroves and the sawgrass and the cattails and each other (and of course the gators and snakes). I wondered if it looked very different than it does today and I wondered how the heck they made it without 1. a clearly marked trail to follow and 2. killing one another. I envision that the two men did not talk very much, but just concentrated on poling and observing. I can imagine it got very lonely at times. Maybe they should have rocked the boat, just for fun.
In a sense, however, they did rock the boat. By this I mean to say that, here they were attempting to cross a previously untraversed (except by indigenous people) expanse of territory with little in the way of maps and/or guidance of any sort. How bold is that! I can say that I am half-glad that Willoughby had as much money as he did, because I fear what may have happened if they hadn't been as well equipped as they were.
Many others after Willoughby have gone into the Everglades and rocked the boat, too. The indigenous people of Florida were driven into the deepest depths of the Everglades and over time, the white man has attempted to somehow command the nature of the Everglades by "rocking" its natural state (i.e.: attempting to solve the drainage problem by digging canals). Even today, with the conservation and wildlife awareness that we possess, we as a society attempt to prohibit others from further rocking the boat by protesting against pollution and development in the Everglades. But it is the kind of exploration by literally jumping off the "mainstream" boat (careful of the slippery deck!) that has given us the knowledge we have of the Everglades today. How wonderful it was to be out there surrounded by all of this, with the feeling inside that maybe this was just how Willoughby felt as he looked out upon all this "river of grass".
Even so, I still don't want to swim with those gators. So please, don't rock my boat!
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