The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

Love Comes from Knowledge

Olga Santiago
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2006

   When I first came to Miami, the Everglades did not interest me very much. In fact, I was even depressed because no longer could I see birch trees, maples, and poplars around me; instead I noticed only palm trees. No longer could I hear the singing of a nightingale from my home country but just its imitation by a mocking bird. With time, little by little my views started to change. Of course, I still do not know much about the Everglades but after studying some of its history, a very interesting image comes to mind. In the book, The Swamp Michael Grunwald describes the reclamation of the land, and the drainage of the Everglades that started in the late 1800's, and still is an issue today. People believed that by controlling the water level in Lake Okeechobee and cultivating the land they could use it for farming or turn it into a tourists' paradise. Yes, these plans came true; however, all this development has greatly changed the ecosystem and the Everglades will never be the same. For some reason, this reminds me of one event that happened to me when I was around eleven or twelve years old. As a child every summer I would go to my grandparents' house in the country. Right above the front door of the house there was a little nest where each spring the swallows came and laid their eggs. One day a cousin of mine got curious and decided to see what was inside. He got a ladder and climbed to where the nest was. When he was high enough, he looked inside and saw a couple of eggs, very quickly he took them in his hands and showed them to me. Instead of putting them back, we decided to keep them. After this incident, the swallows stopped nesting there. Year after year the nest was empty until two or three years ago my grandmother noticed swallows coming back. This childhood memory reminds me to some extent of the history of the Everglades, where the same type of ignorance and greed ruined the harmony created by nature and which takes years to recover or overcome.

   A couple of days before the Everglades class, I called my uncle in the Ukraine and told him that I was going to the slough slog in the Everglades. He said that he was happy for me and wished he could go with me. My uncle has always loved nature and often together we went on boat trips or spent some nights in a forest by the fire. I was curious and at the same time afraid to go to the slough slog but his positive attitude gave me courage and made me excited. So, on Friday morning while sitting in the Coe Visitor Center with the rest of the class I thought: "Finally the Everglades, the real Everglades!" Slough slogging is nothing like an airboat ride where everything goes by so fast and a driver makes only a few stops and explains some facts, nor is it like canoeing where attention is mostly concentrated on paddling and it is difficult to pay attention to the details. As a matter of fact, slough slogging gives one a chance to get more "intimate" with nature, watch it, study it, and learn to appreciate it.

   When I took the first step in the water I was surprised to see how clean it was. At first I saw only the sawgrass, which was not very tall and dense. However, in a while I started noticing different types of flowers. They were everywhere. To my surprise some of them resembled the flowers I used to see back home in my native county. I saw tiny violet and pink flowers that resembled bluebells, little pale flowers reminded me of the apple tree blossoms and the tall white ones looked a bit like an herb called yarrow. Soon I found myself falling behind everybody. I walked so slowly because I wanted to look closely at each flower, touch it and smell it. One time while I was trying to catch up with everyone, I did not notice a water snake right in front of me. Thanks to one of my classmates, who warned me about the snake, I stopped just in time avoiding stepping on it. I am not afraid of snakes but I never feel comfortable around them; however, at that moment I just stayed and watched it. I did not feel apprehension towards it but rather curiosity and admiration. Another species that interested me was the mosquito fish. Since this fish is so small nobody noticed it until Alan, our ranger pointed them out. Once he started talking about them, I put my hand in the water and in about ten seconds I saw many fish around it and I felt little bites. It was very unusual for me to see fish that did not consider me as a threat.

   In the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston wrote that life and dreams of men go around just as ships do. When I think of the Everglades I see that the history was also a round trip. Since the end of the 1800's men wanted to drain the Everglades and turn the land into a "paradise" and because of their ignorance and greed they started destroying the harmony that existed there for many years. Today, views have been changed. Some people realize how important it is to save the remaining Everglades from being completely destroyed by getting to know it and by learning to appreciate it. So, for me knowledge is a beginning of devotion. The slough slog gave me a chance to explore the Everglades on a deeper level and I went from tolerating it to loving it.

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