Despite the overall opinion of our class, I enjoyed Hugh Willoughby's Across the Everglades. The short history he provided and the description of his journey through mangroves and saw grass was both enlightening and entertaining. He offered insight into the historical part of Florida that we, in 2004, will never know of by first hand experience. Willoughby's journal was also the perfect handbook for an Everglades class canoe trip. From the intricate metaphors he weaves into his facts to the influence of opinion behind those facts, Willoughby's work captures the minds of his readers.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Willoughby's writing is that so much change has occurred in the past hundred years. His setting, though the very Everglades we travel through today, is an Everglades where saw grass was ten feet tall, and trails were no where to be found. His Florida, though located exactly where he left it, now has too many hotels, tourists, and residents to count. The change that has taken place in Florida was one that Willoughby foreshadowed, and one that we would not be able to fully comprehend without the writings of people like Willoughby. He captured the moment on paper for the future to see and gave us a means of comparison. He wrote about change in Florida over the course of a year since his previous visit. He mentioned that a big hotel and bustling tourists destroyed the picturesque and that Florida's "wilderness has been rudely marred by the hand of civilization" (62). I wonder what he would say today. The mere two thousand individuals he wrote about was a number no where near to the number of people who have since marred Florida. Like Willoughby, I regret change. And even though he said that he will not look at change from the sentimental point of view, there is no doubt that he continued to do so throughout his writings and that he hoped in some way, that readers would do the same. He did not suppress the "romance and poetry for the sterner, material welfare of fellowman" (63). Instead, he wrote with romance and poetry to attract the sentiments of his readers.
Along the same line, Willoughby wrote a poetically engaging defense for Native Americans. He indicated throughout his work that the United States Government was wrong to go "against a people who was willing to live in peace" (17), and he claimed that he would fight on their behalf if ever he had the opportunity (163). He attracted readers with vivid descriptions of the blood that runs through Native American veins and his description of the unsightly shanty that replaced the native's home. Willoughby's implementation of descriptive writing helped further his opinion throughout his work, and it is this aspect of Across the Everglades that allows modern day readers to associate the writing with the writer and thus bring the past into light. During class on Friday, some mentioned that they found Willoughby to be writing for attention and approval, because he knew that his work would be published. I find that regardless of his motives, the fact that he included Native American history within his work expresses his true sentiments.
Willoughby's descriptive sort of poetry continued throughout his work. Writing about deer and snakes silhouetted against the moonlight, he continually attracted the minds of the readers to the romance of the Everglades. At times, we share in his regret. When the dead snake he had forgotten about disturbed his sleep, his writing echoed regret at killing it. It was not just a snake, but a 'miserable' snake (151). Fishes with tails at each end were interesting to read about, and the beautiful aquarium that could be seen from the canoe was an aesthetically pleasing description. All in all, Willoughby was engaging, and if anything, I would have wanted him to give us more description for comparison.
Across the Everglades is a great asset for modern day explorers of Florida's Everglades, because the best part of Willoughby's Across the Everglades is the experience. We were able to experience a little of what Willoughby endured on his January journey last Friday. Willoughby wrote about an Everglades that we can only experience as it is today in comparison to what it once was. We did not have to deal with the saw grass that plagued Willoughby. It was not ten feet tall, and either way, the trail was already cleared of saw grass. We had markers to follow that allowed the trail to be a fun adventure rather than a dangerous one. With our packed lunch and the 'mile markers' to guide our way, we did not have to worry about getting lost and running out of food. We also did not have to cut through tree islands and find a dry place to sleep in the night. Our canoes were sturdy, and we were ignorant to the "effects of the terrible rubbing and scraping to which they had been subjected" (139). The most important difference between our journey and Willoughby's was that we canoed in the wet season while Willoughby worried about the water getting lower and lower every day in the dry season (147). We did not have to get out of our canoes and drag them across the Everglades. (Though I did get out of the canoe for the fun of it) We just canoed and were able to enjoy ourselves because of people like Willoughby who made the journey before us. I am certain that many who did not like Willoughby before their canoe trip at least admired him after. After one day of canoeing, my arms ached, by knees were bruised, and my face was tan. Willoughby canoed a lot longer than a day and through much harsher conditions.
I enjoyed reading Willoughby's Across the Everglades, and I enjoyed actually experiencing the Everglades even more. I can not wait to go canoeing again, dodging spider webs by ducking in the canoe, and fighting mangroves that refuse to let us through. I can not wait to sit back, relax, and enjoy laughing with everyone else in the poetic romance that is found... Across the Everglades.