The Everglades National Park
FIU IDH 4007

The Beauty of Interpretation

Catherine Torres
IDH 4007
Fall Semester 2004

   There is something about walking thigh high through the Everglades that just makes for an exciting day. Watching an artistic interpretation of an Everglades experience, avoiding two turtles that were crossing the road, choosing a broom stick to use for balance, finding anoles trying to camouflage themselves against a bald cypress, identifying the grasshopper hanging from a saw grass, reaching down into the 'muck' for periphyton, chewing on saw grass, picking up and investigating apple snails, discovering sea weed and learning that it is actually Bladder Wart, making a necklace out of it, running into spider webs, encountering a big spider nursing her egg pouch, glaring at someone trying to 'hydrate' the spider, exploring bald cypress trees strung with snake skins, looking for a twig to hang backpacks on, searching for a knee to sit on to eat lunch or just eating lunch standing almost waist deep in water, arguing about the importance of not breaking parts off a tree, discussing the relevance of a literary cclassic, wanting to continue the adventure in the direction opposite of the cars, realizing that everyone else is heading toward the cars, hoping the day could last a little longer, and enjoying the little things already experienced, are what made Friday's Everglades class exciting.

   It is funny how I try to describe a day in words and run out of words in the process. Even if we could pull words from languages all over the world and make up words when we run out, at some point, the words are not enough. If I have to point out only one thing that I realized in Friday's class, it is that words are not enough because they require interpretation (the emphasis of Ranger Maureen's lecture). Indeed, words are useless unless we understand them, and we can only understand them if we understand the language and the context of the word. I love to read literary works like Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I am an English major because of my love of words and detailed descriptions, but I find that what ultimately captures my attention is the picture painted by the words, or, in other words, my interpretation of those words. To me, the pictures painted by words are always pieces of nature, experiences, ideas, and emotions all swirled into a paragraph, a page, a paper, or a book.

   The pictures painted throughout Their Eyes Were Watching Godare made up of a little bit of each of these. Nature arrives with a "dust-bearing bee sink[ing] into the sanctum of a bloom" (11). Nature is the mule who "almost got fat" (58) and the birds feasting on its remains (62). Nature takes form through the 'saw-grass bloom', and the scurrying rabbits, possums, and snakes that foreshadow the approaching storm (155). The hurricane, the flood, the rabid dog, and death are all descriptions that paint a picture of nature to readers. Nature is a living entity that breathes life to Hurston's words, but it is our individual relationship with nature that gives us a basis for interpretation of those words. Some, who are distant from nature and would rather be at home watching TV than out in the Everglades, bypass the natural element of the book by saying, "Nice, but who cares?" Others, who have experienced nature with a different attitude, have a completely different interpretation.

   Experiences, ideas, and emotions also help to create the overall effect of the words in the novel. A young girl experiences surprise when she realizes that she is not white like the other children. She longs to be a tree in bloom and waits for the world to be made. She goes through the pain of losing her childhood and is thrown into a relationship without love. The readers travel with her through her experiences and share in her emotions. She becomes like the mule she felt sorry for, who "done had his disposition ruint wid mistreatment" (56). The story of Janie's character is just a story unless it is interpreted by readers. When readers add their own thoughts, emotions, and experiences, the words take on a completely different interpretation.

   Zora Neal Hurston, like most writers, does not visibly say why or what she means to write about in the course of the novel. Of course, biographies and interviews usually clue readers into the suggested meaning, but either way, readers take words and apply their own interpretation. There is the feminist interpretation, the black interpretation, Biblical interpretation, psychological interpretation, etc... and even a combination of all. In the end, however, the author gives readers words and we, in turn, apply our own interpretation based on our personal experiences. That is the beauty of words and interpretation.

   So, the enthusiasm I feel when walking through the Everglades is part of who I am and how I interpret. Not everyone interprets in the same way or has the knowledge or experience necessary for interpretation, which is why we need individuals like Ranger Maureen, who shares her interpretation of nature with others, hoping that they too can see beauty in it or at least understand the importance of it. (We all need water to survive!)

   I had several encounters with classmates during this last class that made me realize that interpretation has everything to do with the individual. It appalled me when someone actually tried to drown the spider that I was admiring! Needless to say, no one picked on the spider again... I even picked a spider off of someone's shirt, to 'set it free' on a bald cypress, only to have someone else knock the spider out of my hand with a notebook. We were definitely not on the same page of interpretation. I saw the spider as a creature needing help before it was squashed. The other person saw the little bitty spider as a threat that needed to be eliminated... It is pretty funny now that I think about it, though I definitely did not find it funny at the time. Interpretation can be quite entertaining as well as confusing. But then again, that is my interpretation of interpretation.

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