Where the River Runs Wild and Slow
The Everglades are one of the most unusual American national parks, the nation’s third largest, and the only one with a subtropical climate. Home of Indian Seminole and Miccosukee, wetland kingdom of flamingos, ibises, cormorants, turtles, snakes, black panthers, alligators and American crocodiles, this maze of channels and ponds between ubiquitous grass is in fact a huge, shallow, and extremely sluggish river which eventually reaches the sea.
When I close my eyes, I see a highway in a midst of endless fields of golden yellow grass. The sky is painted blue, the grass is moving slowly in a wind. It is empty and quiet here, like in a dream. The vision fades as I open my eyes and look up. We are still on a plane. In the flash that couldn’t have been a memory, because I have never been there, I've experienced this unbelievably remote place that waits for us just an hour from Miami's madness. The Everglades.
"There is no other place like the Everglades anywhere in the world. They are and have always been one of the most unique regions on Earth, isolated, never fully understood. Nowhere else is there anything like this: this vast, glittering openness, wider than the round horizon; this race of salt and the sweetness of massive winds under the dazzlingly blue high space”, wrote Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who, with her crusade to defend the lands of the future national park, deserved to be called “the mother of the Everglades".
Marjory was an ordinary girl from Minnesota. Maybe not quite ordinary - as a child she was crying when her father read her excerpts from "The Song of Hiawatha”. After a few years spent in New England, she moved to Miami, where she became a local journalist, writer, feminist, and environmental activist. She published stories as a freelancer, and became best known for her book "The Everglades: River of Grass", published in 1947.
Douglas lobbied for the conservation of Florida's nature for almost 30 years. As a 79-year Great Lady of the Everglades she took the lead role in saving Everglades from developers. At that time, she created an organization called The Friends of Everglades to prevent the construction of an airport on today's Big Cypress reservation area. I loved what she said about her involvement: that it's a woman's thing to be interested in the environment. It's like extending care over the house.
The Everglades are being called the most beautiful marshy meadow on Earth, and one can tell why when traveling through this region. In our trip we drove through the Indian nature reserve and Miccosukee Village, then the Big Cypress National Preserve and the Big Cypress Swamp. Giant swamps, grassy meadows, alligators resting in a sunny or swampy spots, and hundreds of birds tangled in the grass, bushes, and mangrove trees really resemble a dreamy vision.
In the summer, the Everglades are sometimes unbearably stuffy and humid. The best time to visit is from December to March, when it is colder here, and one doesn't need to fight mosquitoes. The best way of traveling through the Everglades is by jeep or by boat.
When visiting the Everglades, don’t miss the Indian village of the Miccosukee tribe: a successful tribal business. The authentic village lives off this artificially created “Indian Village” with its traditional arts and crafts demonstrations, and the crocodile timing shows. Travelers are offered a shopping experience in the gallery of traditional costumes, dolls, musical instruments, jewelry, and pottery. The quality of the objects is fine and colors are beautiful.
My affection for Native Americans was shaped during my Polish years. As a child, I would read every book about Native American heroes and their graceful way of life. Today I would rather like to learn something about Miccosukee’s real life than to see a performance with a crocodile. "Our real village is here, just around the corner, a few houses", says the girl behind the counter. She also shares with me that the life here is really good: Florida is a good place to live, the weather appeals to her, good business provides for the whole village.
I check out the real village, guided by mysterious cormorant. Yes, it does look sad. A river nearby is covered by a dense carpet of a water lilies. The sign requests "Do not feed the alligators".
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