Departure: Everglades

If you’re joining this adventure with this post, you can quickly catch up in Arrival: Everglades. Let’s continue our where we left off and continue to explore Flordia’s Everglades National Park.

As you remember I was just making my way back to shore after my harrowing sea excursion. We were lost at sea, captured by pirates, and weathering the fiercest ocean storms. Nah, not at all. The day was calm and serene, our small boat a pleasure to be in, and we drifted into the dock without even a bump. I thanked the captain and was off to see more of the Everglades. Being back on terra-firma was great!

There is little difference between solid ground and swamp in the wetlands, making the term “land” a bit of a misnomer. In general, it’s a swamp, and wet feet are part and parcel of the experience. Now resigned to that, I headed deeper into the wetlands to see what awaits me. My feet “Ker-plopped” with every step, intermingled with a few “splooshes” and now and then a “splash”. Once your feet are soaked, it doesn’t matter, and you forget about the wet feet. Onward I ventured, ever deeper into the swamp. I might have found dry land at one point, but probably not. Who knows.

Everglades Swamp

Scenes like this are common. Small ponds, or perhaps creeks, or, well, let’s just say a heck of a lot of water, surrounds cypress trees and everything else. In and amongst the trees we can find all sorts of creatures, from large to small. The air is full of mystery, for who knows what lies just out of sight, or who might be lurking in the pond? It is best to keep your eyes peeled at all times. Far from being gloomy, the swamp is alive. Sure, there are insects galore, most of which are determined to taste you.

And there are snakes here. Goodness knows, there’s plenty of snakes, most of which are fifty-five feet or longer. Maybe one hundred feet long. Probably longer still. I don’t really know, because at the end of the day I do not care for snakes so I never stuck around long enough to find out how long they really were. I’m confident they are at least two hundred feet, for sure. Aside from the things that slither and slink, and setting aside the eyes attached to alligators, the swamp is a beautiful place. Yes, it is beautiful. It is more of a single organism, perfectly balanced, perfectly in harmony, and a powerful, primeval force. A place with snakes, but every rose has its thorns.

Everglades Swamp

Everglades Dragonfly

Making my way through the swamp, I eventually found an area of taller grasses and ground that was definately dry. A buzzing sound filled the air. Not the kind of buzzing of bees, but subtly different. A closer examination revealed dragonflies–more than I could count. The flitted from here to there, from stem to stem, in no order at all. They didn’t stop on any stalk for long before retaking flight. The mesmerizing scene was chaotic, although calming as well. Luckily, one dragonfly stopped long enough for me to make Everglades Dragonfly before it moved on. My feet were dry here and I was in no hurry at all to move on. There were no snakes that I saw, and no gators that wandered by. It was a small, welcome, reprieve from the swamp I had been in. Did I mention there were no snakes and my feet were dry? I was in heaven. So was the dragonfly.

Everglades Dragonfly

Heading Out

Teaing myself away from the dragonfly fields I trekked on, intent on making my way out of Everglades National Park. As I was doing so, a leaf-filled pond caught my eye, pausing my journey. There is something serene about a quiet pool, and I ended up spending quite a while there, just reflecting and contemplating. The leaves floated, uncaring about little else, moving only when the breeze pushed them this way or that. Small insects hopped from leaf to leaf, never lingering for long. The leaves remained undisturbed and continued their companionable silence. Water drops came and went. The sun played hide and go seek with the clouds. The pond, the zen pond, simply was, allowing me to focus on simply being part of the moment. The spell was complete and time stretched to eternity.

Everglade's Leaf

With a final act of willpower, I broke free of the enchanted pond, stood up, brushed myself off and continued onward. I memory of the pond remains with me, even today as I write this, although I long to be back there.

Everglades Wetlands

Everglades Wetlands

Alas, it finally was time to leave the Everglades, but not before making just one more stop. This vast open expanse is what I expected the Everglades to look like, and this scene does not disappoint. The tall grasses sway gently in the breeze. A lone bird flies overhead, in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. The croak of a bullfrog calls from my right, echoed by a louder croak from my left. The more I look, the more I see. And the more I listen, the more I hear. The more I remain still, the more alive I became. I felt as alive as I have ever been. For far too short of a time the wetlands claimed me as one of its own, and let me into its world. It let me be a part of it, it let me understand it, and it has never quite let me go. That’s OK, and a good thing.

Just as the swamp, the wetlands are a complete organism in complete harmony. They are beautiful and magnificent. They are glorious. This is the Florida Everglades.

We must be aware that these places are unique, where land and water easily comingle into one. It’s our duty, it’s our right, and it’s our privilege to protect these wild places. And so we must. For if not us, then who?

Arrival: Everglades

The day had been long, and predictably for the time of year, rainy. Since I was in southern Florida, the wet part was not wholly unexpected. Rain it did, and at times, it seemed as if it wanted to remind just what rain could be. I continued, intent on my destination: Everglades National Park.

I don’t know what I was expecting when I arrived. Maybe a grand entrance, replete with a soaring archway, and perhaps a multi-lane highway leading on. Instead, the entrance is a small sign, a narrow two-lane road and another sign that said “Visitor Center: 1,000 miles” Maybe it was less than one thousand miles, but it sure seemed that way. In any event, it didn’t matter because I probably would be distracted long before then.

That distraction occurred quickly enough in the form of a small, one lane, dirt track that seemed like it led…somewhere. I was heading down that one track before anyone could blink. The tall grasses thickened and rose above me, and then gave way to small trees and dense shrubs. Before you knew it, I couldn’t see anything except straight ahead of me. There might have been a road behind me, but the option of retreating didn’t cross my mind.

Alligator Eyes in the Everglades

An alligator lurks in the swamp in Everglades National Park

Before long I came to a small pond. Like a moth to a candle, I was all about that pond and was standing beside it in no time. The air was oppressive: still and quiet. The atmosphere in the Everglades is like the air nowhere else, and it holds a sense of anticipation as much as anything. Slowly, almost too slowly, it dawned on me that I was not alone at the pond, for there, staring back at me were two large eyes. The kind of eyes that were sizing me up for a snack. The type of eyes that were liking what they were seeing and were attached to an alligator of unknown size, and worse still, of unknown temperament. Alligator Eyes remains one of my favorite Everglades photographs.

I slowly retreated, for now, retreat was indeed an option, and continued down the road, a lot more wary of what lurks all around me.

Leaving Shore

Having decided that ponds were more occupied than I first anticipated I decided, perhaps not unwisely, that another way to explore the Everglades is via boat. Not having the foresight to bring one with me, this thought required me to find a vessel, preferably one with an engine and someone to pilot it. After all, it wouldn’t do for me to think I was headed into the park while I was actually pointed toward the open ocean. After a bit of scrounging around, I managed to find both a boat and a captain, and with that, I was on the water. I’ll admit that I was slightly disappointed the captain didn’t have a peg leg nor a parrot, but the boat also didn’t have a plank I could be forced to walk, so all in all, I was content.

A calm day on the water in Everglades National Park

We departed first thing in the morning, well before daybreak. The waters were calm, quiet and utterly serene. We sliced through the water with ease, looking for, well, anything and everything that caught my eye. A small island up ahead held my attention, and we headed for that. Along the way daybreak happened, providing Everglades Calm.

Egret Rookery

The small island hosted snowy egrets and was their current rookery. Here, safe from land-based predators, the egrets care for their young until it is time for them to leave the nest. There is always–always–something happening around the rookery, and today was no exception. The egrets flitted from here to there and back to here again, all without any order I could see. I made Egret Rookery to reflect the joy of watching the egrets.

Egrets flit about their rookery in Everglades National Park

Alas, it was time to head back to shore and leave the egrets behind. We’ll pick up from there in Part 2.

Bring the Adventure Home

You can always stare at Alligator Eyes in your own home. Head on over to the photographs page to purchase a copy for yourself.