When the Europeans started to sniff around the Florida peninsula, they had a heck of a time trying to map that wet, unruly, reptile-infested, and otherwise gorgeous but inhospitable wilderness that started around The Magic Kingdom and sprawled all the way south. They mostly mapped the outskirts, or what they could see from the coastlines, because the interior was a freaking nightmare.
Gerard de Brahm, an Englishman, labeled the area River Glades on his map although, as we know, somewhere along the way the “River” was changed to “Ever” for reasons that remain a mystery.
The history of the Everglades is chock full of unadulterated, undistilled American chutzpah. There is a list a mile long of men who meant to stake their legacy in taming the Glades, and some of them did–including Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller’s right-hand-man Henry Flagler, and men with names like Napoleon Bonaparte Broward and Baron Gift Collier–although most of them suffered terrible blows to their finances and reputations in the meantime (Ford, Firestone, and Edison did okay although in Firestone’s quest for quality rubber they introduced several alien plant species that almost ruined the original ecosystem).
When I am in the Everglades now, in 2011, when only 1/3 of it is left and so much of it has been mapped, photographed, settled, turned into cities, re-routed, and downsized, I absolutely can not fathom how ANYONE, much less a team of “modern” white guys from the industrial North, could traverse that liquid maze. And there are alligators everywhere. I saw a sign in the bathroom at the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters today that said “When You’re Up To Your Ass In Alligators, It’s Hard To Remember You Came Here To Drain The Place.” I can’t decide if it’s impressive or galling that men tried to claim it, to tear it down, to bend it to their will. I can’t even understand how anyone could survive Out There for any length of time; it’s not a swamp–it’s a dense and dangerous river upon which our American seafood industry and the health of Florida (arguably, the world) depends. What a crazy place.
Today I went out with Dwight (check out his blog http://gatord.blogspot.com/; the pics of me with an Anaconda slithering down my back and leg will be on it shortly), who is an excellent guide and knows so much that he can literally talk for seven straight hours. He taught me the facts about Edison, Firestone, and Ford, and he knows the remarkable history of the emblematic airboat, which is actually the invention of Alexander Graham Bell, who had created it as a way to manage his water excursions in Nova Scotia, Canada.
It’s a long, fun day Out There, and I did eat fried alligator at lunch today. I took many photographs, which are included, and if I can figure out how to add captions, I’ll tell you all about what we did.
Enjoy the photos. I am worn out. But happy.
night night, beloveds. Sweet dreams.