There is no place on this earth quite like the Everglades. It is one of the most bio-diverse and environmentally rich places on the planet. Expanding over 1.5 million acres of wetlands . Stretching from central Florida all the way to the South Florida bay. It is home to over 350 species of birds, more than 40 species of mammals, 50 types of reptiles and innumerable insects.
The survival of the Everglades is also imperative to life as we know it in Florida. There are many ways to classify the Everglades but to me, it’s just part of home. My Family has been here since the 1820’s and are fortunate enough to be one of the few to own land in the Everglades. Grandfathered in since the 70’s, we maintain our ownership and pride of our piece of FL wilderness.
As soon as you step into the everglades you know you are in a place like nowhere else. The warm crisp air fills your lungs with a scent that is all together Everglades. Cool mud, orchids, wild flowers, huckle berries and many other thriving flora and fauna envelop you in a glorious symphony of wild.
Expansive prairies meet against cypress heads. These deep water ponds harbor life giving water through some of the driest months of the year. Here you can find the apple snail that lays her pink eggs across neighboring reeds and cypress knees.
A variety of native orchids, air plants and other vegetation live amongst the trees. It is home to the mighty Alligator, who wallows out his cave deep into the roots of cypress trees. Here is where the Limpkin sings her mournful song and feeds upon the apple snails. Deer, raccoons, panthers, turkeys and others seek the cypress as an oasis from the unforgiving heat and sun.
It is an awe inspiring feeling to walk into the heart of a swamp. The Cypress trees tower above you creating the feeling of an amphitheater. The swamps are cooler than the surrounding prairies and shaded with thick vegetation. Rays of sunlight stream in through branches and layers of trees. Cold clear water grows deeper the further you venture into the swamp. The only thing to break you from your reverie is the call of a wading bird or booming roar of an Alligator.
Even these places aren’t immune to the dry months. During the driest months swamps can turn into dry bogs, lush ground cover stretches across the soil where bees flit from flower to flower. Crawdads and Alligators take heed and burrow ever deeper into the cool soil.
Cypress Heads give way to Pine and saw palmetto rock islands. These highlands are where turkey and quail hide their coveys and search out berries, insects and vegetation. They find sandy ground and bathe themselves in the dust of the earth. Ravens fly from tree to tree looking for an opportunistic snack. Swooping at predators such as bobcats and foxes in attempts to discourage them from their territories. Bears amble about during the cooler hours of the day in search of a bee tree or maybe even a young cabbage tree to tear into the soft heart.
Once the sun sinks deep into the West, the Everglades gives life to a completely new society than the one that inhabited the day. I’ve heard the eerie scream of a panther while sitting around a midnight fire and been blessed to sleep under the blanket of stars that abound the night sky. I’ve awoken to a choir of hoot owls lifting their voices high into the night. Their calls amplified by the acoustics of our pine island.
I’ve been handed down stories and lessons from my father and grandfather. They have seen the woods unchanged for the generations before me. They are what many would call true Gladesmen. We lost a great Gladesman the summer of 2014. My grandfather. We do not however lose the lessons and life he shared with us. I doubt there is a place even in the deepest swamps that my grandfather didn’t know. He taught me how to speak the language of animals. From land, sea and sky. How to look just right down the barrel of a gun and line the beads up. How to soothe a whole swarm of bees into a box. Explore a swamp & listen to the song of a limpkin. To walk the earth and make stories to tell my grandchildren. How to disappear into the woods to find myself. To look to the north star & find the light on a dark night. To find my way home. To make family the most important part of life. To call to the deer, hooters, gators, quail & turkey. He has handed down a hunger for life to those of us still here. To leave a legacy just as he did.