Yet More Everglades


The scope of the Everglades is not incomprehensible. Anyone who has driven past the cornfields west of Columbus or the wheat fields of Kansas or even the stretches of lonesome prairie has a clear understanding of scope--and even, to some degree of appearance--that brown or green against the endless sky with here and there a small copse of woodland growth. This image serves to fix the understanding of the river of grass.

What is difficult to comprehend is that all of this wheat field/corn field analogue is standing in a vast sheet of water, depending on the terrain, anywhere from one inch to several feet deep. And all of this water creeps and oozes a long slow way to the sea. As it does so, it picks up nutrients from the decaying mass of organic matter that lies just beneath the surface, so that as it approaches the brackish environs that border the sea, it is filled with the materials that make the Everglades system a nursery for much of the sea-life of Southern Florida--a place where the rich stocks of shrimp, fish, and other sea-life are born and grow to a certain viability before entering the ocean proper.

So here you stand, at the Shark Valley station, looking out over this field of brown and seeing here and there the glint of water where the vegetation does not hide it. Because you are in the "dry season" you may not see as much water as might be visible during the wet season. Also because you are in the dry season, the evidences of animal life are much more concentrated around the sources of water. From now (January) until April, when the rains begin to return, these areas of open water will become progressively more restricted until they amount to the standing bodies in pits dug by the Army Corps of Engineers and in the "solution holes" (mini-sinkholes that perforate the limestone sponge that is Florida) that form here and there in the park. Such solution holes can be several feet deep. They are dark, hidden, and unexpected and form perfect places for alligator wallows and moccasin holes.

This then was the situation I was in upon first visiting. And the impressions are indelible and hard to put into words, and perhaps not as affecting for many as for some. I have always loved the vast expanses of farmland in the midwest. There is about them an austere and somber beauty summed up in the famous line "amber waves of grain." And when the thunderheads of summer glower over them, and the winds whip up the heads of grain to give a sense of that roiling ocean, there is about these fields something that conjures up a kind of atavistic memory and delight.

So it is with the Everglades. And this is made even more profound when we regard these lands with the profound respect that Native Americans have for all the "peoples" of Earth, including the rock people and the water people. When we understand, even for a moment, the patent absurdity of thinking that one can "own" a piece of land, one comes to an understanding of the Everglades on its own terms. We can destroy it--we can alter it beyond all recognition, we can build on it or tear it apart--but this land is its own. It cannot be owned, it cannot be possessed except in memory. But it can captivate. It can capture you and hold you and your mind and your heart for as long as you will give it time to reign. And in so doing, it will put you in mind of Another--One Whose hand fashioned these beauties and all the beauties of the Earth for our delight and our care. He Who made them gave us stewardship over them and they become a patrimony for all generations--a rich and beautiful treasure to be passed on intact to those who come after us as a sign of Him Who made them.

There is something about the Everglades that turns the mind to God; something about them that captures the spirit and directs it upwards; something that purges, cleanses, and renews. It is as if, for a moment, one can stand in the world as God meant it to be and be in that world as we were meant to be.

(More later--sorry for the short chunks--but five or ten minutes don't allow either for lengthy composition or sufficient proofreading--all to come later.)

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 10, 2007 9:17 AM.

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