February 28, 2016

In the Everglades by Kenneth Weene



I was fourteen, had never been on an airplane and had never been south of New York City. It was winter vacation. Our parents were already in Miami, our designation for the East coast of Florida south of Palm Beach and north of the Keys. My brother and I flew from Logan Airport, Boston, to Florida to join them.

As dawn broke on the left side of the plane,  the pilot announced, “We’re passing over the Everglades.” He banked the prop-jet—first to the right and then to the left so we could  all look get a good view. Beneath us stretched a vast wilderness.  In those days that great swampland was a place of mystery, of unknown dangers, and of lost souls.

Before that morning, the largest swamp I had ever seen was the bit of weeds and muck in which we hunted minnows and bullfrogs on summer evenings in Maine. The vastness left me staring and speechless.

Two weeks later, two friends joined us. Harvey, the older of the two, was into nature. We should go to the Everglades, rent an airboat and see the wildlife.

It was an incredible adventure. Not only because of the actual sights, which were marvelous—especially the flocks of snowy egrets taking off at our approach and the giant trees that seemed to find their own hillocks on which to stand—but also because of the sense of mysterious wilderness. In those days the Everglades stretched most of the way from Miami to St. Petersburg. There was one road along the side of which alligators sunned. No amenities except for the occasional stand offering tours and orange juice. On that airboat, and especially when jumping off it to push past a hummock, there was a sense of danger and of the unknown.

Years later, my wife and I decided to have a very different Everglades experience. For some reason I had always wanted to try living on a houseboat, and my wife wisely suggested that trying a boat experience might be better than buying or even leasing one.

We took the two-night option and set sail from the marina.

There was a narrow passage from the marina into the lakes on which we would spend two romantic, star-studded nights. It was a fascinating passageway. On one side rested alligators; on the other were crocodiles. The difference: whether their teeth went outside their snouts so they could be seen when the animal’s mouth was closed or were inside. Both species carpeted their respective bank. Were they waiting for us foolish tourists to step foot into their feeding trough?

Unlike the airboats of my previous visits, which were piloted by professional tour guides, and could turn on a dime, our houseboat, driven by me, took long sweeping turns. Unfortunately, the passageway was too narrow for my novice steering. Crash into the land of the alligators. Bang into the midst of the crocodiles. Caught in this bush. Stuck between that tree and the bank. Three times we called the dispatcher at the marina, and three times a boat was sent to our rescue. Finally, one of the staff drove us through to the open water.

Ready for two nights of relaxation we headed towards open water.

Let me summarize. I never again wanted to be on a houseboat. Not after having to call a few more times for assistance. Not after the toilet flooding the boat and in the process both making a mess and depleting the water we needed for drinking and continued bathroom use. Not after the mosquitoes feasting as we ate our primus stove cooked supper gazing up at those truly amazing stars.

Bouncing back to the marina, we were happily ready for our next vacation destination, Key West where we made jokes about the people who occupied the array of houseboats moored along the endless docks.

“I bet they never go anywhere,” I said over and over.

“Maybe that would have been a better plan for us,” my wife answered more than once.

In the years since my first visit, much of the Everglades has been drained; the water supply exhausted by the demands of a growing population, the land filled in to provide a multitude of plots for homes. The alligators now roam golf courses and swim in backyard pools. New species have found their way into the biome and old have been forced to the edge of extinction. Much of the mystery and the incredible sense of wilderness are gone.

It has been years since my last visit to that great swamp, nothing more than a quick drive along the highway that goes east-west across the Florida peninsula. Restaurants, fruit shipping stands, tourist traps at which to see alligator wrestling and wildlife exhibits comprised of endangered species: stop after stop dotted the sides of the road. Still, there was enough left to bring back those earlier memories. The national park’s marina still rents houseboats. Out on the water at night, the mosquitoes and the stars are probably still there.  And the sense of mystery and danger is still there in the name, the mention, the idea of the Everglades.

I will give on copy of each of these books to readers who respond--chosen at random.  Respond to win and include contact info!  Good luck!


You can find more of Ken Weene’s writing at http://www.kennethweene.com . You can purchase his books on Amazon and listen to him weekly as he co-hosts It Matters Radio.  

(info provided by author with permissions)

9 comments:

Salvatore Buttaci said...

Few authors can keep a reader enthralled the way Ken Weene so adeptly does. Having lived in Miami, Florida, for six months in 1961 and having been to the Everglades with my late brother Al and his photographer friend, I can tell you Weene does an outstanding job here! I was waiting for an alligator at any minute to pop its toothy jaws!

Linda Swift said...

Great blog, Ken. I live on the Gulf side of Florida half the year and have only crossed the Everglades (Alligator Alley) a couple of times.It truly is a no-man's land as you described it. I wish I could have seen the "old" Florida before all the housing and people changed it. Your books look highlly entertaining as I have found all of your writing to be. I wish you much success with all. LSwiftR@aol.com

Patricia said...

A fascinating look at the old Florida. I only saw bits of it as my parents car sped toward Grandma and Grandpa's house in Fort Lauderdale. People who have gone into the Everglades more recently say it is still awesome.

Thanks for taking us along on your ride.

Judy said...

I love books and writers like this. I live in Louisiana and we have plenty interesting places also.

Jaden Terrell said...

I loved this post, Ken. I love wildlife, and your adventures took me right into the heart of the Everglades.

Pamela S Thibodeaux said...

sounds like your visit to FL was fascinating and adventurous. I used to go out to our houseboat regularly. Loved it!

Surrounded by water...had to get there by boat.

We no longer have it but the memories will forever be sweet.
Good luck and God's Blessings.
PamT

Mary Clark said...

This made me feel, once again, the excitement I had as a ten-year-old first seeing the Everglades. I remember hearing the alligators barking as we started our journey on the Gulf Coast and drove east. A few years back, on the way to Miami (love your amorphous description) I drove up onto the levee around Lake Okeechobee and walked out to the water. These places stay with you all your life.

Ken Weene said...

Glad that Ive been able to entertain. While I was a failure at house-boating, I probably would have been a great dinner for a gator. Most importantly to me, I am a fervent believer in preserving and protecting nature.

Mary Deal said...

It is always wonderful to go some place you've never been, especially when it's a big adventure afar, like you did. It's also too bad not all vacations turn out well. But the experiences to be had are numerous and teach us well. The Everglades frighten me, alligators and snakes and all. We have none of those in Hawaii and I believe if I were ever to live elsewhere, it would have to be a location without these critters. Your story is serious but humorous at the same time. I can just see you on that houseboat, trying to make the most of it through frustration.