Friday Five

I’ve been inspired by Lisa’s posts about the Kalahari and Emily’s trip to Borneo so I thought  you might like to see some photos I took while in the Everglades a few years ago.

1. My mission in visiting the Everglades was to write an article about the major conservation efforts going on there. But first I wanted to spend some

Map from iccredclass

time getting to know the place on my own terms. So after pouring over maps to determine how to tackle the 1.5 millions acres of varied topography, flora and fauna, I decided to rent a bicycle. * I chose the month of December for my trip, when the people who visit annually are at the lowest levels as are the mosquitoes.

*Note: this was not the brightest idea I’ve ever had.

2. The immediate, most striking feature of the Everglades was absence. There were no garbage cans, telephone polls or fire hydrants. No signage, lamp posts or water fountains. And no people. Not a soul. In fact, the only sign that man had ever been there was the existence of the bike path itself. I had the urge to check repeatedly over my shoulder with the same uncomfortable feeling one gets watching horror flicks, where the girl should not, under any circumstances, ride a bike alone into the middle of the swamp. Yet the Everglades is beautiful, despite the lack of glamorous geysers like Yellowstone or gorges like the Grand Canyon. Its beauty lay in the simplicity of the landscape’s flatness. The highest point in the park is a mere eight feet above sea level. Without land features or manmade structures jutting past the horizon, the sky seemed to expand to fill the void. It was so close it seemed to have a presence all its own, comforting me in its powdery blue blanket.

 

3. What also had a presence, but was not remotely comforting was this alligator sunning itself a few feet away from the wheels of my bike. Millions of years of evolution have not come to the alligator as I suppose nature couldn’t improve on the design. I would later learn from Kirk Singer, a park ranger, that despite their clumsy appearance, alligators are superb swimmers and can run up to thirty miles per hour in short bursts, but attacks on humans are rare. Apparently we’re intimidating to them because we’re so tall in comparison, though they have been known to jump several feet off their hind legs to catch prey, usually small wading birds or raccoons. Or a five-foot-tall woman on an isolated path. “They really aren’t interested in people,” Singer told me. “But you should keep fifteen feet away at all times because if they feel threatened…” How is one supposed to know what is threatening to an alligator, a creature able to snap a turtle’s shell in one bite?

Are you lookin' at me?

4. A common joke in South Florida is that there are only two seasons: hot and oppressive. There are in fact two seasons, but they are officially wet and dry. Water is the critical element in the Everglades. It is the focus of almost every conservation and restoration effort. That’s because the Everglades truly begins well outside the park’s boundaries at Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake in the U.S. Positioned as the earring hole in the earlobe that is Florida, the lake is nothing more than a conduit for water delivery into the park. In the summer, rainfalls of inches per day supply the entire region with water by flowing hundreds of miles via natural underground aquifers. Like a magician’s prop, the Everglades has a false bottom. It appears to be a grassy plain, but really it’s a river, unique in the world. It is fifty miles wide, just a few inches deep in some spots, and moves at a speed comparable to an old man with a walker. Stalks of razor-sharp grass taller than I am, called sawgrass, grow out of the limestone which lies just beneath the surface.

5. Disguised behind the brush, a bird, standing on spindle legs no thicker than two blades of sawgrass and about as tall as a Kindergartener, was watching me. It was a heron and it had speared a fish with its long, narrow beak. Herons are classified as wading birds. That is, birds that troll the river on foot for food. It unfurled its wings, which were at least five feet from tip to tip. If this was an intimidation technique, it was very effective. I backed away immediately. Then in a Batman-like move, the heron draped one wing across its beak to hide the fish.  Next time, I’ll plan to write a little more about the conservation efforts aimed at saving this fragile ecosystem.

Look closely in between the trees. Right in the middle there.

Have you ever been to the Everglades or a similar ecosystem? Ever have an encounter with an alligator? 

Have a great weekend everyone! 

 

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24 comments

  1. I’ve never been to the Everglades or a similar ecosstem, but I did live in Vietnam, where in most parts of the country I would label the seasons “oppressive” and “insanely oppressive.”
    Great photos, Jackie!
    Kathy

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  2. I’ve always wanted to see the Everglades so I’m really happy to read this and see the photos! I love herons (we have Great Blue here)…. I’m wondering is that a tri-color heron? As you say they can seem large and intimidating! (p.s. no, I’ve never had an experience w/ an alligator, BUT I lived in Kenya and Uganda as a child and saw a lot of crocodiles in the Nile River — always from the supposed safe distance in a boat…)

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    1. If you ever get down that way, it’s so worth going to the Everglades. It seems like there wouldn’t be much to see since it is so flat and still, but there are little eyes looking at you from everywhere!
      I’m not sure if that’s a tri color heron. I’ll have to do a little homework. I think I’d like to do a post about the conservation efforts.
      How cool that you lived in Kenya and Uganda!

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  3. I have never seen the Everglades, and number three has been my reason for the disinterest! I watched a show on alligators a while back, and this man was nearly killed by one. It grabbed a hold and drug him under water. Not really the way I want to go… 🙂 I imagine it to be really muggy hot, too.

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  4. How very cool, Jackie, that you took that trip. Good for you! Smart going in December, too. I took myself to see the Grand Canyon – and I went the weekend after Labor Day. Few people. It was excellent.

    We had an alligator in our neighborhood growing up. True story. He lived in a little lake/pond. Sometimes he’d bask in the sunlight – smack dab in the middle of the street. Again, true story. The pond was filled in and houses are there now. Still, everyone in the neighborhood fondly remembers our very own alligator.

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  5. I lived in Florida for a couple of years, and yes, it is HOT and oppressive. 🙂
    The everglades have been heavily damaged by runoff from the agriculture all around them. Chemical fertilizers cause weird growth spurts and change the environment in ways that hurt the native animals. If I remember right, the everglades is the only place of exactly its kind in the world. So we should be concerned with saving it. Nice post, Jackie.

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    1. The bike path was 8 miles round trip, but the return trip was sloooow going since I was against the wind the whole way. Also I was getting off the bike often to take photos. I think it took about 2 hours or so.

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  6. This must be such a great place to visit and I’m glad it is preserved. I haven’t had any alligator encounters. My most dangerous animal encounter took place in a forest in Sri Lanka.
    We wanted to take photos of some group pf Baboon like monkeys when one of the males (with huge teeth), turned and ran towards us, baring his teeth. We ran for dear life. Apparently they are quite dangerous but hardly ever attack. I think the camera must have annoyed him.

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    1. Now that sounds much scarier than this alligator who was so docile he was almost falling asleep while I was staring at him. I’ve heard this about baboons. I’m glad your feet carried you away so swiftly.

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    1. What’s so odd about the Everglades is that it felt remote but the MIami metropolis is only about 35 miles away.

      PS – I bought an eggplant at the farmer’s market this morning to attempt your recipe for eggplant gratin. I’m so looking forward to dinner!

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  7. Great photos! How cool to ride a bicycle through the Everglades. We’ve only driven through on the way to the Keys. But we do have our own alligators here . . . 🙂

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    1. Thanks, Carla! The Everglades shares a lot of similarities with the swampy bayous in your neck of the woods, gators and all. 🙂

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  8. Another wonderful “nature Friday Five”! I’ve always been fascinated by the Everglades. Think the closest thing we have in Southern Africa is the Okavango Delta which I wouldn’t dream of cycling through! You are a brave woman.

    Thanks for the mention!

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    1. Thank you, Lisa! All of your wonderful dispatches from the Kalahari inspired me to share a few images from the Everglades. I’m always looking forward to reading more of your posts.

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  9. Haven’t had a close encounter with an alligator but on a visit to Port Douglas in Queensland we were sunning ourselves at the pool when the biggest crocodile I have ever seen strolled past. We were told to sit still, he was a regular visitor and wouldn’t hurt us.

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