Let’s say you live in Broward County. You check your SunPass and jump on the turnpike headed south. You loop around Miami and exit at Route 41 west, suburban sprawl disappears in the distance behind you. It’s hard to tell how fast you’re moving because the road stretches to the horizon- a dotted yellow line, a canal on your right, occasional signs for airboat operators.
A half mile before the Miccosukee Indian Village you turn left into Shark Valley. It’s free because 2016 is the hundredth anniversary of our national parks. You find a parking spot and hop out of the car, a little stiff from the 75-minute drive. The heat greets you. It’s seven miles to the end of the path, almost perfectly straight, might as well start walking.
It’s about 100 degrees, very humid, quiet, no breeze. As far as you can see in all directions the landscape is completely flat; sawgrass swamp spotted with occasional trees. Nothing moves. The further you walk the more everything looks the same. You wonder why the Everglades are known around the world, why anyone would travel to see this place, why you traveled to see this place.
Early explorers echoed these sentiments: “My advice is to urge every discontented man to take a trip through the Everglades. If it doesn’t kill him, it will certainly cure him.”
The Everglades first National Park superintendent described his park as “lonely distances, intricate and monotonous waterways, birds, sky and water.” (1)
Why are you here? There is emptiness, nothing to see or do, monotony to the horizon. Or not.
The opposite of boredom is engagement.
Stand still for a minute on that path in Shark Valley, ½ mile from the parking lot. You can feel the slightest breeze stirring the grass, you hear the croak of the frogs, a hawk circles in the distance, a blue heron glides down, lands and starts fishing, a turtle head pokes out of the canal. You notice the grass has been flattened, a narrow path down the bank to the water, you see black at the water’s edge – a motionless alligator!
Truth is, this place is brimming with life! It’s an incredibly unique ecosystem which is found nowhere else on the planet. You could spend years studying plant and animal life, water flow and how this fragile balance has been affected by human encroachment.
There are moments in which it’s hard to tell what direction you’re headed or if you’re moving at all. Engage with your surroundings. You’ll find there is life, activity and excitement beneath the surface. You are right where you are supposed to be. The trip was worth it. The real adventure is beginning!
- Quotes are both from "The Swamp", Michael Grunwald, Simon and Schuster, 2006