My winter exploring took me, this year, to Florida. It’s amazing that I allowed 40 years to pass between visits to that magical place. We set the goal of visiting the “real” Florida, skipping all the major cities, and focusing on the natural beauty and history.
I’ve been yearning to see the Everglades as I have grown older and sunk deeper into my fascination with wild untameable places. I wanted to camp in it, and travel into it in a kayak. I wanted to sit quietly and watch it unfold. We chose Flamingo campground as a destination, where we could car camp in a casual, relaxed way. The Everglades National Park is so vast that it’s nearly 40 miles from the park entrance to the campground. Located at the southernmost tip of Florida, if you don’t count the little islands below it or the Keys, it feels like the edge of the world. We had packed basic gear and set up a simple campsite with views of the convergence of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, and a nearby eagle’s nest, with both parents working the brood. It’s clear to me that these are the kinds of things I’m supposed to do, because as soon as I arrived I felt a deep sense of relief… a kind of recognition of return to the mother, safety, home, like a world of traffic/road/noise rolled off my back.
We found, as the sun set, that the mosquitoes sprang to life. Lucky for us, they were quiet during most of the daylight hours, but rabid and inescapable once the sun set. We were forced into our tent very early, but that made for a terrific evening of reading outloud and talking. Leaving to visit the restroom in the middle of the night was horrible/beautiful, as it brought hundreds of mosquito bites and billions of stars. Because the land is flat the dome of the sky is complete, with stars all the way down to the horizon. Seasoned Everglades campers had whole suits made of netting, as I will have on my next visit.
The following day, in rented kayaks we paddled an old manmade canal. It was a beautiful, sunny day and great exercise, but we were frustrated by the lack of wildlife there. A manatee did nearly surface at the bow of my kayak, his form echoed by the water he displaced. I saw a very large woodpecker, and a small blue heron on our voyage. We had stopped before reaching the park at a farmer’s market and bought fresh fruits and vegetables, and we feasted on them for lunch: steamed asparagus and fresh tomatoes, strawberries and beautiful oranges, as we watched a pink flamingo fly overhead.
On our last day in the Everglades we made a point of stopping on the 40 mile trip to the entrance, at the various marked attractions. There was a mangrove forest with a walkway that one could follow out to the sea, and another walkway loop through an old growth mahogany forest perched on a hammock in the marsh, lush with ferns and palms. But best of all, there was a road off the main road we took. A man with an enormous camera setup signaled us to stop and pull over. We did, and were amazed by what we saw. Clustered in one tiny pond there were perhaps 10 different types of large aquatic birds, and a tiny crocodile. Across the road was the parent of the tiny croc. All the wildlife we’d hoped to see was gathered in one spot the size of my living room. There was a roseate spoonbill and a great blue heron fishing in the pond, while a snowy egret perched nearby. Clusters of storks moved among the other birds. A black bird— a crow perhaps, cut an elegant silhouette from the bright blue sky. Light filtered through the cypress trees and spanish moss and lit up the water. It was a kind of glimpse of paradise, and the perfect coda for our adventure.