This excerpt from The Everglades: River of Grass was a beautiful and information-filled plea for attention by Marjorie Stoneham Douglas to the state of the Everglades to allow the health of the area to continue. Her writing was very persuasive and inspiring.
She begins by describing different names and interpretations of the name “Everglades,” my favorite being the Indians name “Pay-hay-okee”, which means “Grassy Water.” The Indians have been here the longest and have the longest relationship with the Everglades, and their poetic name reflects that knowledge. There are parts of the Everglades that are still not mapped out. The grass is what she describes as “a fierce, ancient, cutting sedge,” and says that “The truth of the river is the grass.” The grass is what makes the Everglades what it is. Where it ends and begins is where the Everglades ends and begins… 3,500 square miles of it. It has been here so long that in some places, the depth of the much where the grass is decaying is as high as the healthy and living saw grass. The grass is so strong that nothing less than a hurricane can beat it down.
The water is the next factor of the Everglades that she describes. The water is purely from the rains we have here in South Florida. We have no snow melts or anything like that, so all surface water is from rain and it has to have somewhere to go. Most people here would agree with her statement that we don’t have 4 seasons here, but only 2: dry and rainy. Over the course of several months, there is an almost daily downpour that causes a beautiful rising of water and glistening saw grass that is a burst of brilliant colors. The Everglades served as a place for Lake Okeechobee, Kissimmee River, and any other body of water in the area to expand to in the rainy season. Development has, as we know, changed the flow of the water so as not to destroy the concrete we have laid down here. My favorite quote of the passage was the way Douglas described the middle of the Glades: “I is not so much the cool movement of wind as standing coolness, freshness without salt, wetness that is sweet with the breath of hidden tiny blossoming things luminous in the darkness under the height and white magnificence of the starts. Such coolness is a secret that the deep Glades hold.” That would be something I would love to experience on my own.
Under all the square miles of saw grass and the weight of all that water is the limestone rock, full of holes, sand, and shell and is filled with underground springs and caverns. The whole rock structure is known as the Floridian plateau. It has been shaped by water to resemble a giant rocky sponge. The areas that were exposed in dry seasons in the past were grasped onto by plants, shaped by currents, and became islands known as the “keys of the Everglades” or the correct term, “hammocks.” These islands are very special and unique to the Everglades.
Douglas goes on to describe the diversity of life in the Everglades from the different birds, insect life, snakes, small and large mammals, and frogs. There is an Indian legend about the cycad fern, also known as the “Coontie” or “compte” and the appearance of it in the area. They say that during a great famine, the Indians prayed to the Master of Breath, who sent them God’s Little Boy, and in His footprints the life-saving coontie grew. Hurricanes carried many invasive species of plants and animals to the Everglades to carve out their niche. Two species of cypress trees grow here in the muddy water that most trees can’t grow in. They do this with help of an evolutionary adaptation, cypress knees. They are believed to aerate the muddy roots of the tree. Theses are characteristic of the “Big Cypress,” which is called a swamp because the water doesn’t move. It is considered part of the Everglades, even though the water doesn’t move as it does in the saw grass. She finally describes the mangroves, red, white, and black, which fringe the Everglades and mark the end of it. No one even knows where they came from, but they are essential to the area as is the Everglades, and they work together to hold Florida together.