Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Everglades

By Chuck

Another of my childhood dreams realized:  Explore the Florida Everglades.  It was really not quite what I expected.  My vision was one of swampy jungle and dangerous creatures at every turn.  The reality is a slow-moving river flowing southward to the bay.  More precisely [optional reading follows]:  

The Everglades are a natural region of subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of the U.S. state of Florida, comprising the southern half of a large watershed. The system begins near Orlando with the Kissimmee River, which discharges into the vast but shallow Lake Okeechobee. Water leaving the lake in the wet season forms a slow-moving river 60 miles wide and over 100 miles long, flowing southward across a limestone shelf to Florida Bay at the southern end of the state.

Our first alligator sighting--he's underwater.  We were fortunate to be with a group and a ranger; otherwise, we would have missed this guy--he was partially hidden by the footbridge we walked over on our Anhinga Trail Amble.   There has never been a fatality due to an alligator attack in the Everglades.  One probably cannot really run at 25 miles per hour--beyond the length of its body.  But, as Mother always said, "Discretion is the better part of valor."

Water is everywhere--even where it is not visible

Anhinga, similar to Cormorant

Clear water--it's well filtered by all the sawgrass and vegetation it must pass through.  

Soft Shell turtle, underwater

Box turtle on land

Bromeliads.  [Bromeliads entered recorded history some 500 years ago when Columbus introduced the pineapple (Ananas comosus) to Spain upon return from his second voyage to the New World in 1493.  The bromeliad family contains a wide range of plants including some very un-pineapple like members such as Spanish Moss (which is neither Spanish nor a moss). Other members resemble aloes or yuccas while still others look like green, leafy grasses.] They attach themselves to trees.

Sawgrass Prairie.  [Sawgrass is so named because it has spiny, serrated leaf blades that resemble a saw. It is the species that inspired the phrase 'river of grass' and is often referred to as Everglades river grass. Saw-grass is actually a sedge, not a true grass. Sedges have triangular shaped stems whereas true grasses have round stems. Saw-grass grows in dense, uniform stands that may cover large areas. The plant spreads by underground stems and forms thick, often impenetrable concentrations that can become a problem as they clog waterways and prevent navigation and water flow.]

Egret on the hunt--Great Egrets eat fish, frogs, snakes, crawfish and large insects--we saw this one catch and swallow, slowly, a fish.

Bald Cypress--dormant, not dead

Dragonfly; he's actually quite small

"Jungle" in the subtropics

One of Tarzan's swinging vinesNo Jane.

Mahogany Tree.  They never stop growing; therefore have no tree rings and cannot be aged. Note the bomeliads.

This boardwalk bridges the sawgrass river and enters a lush tree island--a tropical hammock.  Hidden from historic logging activities, old-growth mahogany trees have grown to record size on the hammock's higher, drier ground.  The boardwalk's back section rises through the hammock from dense undergrowth up toward the tree canopy, where owls and air plants thrive.

Eurasian Millfoil, an exotic invasive species.  Looks like Earth from space.  They are vigilant here in attempting to prevent the incursion of invasive species.  But, non-exotic feral cats are the single worst problem.

Interesting factoid/question:  Is the U.S. still at war with the Florida Seminole Indians?  I read, a number of years ago, that a state of war "technically" existed, as no formal peace treaty had ever been signed by the Seminole Nation.  Here's an update: 

By May 10, 1842, when a frustrated President John Tyler ordered the end of military actions against the Seminoles, over $20 million had been spent, 1500 American soldiers had died and still no formal peace treaty had been signed.  At that time, it marked the most costly military campaign in the young country's history.  And it wasn't over yet.  Thirteen years later, a U.S. Army survey party - seeking the whereabouts of Abiaka and other Seminole groups - was attacked by Seminole warriors under the command of the colorful Billy Bowlegs.  The nation invested its entire reserve into the apprehension of the ambushers.

The eventual capture and deportation of Bowlegs ended aggressions between the Seminoles and the United States.  Unlike their dealings with other Indian tribes, however, the U.S. government could not force a surrender from the Florida Seminoles.  No chicanery, no offer of cattle, land, liquor or God, nothing could lure the last few from their perches of ambush deep in the wilderness. The U.S. declared the war ended--though no peace treaty was ever signed--and gave up.

The Florida survivors comprised at least two main factions--who remained isolated from Florida society and the rest of the world until well into the 20th century...long after most tribes had experienced assimilation, religious conversion and cultural annihilation. 

Here are no lofty peaks seeking the sky, no mighty glaciers or rushing streams wearing away the uplifted land. Here is land, tranquil in its quiet beauty, serving not as the source of water, but as the last receiver of it. To its natural abundance we owe the spectacular plant and animal life that distinguishes this place from all others in our country.  ~  President Harry S. Truman  [address at the Dedication of Everglades National Park, December 6, 1947]