Challenge Yourself. Discover Your Wilderness. Find Your Story.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Everglades National Park and its partners proudly hosted the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition! This program engaged 10 aspiring writers and journalists, ages 18-25, on an exploration of wilderness, self-discovery and environmental writing. These aspiring writers embarked on the journey of a lifetime to discover the beauty and complexity of the Everglades wilderness.
A huge thank you to Tim Long, FIU External Affairs for putting together this amazing video that captures how the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition changed the life of some of the participants. Click here to check it out!
I lay on my back in a grassy opening. As I look up, I can only see a dome of sky, sun, and canopy. I can hear the wind coming as it sweeps through the foliage and makes that unique Everglades sound of thick broad leaves rustling against each other. I close my eyes as the wind comes and take a deep breath. I can feel everything in my dome perspective swaying together. It is our first day out on field work and the connection in growing.
I law on my back and stare at the stars. As I drift in and out of sleep, I keep an eye on Orion’s Belt, maneuvering its way across the sky. It is my first night ever sleeping under the stars. I think about how the connection I feel is the same experienced by our ancestors throughout history. It is the most beautiful sight I have ever experienced. It is night number one of our excursion and the connection continues to grow.
I law on my back finally in my bed again. There are no more stars, only artificial lights twinkling from gadgets. I do not want my phone or TV. The anxiety and frustration with my first day back in the world is overbearing. It is my first night back from my trip, but the connection is not gone. In fact, it has never been stronger. The wilderness taught me how we learn through the most challenging experiences. And although it may be easier to live life on a canoe, my life is here. I did not leave the wildness behind. I brought it home with me.
You can feel the whip.
The wind turns paddling
Into a desperate crawl.
Your weight shifts
For action, frenzied
By not knowing what it’s gonna be like
When you’re wafted out into the water.
You hold your breath
As white caps turn black
And the water slapping the boat calms
into a slither.
You sigh with a clean turn into a cove
And the sun crowns the tops of the mangroves
With its rosy descent.
The sound of the paddle
Slowing the boat
Is like folding sheets and you sleep with
And the sky blinks back at you.
¬We curl ourselves through water,
over road, headlamps dotting the landscape
like shifting constellations. A trickle through sawgrass,
we are careful to shine the earth before each step.
I avoid the scent of burn from the east, savoring
the illusion of solitude until I look down.
Spears of grass flex past thousands of animals shifting
to evade my gait.
We wait for the air’s drop, until the night sweats itself
through our clothes, and then we walk north.
I see bodies where there are none,
see reptiles striping the road but approach
to find them empty scars in the pavement, lit with life
by my expectancy.
Finally, a snake. Its green skin striped, iridescent
from within its bones. It bulges, rooted on the road
by a recently swallowed frog. I lay my body alongside,
turn off all lights. The world here is split: the sepia of the sky,
the silhouette of ground. I startle a nighthawk, see it part from earth,
take off to freckle the sky.
The Dominant Species
Although it’s a cold evening, we pulse
through mangroves, channels lit
by the webbing of stars. West of us,
the gulf pounds itself into the wind,
but we find the bay calm, currents
smoothed gentle through the sieve of mangroves.
My fingers thicken in the cold, hands clumsily
capping the oar. As the last feeling drops
from my fingertips, the horizon summons
a flock of black skimmers. They finesse
between boats, slice the water in two.
All of the Stars
It was the night of Halloween, when I first laid eyes on the night sky.
I have seen the sky countless times before but no time can ever measure up to the sight that I was
gifted that night. Within seconds the sky that was dimly lit by the descending sun was an array of
yellows, oranges, dark blues and purples. The colors ruffled and danced like a silk sheet in the
breeze. Hours turned into seconds, when I first caught sight of the ever burning North Star.
Slowly, the stars made themselves known, their brightness contrasting with the Navy sky. I begin
to make out the clusters of the constellations upon remembering their names through what one of
the writers told me. As the hours creped by, I looked up to the sky to witness the movements of
the constellations, trying to guess the time. As I finally laid in my sleeping bag consumed in my
bug net hammock completely protected from the chilling air I stared at the sky through the
protective net. All that I could think of was you.
Much like the stars on top of me you were miles and miles away.
Enclosed in concrete walls, warm and safe, thinking of me. I wish you were here laying
next to me holding me, telling me that you are proud of me as you kiss my forehead.
I am not thinking that I am on a raft island, in a small cove, surrounded by mangrove trees, or the
fact that I have lost feeling in my hands and toes to the bitter cold. All I can think of you and
your undying spirit. A star suddenly shot through the sky as if responding to my thoughts. I
closed my eyes as a tear ran down my cheek. My numb fingers took hold of your necklace as I
felt sleep take over my senses.