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.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Connection (By: Bryan Palacio)

The Connection 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.

Whipping (By Natasha Mijares)

Whipping 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 Eyelids heavy And the sky blinks back at you.

Chekika (By Dylann Turffs)

Chekika ¬ ¬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 (By Dylann Turffs)

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 The Stars (By Johanna Piard)

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.

“The Turning Point” (By: Alina Rafikova)

What is it? “The point at which a very significant change occurs; a decisive moment” – that is the definition provided in the Oxford dictionary. However, it fails to reflect the meanings and memories we experienced in our exploration of Everglades. The turning point is an external factor that changes all your perceptions of current surroundings, or even of the whole reality. An unprecedented force that makes you look differently at things around you. You begin to look differently at yourself, at your emotions, your strengths, your threats, your ideas, your feelings. A turning point may change you just for a moment, a minute you are in, or it can change whole your life. Everglades Writing Expedition group definitely had such a point during the trip, we called it “dolphin moment.” The turning point of one of our days and even the turning point of the whole trip for some. It was sunset. Our group was both physically and emotionally exhausted. We had been paddling all the day, trying to reach the Picnic Key, a piece of land close to the Ocean. Unfortunately (or fortunately), we could not get through the Gaskin Bay due to the unexpected winds and choppy waves and had to turn back with the understanding that our feet will not touch land for another twenty—four hours more. How do you feel when you are not achieving your goal? Disappointed, upset, stricken? Scream! A thousand thoughts galloped through my mind. You cannot imagine what may happen in the vastness of the Ten Thousand Islands of Everglades. However, it was a positive shout of surprise, excitement and amazement. We saw a dolphin. He swam through the line of our canoes and jumped out of the water almost in front of each one, like tipping his hat for us. The grace and lightness of his movements made us forget about everything in the world at that very moment (I wonder how did not we drop our paddles unconsciously into the water). He shared with us the easiness of getting through the paths of endless waters of the Everglades and filled our minds and hearts with warmth, gratitude, motivation and passion to move forward. We were guests at dolphin’s “house,” house of nature and wilderness, and he welcomed us with all the compassion and fervor he could only express. Next day, in the early morning hours. Pristine untouched expanse of water around us, dew drops as droplets of liquid diamonds on each part of our fugacious home. The home-float which we built together. Just at the moment when the orchestra of sun's rays began its delightful performance, using leaves of the mangroves surrounding us as an instrument, the dolphin appeared again (of course it may be delirious to think that it was the same dolphin, although you never know what the wilderness can bring you), but I had a great inclination to think so, and let me admit the negligence to call him “our dolphin”. This time it was just a blink of an eye when he showed himself, just a glimmer of miracle, of a reminder and a hope. It seemed that he wanted to make sure that we were safe and sound, and if we were ready to continue our adventure. And we were ready! With the beginning of a new day we were ready to face new challenges and overcome new difficulties that the wilderness prepared for us. We were ready to accept new surprises and explorations that the wilderness was rewarding us with. We were also ready to thank wilderness for it allowing us to be its guests. We were ready to say “Thank you” to the dolphin for letting us feel the wilderness, to have the first wilderness experience in the Everglades, which will never be the same. Our trip began with the words of Confucius “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” We made our first step of eighteen miles into wilderness and this is only the beginning…

A Letter to Future Wilderness Explorers (By Alexandra Mosquera)

Dear Future Everglades Enthusiast, You might not understand all of the things I will tell you, you might even consider the thought of me being silly. However, I will try to draw you a picture with my words of what I saw, what I felt and what I learned. What I experienced throughout a whole month in different parts of the Everglades, I dare to say that few have and only few will. Not only did the wilderness show me its beauty, it challenged me. The wilderness took away my craving for my everyday organized chaos, yet it gave me valuable lessons. It gave me friendship, love, simplicity, ability to build something with my hands, a different view on writing and the opportunity to fall asleep to a blanket of stars. I learned about star constellations and I let the waves guide my body, my mind, my heart. When I first experienced a cramp in my arm, the wind hitting my face, my friends struggling just like me, and I saw birds flying around and fighting the wind, just like we did, I knew we were all connected. The water, the wind, the sun, the animals, the mangroves, the canoes, the paddles, our thoughts, our pain, the will to get through it, and finally, the serenity when we got to our daily destinations. You might not feel the connection right away, but give it time, give it a chance. You will fall in love with it. I promise you this, you will always be able to fall back into the open arms of the wilderness. You will feel home in the middle of the waterways, surrounded by nature, being center of the infinity of stars above you, you will close your eyes and absorb the sounds of fishes jumping out of the water, leaves moving around in the trees creating the most beautiful music you will hear at night. Everything you do will be amplified. A noise far away might feel as if it just took place an inch away from you. Each word will have more meaning than you ever expected because of how focused you are on it, without any of the distractions you usually. Any bite of food you have, will make you smile and it will make you feel grateful. You will find time to think, to reflect on what you never had time for. You will be sore and you will be proud of that. You will use parts of your body that you barely use. You will develop patience, endless patience, to a level that you never expected. You will fall asleep so quickly because you will be so excited about the next days’ adventure. I can tell you how green the leaves were, how salty the water was, how the wilderness lets you have a sneak peak of the little things you won’t find even on the best picture or video, but you will still have to go an experience it yourself. I am proud to be an Everglades National Park Ambassador. I am proud to be part of this Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition. I am proud to have been a witness of the beauty and charm of the Everglades. You will see that everything I told you can and will come true. To go to the Everglades was a dream that not even I knew I had, it came true and what I dream of now, is to preserve the wilderness I fell in love with. Yours truly, A.M.N.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Join us!!!

Becuase Wilderness is Love by Zoraida Pastor

Because Wilderness is love.

IMG_2186 IMG_2188
 This poem was inspired by  the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition. This writing project has been the experience of my life; changing and molding me in new profound ways.
This is the first draft. 
Buddha nature
Because we love. Because Wilderness is love.
 More vibes. They enter.
Imagine. Love.
Dreams fulfilled.

Love. Everywhere.
Like rain. Like sun.
No heaven. No hell.
Just love.
Sky of love.

Vibes of Love.
Master poet.
The keeper of tradition.
At a crossroad.

Love is the crossroad.
The enlightenment of love.
Love is our Buddha nature.

The sound. The vibes.
The love.
All and nothing.

So many texts.
Books with hidden meaning.
When love is the apex.
The pinnacle.
Love—our Buddha nature.
We were meant for love.
And love was meant for us.

The birds. Love. The stars love.
The Everglades. Love. Buddha is here because love is here.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

UNTITLED (By: Sandeep Varry)

By: Sandeep Varry

I often now find myself looking,
searching desperately,
for a pen, a paper, a medium...a channel,
to capture my thoughts, my memories,
as if I was a net that was cast,
caught something,
and is trying, struggling, to transfer the content,
afraid that they might start leaking out.
And hence, I concluded,
I may not live in the wilderness anymore, but,
A little piece of Wilderness now lives in me.

Untitled Poem (By Nicole Zummar)


by: Nicole Zummar

I miss it. 
I miss the breeze upon the face,
The smell of salt clogging my nose
And the wildlife in my eyes.
I miss the cattails shooting up,
And the mangroves' roots
Tangling into my kayak.
I miss the feel of the rippling waves under me--
The only thing that moved in that land of peace.
But wait--
Its not the only thing.
Look beneath the surface,
Look at the shooting sprouts move,
Look at the ridges in the water.
You hear that?
Hear the rustling of the leaves,
Hear the lapping water,
Hear the birds crow and sing.
It's a quiet wonderland.
It's my dreams being freed,
It's the vastness of the world
In a place so hidden,
So misunderstood.
There's no need to lecture about history or science or biology.
Because all the history I need to know
Is there before my eyes,
In the green and brown and blue
Holding the weight of human greed--
And awe.
It's a heart-wrenching land,
A place to fall in love--
Or rid yourself of it.
A land made to test your soul,
To break your armor,
To set you free.
Welcome to the Everglades.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Post Expedition Thoughts Compiled...

We have just returned for our 4 day expedition into the Everglades Wilderness with North Carolina Outward Bound School. The trip was incredible, and it is safe to say that the wilderness transformed all of us. We are all still in the process of writing our experience but in the meantime here is a compilation of our thoughts which I have pulled from our group's facebook page:

"I wish there was an easy way to describe what we experienced in the past four days that consisted of hours of paddling against the winds in the hot Sun, hours of labor to assemble heavy wooden platforms on top of the canoes to sleep on water, struggling to go to bathrooms, trying to stay warm in cold winds wearing wet shoes and wet clothes, crashing and getting bruised by the barnacles on the mangrove roots, dealing with headaches due to dehydration, getting over frustrations caused by fatigue and finally just surviving out there in the wilderness. But, ask us if we would like to go through that experience again and every single one of us will respond "Yes! Another 1000 times!" Because there was this ineffable magical pleasure at the end of the day when we overcame our limits and grabbed our journals to write, held our hands to pray and appreciate what we had beyond our comfort zones, and looked up to the clear skies with countless stars looking back at us. And for that I say...The Everglades Wilderness Expedition took every single thing we had to offer...only to give us in return something we weren't even capable of imagining, before were were completely transformed by the Wilderness" By Sandeep Varry

"I'm writing here because private messages to each of you would take too long... I can't take it!! I HATE IT!! I hate the lights, I hate the streets, I hate the noise, the radio felt like hell in the car, the water in the shower I just took was too clear and not salty at all, I miss eating with everyone, I miss you guys! I miss the hugs and the smiles. I miss the frustration and the impatience in your faces, all that was okay because we knew that in the end we are together and nobody would ever be left behind. I miss you and it's been only a couple hours. I miss the smell of nature, I miiiissss the stars!!! I miss the air and the hot sun on my skin, I miss paddling and I miss your voices!! I miss every single one of you! I miss writing with you and sharing everything! I miss the Everglades! I miss my wilderness family!" 
By: Alexandra Mosquero

"What a great journey we just completed. Tough winds out there this trip, but the dolphins appeared just when we needed them. This was one of the finest groups I've been privileged to lead into the wilderness. Thanks for making my work a lot of fun!"
By: Russ Taylor, NCOBS Instructor

"I'm looking at the photo of all of you in your t-shirts, taken well before our expedition. You look younger somehow. I remember that on our last morning, Johanna said that what she was leaving behind was her "naivete." Perhaps each of you has left behind some small naivete, and now you are wiser. Older. Somehow."

"Good morning, writers! I miss you! Yesterday I was plunged into a day full of obligation and rush-rush, the antithesis of the time we spent in wilderness. All day, as I went about the things I had to do on this side of our edge, you and your words, your spirits, your voices rode gently in the back of my mind. Now, I am visiting what you have written here. I am moved by what you are saying about our shared experience."
By: Anne McCrary Sullivan, Expedition Writing Instructor

"I'm definitely having a rude awakening back into the real world as well -.-"
By: Bryan Palacio

Saturday, November 1, 2014

YOU NEVER KNOW (By Nadijah Campbell)

This is my second day out in the wilderness as part of the Everglades Wilderness Writers Expedition. Today had it’s many ups and downs and I appreciated every one of them.
I woke up to this uncomfortable feeling of something was attacking my face but I didn’t see anything around.  I was being attacked by bugs called “noseeums.” Unlike mosquitoes which stick “needles” into you to draw blood they spit acid on you, causing small burning sensations, and bite through the tender skin to get the desired blood.  Once I put my bug jacket on it wasn’t too bad and thankfully after the sun rose they were gone.
Journal Entry 1: Morning at Writer’s Cove – 5 Senses of the Everglades
Visual- Rising Sun, water shining, water moving floating leaves, dark blue sky, hammocks, pairs of birds soaring through the sky, green mangroves and twisted roots, swarm of gnats in the sunlight, peach, orange and blue skyline
Auditory- Chirping, King Fisher Bird calling out, singing, snoring, rustling of leaves, groggy voices, rushing water
Tactile- Solidarity of board, calloused fingers, itching from bugs, stickiness, cold wind weeping across my face. Inner warmth
Ol’ Factory – Salt, Morning Breath, Outdoors
Gustatory – Tart Mouth, Sweet and sour kiwi, fresh water
Journal Entry 2: First Day Experience
1. What do I look forward to? I look forward to being in solitude but surrounded by nature. I’m excited to learn new things and see what I would have never seen in the city.
2. What surprised me? Seeing the stars so clearly and knowing that if I looked up every night they’d become familiar and that they wouldn’t leave me. They make me feel so close even when they’re so far away.
3. What was the hardest part? Relying on others and having to explain thing to others that I may have understood right away. It’s hard working with dependent people as someone who has been independent all of my life.
I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been eating things I usually wouldn’t eat like fake cheese, powdered milk, and all off of not so clean bowls.
For breakfast we ate granola cereal with powdered milk and dried kiwi. For lunch we had pea – no nut – butter and jelly tortilla sandwiches ad for dinner we had spaghetti.
Natures Surprises
For the second day in a row I wanted to give up. We were supposed to make it to land, a wonderful beach site where we could walk around and pee without fear of tipping  and falling out of the canoe (earlier in the day I almost fell exposed butt and all out of the canoe as my boat drifted away from the mangroves I held onto for dear life). However, Mother Nature decided that she wanted to show us who was in charge she was and she made the winds too strong for us puny little humans to make it across the bay.  However, now that I look back at it, maybe Mother Nature was trying to show us how not to be afraid and how not to constantly seek  out the easy route because if we always chose the easy path, we’d miss out on things that made life so extraordinary.
When we received news that we wouldn’t be making it to land we all slouched, we all became quiet and frustrated and we paddled with less intensity and heart than before. We had no real destination except a place that could protect us from the wind. There was wind everywhere. We were defeated. Someone asked me  how I was liking the trip so far and quite frankly I wasn’t. I had been through two full days of paddling in intense conditions and hadn’t really experienced much except for cool looking stars and sore shoulders. I replied with a simple “I wish we could see more wild life.” Ten minutes later we heard shrieking and saw something splashing in the water. We all froze and waited to see what was going to happen next.
A large wave rocked our canoe and water gushed into the air as a Dolphin arched beautifully out of the and with a great splash returned. Yes there are dolphins in the Everglades. This is the moment we were all waiting for. Laughter replaced our grimaces as we took a break from paddling in sheer excitement and tracked the wave of the dolphin as it swam ahead of us. It made me think. What else was below us and around us that we couldn’t see?
As we paddled a little longer Mother Nature showed us more of the Everglades’ beauty. A head kept popping out of the water. We didn’t know what the head was until I had the honor of confirming it’s origin. The yellow head as big as my two fists together, maybe bigger, with large black eyes poked out of the water a few feet away from my canoe and I screamed “It’s a sea turtle!” Yes, there are sea turtles in the Everglades. Getting the chance to see my favorite animal was honestly all I needed to make this trip one of the best experiences of my life.
“I would do this everyday, well not everyday, but often.”
Entry by: Nadijah Campbell

Friday, October 31, 2014

Somewhere Between Dusk and Dawn (Night 1 in the Wilderness) By: Sabrina Diaz

It's somewhere between dusk and dawn and I am bundled up in a 20'F sleeping bag. I wonder "how is this possible? How can it be that I am camping in South Florida in October yet I am nestled in a 20'F sleeping bag". Despite my years in the outdoors I have grossly misjudged how quickly the weather in South Florida can change from HOT, HOT, HOT to COLD!

But it is not the cold that wakes me in the middle of the night, it's the sound of a Barred Owl. It pierces the silent cold of the night like a warm knife slicing through a cold stick of butter. The sound immediately brings warmth to my heart. I smile wide and long...no one is looking at me...I smile for myself; I smile to the heaven's above, I smile to a power greater than I, who always seems to wake me from my slumber at night to grace me with a wilderness orchestra. Owls. Every time I sleep outside I hear Owls. I wonder, what was this Owl doing in a mangrove estuary with no dry land around us?

As I lie in my sleeping bag listening I remember the last time I heard Owls. It was somewhere between dusk and dawn and I was camping with my 2 year old daughter. Two Barred Owls were right outside our tent hooting back and forth to one another. They were so loud that I was afraid we would not get any sleep that night...but what did that matter, my daughter was in pure awe as she enjoyed front row seats to the night time symphony, from her warm sleeping bag.

Suddenly, I am propelled back to the present time and I realize that this Owl was indeed for me. It was Halloween night and while I was away on this wilderness adventure my daughter was experiencing her first time of trick or treating. I had spent hours searching online for the perfect Halloween costume for her. I wanted it to be special...I wanted it to reflect her. Finally after an endless search I found the perfect costume. Even the girl in the online photo looked just like Sierra. I was sad that I was missing her cute little face going door to door in her costume.  But as that Owl hooted through the night I realized my daughter was never far from my heart.

Have you guessed what her costume was yet? A beautiful Owl.

My mind shifts to the wilderness writing students who are fast asleep around me. I hoped that they too were being awoken from their slumber to hear the sounds of wilderness.  And if not , I hoped that something inside them was internalizing that sound so that when they rose in the morning they would feel as though they had been quietly touched by this greater force.

I am no longer cold. In fact I am now craving more of this wilderness experience. I unzip my sleeping bag so that mt skin can feel the cool night time air; I unzip my Heli-Hammock tent so that my eyes can better view the stars above; I take a big deep breath so that my nose can smell the freshness of the Earth and water. I take it all in because this is my moment.



Journal Entry: Just Jotting Down Emotions
“I have no idea what time it is but it’s night. My fingertips are a little cold and my nose reminds me of a puppy’s. Today has been challenging…successfully challenging.”
It was officially the first day of the expedition. I came with my book bag packed and ready to go. They – the Outward Bound leaders- told me to unpack everything and to take half of what I thought I needed. When we repacked I had one set of clothes for night and one for day. They called them wet clothes and camping clothes.  I also packed one extra shirt and shorts for just in case. That was it besides my inhaler, epipen, benydryl, and eczema cream and all that good stuff.
I wish I hadn’t listened to them when they said there was no need to pack my comfort food because during my times of frustration I missed good food the most.
Complicated Processes
There’s this process of packing and unpacking the canoes that’s extremely complicated. First you have to slide the wooden platforms/boards into the canoes as a base. Next you have to make sure the weight of each canoe is evenly distributed. Each canoe had two water jugs, the paddlers luggage, two paddles, food, gear and just about everything else that would fit. When that’s all done you spend your merry day canoeing. Then night falls and everything has to be undone except, this time you’re still on water. We had 6 canoes in all with two people to a canoe, one had three. After tying the canoes together and anchoring ourselves each even canoe piled its items into the odd canoes (yes there are still people in these canoes). Why? To get to the wooden boards.

Board Birthing Photocred: Sabrina Diaz
Board Birthing
Photocred: Sabrina Diaz

The person in the bow, or front, of the canoe had two options to get them out. They could either set themselves in a baby-birthing position which is where we got the term “birthing the boards” or they could stick their legs straight out and pull the board up. Both options left you in awkward positions as you slid the board that was twice as long as your body up with your neck twisted to the side and sight momentarily gone.  The boards were then lined against the backs of the canoes and the same process was repeated with the odd boats. After all of that everything is repacked and the boards are placed on top and tied securely so that we have space to move around. The first time it took us over 2 hours to complete.
Nature’s Calling
Throughout the day we also had to learn how to pee in an unstable canoe. We were all shy at first until we realized that we could’t hold it in forever. We devised a plan where if someone had to pee they would announce it and everyone would look the other way and sing. That didn’t last too long because soon found out that throughout our journey we were bound to look around at one point and accidentally see someone peeing. We’re all human beings and we all had to pee so pretty soon we just learned to answer natures call without too much hesitation.
Testy Waters
I wanted to quit. I really, really, really wanted to quit. It was my first real time canoeing, the winds were blowing our canoes away from our destination and every time we looked around we realized we either hadn’t made much ground or we were going in the opposite direction completely and the place we started from was in front of us instead of behind.  2 hours later a place that should’ve taken maybe 30-45 minutes to paddle was still far from our reach. So in frustration I started saying “1, 2, dip. 1, 2, dip” so that our strokes would be in sync. That was the only way we would beat the wind and  the opposing current. In a few  minutes we started passing the other two stragglers and we were no longer the last ones. A smile spread across my face as I realized that it wasn’t impossible but at the same time I was left a bit discouraged and afraid of what more would come if this was only the first day.
If it wasn’t for the stars, the millions of beautiful stars and the beautiful moonlight, I don’t think I would’ve slept well that night.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


After hours of not checking my messages, I scrolled through my emails and saw “Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition.” A huge grin spread across my face as my mind began to race with the possibilities. I’ll admit I got a little too excited, especially for not even knowing what the program was actually about. However, as I read on, I realized this was one of my few chances to cross something off of my bucket list; living in the wild! So, I clicked.
About a week later I received an email saying “Congratulations!” and I officially began my preparation to live in the Everglades for 3 nights and 4 days.

For starters there were a total of ten winners selected with one participant on standby. We met every weekend to learn about the Everglades through discussions, challenging adventures and more. The Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition is being held in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act  which is essentially a bill that ensures the protection of certain areas of wilderness for future generations.
What is wilderness?
Before we embarked on our journey we were asked to contribute the thoughts that came to our minds when we thought of the wilderness. Because I am who I am I wrote “lions and tigers and bears,” but when we were asked in person I realized that I didn’t even consider animals to be a necessity for wilderness. In fact, I see them as more of a delightful addition.
Wilderness is “a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert,uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals; a tract of wasteland,” according to dictionary.com but we discovered that everyone’s personal definition differed from one person to the next.

Before the actual expedition we met once a week for a month. Our first meeting focused on becoming acquainted with the program and each other. When I met my “wild family”  I became even more excited because I was surrounded by passionate people. During our next session we eased our way into the Everglades with a walk along the Anhinga Trail. Up to this point we still hadn’t experienced wilderness but a week later we found ourselves surrounded by wilderness of all types – soon to be, proposed and current.
Throughout these small day trips I realized that I became less afraid of things when I knew that there was nothing to be afraid of. Yes there are dangers but there are dangers in everything. If you stay away from experiences because of fear you won’t find the things worth living for.
I went into this knowing that there was a possibility of being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I hate them just as much as the next person but I knew that they the probably wouldn’t kill me, so I continued.  I really don’t like the idea of being in places where I don’t know what’s coming up next or even what’s below me and around me. I like to know how long it takes to do something and how far I’m going when I’m going somewhere. It scares me when I don’t know these things because my mind runs wild with the negative possibilities. However when we had to bike on an endless road in essentially the middle of nowhere and tread through the sea of grass or “slough slog” I didn’t let my fears bother me.
Journal Entry 1: Biking and Hiking
“This takes me back to the times when I would drive to my grandma’s house surrounded by trees and fields. All I saw around me was nature and in front of me all I could see was the never ending road. I’ve never biked for that long. I’ve never hiked through an over grown trail with things touching my legs and arms. But I did today.”
After the biking expedition we went slough slogging which consisted of walking in swamp-like water through saw grass.
Journal Entry 2: Cypress Dome
“If you look below you it’s disgusting. There’s this yellow and green Spanish Moss that looks like something someone threw up and left sitting for a while. Saw grass wrapped around my ankles as the mud sucked my feet in threatening to steal my sneakers each time I tried to take a step and the only balance I had was in my walking stick. It felt like a trap for us outsiders. There were swarms of tadpoles tickling my ankles and curious – or oblivious- craw fish that used my legs as an object to climb on. As we went farther the saw grass  became increasingly taller and began to scratch at my forearms and elbows and I tripped at the roots of baby cypress trees. They left me stumbling and hoping that I didn’t fall into the unknown waters. Finally we made it to our destination.  After only looking down for the past hour making sure I didn’t injure myself I looked up and the trees that were once only to my hips now towered above me. As the sun peeked in between the branches it revealed spiderwebs and white spider eggs (which look like really tiny white spheres) and woodpeckers and just all of this wildlife who’s homes we were intruding in. Mosquitoes buzzed in my ears and my feet kept getting stuck in vines but as I stood there in the middle of the cypress dome I knew all of the discomfort I had been through before was worth it.”IMG_6900
The beauty before me was not something I could have dreamed of and it was right there for me to touch and smell. It was real even though my mind had difficulty believing in its existence. I took a picture so the memory would last longer but the picture did no justice to what I experienced.
After one last Saturday of light paddling in preparation for the hours of canoeing we would soon be doing, we were officially ready to get in touch with our inner wilderness.
Entry By: Nadijah Campbell

Monday, October 27, 2014

Day Trip # 3 (By: Sabrina Diaz)

October 25th was the final day trip for the students of the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition. The day is jam packed with important things to see, do and learn about. Our day starts at 9am at the Ernest F Coe Visitor Center where we begin to talk about the "nitty gritty" of the next week's expedition. We rummage through clothes which Ranger Maria and I have brought to share with the students. We go through a detailed list of gear that we need for the trip: Synthetic shirts, fleece sweater, quick dry pants, wet shoes, dry shoes, long underwear...and the list goes on and on. We manage to share our resources to ensure that all the students have the necessities.

Next on the list is a wonderful guest speaker: Don Finefrock. Mr. Finefrock is the Executive Director of the South Florida National Parks Trust (one of our sponsors for this program). Prior to his career with the Trust Don was a journalist for 20 years. He spent 10 years writing for the Miami Herald. His written work on Hurricane Andrew helped the Miami Herald to win a Pulizer Prize. Additionally, Don has paddled extensively in the Everglades Wilderness. The students thoroughly enjoyed listening to Mr. Finefrock and had lots of great questions for him.  

After our wonderful talk to Mr. Finefrock the group headed south, down to the Flamingo are of the Park. They enjoyed a talk about "Submerged Wilderness" from Ranger Bob Showler, and then headed over to 9 mile pond for their first paddling lesson.

While paddling, the students had some time to process their thoughts and put their pens to the paper. In less than one week they would find themselves on a paddling adventure of a lifetime!

Entry by: Ranger Sabrina

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wilderness Expedition Day Trip #3! (By Alexandra Mosquera)

On Saturday, Oct. 25, Ranger Maria showed us Flamingo where Ranger Bob explained the problems the Everglades face in that area. Fresh water supply and motorboats are big issues the Everglades has to deal with. However, there are measures being taken to make it possible to protect and conserve the Everglades and its flora and fauna, such as making shallow water into poll toll areas.
The rangers have been talking to us about a lot of problems the Everglades has faced for decades, but they have shown us many different solutions that have been found and the actions that have been taken and will still happen in the future. This shows me that many people are doing so much to protect the Everglades, the wilderness. I’m so thankful for being part of this expedition, being able to experience the beauty the Everglades provides to us.
After Ranger Bob was done and we were on our way to the 9 mile pond to a canoeing session, we saw a little shark where we were standing. 
Have you noticed how many pictures we take every day, all the time? I believe that we forget sometimes to see with our eyes and not with the lens of our camera or through our phones. We lose the sight of the obvious, what is right in front of us. Me and Alina talked about this and came to the conclusion that we need to enjoy the moments we are in, when we are experiencing them. I take pictures to make that moment last longer, to share it with my family and many others, I also take pictures because it is a type of art to me. On the other hand, to take pictures rather than paying attention to that moment can become an addiction. An addiction becomes a habit, which is hard to alter.
Taking pictures is a big distraction and can prevent us from fully enjoying a moment in nature.
I have been able to find a balance for now and it is the best of both world to me. Multitasking in our generation has become very popular. Is this good or bad?
I think that every person needs to find their own way to prioritize certain things in their lives. If multitasking is possible in a specific moment, then go for it! Though, don’t miss out on the little details in life that bring so much joy and happiness into our lives.
Everything in life has its pros and cons, I encourage you to, every once in a while, just stop what you’re doing for a minute, appreciate your surroundings, be grateful for being lucky enough to be in that exact moment, in that exact place. Not one second in our lives will be the same again.
Take pictures when you feel like it, but don’t forget to set the camera and phone aside from time to time.
 BY Alexandra Mosquero, Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition Student

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Poem by Alexandra Mosquera

The Everglades. Part of Nature, part 

of me.

See through water, dirt moving wherever I step, the smell? Nature.
When did this become what it is? It was here before I existed and will still be here after I’m long gone.
Majestic trees, endless water, soft-cool breeze, little insects and spiders next to me. This is Nature, this is wilderness.
I am part of it, it is part of me. This is the Everglades.
Don’t make me go away, please Ranger Ryan! Don’t ask me to leave! I want to stay, no need to move, no need to talk, just breathe, just look, just be.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Poem by Sandeep Varry

Below is a poem written by Sandeep Varry, a student from the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition. Before this expedition Sandeep had never been in true wilderness before. The Wilderness has left a lasting impression on him that no doubt will stay with him forever.


I like the silence,
when people are not walking around
making waves, disturbing something ancient
with every single footprint,
prints that may not be left behind,
will not be left behind.

Did I tell you I like the silence?
Did I tell you how I feel?
please, tell me,
How should I feel?

I have no instructions,
just directions to enter, the directions that
the floating leaves around me don't follow,
and no one asks them what they have seen,
how far they have travelled,
how far do they have to go.

I like their silence.
I like the reflection that is falling on my book,
light entering through trees
that are doing their best to block the sun.

As my pen glides on the pearly white pages,
with every stroke of my hand,
I am starting to forget what was left behind,
but instead, I wonder what will I leave behind,
and what would have been here, where I stand,
where I see the fallen woods, fallen,
which remind me that one day I too will fall,
I too will join and become a part of
something, something that was present before me,
and something, that will surely be present, after.

created by the resistance,
the reluctance
of this loquacious wilderness that surrounds me,
it refuses to speak,
just silently observes,
it too, like me,
loves the sound of nothing,
or rather,
the willful silence of everything.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wilderness Day Trip #2: Proposed Wilderness and Designated Wilderness

We wanted to give them some important concepts to think about. We wanted them to understand that wilderness is not perfect. We wanted them to come start coming to their own conclusions. Our second field trip into the wilderness included a morning bike ride through proposed wilderness, followed by an afternoon wet walk into designated wilderness.

On October 18, 2014 the students of the Everglades Wilderness Writing Expedition went for a bike ride through an area called the "hole-in-the-donut". This is an area of the park that was formerly farm land and now taken over by invasive exotic tree called Brazilian Pepper. For may years the Park has been actively removing the Brazilian Pepper, restoring the land to what it was historically: Sawgrass Prairies. Through the middle of this "reclaiming wilderness" is the Old Ingrham Highway; a historic road bed that visitors often use for a nice bicycle ride in the park. There is only one problem: the area is deemed
"proposed wilderness" and technically bicycles are not allowed in proposed wilderness.This area could potentially move from a proposed status to a designated status only if this historic road is removed. The question is "Will we remove this historic road?" The students also explored the question "could this restored area be wilderness in the true sense?" Needless to say the bicycle ride with Ranger Rudy was a huge success. The students began thinking critically about what wilderness actually means to them, and by law.

During the afternoon the group met Ranger Ryan for a wet walk through the sawgrass to a beautiful cypress dome.  This was a walk through designated wilderness. With a little apprehension the group followed their fearless leader into the wet waters of the Everglades. A moment of silence in the Cypress Dome offered the students a perfect platform to write about their experience thus far.

Entry By: Ranger Sabrina