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.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day Trip #1: The Basics!

The starting point. This is only 

the beginning.

By: Alex Mosquero, EWWE student

The experience from Saturday, Oct. 11, was great! I got to spend time with some great people, young minds that will amaze the world, not one day, but are doing it already!
Ranger Sabrina Diaz showed us around the Anhinga Trail and told us a lot about the history of the Everglades. She talked about the history of that specific trail, how people wouldn’t be able to see nature for what it is; to me it is simply everything that surrounds us. Some people, throughout history, have seen certain animal or plant species as means to an end, which in their case was to make as much money as one can spend in two lifetimes.
It seems so hard to understand that those people, in the past and present, didn’t feel the appreciation for the beauty that nature provides in places like the Everglades.
In many national parks throughout the U.S. visitors get the chance to experience the beauty and uniqueness of nature and the wilderness.
How come the people that wanted to own a certain kind of snail or a certain kind of plant or tree weren’t able to see what I saw, what I felt?
It doesn’t take a genius to sit down, breathe the fresh air and enjoy the view.
I think that possessions mean a lot to people. It shows their social status and the more they own, the more they are worth. However, I disagree with that notion of possessions equals self-worth. That thought, in my opinion, has destroyed way too much in nature, everywhere around the world, and is something that I believe can be changed by educating the new generations in a way that being grateful for the still untouched portions of nature, the way we interact with it and the way we can preserve it, that is what I think can make the future generations see things in a different way and act differently.
We don’t need to own nature, in a way, nature owns us. We are just passing by in a short period of time compared to how long nature and wilderness have existed before we were even born, and how long it will still be here after we pass away.
What I am experiencing with these other great young minds can’t be compared to anything I have ever done before.
I am lucky to share moments of reflection about wilderness, its meaning, influence on us and the world, its power and role in our lives and our world.
Thank you Sabrina Diaz and Larry Perez for all your time and effort on that Saturday!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Ready, Set, Go! (by Alex Mosquera)

Tomorrow I will be starting my first writing expedition and I can’t wait!!
Sabrina, the person in charge of guiding us through the Everglades and one of the people that made is making this expedition possible, is super bubbly and so full of energy, not even her two year old can keep up with her! Hahahaha.
I’m going on a journey that will last four weeks in total. Every Saturday, 10 other students, Sabrina and some other people who are part of this project, will go on an adventure through the wilderness in the Everglades, located in the South of Florida. The last weekend of October we will be spending the whole weekend in canoes; writing and talking… and probably writing some more!
I’m studying journalism at Florida International University in North Miami, FL. When I applied to this unique opportunity I didn’t even know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I don’t regret it at all! Already the reception that took place last week on Thursday in Coral Gables was so much fun, and that was just the start! Of course, that didn’t have anything to do with being in the wild, but it made me realize how much effort Sabrina and many others have put into making this happen, so that young writers can enjoy nature in a way many will never be able to see in their lives.
I’m very excited about hanging out with other people that are as passionate as I am, maybe even more, about writing! I can’t wait to take pictures and share them with you :) 
Hopefully we won’t get bitten by too many mosquitoes!
Entry by: Alexandra Mosquera