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