Thursday, September 8, 2016

Florida's Ten Thousand Islands

In the winter of 1975 I hitchhiked west from Miami Beach along Alligator Alley. Rides weren't easy for the first thirty miles. Finally a fruit farmer from Naples gave me a ride through the southern tip of the Everglades. Little, but swamp lined the four-lane highway. No snow birds from the Northeast or Canada wanted to live in these mosquito-ridden boondocks. The only signs of civilization were the time-battered gas stations and Indian trading posts promoting alligator wrestling and cold beer. The farmer left me at Everglade City. A sign advertised the Gun and Rod Club. The farmer had mentioned it was worth a visit. I stuck out my thumb. A hot rod took me there.

"Everglade City looks a little beat up."

There was a wide space between houses and buildings.

"We keep gettin' hit by hurricanes. They blow everything' into the Gulf and the Gulf don't give back what it takes." The driver introduced himself as 'Indee'.

"Lands seems high here."

To the south of town mounds rose from the brackish water.

"All old oyster bars. Indians must of ate billions of them. They wuz here before us and my family been here since right after the Seminole War. Number 2 that is." The twenty-two year old driver was the epitome of a backwoods greaser; slick hair, greasy jeans, rawhide muscles under the stained Allman Bros. teeshirt, but he had all his teeth and they gleamed like sun-bleached bones. Mine were more yellow.

"Must almost seem like home."

"Don't know nowhere else. Just this road and that." He pointed to the Everglades. "Fishin', hunting', drinkin', whatever."

Whatever encompassed a lot of territory in the Ten Thousands Islands.

The inhabited swamps were ideal for smuggling.

Planes and boats loaded with cocaine and reefer protected by crackers used to talking to themselves.

"I was thinking of a canoe trip."

"Good, I got one. We'll go into the 'glades."

"I don't have much money." I was heading for San Diego.

"$10/half day. You'll never see anything' like it and you're lucky it's cold, otherwise the skitters would suck your body dry."

"Okay." I had read Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' THE YEARLING.

Two feet off the highway was the setting of her novel about a young boy tragically adopting a deer in Florida.

"I'll see you at 6. Sunrise and the swamps."

The hot rod burned rubber on the dirt and I entered the slightly-musty hunting lodge. It was golden cedar from floor to ceiling. I thought it was out of my price range, but was pleased to hear it was $20. I had to sleep someplace and the motels in Everglade City were still recovering from the last hurricane.

After a lovely fish dinner and some cheap wine I stood on the veranda and stare out of the darkness of the swamp.

No one lived there.

I went to sleep dreaming about my canoe ride and woke at 5:50am, but Indee was a no-show.

I walked to the observatory at the road's end. A deep green covered the world of very little dry land. White herons flew with the dawn. A flock of flamingos ferreted through the low tide mud. Bacon drifted on the light air. Breakfast was ready at the Lodge and bacon and eggs was as good as way to start a morning that would be followed by canoeing in the Everglades.

I turned around and walked across the trim lawn.

Today wasn't a day for the Call or the Wild.

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