National Geographic : 1967 Oct
Sea of saw grass spreads to the horizon in this painting by GEOGRAPHIC artist Lisa Biganzoli. White ibises wing their way across the wilderness while an alligator, a red-bellied turtle, otters, and raccoons con gregate at a water hole abounding in bream, garfish, and largemouth bass. "Flying" underwater, an anhinga seizes a fish. Lack ing water-repelling oil, another snakebird hangs wings out to dry. Yellow-billed Amer ican egret, smaller snowy egret, crook necked Louisiana heron, and a great blue heron stalk the shallows. Florida Bay at Flamingo-a little less than forty miles-you go downhill at an average rate of an inch and three-quarters per mile. But in a region so low and flat, a few inches can alter land and nature as much as thou sands of feet in the Rockies. Altitude, slight though it is, divides this Delaware-size park into three different worlds-the pinelands, the saw grass, and the mangrove coast. First because highest is the pinelands world, a beguiling place of wind soughing through long needles, of calling bobwhite and hammering woodpecker. By night the woods stir with unsuspected life as raccoons and opossums come forth to feed, bobcats and gray foxes prowl, and white-tailed deer, by some miracle, avoid breaking their dainty, fragile legs in nature-made booby traps holes dissolved in the porous limestone.* Pines Yield to Saw-grass Glades From these rocky, pine-clad five-foot "mountains" you descend a few impercep tible inches and enter the true glade country the world of saw grass, hammock, and slough. What an adventure this must have been in the days when early explorers braved the Everglades-men like Maj. A. P. Williams in 1883 and Hugh L. Willoughby, "Ex-Lieuten ant Commanding Rhode Island Naval Re serve," in '97. Even then, only 70 years ago and well within the memory of men now liv ing, all the area south of Lake Okeechobee and west of a thin strip of pineland facing the Atlantic was a watery wilderness known only to the secretive Seminole. Even the Williams expedition had probed no more than a waver ing north-south line as far as the Harney River (map, page 519). As Willoughby wrote in Across the Ever glades, "in our very midst, as it were, in one of our Atlantic coast States, we have a tract of land one hundred and thirty miles long and seventy miles wide that is as much unknown to the white man as the heart of Africa." 532 He and a companion crossed by canoe, from the mangrove swamps of the Gulf Coast near the Harney's mouth to the infant town of Miami. "What a change," he wrote, "had been made in this place since the same time last year!-from two houses it has been made a town of two thousand inhabitants. Of course, its splendid big hotel, with every modern convenience, will prove a great boon to the tourist, but for me the picturesqueness seemed to have gone; its wildness has been rudely marred by the hand of civilization." *For other GEOGRAPHIC articles on the Everglades, see: "Wildlife of Everglades National Park," by Daniel B. Beard, January, 1949, and "Haunting Heart of the Everglades," by Andrew H. Brown, February, 1948.