Friday, 22 March:

Day Eight - Heading north again (or "model prisoners")

The day started early and everyone seemed to be in good spirits. The quote of the day comes from Dave, commenting on the proliferation of honors student bumper stickers; and the bumper sticker reads "My son is a model prisoner at Lucasville Prison."

It was sunny and warm as we left the Long Pine Key campground at Everglades National Park at 0900. Around 0915, we were stopped at the visitors center to be tourists and buy stuff. Many bought books that can be read and re-read, to expand our knowledge of the region, and to allow us to recall this wonderful experience. Tammy spotted a yellow-bellied sapsucker, which I observed for about 10 minutes. It foraged through the tree from top to bottom in a spiraling motion, an action that I had just recently read about. I felt privileged to watch this bird feed and to understand why it did so in this particular manner. On the road again. As we leave the park, I can't help but wonder what a visit to this vast swamp will yield, say 10 years from now. We stopped to take photos in front of the park sign, then it was back in the bus and onward.

Once out of the park, agricultural activity immediately consumed the landscape. I know how we all like our supermarkets full of anything one can possibly eat, and these fields are simply supplying a demand, but, personally, I viewed these fields as ugly. I say that because I know the extent of the role they play in the killing of the Everglade. We watch as large trucks irrigate the fields, losing up to 80% of the water they pump to evaporation. My thoughts are interrupted as we make yet another tourist stop. This one is at a large fruit stand called `Robert Is Here,' which left me with more baggage and less money, but I think that's what being a tourist is all about. Isn't it? While there, we see a large bird house full of purple martins. This is really cool, because their numbers have been drastically reduced due to extensive use of pesticides. As we leave `Robert Is Here,' I can't help but wonder, who is Robert, and was he really there?

After a few more routine stops, we finally settle into what appears to be the trip back home. Although we know it's snowing back home, I have a feeling that everyone is longing for their own bed and a shower, including me. By 1115, half of the crew is fast asleep and the other half is singing, or at least trying to. Still, I find it soothing and begin to join those who sleep. Bump in the road. Big bump, I'm awake now. How long was I out? Agh, only 10 minutes.

We pass by a huge phosphate mine, similar to the limestone quarries of Ohio. As we talk about the comet we saw last night, we spot an osprey and a red-shouldered hawk within a mile of each other. Can ya believe it? It's time for lunch already and we are only about half an hour north of Dade County. A clan of boat-tailed grackles joins us for lunch - some coming within a foot to get the morsels we throw. Note: in the world of the grackle, the female, unquestionably, wears the pants. I catch wind of something tricky the girls are up to, but they won't let me in on the deal. Hmmmm! I wonder what it could be?

Well, it's 1:00 p.m. (1300), and we're on the road again. How about some more bad news, or just some reality, you choose the label. Earlier, we saw pine forests that had been wiped out by hurricane Andrew, at least a natural tragedy. Now, on both sides of the bus we see a different kind of forest disaster. A forest too thick to walk through, a forest filled with exotic trees - trees introduced from another country: melaleuca, Australian pine, and Brazilian pepper. Although the pine doesn't seem too bad, the others are nothing short of a menace. They take over completely, choking out all native species; are not suitable for most wildlife in the region; and, on top of all that, don't even burn well.
Next, we see sugar cane, acres and acres of it. We see a field being burned off, part of the harvesting technique, along with several sugar processing plants. And yes, the fields are irrigated with Lake Okeechobee water that once naturally flowed through the Everglades. By reducing this natural flow of fresh water, some areas become too rich in salt, thus unable to support plants or wildlife. Also of great threat is the rapid population growth of south Florida, creating an ever increasing demand for, you guessed it, water.

Coming into Pahokee, at the southern tip of Lake Okeechobee, we see poverty that reminds one of some third world country. The ditches are lined with garbage, mostly old tires and other car parts. Yea! We just saw a banana tree. We stopped at a dam at Port Mayaca, and there were about 50 people fishing. I spoke with one person from Dayton, Ohio. He was fishing for crappy; he showed me one and I took its picture. Some of the group gathered small shells and rocks from the shore. Back on the bus. As everyone is settling in for the ride to the next camp, I spot a bald eagle perched in a dead pine tree. I couldn't believe it at first, but finally managed to utter a statement in time to allow a couple of the others to witness it also. The smell of fresh picked oranges filled the air. Dave spotted an armadillo near the side of the road and stopped. Dr. J tried to cut him off at the pass so we could get an up close look, but the little fella knew the terrain better than Dr. J and escaped our curiosity. I learned that armadillos have no teeth, and are the only living mammal, besides man, that can get leprosy. Wow!

We pulled into Highlands Hammock State Park at 1700; it looks like a real nice park. After setting up camp, the group went for a walk, while I stayed behind to gather firewood and catch up on my notes. I climbed up a pine tree to get a nice shot of the setting sun. I could have stayed there until dark, but the group came back and was anxious to go eat. Once again it was a Shoney's, but that was Okay. They had a display of paintings on their walls that I found rather exciting; done by a local gal. Back at camp, everyone disappeared either to use the phone or the shower. Once again I found myself alone, only this time I had a radio and a nice blazing fire. Having realized that music was the thing I missed most from the civilized world, I quickly found a rock station and did a primal dance around the fire. When my tent-mate John arrived, he joined in. I now felt fulfilled and turned the music down as the rest of the party returned.

Oh yeah, the girls' plan. They lined up the professors for a group photo and just before snapping the shot, they let 'em have it with silly string. It was definitely cute. I can't wait to see the pictures. We stayed up late that night sitting around the fire, talking. Just before retiring, some of us (I'll never tell who), toilet papered the professors' tent. Ha! Ha! I guess some people never grow up. I think it was good innocent fun. I mean, I had fun watching them. (Faculty note: there was a rule against practical jokes on this trip, however the girls found a loophole through this very impractical use of toilet paper).

Well, my job of writing for the day is nearly over. I just wish to convey that this trip has been an extremely exciting experience for me. I learned a lot about my environment, and traveled with some really great people, both of which have changed me in a small, but positive way. Thank you, Dr. Cunningham! Now, in the words of Roy Rogers, or one those old cowboys, "Happy Trails!!!"

- CR