The Storms — The Everglades Under Fire – Pt. 1
By Kelly Dean
My first experience with the Everglades came virtually the moment I touched down in Florida. I was trying to secure work driving back and forth from job interview to job interview. In southern Florida, this meant driving that corridor on Interstate 75 known as “Alligator Alley.” From Naples to Fort Lauderdale and back, Alligator Alley cuts across the northern half of the remaining Everglades through several state parks before giving way to civilization on the east coast. If you’re headed even further south, say, Miami, another slower corridor scoops even deeper into the Glades going east via old Highway 41, known as Tamiami Trail.
If you make either of these drives, you will learn why the Everglades are nicknamed the “River of Grass,” so aptly dubbed by writer and journalist, Marjory Stoneman Douglas in 1947.
Everyone has heard about The Glades: miles and miles of intermittent shallow water under sawgrass, interspersed with occasional pine and hardwood tree clusters, often shading ground-level palmetto scrubs, among other amazing vegetation — flora and fauna like no other place in the world. Many species are exotic creatures to the rest of the world.
The broad “River of Grass” is the circulatory system of southern Florida, life-blood to the water-dependent environment all the way to the Florida Bay.
Getting back to the story, my most striking personal impression of the Everglades came from these storms. It was summer, and southern Florida can produce some doozy thunderstorms during summer rainy season. Such was the case when I made the alley drive for the first time. It was nighttime and I was concerned about driving in a sizable storm, as anyone would be.
I didn’t have to be a weatherman to see storms on the glades. Visibility is measured in tens-of-miles. Looking out at the grass just after twilight, I could see the flashing black-gray thunderheads while slithering lightning strikes hit the earth from 30 miles away. It is equally impressive and frightening, awe-inspiring and humbling.
Lightning strikes cause fire, but the Everglades have evolved to make fire simply part of its natural evolution. Fire serves its purpose in The Glades.
But humans see fire only for its destructiveness.
After draining the water, fire has been used to permanently clear the land for human uses. Nature replenishes but men don’t. Such is the nature of the Florida Everglades: ironic, complex and symbiotic by design and always under fire.