Welcome to the Florida Everglades
By Jeff Klinkenberg
I'm one of those Everglades boys who can’t get enough of swamps, alligators and interesting characters, who don’t mind slapping mosquitoes or skinny-dipping where there may be snakes.
My passion for the Florida Everglades started when I began bass fishing with my dad as a kid. Now my hair is gray and I take Lipitor. I’m slower and more careful. But I still like wet feet. The less I say about skinny-dipping the better.
When I'm in the Everglades, I like watching swallow-tailed kites. I always hope I might see a panther. I like to eat the old-timey cuisine at Joanie’s Blue Crabs in the Big Cypress. Speaking of cypress, I love to look at the giant trees in Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. But I’m fond of small, too. Tiny tree frogs. Tiny orchids. Sometimes I stop at the nation’s tiniest post office — also in the Everglades — and chat with the postmaster who battles claustrophobia and the occasional snake.
I think fondly of the afternoon a couple of decades ago when I watched her take down the American flag — and we saw a bear on the other side of the road. Dorothy, you’re not in Kansas anymore.
“There are no other Everglades in the world,’’ wrote my late friend Marjory Stoneman Douglas in her iconic The Everglades: River of Grass, published in 1947. In 1992, I spent the day chatting with her about the Everglades. At the age of 102, she spoke in perfect paragraphs about the morning seven decades earlier when she had seen her first and only panther. I understood her excitement. I have seen the nation’s rarest mammals twice in my life. Yet every time I visit, every time I drive a back road or slip into the swamp or hike through the pines, I keep my eyes open. In the Everglades, anything can happen, including seeing a panther. Be ready.
What we call “The Everglades” actually begins just south of what I call the Disney World of food marts, Robert is Here. The Everglades National Park meanders more than 200 miles to the tip of Florida, and it’s overwhelming. For our purposes, I’m going to concentrate on places worth visiting in the southern half. Some you can read about in the guidebooks. Other places, off the grid, are my choices.
For many of you, reading about the Florida Everglades will be enough. I hope you’ll enjoy the stories and the photos and never have to swat a mosquito, step around an alligator or avoid a poisonous machineel tree.
But I'm hoping that a few of you will be inspired to investigate.
The dark waters of a swamp are scary the first time you step in. After all, some of the animals living there are blessed with tooth and claw. Take comfort that I still have all my appendages after more than a half-century of Everglades tripping. True, I have been bitten by a few snakes. But I asked for it. I picked them up. You probably won’t.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see some. Alligators as well. I hope you’ll hear a frog symphony after a rain. I hope you see a ghost orchid. I hope you meet a Gladesman who says “ain’t,” drives a pickup and knows how to call an owl.
Whoo hoo ahoo. Whoo hoo ahoo.
Gladesman? Or barred owl?
Photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA