I feel the quiet at dusk and the heaviness of the sun hanging on to those last few minutes before its weight pulls it into the trees, producing a silhouette of arms in praise of its rosy glow. Tissue paper wings of the ibis, flying low, rustle above my head as they glide toward roosts in the island grove on the pond before me. They float above, hang, and disappear into the trees, three, four, or twenty at a time. Silence again, until the next shush of wings above my head, wave after wave of flying birds, until thousands of ibis have returned to roost. Competing for roosting space are also great blue herons with voices like grumbling old men, noisily settling, bouncing first on springboard edges of branches, and then scrambling deeper in, demanding their place to bunk. On the other side of the pond, roseate spoon bills fly in and go about their bedtime ritual, out of hearing range, but adding flashes of their pink bodies to an already fading sky. All quiet now, lights out at Paurotis Pond in Everglades National Park.
January has a much different meaning in the Everglades and I enjoy my notes and pictures of our 2008 trip while winds whip and temperatures of this January in the mountains have dipped into the single digits for too many nights.
Everglades National Park is a wild place, suited to birds, gators, fish, insects, and vegetation, adapted to a humid, watery climate, but cooler months offer respite from blazing heat and barrage of mosquitoes, and a good time to explore this shallow, slow-moving sheet of water.
Board walk trails and boat tours in the Everglades, Biscayne National Park, and several state parks introduced us to collections of bird life larger than anywhere else in the U.S. Wood storks whose powerful dark rimmed wings rustle like dry foliage as they lift their large white bodies and unfold long elegant legs to flight. Hawks, osprey, pelicans, blue herons, anhinga, egrets and more wading birds than I can identify, busy themselves as actors on their stage, ignoring the audience. Crocodiles and alligators cohabit here but nowhere else in the United States will they live together. Vegetation is very different in this sea environment too. Mangrove trees are prolific and fascinating, displaying their spider-like roots arching above the water. An adaptive tree, they tolerate of the salt in the brackish water where sea meets inland fresh water, and can filter the salt and transfer it to their outer leaves. These mangrove clusters thrive, so dense they seem to wrap roots around each other and hover over land or float as one unit on the water. Sea grape trees produce round flat leathery leaves that people mailed at one time as postcards, and now can be found in upscale restaurants serving as small plates for fancy desserts. Bald cypress trees covering marshy landscapes resemble standing whitewashed driftwood along the coast, but here, simply lie dormant in winter, waiting for the heat and humidity to revive them. A different environment, indeed.
It’s good to get out of our comfort zone, away from the familiar. It’s good to see God’s creation in its many forms, where we are visitors, not intruders. That’s what I like about national parks. We have an opportunity to see as a child might, some wonderful new creature, or plant, up close for the very first time. And, as we concentrate on the newness and even strangeness of each day of discovery we chase away the ruts and wrinkles of everyday sameness. We are renewed in body, mind and spirit.
Elizabeth, from June 2010 RC-BP newsletter, Chronicles