Following the Flow
With our camper attached to the truck, we inch our little turtle shell to the gate of the campground where we’ve lived for the past month in the tip of Southern Florida. The gate arm comes up and I pull forward and quickly feel the slap of change hit my face. In an instant we leave behind the snug little village of campers, snowbirders, shuffleboard players and gray haired golf cart drivers and are thrown into a current of something wildly different. If there was a way I could pull my legs back into our shell and just plop firmly on the side of the road for awhile, I sure would have but we tiptoe out into four lanes of traffic as a speeding convertible comes jetting around. I notice his single finger salute and mutter to myself, “Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore”.
As we come to the stoplight at the crossroads of Highway 1, I look south and smile at the thoughts of the many wonderful times we had across that turquoise painted bridge that leads to the Florida Keys. We roll down the windows and turn on the radio to 102.7 – The Beach as Jade Alexander announces an upcoming Miami event and cranks up Jimmy Buffett’s Margarittaville. How perfect. I let my mind drift a little further into the memories of our hilarious adventure boating with friends in Key Largo before I’m abruptly brought back to the decision at hand by the honking horn behind me. I reluctantly turn right onto Highway 1 and we officially begin our spring migration north.
We decided to stay off the interstate for this trip and as I merge from Highway 1 onto US 27, Jade starts spinning More Than a Feeling by Boston. I look through the windshield at the changing landscape that instantly went from sprawling suburbia into cultivated fields of everything imaginable growing and couldn’t help but feel the clash that has been battled here for years. The treasure is land and controlling the way the water flows through it. What I’m driving on used to be all part of the slow moving river of the Everglades but in this southernmost part of Florida, what wasn’t preserved in either the Everglades National Park or the Big Cypress Preserve is in constant conflict. Farmers want to control and harness the water to be used for irrigation. The developers want to remove the water so that Miami can continue to grow. The alligators and wood storks need the water flow to continue like it has just to survive.
We cross over the Tamiami Trail which cuts through the middle section of the Everglades and I glance East remembering our day counting gators at Shark Valley. Jade plays Abracadabra by The Steve Miller band and then it was like someone waved a magic wand and poof, it was just us with our Happy Place in tow and no other cars around as we entered the Everglades for our last time. In seconds the scenery changes and for miles and miles we were mesmerized once again at the magnitude and size of this breathtaking place. We pass through countless cypress thickets and over mangrove hammocks. The sawgrass seems to be waving goodbye to us as Hwy 27 crosses under I-75 and we enter our last stretch of what has been preserved as the Everglades.
Pour Some Sugar on Me by Def Leppard comes on just as the glades end and abruptly morphs into fields as far as you can see on both sides of the road of sugarcane. It feels as if we are entering another dimension or even stepped onto Mars. This was once the Everglades too, but now in every direction is some stage of sugarcane growing from seedlings to mature tall stalks. Huge tractors that look like something out of the movie Mad Max were lumbering across the fields. Semis where coming and going in every direction with loads of cane heading to a processing plant. We could see up ahead a massive dark smoke cloud billowing up and I glance down at my gas gauge. Being stuck in traffic in Sugarcaneville for a few hours doesn’t appeal to me at all. What? No accident? We plunge through the smoke for about a mile and then it clears out. A quick google search and we learn that sugarcane field burning is carried out before harvesting the cane to make the process easier and require less manual labor. We drive through another burn a few miles later as Jade cranks up Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple, but sadly the reception is starting to break up a little now.
It was great hearing Jade Alexander’s voice while we were exploring south Florida this year. She played songs that we loved from the 70’s and 80’s which can always take us back to a special place in time. She also took us back in our thoughts to Butterfly Hollow and the beautiful October weekend in 2009 when she and her love found the path to our little hideaway and we were lucky enough to be a part of their enchanting wedding day. I can still see the beautiful smile on her face as she threw a pile of orange and red maple leaves up into the air and let them fall around her wedding dress while we captured the precious moment in pictures.
The sugarcane fields slowly end and we drive through a few little towns that had popped up over the years to support the cane workers and industry. As we roll past the top of Lake Okeechobee the landscape changes once again and 102.7 can no longer be found on the radio. I look up through the sunroof and see a flock of geese in perfect formation heading north too as we drive through the first of many rolling hills filled with orange groves. Hello sweet smell of orange blossoms in the air. So long South Florida. We’ll miss ya Key Largo. Keep flowing Everglades. See ya later Alligator.