The title of this column was originally coined by one Marjory Stoneman Douglas. It refers to the famous Florida Everglades.
When we left you last week, I was recovering from an unscheduled dip in the main canal that ran through the Everglades during my summer employment with the U.S. Soil Conservation Service. Little did I know that this would the first of a series of misadventures that would happen that year, the next of which occurred when we were piloting a small Caterpillar tractor into the marsh land. Our objective was to reach a checkpoint about a mile and a half from the main road. Things went smoothly enough because the tractor was equipped with bolted-on railroad ties that kept it afloat through most of the mud. Unfortunately, we hit a wet spot and the tractor began to sink with the ties snapping off like matchsticks. We scrambled out the back and managed to slog our way back to the truck. We then proceeded to get a much larger tractor to tow the sunken vehicle back to firmer ground. Again, unfortunately, the heavier tractor sank more quickly than the first one. Back to our headquarters, we pulled out the largest tractor in the garage and once again set out to retrieve the other two. By the time we arrived, darkness had fallen and we were unable to get close enough to complete our mission.
The consensus of our four-man crew was to hike back to the highway, but unfortunately again, none of us had a flashlight. Luckily we had left one of our workers with the truck and he proceeded to build a bonfire so that we had a point of reference for our long walk. On that trip one of the veteran workers told us to be very aware of the smell of mothballs. When he asked him why, he replied that alligators dug a deep pit in which the female was to deliver her baby alligators and that these pits reeked of a mothball smell. Needless to say, we took very short choppy steps on the way out.
On the day following our nocturnal adventure, I had an assignment to drive our newest pickup truck to Lake Okeechobee to deliver some materials to our office there. On the way back, it was an abnormally hot day with the long narrow road devoid of traffic. Actually, the road was a two-lane narrow affair with no shoulder and the main canal on the left side and saw-grass marshes on the right. About halfway through the return trip, I started to doze off and finally went to sleep completely. When I awoke, I was on the left side of the road, the truck obviously had rolled a number of times and my Jungle Jim pith helmet had been rammed down over my ears. I managed to re-start the engine and realized the truck was facing north instead of south. Turning about, I drove back to the station dreading the reception I would get when the people there saw the damaged vehicle. Explaining what had happened, they asked me if I was OK and said not to worry about the truck. It would be chalked up to the overtime work I had done the previous day.
Over the years since that memorable summer, I have followed Everglades stories about the excessive drainage that had to be reversed to preserve the ecosystem for the entire area. One of the most ambitious projects I witnessed was that of Mosquito Abatement, which was accomplished by Navy pilots from nearby Opa Loka Naval Air Base. We were warned to avoid the heavy spray they laid down. I still recall the scent of Citronella.