I guess I’ll begin this last post with thoughts about time. Looking back at my first week in the Everglades, it was the expansion of time that made the greatest impression. One day back to normal and time immediately compresses – the soft focus that allowed receiving has tightened, searching, reaching and like a broken hand on a clock, sputtering in place with inaccuracy. How to reclaim all that was found and at the same time move on? But for now, I’ll go back and remember those last cumulative days of belonging.
One of my challenges was to go on a cypress slough walk. I’ve gone twice before and they both were wonderful but I was with a group and I wanted to experience it again. After a few failed attempts at finding someone to go with in the park and then one attempt to take it on alone, Kyle and I went together. We went to the Movie Dome near the entrance road to Pa-Hay-Okee. It was a perfect day. There was a water trail off of the road and we stepped into it, right up to our thighs and from there it only got deeper. We both had walking sticks thankfully because the unevenness of the limestone and the deep mud made balancing a bit uncertain at times. As we entered the dome we were surrounded by such a diversity and richness of vegetation that every direction opened up a different visual feast of patterns and shapes. Once in the center I truly felt my breath soften. The silence was like a blanket that held me with such a gentle touch I didn’t want to move. The cypress trees reaching for the sky pulled my spirit up to such heights that it created the sense of the divine. This is where divinity resides – a place of no judgement, an offering so grand there are no words to shape it. We stood in silent reverie for quite a while before we headed back.
Sunday was the airboat trip into the Miccosukee lands with Houston Cypress a member of the Otter Clan and Eugene Sarmiento, both from Love the Everglades. We went to Houston’s mother’s island, Where the Little Pot Sits, and were introduced to some of its history as well as information about the ecology of the Everglades. Spending this beautiful day with the group assembled, was a day of deep sharing. It was a day of gathering much of what I had discovered over the month and bringing it into a larger context through Houston’s eyes and Miccosukee history. And after a month I finally got a great photo of an alligator!
Monday I was up with the sunrise, like many of the days of my living in the Everglades. But this one was demanding me to go out and find a new place to walk. I got in the car and thought about a couple of trails that I had seen and wanted to follow but as I continued to drive the area near the Beard Center was calling me. It’s called the Hole in the Donut and it’s an area of restoration that had been farmed and then taken over by Brazilian Peppers, a nasty invasive. In the process of restoring it, all the trees that had been chopped down were mulched and piled in the center, allowing new growth to take place and creating a little green oasis which beckoned me as I walked. There were so many birds and many that I seemed to catch just perfectly with my camera, almost as if they were posing to help me catch the shot. Maybe one of my favorite shots was of a vulture in flight! Everything is beautiful in the proper context!
Winged myst’ries in the grass
Dawn’s touch cools my skin
As I walked toward the mound I saw a lone deer on the crest. It disappeared into the bushes. As I got to the green space and started up the hill, and there are not many of those in the Everglades, I saw the deer down in the sawgrass. I stood and watched her and she turned and watched me. Finally, she started off in the prairie and I could see that she had a limp. She moved well but her back right leg wasn’t bending properly and it gave her an uneven gait. That’s the exact location on the deer that I hit. Could it be? Could she be the one that I hit? Who knows – but at that moment there was a sense of connection between us. We had irrevocably touched each other’s lives.
Heading back, I saw the most amazing butterfly. Amazing because of its camouflage and its willingness and patience to be photographed by me.
The walk was a kind of graduation walk. I knew that I was different. This land and the people who love it had touched me and now I was a part of it too.
Pulls at my lungs – breath expands
Saunt’ring through the Glades
Not ready to go back yet I got in the car and headed down toward Hidden Lake but continued straight to where it meets up with the old Ingraham Highway that cut right through what is now the park. More evidence of the plundering of the Everglades by pioneering intruders but also a testament to the ability to restore what we have destroyed. The native people lived in harmony for generation upon generation in this wilderness until the white man decided to claim it, drain it and cultivate it. The United States history of Manifest Destiny. But along the way were also people of vision and conscience who have been building coalitions to try and restore what could have been totally lost forever. The story hasn’t ended. The fight goes on. The coalition keeps forming and reforming itself but as Arthur Marshall, one of the early planners of Everglades restoration, said,
The sawgrass prairie in Long Pine Key is becoming home. In the process of exploring this part of the Everglades and beyond to Big Cypress, Mitchell’s Landing and the Wilderness Waterway, it’s where the heart of my choreographic process lies. Working with the dancers, with Miana or alone every experience there reveals something new.
One morning as the sun was rising I went to the prairie and danced. Standing in the middle of the sawgrass with the sun rising through the slash pines, my feet grounded in the marl coated limestone, I stood and felt the pull of the distance as the trees curved into a funnel from the openness of the prairie. I was facing south, the direction of the water flow, the water that slowly meanders through these grasses and I felt the pull so gently but powerfully drawing me.
Distant pull where earth meets sky
Dawn dance in the sawgrass
The sky meets the earth in a very particular way in the Everglades. I’ve never been anywhere that feels so completely that the one is the other. You can’t look out at this landscape without bringing the cloud formations into the land formations. They are part of the same. What’s up is down, particularly on the water.
Steve Tennis, one of the park hydrologists, has taken me out on an airboat from Big Cypress to the water stations that they monitor out in the sawgrass prairies. It’s there that I saw the incredible flocking patterns of the glossy ibis. This past Wednesday, along with my neighbor and volunteer coordinator for the park, Cat, and Adam another hydrologist, we left from Flamingo in a power boat. We went out through the Wilderness Waterway, along the Shark River into the Gulf, onto the Chatham River and back into the Waterway further north to check the water stations among the many mangrove islands there. Steve is not only a hydrologist but an Everglades historian, a birder (his father was once president of the Audubon Society) and general environmental knowledge encyclopedia. White people homesteaded many of these mangrove islands where there were Indian mounds, the native people having been displaced decades before. One of them was called Watson’s Place. The remains of that homestead are still there, a huge metal cauldron for boiling down the sugar cane he grew on the island, a press for squeezing out the water and other artifacts. The story goes that every year Watson would go into town, probably Everglades City, to find workers for the season. Every year he came to collect them until finally people in the town realized that none of his workers ever came back with him. He would hire these men and instead of paying them for their work, he killed them. Finally, the town took it into their hands to deal justice and when Watson got off of his boat to find new workers the townspeople pulled out their guns and shot him dead. Swift and certain justice, Glades style!
Besides the history lessons and amazing stories, nature put on a display for us that only National Geographic could counter and we saw it all without any editing! We had finished the last water station, the 5th, and were heading home just as the sun was beginning to change the colors that surrounded us. We had picked up speed when all of a sudden there were birds coming from every direction, coming from the west, the east, in V formation above us, some in curving flight patterns, most in an organized throng moving just ahead of us and keeping their distance even as we powered forward. It was truly unbelievable! They just kept flying and merging and changing direction but always moving forward. All of us were overwhelmed with the sudden energy and beauty that surrounded us. Out of nowhere the sky was filled with egrets and baby blue herons and spoonbills. Steve, who has travelled these waterways for many, many years said that he had never seen anything like this, estimating the number of birds at 4,000!! Eventually, they changed their pattern and together all flew along the edge of the mangrove islands giving me a perfect background to capture them in video.
Glowing from that gift of nature and in the golden hue of the setting sun we settled back for the long trip to Flamingo, when Adam called out there were dolphins. Off to the west we saw one, then two then three surfacing and diving. We pulled around and stopped the boat and waited and watched. It didn’t take long until like fireworks, there was one off to the left, two to the right, one jumping totally out of the water behind us and then one so close we could practically touch it. Steve estimated this group at about 60 dolphins. We started up again going slowly. Lying on the bow, Cat and I watched one of them swimming just ahead of us, this time close enough to touch. We were all beaming and left with only exclamations to voice our feelings for what the universe had just offered up to us.
The day didn’t end there. It kept unfolding on a continuing high, like a musical chord that keeps resonating beyond the time that you think you should reasonably hear it. Driving home, it was a full moon and we stopped at Nine Mile Pond to get photos, the beam of the moonlight tracing itself across the water. Back in the truck we kept our eyes peeled for pythons, the only disappointment that we had, there were none out this moonlit night. Having gotten back to our cars and about to get in and go home, Cat went charging off into the darkness with me following and there were 5 deer in the headlights of a friend’s stopped car. Truly a day of wonder…
What has happened in this last week?! An amazing connection to wildlife – both living and dead. Because it’s the wet season in the Everglades, the wading birds are scattered around the park as are the alligators. When it’s dry, the birds congregate around the water holes that are often maintained by the alligators. Now the water is so plentiful they’re dispersed – part of my movement structure! I have been seeing some hawks and great egrets and herons, but not in abundance, an occasional one here or there. Well, my interaction with the wildlife of the Everglades changed abruptly on my drive to Flamingo. I was driving the park road in the late afternoon, listening to the radio and enjoying the empty expanse of highway in front of me, no other cars around, when all of a sudden there was the image of a deer on my left side, a jumble of brown and white movement confusion. In that split second, I understood both our inabilities to make a decision. I didn’t know whether to turn away or toward the animal coming at me and the image of the deer gave me the impression that she was in the same predicament with body and legs caught in motion and indecision simultaneously. The next moment was full impact. I could feel the flesh of the deer hitting my bumper full on broadside. She ran off. I stopped and looked for her. She was gone. I heard sounds in the water but not thrashing. There was no cell service so I couldn’t call anyone and in fact there was nothing anyone could do. I left. I replayed that moment over and over in my head trying to understand if it was my fault. What if I hadn’t been listening to the music? What if I had been going slower? What if… we weren’t trying to share this space together?
Two days later I went for a long walk down the Long Pine Key Trail, videotaping the dances of dragon flies and water bugs. I saw a dying catfish, a small one. Hanging onto life it dangled in the water vertically. I could see it was injured. I continued my walk and, on my way back, I saw 2 crows sitting on a branch of a tree just over the trail. They began to caw as I walked forward. My newfound ease in the Everglades is balanced on a hyper imagination that at any moment some form of reptile will charge out of the grass at me so I imagined their caws were warnings and I stopped. As I stood there the 2 of them flew off the tree and toward the water on the trail, one faster than the other. The faster one swooped down and picked up that catfish. The other one flew away. Life’s cycle complete I continued my walk. Once back on the road I headed toward my car and noticed an unusual amount of bird activity. Small birds everywhere, on the road, flitting from the trees, flying in pairs and alone, swooping, an abundance of birds. They were too active to video so I got in the car and headed home. Feeling satisfied with my walk I was enjoying the Everglades vistas when all of a sudden, a bird swooped down and hit my car. I stopped, hoping that like the deer it maybe would have survived and flown off. But no, there was a little body in the middle of the road. I walked back and found a beautiful yellow and faun colored bird, totally still. I picked it up and felt the warmth and softness of its body in my hands. I wanted to keep that feeling but I found a place for it in the grass and placed it there.
What was the lesson here? Possibly just the randomness of life or maybe the need for a deeper focus and awareness of the moment. I don’t know that I could have changed either of these incidents, but I did reflect on what real connection and awareness means. Since then though I have seen and felt a connection with a great egret, a night hawk, a red-tailed hawk, a flock of glossy ibises, an alligator and a rattle snake. My feet are more firmly planted in this richly populated land and my senses are more alert.
How easily life moves into the carefully constructed silence. It’s about balance – finding balance.
On finding balance
Congregate – disburse
Having been in the midst of “organizing relationships” for the past 4 days I’m now ready to embrace disbursement! From nestling into solitude in the beginning of the week, the weekend brought a cornucopia of information, guided tours and deep work with collaborators. All of it stimulating and breathing life into the process that this residency is initiating. So much discovery –
Dragon fly perches
Wind song landing on my skin
The water, the grass, the marl
“Marl or marlstone is a calcium carbonate or lime-rich mud or mudstone which contains variable amounts of clays and silt.” Marl is what covers the limestone base of the prairie where the grasses grow and where we will be creating our performance.
The performance is the result of the collaboration between myself and filmmaker/photographer Miana Jun during this month-long residency. The exploration began with Skip Snow, retired ranger, philosopher, python expert and visual artist taking us through the grasses in the transverse glades that we will be dancing in. The first steps were tentative, using a walking stick in anticipation of reptilian surprises, we quickly move to sure footed steps following the animal trails that helped to flatten the grass, to exploring the minute life hidden in the grass’s roots to nesting.
Amanda Ruiz and Rebecca Pelham quickly found the invitation of the grass to nest. These two dancers, along with Barbara Freeman, Oscar Trujillo and Katie Brennan are the other collaborators. Together we hope to find our way into this land and understand its meaning for each of us.
From the general to the specific, from inner to outer, from self to other, this is the discovery process. The dancers pulled us outward into the expanse of the space and inwardly into the personal reflection of each one’s experience. From that first day together Miana and I continued working in the grass. It was a demanding but so fulfilling process to bring myself physically into this environment. Having done so much observing, thinking, reading and writing I forgot just how much my body wanted to speak. Funny for a dancer to be silencing her body. But it called out to me and to the open spaces that drew me into so many pulls that inner became outer and they joined in a duet that said thank you. As we explored we came to a thought that I’ve been having for a while, “What is it that we see?” “Where is my focus” “Where is yours?” “What’s important to me?” What’s important to you?” And in that exploration came one of our favorite photos.
Photo by © Miana Jun
And now they have all disbursed and I’m back to finding a new balance…
And this begins my blog adventure – the first installment!
I am presently sitting in a screened in porch looking out at the landscape of the Everglades. I am an official Artist in Residence in the Everglades (AIRIE) fellow. As officially stated;
“AIRIE’s purpose is to inform, connect, and support artists who wish to be ambassadors for the Everglades by providing month-long residencies in the Park.”
In applying for this residency the question that I asked was; “What is the wisdom of the earth and how can I express that through movement?” That’s a very big question and like most questions I believe the best answers are found in small steps. Sometimes the search is not even that clear as we bounce around toward an answer or a realization, following one idea toward the next and then maybe there’s an “ah ha!”
So I am 3 ½ days into my month long journey and what I have found is time and space to allow life to happen. I have books to read and journals to keep and guides on choreographic process, but inside all of that is the immediacy of being alone in a very unique environment that pulls me outward into its being. I’ve found inspiration and connections that I’m going to share with you in a random way, the way they’ve been coming to me. And as I move through this month we’ll see what moves through with me.
Observing and photographing I’ve copied the lines of images into my notebook, labeling what stands out.
Perspective reflection verticality Breath shadow support patterns
I listened to an interview of John Paul Lederach on On Being with Krista Tippett and he spoke about haiku. I love haikus. What I learned was that a haiku implies engagement of the 5 senses. The form was created, 5 syllables, 7, 5 in order for it to be said in a single breath.
“Dance is breath made visible”. A quote from the pioneering dancer Anna Halprin, reintroduced to me as I watched a video on her life.
Here is the intersection of poetry and dance.
My first haiku in the Everglades.
Meeting the dawn’s light
Ancestors’ breath on my skin
Walking with birds’ songs.
Time allows receiving –
softening the gaze,
softening the pores,
opening from inside, not asking for anything – free of need, just receiving
even the mosquitos were welcome –
The world around me is filled with the light of a new day, the conversations of birds
And now a soft rain is falling –
And the coffee is ready.