Contributed by Anthony Myers
Imagine a vast lake of fresh water, extending every direction, studded with thousands of islands of various sizes and which are generally covered with dense thickets of shrubbery and vines. The surrounding waters are covered with the tall saw-grass. The water is pure and limpid, and almost imperceptibly moves, not in partial currents, but as it seems in mass, silently and slowly to the southward.
Lilies and other aquatic flowers of every variety and hue are to be seen, and as you draw near an island, and beauty of the scene is increased by the rich foliage and blooming flowers of the wild myrtle, and other shrubs and vines that generally adorn its shores.
The profound and wild solitude of the place, the solemn silence that pervades it, add to awakened and excited curiosity, feelings bordering on awe.
-Buckingham Smith, one of the first surveyors to enter the Everglades sub-tropical wilderness, 1848
South Florida—a marshy, boggy, and humid wetland, more or less a paradise for mosquitoes rather than for people. However, under the barrage of insects, poisonous snakes, and alligators lies a matchless, magnificent ecosystem. Seemingly masqueraded in beauty, it takes a special person to see its true character, and an exuberant one to pronounce its protection.
In 1915, Marjory Stoneman Douglas moved to Miami to work for her father at the Miami Herald. The young twenty-five-year-old couldn’t have found a better occupation to voice her stance on social equality and conservation issues. The Sub-tropical Floridian wilderness (later known as the Everglades) soon became near and dear to her heart. Marjory later authored a book about the Everglades when it became a National Park in 1947, focusing on its beauty, uniqueness, and vitality. Within it she writes:
There are no other Everglades in the world. They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth; remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them.
Throughout the 20th century Marjory saw change and progress that few have experienced. She lived to be 108 years old, born in 1890 and passing away just two years before the turn of the 21st century. She watched a vast amount of inventions and technological advancements transform the human experience. Even in hindsight it can be hard to comprehend what she experienced. Such a life lent her a great wisdom from which to draw words of advice:
There must be progress, certainly. But we must ask ourselves what kind of progress we want, and what price we want to pay for it. If, in the name of progress, we want to destroy everything beautiful in our world, and contaminate the air we breathe, and the water we drink, then we are in trouble.
Enamored with the progress paradox, Marjory continued to fight for the conservation of her National Park, but also for the protection of the entire Everglades watershed. She was able to grasp the whole picture, not just an isolated bionetwork. She formed and led the Friends of the Everglades organization. Even into her later years, she was still vocal and active in her stance. She was a rare, gifted individual who not only saw beauty, but was persistent and influential enough to help preserve it.
All photos courtesy of the University of Miami Library’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Papers