Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

What are your thoughts about Marjory Stoneman Douglas'  contribution to conservation in Florida and more specifically the Everglades?

Here is a longer excerpt from Marjory Stoneman DouglasThe Everglades: River of Grass, (1947):

“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; their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltness and sweetness of the their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in the simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.”

Marjory Stoneman Douglas describes her 1930 trip to the Everglades. Produced by Ross Harris of Florida International University's Digital Collections Center. More information can be found at

[Editor's Note:  Our WILD READ moderator Michael Grunwald will contribute a new narrative shortly]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"We're in the Alligators' Backyard" by Moderator Michael Grunwald

[Discussion Topic:  The Swamp: the Everglades, Flordia, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald and Marjory Stoneman Douglas' legacy]

Thanks so much for your kind words and thoughtful comments. Let me first offer a shamelessly self-serving response to Karene, who finished The Swamp and wants more to read: You can pre-order my second book, The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era. It’s not about the Everglades, but it’s got a lot of surprising and (I hope) compelling environmental stuff. Otherwise, I was somewhat underwhelmed by Swamplandia; the best Everglades novels are Peter Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy and almost anything by the brilliant and hilarious Carl Hiaasen. For non-fiction, I recommend Cynthia Barnett on water, Craig Pittman on wetlands, manatees, and orchids, and Les Standiford on Henry Flagler’s crazy railroad. Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, while somewhat problematic as journalism, is an amazing piece of writing and thinking.

 One thing I like about The Orchid Thief is its portrayal of the way the natural world rubs up against the artificial world in South Florida, which gets at some of the issues that Mark, JO, Ellen, and Bill raised in their comments. There are over 7 million of us living in the Everglades ecosystem—not to mention over 50 million annual visitors—and most of us have no clue that a century ago this region was virtually uninhabited. We call animal control 18,000 times a year to report alligators in our backyards; it doesn’t occur to us that we’re in the alligators’ backyards. We expect our water managers to keep us dry and prevent flooding; we forget that we’re living in former wetlands, in active floodplains, that the Everglades used to provide water management for the entire region.  

Image courtesy of the NPS - Everglades National Park website
The native Americans who were chased into the swamp during the Seminole Wars—that’s right, even south Florida’s native peoples are from somewhere else—were constantly aware of the ebbs and flows of the Everglades; it was a matter of subsistence and survival. The early white pioneers who settled America’s last frontier set out to tame the Everglades, to reclaim the Everglades, to improve the Everglades; wetlands were wastelands, and water was the common enemy of the people of Florida. This wasn’t just our national destiny; this was our Biblical duty. “And God said unto them: Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” So now the Everglades has been walled off from humanity with 2,000 miles of levees and canals; Lake Okeechobee, the heart and lungs of the ecosystem, has been hidden and imprisoned behind a gigantic dike. When I give talks down here, suburbanites from Weston and Wellington and Coral Springs and Miami Springs, residents of drained swampland, living at the edge of what’s left of the Everglades, always tell me that they’ve never visited, that they didn’t even know it was there.

I’m a realist, and I do think the best way to get people to care about the environment is to appeal to their self-interest. It makes sense to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the fisheries that feed us, the beaches, reefs and rookeries that attract tourist dollars to our economy. I remember hearing someone say we really ought to save the earth; it’s the only planet with chocolate. It’s rare to hear politicians standing up for wild places just because it’s the right thing to do, although Everglades National Park was the first park preserved for biodiversity rather than scenery, the first official recognition that a forbidding wilderness could be a national treasure. At its dedication, Harry Truman made a spiritual argument:

“For conservation of the human spirit, we need places such as Everglades National Park, where we may be more keenly aware of our Creator’s infinitely varied, infinitely beautiful and infinitely bountiful handiwork. Here we may draw strength and peace of mind from our surroundings. Here we can truly understand what the psalmist meant when he sang: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters; he restoreth my soul.”

[See whole speech]

But while Truman celebrated the wildness of the southern Everglades, he called for Americans to “make full use of our resources” in the rest of the Everglades. Many of the park’s greatest advocates—including Marjory!—supported the Army Corps of Engineers water control plan that has ravaged the entire Everglades. It has become a cliché that in South Florida, the environment is the economy, and it’s true, but politicians often interpret that to mean that whatever economic interests want must by definition be good for the Everglades, instead of vice versa.

I think Ellen is right when she talks about the importance of environmental education. I think Mark and JO and Bill are right to emphasize the magic of the wild, the idea that the Everglades is its own best advocate, the importance of exposing Americans to the natural world they don’t always notice in their SUV’s. But I really don’t expect most people to value nature for the sake of the bugs and bunnies. It’s got to be connected to a larger sense that these special places are part of what makes America America. Bill wants us to embrace nature in ways that go beyond pure utilitarian calculations, beyond the notion that by saving the planet we can save ourselves, maybe even beyond Truman’s idea that protecting special places will bring us closer to God. I think those calculations are a pretty powerful place to start, but I also suggest at the end of my book that the test of the Everglades—the test of whether we’re going to have a chance to keep the planet—has a moral dimension as well. It’s a test not only of restoration science and engineering and planning, but a test of our willingness to restrain ourselves, to share the earth’s resources with the other living things that moveth upon it, to learn how to live in harmony with nature.

If we pass that test, we might deserve to keep the planet.

Thanks again for your thoughts; please keep them coming. I also just started tweeting at @MikeGrunwald if you want to hit me up directly.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Everglades by Moderator Michael Grunwald

I first visited the Everglades in August 2000, when I was an investigative reporter for The Washington Post. Nature wasn’t really my thing; I just happened to be writing about the largest environmental restoration project in the history of the planet. My idea of experiencing the outdoors was playing tennis. And I must confess that my first reaction to the Everglades was: Huh? Why would anyone want to restore this hellhole?

August, it turns out, is not the best time to visit the River of Grass. It’s hot. It’s gross. There are mosquitoes. “My advice is to urge every discontented man to take a trip through the Everglades,” one early explorer wrote. “If it doesn’t kill him, it will certainly cure him.” And let’s face it: Even in the tourist season, the Everglades is not the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. It’s got no rugged cliffs or majestic valleys, no glaciers or geysers or craters. It’s less ooh and aah than hmm. Even the first superintendent of Everglades National Park wrote that “to put it crudely, there is nothing in the Everglades that will make Mr. Jonnie Q. Public suck in his breath.”

Obviously, the Everglades grew on me, or else I wouldn’t have written The Swamp. But I’ve taken some flack from nature-lovers over the book’s initial description of the Everglades, because it’s not the kind of awestruck lyricism that writers are supposed to produce when introducing ecological treasures:

The natural Everglades was not quite land and not quite water, but a soggy confusion of the two.

It was a vast sheet of shallow water spread across a seemingly infinite prairie of serrated sawgrass, a liquid expanse of muted greens and browns extending to the horizon. It had the panoramic sweep of a desert, except flooded, or a tundra, except melted, or a wheat field, except wild. It was studded with green teardrop-shaped islands of tangled trees and scraggly shrubs, and specked with white spider lilies and violet-blue pickerelweeds. But mostly it looked like the world’s largest and grassiest puddle, or the flattest and wettest meadow, or the widest and slowest-moving stream. It had the squish and the scruff of an untended yard after a downpour, except that this yard was larger than Connecticut.

Bo-ring! So literal! Where’s the drama? How could I describe one of nature’s cathedrals without using words like “magnificent” and “ethereal” and “breathless”?

Don’t worry; I promise I did at least some overwrought nature writing in The Swamp. Sawgrass arching in the breeze like a congregation at prayer, cauliflower clouds printing their reflections on glittering sloughs, that kind of thing. But the Everglades, as the guidebooks say, “takes some getting used to.” It “reveals its secrets slowly.” Its appeal “may escape many visitors at first glance.”

For the next couple months, I’m going to chat with you about The Swamp, and also about The Everglades: River of Grass, by the late Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Marjory was also a journalist, not a naturalist, and I hope it’s no disrespect to her memory to point out that she once believed the Everglades should be developed into “the great tropical agriculture center of the world.” It was an acquired taste for her, too. But she later became an activist, and helped make the Everglades the political equivalent of motherhood and apple pie, singing its praises and shaming its enemies. So I thought I’d start with a question: How can Americans be persuaded to care about nature? Polls suggest the electorate generally supports “the environment,” but cares less about it than almost any other issue. So how can it be protected?

I’m not asking about the Grand Canyon and Yosemite; they’re the charismatic megafauna of ecological treasures. Not even the drill-baby-drillers want to mess with places like that. But the Everglades was once almost universally considered a God-forsaken wasteland, “suitable only for the haunt of noxious vermin, or the resort of pestilential reptiles.” Now it’s almost universally acknowledged as a jewel. All politicians—left-wing, right-wing, buffalo-wing—at least say they want to restore the Everglades, even the ones that still treat it like a wasteland. My book was in many ways the story of how a reviled wilderness that was once America’s last frontier became a beloved national treasure—at the same time it was being developed into not only a tropical agricultural center but a sprawling megalopolis.

So why should the tennis players among us care about saving the earth? The question partly answers itself; we live on earth, and it’s got the finest tennis courts in the known universe. One of the main themes of The Swamp is that the destruction of the Everglades by people has had some very negative consequences for people, and that the restoration of the Everglades could help restore our tattered paradise down here in South Florida. Our drinking water sits underneath the Everglades. Millions of visitors to the Sunshine State fish, hunt, bird-watch and otherwise enjoy the Everglades and its ecosystem, and red tides that make it impossible for tourists to breathe at the beach are bad for business. And as exurban sprawl has ravaged the Everglades, it has also ravaged the quality of life in South Florida, turning paradise into an unsustainable hellscape of strip malls, golf courses, interminable traffic jams, overcrowded schools and hospitals, overstretched municipal budgets, and a vanishing sense of place, the New Jersey Turnpike with better weather. It was no coincidence that the sprawling subdivisions that invaded cheap Everglades swampland became Ground Zero of the foreclosure crisis. It may be a coincidence that geologically, the best way to combat sea-level rise over the next century would be to restore the flow of the River of Grass, but it doesn’t feel like a coincidence.

Marjory famously said that the Everglades is a test; if we pass, we may get to keep the planet. That’s what attracted me to the story. I think South Florida is where we’re going to figure out whether man is capable of living in harmony with nature, whether we can repair our abusive relationship with our environment. It’s a test of our intelligence, our science, our planning, but it’s also a moral test. It will reveal our character as a species.

But if Marjory were here, she would also point out that the Everglades is not just about us. She may have started as a journalist, but she became an activist, because she believed the Everglades was a special place that ought to be saved for its own sake. She began River of Grass with her best argument for the Everglades:

There are no other Everglades in the world.

They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the erath, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free saltness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in their simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of sawgrass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and the water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.

Now that’s nature writing!

[WILD READ Editor's Note: 
Michael just published the following book: The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Michael Grunwald Discusses His Book "The Swamp, the Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise" and Celebrates Marjory Stoneman Douglas' Conservation Legacy

We welcome Michael Grunwald to our WILD READ community beginning June 10 to discuss his book, The Swamp: the Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise as well as interweave our conversations with references to and in celebration of Marjory Stoneman Douglas,  champion of the Florida Everglades and founder of the Florida's environmental movement and author of The Everglades: River of Grass.

[from the Time Magazine website]

Michael Grunwald, a senior national correspondent for TIME, has written numerous cover stories, on topics ranging from the myth of biofuels to the mythical demise of California to the future of the Republican party. He joined TIME in May 2007 and is based out of Miami. Most recently, he wrote the first piece questioning whether the ecological damage from the BP spill has been overblown, transforming the coverage of the issue.
Previously, Grunwald spent nearly a decade at the Washington Post, where he served as a congressional correspondent, New York bureau chief, Outlook section essayist and national investigative reporter. He wrote about Hillary Clinton’s first Senate campaign, AIDS in Africa and Hurricane Katrina, and he also wrote thePost’s lead news story on the September 11th attacks. Prior to joining the Post, Grunwald spent more than five years as a local and national reporter at the Boston Globe. He has also written for The New RepublicSlate and many other publications.

Grunwald is the recipient of the George Polk Award for national reporting, the Worth Bingham Prize for investigative reporting and the Society of Environmental Journalists award for in-depth reporting, among other awards. For his August 2007 TIME cover story on New Orleans, Grunwald was awarded Understanding Government’s Prize for Preventive Journalism. He is the author of The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (Simon & Schuster, 2006), which won the gold medal for non-fiction at the Florida Book Awards.

Michael just published the following book: The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (Simon & Schuster, 2012)

Raised in Greenvale, N.Y., Grunwald holds a B.A. from Harvard College. Grunwald is married to Cristina Dominguez, a lapsed lawyer who now runs a Marimekko boutique. They live in South Beach with their son, Max, and their daughter, Lina.
from Everglades Digital Library collection
Michael will discuss Marjory Stoneman Douglas so here is a little background information about her:

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, 1890-1998.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was born April 7, 1890 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was raised in Taunton, Massachusetts after the divorce of her parents. Marjory attended the public schools in Taunton, and Wellesley College, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, where she majored in English composition, graduating in 1912 with an A.B. degree. After her mother's death and the end of her brief marriage, Douglas moved to Miami to work with her father, Frank Stoneman, then the editor of The Miami Herald. Douglas left the Herald in 1923, after many years working on The Galley, a daily column that always included a poem. As an assistant editor on the paper, Douglas also wrote editorials urging protection and development of Florida's unique regional character in the face of rapid commercial development. After leaving the paper, she devoted herself to her literary career, writing of short stories, 40 of which were published in the Saturday Evening Postand other magazines between 1923 and 1938, many winning O. Henry and other awards. In 1947, Douglas published The Everglades: River of Grass, a best-selling guide and natural/political history that not only raised public consciousness regarding the Everglades but also helped to diminish the national misperception of wetlands in general as swamps. Douglas also became a leader of the successful campaign for the establishment of Everglades National Park and in 1969 helped to found the conservation organization Friends of the Everglades. Marjory Stoneman Douglas died in her home in Coconut Grove, Florida, on May 14, 1998 at the age of 108.

Biography prepared by Ruthanne Vogel, University of Miami [from Everglades Digital Library]