The Everglades - Past and Present

I am Loren G. "Totch" Brown, a lifetime native of the Florida Everglades. My great-grandfather, John J. Brown and grandfather C. G. McKinney were among the very first to settle in the southwest Everglades, in 1880. My mother Alice Jane McKinney and father John J. Brown, Jr. were born here in 1892. I was born here in 1920.

At times my life in the Everglades was sustained by no more than what the Glades had to offer and the Everglades have never really let me down. Despite many hardships while bogging across the Everglades for food or hides to sell, they always gave me a warm campfire and a place to lie my tired body down. This makes the Everglades a very special and dear place to me.

I guess a good way to start about the Everglades and give you an understanding of how it all holds together is to tell the story of my brother Peg. After gator hunting was made illegal, my brother Peg began charter boating to try to make a living. Most of us natives had never cast for game fish and Peg knew nothing about catching snook. One day he asked an old guide, Cliff Boggess about catching snook. Cliff said, "Peg, you have been a 'gator hunter all your life, you know where every 'gator slide is in this country according to the seasons. All you got to do is go find a 'gator layin' up there on his slide and all the rest will be right there with him. It all holds together, one eating on the other. Peg, you know that. The birds (cranes) will be there on the limbs catching the little minnows and the snook and the other fish will be there catching the minnows, too. It's just that simple Peg, go find your 'gator slide and you'll be right in the middle of it all." Everything is connected in the life of the Everglades. Every change has long reaching consequences and effects which is why the Everglades began to fall apart when fresh water flow was reduced and wet marsh burning was eliminated.

To give you a better understanding, let me explain the Everglades and the layout of the country as I see it. The Everglades are unusual and so different from any other place. The Gulf Coast of the southwest Everglades is made up of low mangrove keys and tall sawgrass marshes, thriving on brackish water (see the Everglades map). I refer to this area as "The Islands." The Everglades in Proper is on the mainland and made up of low thin grass prairies, cypress and pine trees which grow in fresh water only, there are no mangroves. I refer to this area as "The Glades". On the mainland, separating "The Islands" and "The Glades" are mangrove and sawgrass marshes. This area between "The Glades" and "The Islands", I refer to as the "The Mangrove Mainland", and the two combined I call the " The Mangrove Countries".

Most of the year, the water in the Islands is brackish or salt and fresh water mixed. Unlike the thin prairie grass in The Glades, the sawgrass marshes in The Islands and the Mangrove Mainland can easily grow eight to 10 feet tall and is so thick and mated that the wildlife cannot feet or breed in it. Prior to 1947 when the Everglades became a National Park, the local natives with the help of the Seminoles kept the marshes burned. When the burning stopped we lost at least a third of the wildlife's feeding and breeding grounds. Don't get me wrong, I am not against the park -- no one wants to see the Everglades preserved more than me. However, the park has rules which I don't always agree with and which I believe are actually hurting the Everglades and its wildlife -- especially those rules in regards to burning the wet marshes in the southwest Everglades.

Understanding the habits of the wildlife is also an important part of this picture. Most of the food chain for the entire Everglades comes from the brackish water and "Mangrove Country". I call it the "brackish water line". In the driest of the seasons what little brackish water remains is at the head of the rivers near The Glades. All of the wildlife is also at the head of the rivers, holding together, one eating on the other from the smallest little shrimp or fish egg to the alligator eating on them all.

When the rains start in July, the brackish water line begins to drift down the rivers to the Islands and so does the wildlife following the brackish water. At the end of the rainy season by October, the brackish water line and most of the wildlife will have made it to the coast. By winter with the dry season coming on, it all slowly moves back to the head of the rivers following the brackish water line and the cycle is now complete. NEXT SECTION

Photographs at this Site Provided by Oscar Thompson

Totch Brown

The Everglades

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