Lake Kissimmee in the Northern Everglades
When Clyde Butcher first burst into the Florida art scene in the 1980s with his large format view camera and his stunning black and white images of South Florida it was groundbreaking. It wasn’t just that the world had never seen Florida’s natural environment depicted that way–like it was big, breathtaking, beautiful, and important–Floridians hadn’t had the opportunity to see it that way either. Butcher saw something in Florida, in Floridians, and somehow made it possible to see the peninsula’s natural history in a way that was just as awe inspiring as the dramatic landscapes of the American West.
There’s a reason he’s known as “Florida’s Ansel Adams” and it’s not simply because the artists share similar mediums. Butcher’s luminous black, white, and silvered images focus on the majesty of Florida’s tropical clouds like they are mountain ranges. They distinguish the tangles of verdant jungles the way we typically decipher Adams’ colorful minerals on canyon walls; they extol the solemn grandeur of soggy half-formed grasslands as if they were daunting multi-toned deserts.
While most Floridians know artists wanting to move to California–artists from California wanting to move to Florida isn’t the norm. Butcher even likes the humidity and admits that when he returns to Florida, steps off the plane, and “feels the warm moist air surround my body, I realize Florida is giving me a welcome hug home.”
Talk about astonishing perspective! Butcher’s 18 years of learning and perfecting his art in the west is apparent in his work, but fortunately for Florida, the Californian brought in his new set of eyes, a certain search for lighting, and that particular manifest vision to introduce a new way of looking at Florida’s daunting landscape.
Butcher has been inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and has received the Sierra Club’s Ansel Adams Conservation Award and the North American Nature Photography’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He works with an 8×10 inch and 5×7 inch large format view camera because he feels botanical textures and value scales can be better captured with a large negative. As for the black and white format, he frequently lectures about the amount and diversity of the color green in Florida, or the predominate or dictating color of a slough or hammock. Removing the color, Butcher maintains, encourages the human eye to distinguish the scene’s lush depth and textures.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Butcher actually lives in the wild, natural part of the Everglades in the heart of the Big Cypress National Preserve, and confesses that he “finds the Everglades more challenging and more mysterious than the west.” He even prefers its people, boasting that his fellow compatriots living in the Glades “are truly unique–some of the last ‘real’ southern gentlemen to live, or hunt and fish, in the Everglades. They are fine people who uphold the tradition of a handshake being “good ’nuff.”
The artist believes he looks to wilderness for answers to questions that are probably very different from the questions scientists ask of the same places on a map. For Butcher, wilderness is a sacred necessity. He believes the mysterious spiritual experience of being close to nature is restorative, and that discovering the intimate beauty of the natural world is healing to the human soul.
“You must always have your eyes and spirit wide open for composition, light and subject matter.” But the artist cautions, “Working with your heart is much different than working with your head.” While his heart may take the lead with his art, his head is very involved in conserving his sacred necessity. While most conservationists complain about how far removed most of the population is from wilderness experiences, Butcher and his wife Niki are actually trying to do something about the critical disconnect. Their celebrated “Swamp Walks” from their gallery in Ochopee have become wildly popular outings for residents and tourists alike.
Of course Butcher’s heart, and the art it produces, provides a certain cache that guarantees his Everglades tours will be very different from touristy air boat rides. Still, it is a remarkable feat to convince even the most urban of urban visitors—thousands of them!—to literally “wade into” the Big Cypress Swamp. And sometimes the water is chest level! Maybe it’s because it’s a group endeavor, or maybe it’s because so many people want to see Clyde Butcher’s wilderness, but somehow Clyde and Niki get them “out there” where eventually their tensions and fears give way to a marvelously authentic adventure. There’s a reason for this specific methodology, and the Butchers know it well. Besides being more fun than most people would ever expect, the walks introduce urbanites to a spiritual experience only wilderness can provide—an encounter that can only happen when you are able to put aside your fears.
The couple obviously take environmental education seriously and are continuously thinking about new ways to demonstrate the value of wilderness. “In order to save our environment, we need to combine the heart and the head together.” And on that thought, the artist muses, “I would love to see traveling museum exhibits that include both the science of a subject matter and the art of the subject matter—sort of attacking the viewer with heart and their head!”
Butcher chose Lake Kissimmee in the Northern Everglades as his story point for the LINC Greater Everglades Conservation Atlas because of his work with filmmaker Elam Stoltzfus. Butcher is hosting the Kissimmee Basin: The Northern Everglades, which will be premiering on Florida PBS stations late in 2012. The region’s endangered wildlife, spectacular migratory birds, expansive landscapes, historic people, and distinctive traditions will also introduce the Kissimmee River Basin’s complicated environmental history and current restoration challenges.
LAKE KISSIMMEE SCENE, THE NORTHERN EVERLADES
Although its critically important resources are not yet fully recognized by the Floridians it accommodates, the Northern Everglades and its Kissimmee River Basin are the headwaters of the historic River of Grass and the source of fresh water for the sixteen counties in central and south Florida within the Everglades watershed.
The 3,013 square mile Kissimmee River basin encompasses all of the tributary streams and associated marshes along the River’s 90-mile journey from just south of Orlando where it meanders down through the Upper Chain of Lakes and its vast floodplain before helping to form Lake Okeechobee, the second largest freshwater lake contained entirely within the lower 48 states.
The Chain of Lakes region features more than two dozen lakes connected by a series of canals, and Lake Kissimmee is the largest lake in the Kissimmee River basin. Besides the region’s remarkable beauty and diverse wildlife, Lake Kissimmee is also prime habitat for largemouth bass. And we’re talking BIG largemouth bass! The fishermen will tell you that because the lake’s 38,000 acres boasts isolated stretches impossible to reach with conventional boats it is entirely possible for a bass to live to a ripe old age without many encounters with anglers.
The Kissimmee River’s rich history of cowboys, Indians, and speculators also includes a starring role in Florida’s history of ill-fated attempts to improve Mother Nature. As early as the 1890s the river’s long and winding course was modified for navigation and flood control purposes. Its most notorious failure altered the river into a series of canals between 1962 and 1971—an amazing engineering feat that was recognized as a colossal environmental mistake even before it was completed.
Today, the restoration of the Kissimmee River is known throughout the world as one of the few restoration success stories, and global interest in the effort involves its use as a model for successfully restoring large, disturbed wetland systems.
Everglades National Park, West Lake Boardwalk
Jerry Cutler spent decades painting the human figure before exclusively committing himself to the landscape genre in 1989. He considers himself to be a “linear tactile painter,” and believes that what he sees as an artist and translates onto canvases is actually a kind of substitute for touching. Cutler explains, “I want my eyes to hold things and bring them close. I want my eyes to function as a kind of sense of touch. I strive for a strong sense of tactility in the viewer which promotes a kind of intimacy, a kind of closeness.”
Cutler’s passion for capturing intimate glimpses into natural relationships is unusual for most landscape artists. He is not searching for the promontory–some romantic position where the eyes can overlook a vast space and view the subject from far and wide.
Cutler’s paintings jump right out at you and launch what Cutler calls the “Near Sense” where everything is very close; surfaces and edges are emphasized and reemphasized in an almost exacting fashion. Although there are no impressionist clouds in Cutler’s pieces, the artist does somehow introduce a cloud of mystery. Yes, everything is “right there”—but what’s beyond it, what’s within it, and what’s around it remain compelling puzzles for his fans and collectors.
Named Professor Emeritus in 2010 by the University of Florida’s School of Art and Art History, Cutler has been an Artist in Residence at the I-Park Artist Enclave in East Haddam Connecticut, the Eastern Frontier Society on Maine’s Norton Island, and at Florida’s Everglades National Park. His work was selected for publication in New American Paintings, Southern Edition in 2004-2005, and Cutler’s paintings are held in private, public, and museum collections throughout the world.
The artist heartily admits that he is a “tree guy,” and that he never tires of his lifelong study and appreciation of their cylindrical shapes and appealing forms. As a Wisconsin farm boy, Cutler attributes his original connection to the outdoors with spending time with his father and grandfather in the woods. “Even though we’d be both working and playing out there, it was something of a holiday experience for me.”
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
“I wasn’t so interested in the big prairies of the Everglades,” the artist admits, describing how he came upon the mangroves off the West Lake Trail that he painted for the LINC Greater Everglades Art Atlas. “I was looking for some way to capture the more crowded areas of the Everglades where I could single out something intimate.” As a former figurative painter, it’s not surprising that the “tree guy” found a connection with this particular mangrove that highlighted the human body and its movements.
Although Cutler works to complete numerous sketches in the field, the actual painting isn’t started until he’s far away from the source in his Gainesville studio. In this way, his choice of colors, spacing and placement of the sketched objects stem from his overall memory of the scene. While his tree sketches are remarkably faithful, the landscape he paints is in no way photographic. By detailing the landscape of his memory, Cutler’s celebrated process is successful in offering “a way that the eye can not only find the tree and explore it, but be involved in it as well.”
At 78” X 78” size, Mangrove Passion is nearly life size. While his style of tracing edges for prominent outlines was historically done in black, Cutler’s experimentation with the mangrove’s bright blue outlines certainly magnifies the mangrove’s personality and emphasizes the sense of action. It’s Cutler’s way of introducing the eye to the tree. The dramatic blues pull the character of one mangrove tree forward without overlooking all the other kinds of colors that are bouncing around the rest of the painting.
“I suppose I don’t do a lot of preaching about the environment,” Cutler admits, but he is interested in bringing nature to people through his art. “I want them to have it, not so much just in their eyes but in the sense of their body. I want my viewers to feel a strong bodily identification with trees and, for me, this particular mangrove subject truly fulfilled that objective.”
MANGROVE SCENE, EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK
Located seven miles north of the Flamingo Visitor Center, the West Lake Trail in Everglades National Park is a self-guided half-mile of boardwalk that wanders around one of the first in a group of brackish lakes that eventually connect to Florida Bay. The boardwalk provides a shady tunnel through a forest of white, black and red mangroves. In some places, buttonwood trees dot the landscape, colorful varieties of bromeliads paint the canopy overhead, and giant leather ferns carpet the forest floor.
From off shore, the mangrove islands that hedge Florida’s southwestern coast might look like welcoming, verdant lands where fresh water can be found, but everything about these forests is counterintuitive. Half water, half land, mangroves are not made for humans. Found only in the world’s most inhospitable regions, these trees thrive in the harshest of equatorial heat in salt water levels that would kill typical trees. With root systems designed to hold onto whatever they can through whatever storms and tides come their way, mangroves are designed to clutch the shoreline. Over time, their stronghold collects mud and debris, and their persistence helps stabilize the soil. They are Mother Nature’s system for securing shorelines from the tropical storms, and their protective shields buffer inland natural and urban communities from wind and water threats.
Kayakers love to frequent the pathways between southwest Florida’s mangrove forests—collections of mangroves so vast they seems like a land of “ten thousand islands.” But there are no leisurely strolls through mangrove forests without manmade assistance like the park boardwalk. Accessibility through the primeval environment of mangroves requires you to climb over, under and around their tangled roots while also navigating the choking muck.
Despite their inhumane environment of deadly heat, insects and only seasonal freshwater, mangrove forests are the most productive and biologically complex ecosystems on earth. Their canopies provide isolated roosts and nests for seemingly countless varieties of birds and air plants. Their macramé root systems shelter underwater nurseries for young fish, shellfish and other aquatic creatures. Aall of this activity in their prolific rookeries and estuaries also makes these sheltered forests the favorite hunting grounds for everything from fish and insects to snakes and crocodiles.
Cutler’s red mangroves are easy to discern. Known as the “the tree that walks,” the arching roots employed by red mangroves to creep and expand also allow them to survive in inundated areas. Seeming to walk on water, their leggy roots allow the tree to grow in water —even very salty water—because the roots absorb air through pores in their bark known as lenticels. While red mangroves prop themselves up and over the water, black mangroves tend to live on slightly higher ground and their specialized roots grow up and stick out of the salty muck like straws. These straws, known as pneumatophores, are also covered in lenticels.
White mangroves may also have pneumatophores protruding from the ground, but its leaves are rounded at the base and tip and are smooth underneath. Buttonwood trees are also a species of mangrove that features red-brown, cone like fruits that look like buttons. This tree usually grows in a zone adjacent to and just inland from the mangrove zone.
Vevie Lykes Dimmitt
Cowgirls, Brighton Ranch
Artist Vevie Lykes Dimmitt is a seventh generation Floridian with deep roots in the state’s agricultural history. The branches of her family tree include some of the oldest families in the state and some of the most well-known family businesses in Florida. Her father’s family story began in Florida more than 100 years ago when one of her great grandfathers left his career in medicine to raise cattle and citrus at the Lykes family homestead in Hernando County. His descendents now operate the Lykes Ranch in Glades and Highlands counties, and it is one of the largest contiguous pieces of land in the state.
Dimmitt’s perspective on Florida’s environment is both rare and compelling. While she has been blessed with the opportunity to see, feel and know Florida landscapes that are scarce today, she has also witnessed changes to her beloved state which dishearten and sometimes horrify her.
The artist lives in Pinellas County and considers herself blessed to live among the mangrove islands, but she also remembers when Pinellas County was nothing more than woods and rural agriculture. “And now Pinellas is the most densely populated county in the state,” she laments. “So I literally would drive around and cry. It’s as though I had to harden my heart, because all the live oaks and things were being bulldozed for new subdivisions, strip malls, and places where everything looks the same.”
The artist admits she used to think that she had to run for office to protect the landscape, and she has long been active in helping people who understand environmental issues to get elected. She has also been extremely involved in her community, and she co-chaired the Junior League’s Environmental Committee, which helped launch the first city wide recycling program. She was also active in convincing the City of Tampa to provide tertiary sewage treatment, and in persuading Tampa Electric to preserve the natural habitat of Cockroach Bay. Dimmitt turned to art initially as something of “an escape. And because it’s what I loved. But now, I don’t want to be so much of an activist, and I feel as though the young people have to be more of a voice. But I would hope to continue to be a voice through my art. That is what I wish at this stage in my life.”
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Dimmitt’s heritage is deeply rooted in the Northern Everglades, but the artist has spent a lifetime paddling, camping, and hiking the ecosystem. The Everglades wilderness areas are a sanctuary for her, and she looks to those areas for starry skies, quiet isolation, and vast grasslands that are unavailable in the urban areas. “I really think our only hope for both mental and physical health—I feel this deeply—is that we save our wild places.”
“I’ve been to mega churches,” she explains, “where there are these huge parking lots and huge buildings, and you go inside and they have huge screens where they’re showing you beautiful pictures of wilderness. That’s what they want to see, because that is what provides people with peace and comfort.” Still, the artist recognizes the disconnect, “I just hope we don’t end up with only pictures. I hope we end up saving it so they can experience it in real life.”
The artist believes that growing up on horseback has a great deal to do with her connection to Florida’s subtle beauty. “You see more because you come up on things. You see the deer or the hogs or the gators, and you just come across more of the landscape because you’re not scaring them away with the noise of a vehicle or an airboat or something. You’re just in there quietly going along, and you just get to witness more.”
Dimmitt’s environmental perspective, like her artist’s eye, continues to bear witness to a changing Florida. Maybe that is why the Florida native intuitively understands what people miss seeing in her cherished landscapes. Although the artist admits to being “an environmental activist my whole adult life,” her gentle art is both nostalgic and heartfelt. It seems to connect to nature with love. “I think I always have tried to illustrate through different media a love of nature, and share it with other people,” she confesses. “But I think it really is a matter of loving it and enjoying it and not just preaching about it.”
RANCH SCENE, Northern Everglades
America’s first cowboys didn’t come from Texas or the west the way Hollywood has traditionally told the story. The icon’s true origins are the humid, mucky grasslands of Florida. If that hostile environment for livestock weren’t enough of a challenge to manage, there’s always the state’s sharp, thick, scrub forests. This kind of frontier makes driving a herd through a mountain prairie look like a leisurely Sunday ride. It’s why early Floridians were called “Cow Hunters.” They had to find their cattle in the grasslands and scrub using dogs—and whips that “cracked.” These Crackers will tell you no “boy” could find cows in Florida, let alone drive them anywhere.
The First European Explorers introduced cattle, horses and pigs to the continent in Florida, and 499 years later the state’s ranchlands still play a surprisingly dominate role in the national industry. Despite their proximity to theme parks, luxury hotels, speedways, and golf courses, Florida’s cattle ranches are ranked 15th in national beef production. The state also sustains some of the country’s largest ranches. The Deseret Ranches near Orlando is the largest cow-calf ranch in the United States while the Lykes Ranch is close behind as America’s fifth largest ranch.
Today, Florida ranches have a new and modern environmental role beyond their historic industry. As undeveloped lands in a rapidly urbanizing peninsula, Florida’s ranch lands represent one-sixth of Florida’s landmass and are currently supporting much of its remaining native habitat. These areas are critical to biodiversity and are proving necessary to the long-term health of the state’s natural communities. They also have the capacity to store and treat large supplies of freshwater and are already helping the peninsula mitigate the effects of climate change. Well-managed ranchlands can afford some of the same ecological functions as protected areas, and in terms of wildlife habitat there are a number of Florida ranches anxious to participate in the proposed designation of the Florida Wildlife Corridor.
Thanks to the state’s ranching heritage, Florida’s Northern Everglades is one of America’s last great grassland landscapes. To help these working rural landscapes and the diverse ecosystems they contain, the state and its regional water management districts are already developing a variety of new environmental tools that can be used to conserve both the natural and cultural heritage of the region. And, because the Northern Everglades is a national resource with a starring role in restoring “America’s Everglades,” the federal government is working to establish Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area that could protect some 150,000 acres of ranchlands between the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and Lake Okeechobee.
Slogging through swamps, climbing through understories, and traversing anywhere off the beaten path in Florida’s wilderness probably isn’t where you’d expect to find the Curator of South Florida State College’s Museum of Art and Culture. And yet, there she is sketching native habitats and carving her celebrated environmental woodcuts. Carved into wood are Mollie Doctrow’s detailed portraits of Florida’s plants and natural communities—endemic, rare, and endangered.
Doctrow’s influence by the Western landscape art tradition of representing natural forms accurately and expressively is obvious. And, it’s not just because the art of relief prints from woodcuts originated in China that the artist also admits to being partial to Oriental art. She is drawn to its evocative representations that are far from exact and yet suggest so much. She works mostly in black and white and is known for exploring the complex forms of nature by simplifying its overall composition. “Basically what I’m dealing with is positive and negative and that push and pull between dark and light, and that fine balance of when it works.”
She begins with field sketches of natural places and transfers her drawings to blocks of wood where the design is carved using a variety of gouges. The final image is completed by adding ink to the carving and then printing it on paper using an etching press in the artist’s studio. When ink is rolled over the surface of the block, the areas that have been carved away do not collect the ink. It is the part of the wood that is free from her knife that defines and distinguishes the print’s sharp shapes and rough lines.
These relief prints reveal remarkably complex vegetation, with intricate lines and careful shapes that eerily expose landscapes in dramatic and poignant fashions. Something akin to a negative of a tight pen and ink illustration, Doctrow’s scenery seems both haunting and soothing. Highlighted and outlined again and again are images of convoluted and tangled palmettos; twisting, gnarly tree branches dancing against each other; cacti and flowering succulents on ancient sand dunes; intricate fern, flowers, and tree leaf assemblages; and air plants suspended above murky swamp water. All of the images seem to marvelously pull you in and allow the eye to closely examine what is really looking back at you on certain nature trails throughout the state.Beyond her prints, Doctrow also conceived the Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail on the campus of South Florida CommunityState State College in Avon Park. The project is inspired by indigenous shrine boxes she encountered while studying the culture of India. Along the Wildflower Wayside Shrine Trail are nine shrine boxes Doctrow created to honor the endangered and endemic plant species found on the Lake Wales Ridge. Six shrine boxes are located on the college campus, while three additional boxes are also located at the Archbold Biological Station in Lake Placid.
The shrine box covers are reproductions of her original carved wood blocks, and each is dedicated to an endangered or endemic plant species of the Lake Wales Ridge. Inside the intriguing boxes positioned along the trail are magical botanical shadow boxes and storied journals that describe the plants along the trail. Visitors are invited to share their impressions of the trail by writing in the shrine journals and are also encouraged to make rubbings of the shrine boxes as mementos of their visits.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Doctrow’s recent work has focused on Central and South Florida, Big Cypress, and the Everglades, but the artist has been working on the Lake Wales Ridge for about six years, because it is where she lives. “I moved here about 7 years ago and I wanted to get to know the place where I lived,” she explains. “I did an art residency at Archbold Biological Station and have been working on a series featuring the Lake Wales Ridge ever since.”
The Archbold Biological Station is a world-renowned research center for biological exploration, conservation action, and ecological education founded in 1941. The non-profit organization was established by Richard Archbold to protect 5,193 acres of globally significant Florida scrub on the southern end of the Lake Wales Ridge.
Beyond her work with Archbold, Doctrow has held art residencies at Big Cypress National Preserve and Everglades National Park. But, it’s the Ridge where she feels the deepest connection to the people because it isn’t always easy to cultivate a connection to the rugged environment’s fragile beauty. “Some people say it is an acquired taste,” the artist laughs. “Like many places in the Everglades, the Ridge is a ‘close-up environment’ and so it takes really watching it and getting down in the ‘weeds’ to appreciate it fully.”
“As an artist I can take artistic liberties with scale and composition and still depict a specific habitat. My woodcuts are representational, yet expressionistic. The carved marks become a sort of visual shorthand—a way of simplifying complex images, expressing rhythm, texture, form and space.”
No doubt Doctrow enjoys her time connecting to the natural world, but she and her collectors also enjoy the fact that her legendary images can bring important attention to these fragile environments. Because many of the plants in the scrub are so small, scientists have told her that it can be hard to capture the scrub and scrub plants in a photograph. “As an artist I can take artistic liberties with scale and composition and still depict a specific habitat. My woodcuts are representational, yet expressionistic. The carved marks become a sort of visual shorthand—a way of simplifying complex images, expressing rhythm, texture, form and space.”
Doctrow confesses that one of the most pleasurable aspects of the whole process is just getting up and having that sense of wonder while she is finding a trail to walk, seeing what she can find and discover. “Sometimes I think, oh, I might not find anything that jumps out at me that says I should stay and do some sketching,” she admits. “But then it happens, and there’s that sense of discovery of a view that seems to have certain relationships that make me want to stop and look longer at it. And I think that’s what the artist says. The artist reveals their view, the scene that somehow jumped out at them.”
Lake Wales Ridge Scene
The Lake Wales Ridge is a series of relict dunes, oriented north-south at the center of the Florida peninsula. Its ancient, sandy upland rises 300 feet above sea level and reflects its 2 million years old origins as a shoreline feature that was, at times, an archipelago. It is one of the most distinctive natural regions in the United States. As a result of its isolation, there are numerous species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The Florida scrub jay is probably the most famous inhabitant of the Ridge because of its charming approachability. They are a distinct jay subspecies known for their altruistic care-giving habits and are the focus of a world-renowned study that spans over four decades.
Doctrow’s focus on the plants within the Ridge is not simply about their aesthetic beauty. The Lake Wales National Refuge was established in 1990 as the first national refuge designated primarily for the preservation of endangered plants. Florida’s remaining scrub habitat is so globally rare the national refuge is not open to the general public. Some of the rarest of the Federally-listed endangered plants feature enchanting names like Scrub Blazing Star, Papery Whitlow-wort, Scrub Mint, Pygmy Fringetree, Wireweed, Sandlace and Scrub Plum.
In geologic terms, the Ridge is literally the spine of the peninsula. Florida began to form here, and its highlands extend some 100 miles, mostly through Polk and Highlands counties. Beyond the refuge, there are plenty of places to experience Doctrow’s scrub. Start with the Archold Biological Station in Venus, and then visit Bok Tower Gardens. This National Historic Landmark is located in the City of Lake Wales, and the highland vistas within the gardens are remarkably uncommon in Florida.
Charlotte Lykes Jorgensen
Great Blue Heron
Because she was first taught to see as an environmental field biologist, Charlotte Lykes Jorgenson’s artistic vision comes from a different perspective.
She’s not sure if it makes her a more analytical artist, but she does believe that art and science are deeply connected. “Both require you to be a good observer and to notice details as well as the broader environment,” she contends. “In both disciplines one change affects everything around it.
Realizing that nature itself and the nature journals she kept for over 30 years were her first art teachers, the self taught artist says she is still discovering her artistic voice by “feeling my way with brush, pen, pigment and paper.” As her ideas, prayers and moments of awe and wonder, Jorgenson’s paintings tell not only her story, but other stories as well. “Just as the spiral of a conch shell, a line of poetry, or a ripe garden tomato inspires me to paint, so do acts of human kindness, the sharp sorrow of suffering, and the universal nature of our collected stories.”
Although she currently lives most of the year in Colorado and has traveled all over the world, the fourth generation Floridian has a kindred relationship to Florida that instilled her love of the great outdoors. Wherever she is, the artist is never far from “the field” and surmises that hiking and learning about nature is probably her favorite thing to do. Sometimes when she volunteers as a trail guide, her biology background may come into play, but then again she may ask her hikers to do drawing exercises. “I feel like it gets people to really look closely and appreciate the world around them. The names of things don’t matter as much as just knowing— knowing the value in the beauty of this natural world.”
Her own knowledge of the natural world is continually evolving and intensifying. “I want to know the call of the Red Tail Hawk and the adaptations of mangrove trees that allow them to grow in salt water. I want to remember the smell of myrtle leaves. I love the tiny details of things and they show up in my work.”
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Finding the Greater Everglades to be compelling in all its regions, the artist confesses her partiality to the Florida prairie where she grew up in the system’s northern reaches. There the grasslands are dotted with tree islands known as hammocks—islands of slightly higher elevations safe from the seasonal rains that flood the immense lowlands. The high ground of the hammock cultivates dense forests of cabbage palms and cypress, oaks, and pine trees that diversify the distinctive prairie habitat.
“The prairie is big and open like the Great Plains or the African Savannah. The sky and horizon are such strong elements there. Then the hammocks are jungle-like, dense and humid and buggy. Both are full of wildlife and amazing plants— Saw grass with its sharp serrated edges, epiphytes that get all their nutrients from the air and rain, and resurrection ferns that look dead during dry spells and spring back to life when it rains.” There’s no doubt she’s a product of her homeland and it also explains her dual attraction to Colorado, “I grew to love that open sky, that big sky.”
While painting her Great Blue Heron Jorgenson was remembering a kayak trip she took in the Ten Thousand Islands region in southwestern Florida– a landscape the artist describes as “full of mangrove islands, open water and so many birds.” Ever the trail guide, she understands the similarities between the northern and southern Everglades and points out that the “mangrove islands in the coastal waters are similar to the islands of trees I love in the northern grasslands.” The biologist seems to understand the ecological connections, while the Florida girl who loves to paint seems to feel the relationships.
Beyond the bird’s ubiquitous relationship to the Greater Everglades, Jorgenson chose the Great Blue Heron as her subject for the LINC Art Atlas because it also symbolizes the wildlife habitats in the proposed Florida Wildlife Corridor that will hopefully connect wildlife from Florida Bay in the southern Everglades to the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia. The artist also admits that the majestic bird is also one of her favorite characters. “I love that long supple neck that can bend any which way and the zen-like grace of the Great Blue. It can stand so still. When it walks in the shallows its toes collapse as it raises its foot from the water, so there’s barely a ripple upon leaving or reentering the water.”
While the artist uses a variety of mediums including gouache, acrylic, graphite and wax pencil on paper, she often adds text to her paintings. For the Great Blue painting she chose a poem by Mary Oliver about returning to the sea. In one line the poet reveals she is grateful for the world around her by communicating, “Such grace, thank you.” Jorgenson wrote the words over and over in the painting’s background with a white wax pencil because “When I think about a great blue heron, I think about grace. They’re graceful, they’re beautiful to watch.”
About the Great Blue Heron
Sometimes reaching a height of 4.5 feet, with six foot wingspans and weighing up to seven pounds, the Great Blue is the largest of the North American herons. It can be found year round just about everywhere in Florida—fishing saltwater, freshwater, open coasts, lakes, springs, and even backyard goldfish ponds. They are also known to forage grasslands, pastures and agricultural fields searching for mice, insects or other small creatures.
The bird’s blue color is not always so great from a distance—actually appearing slate colored with a rusty gray neck. Their yellow and gray bill serves as a razor sharp hunting spear. Both patiently still and lightning fast, the bird’s stealth fishing techniques are captivating. Although their flight speeds can reach up to 30 mph, their massive silhouettes make their mesmerizing wingbeats sound slow and deep. Thrilling to watch, they are at once stunning, majestic and somehow honorable looking despite their shaggy feather fashion. Just try to cast your eyes upon one without feeling some kind of hushed awe. “Such Grace. Thank you.”
Caloosahatchee River, Acrylic on Canvas Painting
Native Floridian Megan Kissinger traditionally employs charcoal or paint on canvas and believes that in many ways her art isn’t as much a product as a service. “If I never made a penny on my work, I’d still be out there painting away,” she confesses. “And, I love teaching people about nature with my art.” Perhaps it is her background in scientific illustration that helps her to present the beauty and the connectedness that she sees in every aspect of the natural universe, but it is her passion that drives her attempt to “make viewers aware of how everything in the world is connected in some way.”
In order to show the structures and designs in nature, Kissinger loves to get up close to things that normally aren’t accessible, like birds and butterflies, to bridge the magical distance that wild things have learned to maintain for their safety. That detailed precision is complemented by combinations of radiant colors in the sweeping settings in many of her paintings. Her compelling compositions do in fact reveal her fascination with light and line. “I can get lost,” the fine artist admits, “in late afternoon and twilight shadows—sweeping and arching lines— and in scenes like the dappled light of oak hammocks and pine scrub.”
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Kissinger grew up on Perdido Bay near Pensacola, but has lived in the Everglades for 25 years. “I really love the sense of place we have here on the Southwest coast. Especially if you visit some of the inland small towns like LaBelle and Alva that are east of Ft. Myers on the Caloosahatchee River. The people there go back a few generations and they can tell you things about the history and the environment you would never know if you didn’t have those conversations.”
She chose to paint this spot on the Caloosahatchee River near the Town of Alva because it’s overlooks a couple of oxbow islands. “I’ve always loved these river islands because they are so much a part of Old Florida—they let you still see how the river looked when it was allowed to make its own decisions on where it wanted to go. The Sabal palms and oak trees create such a wonderful contrast with each other. As an artist, painting that combination, you can’t beat the shadow play that can happen at any time of the day. And the habitat on the oxbow islands seems to stay more stable without all the invasive non-native plants, so they are also great places for rookeries and wildlife.”
Her kinship with the river is the same with the entire ecosystem, and collectors of her paintings appreciate that her ‘artist eyes’ see things differently than most. “The Everglades aren’t grand and sweeping unless you take the time to get off the path. I used to laugh at the overlooks the Park Service built that take the tourists high above the sawgrass prairies. That’s a five minute vista at best. Get off the path and kneel down along a trail and you’ll see six thousand things in one square yard. Look into the tannin-stained water of a cypress strand and watch a wildly-spinning group of water striders—now there’s the grandeur! That’s what folks miss when they stand on those overlooks and then get back in their air-conditioned cars. When I paint, I’m constantly trying to point out the ‘world in the grain of sand’ that William Blake celebrated.”
Although the fine artist has worked professionally for about seven years now, she feels she’s been an artist connected to the natural world her entire life. Like her artistic techniques, her environmental interest is thoughtful. “My work with LINC is prompting me to take the time to go back and fact-check a lot of things that I have assumed to be current. I’m realizing that when it comes to the Everglades, things are changing at such a fast pace that just listening to the television news only gives you a thin slice of what’s happening to it environmentally and politically. Habitats are under constant assault from development, invasive species, agricultural run-off, improper hydrologic design–the list goes on. We may be the first generation to have to admit that we broke the system and that it may never work correctly again. And if everything in nature is connected as my art tries to maintain, what does that say about my future—or, my children’s future?”
“I hope in fifty or one hundred years that what’s left of my art isn’t an artifact of something long gone. The Calusa civilization flourished along the banks of the Caloosahatchee River—their namesake river. The only thing we have left of them is a few small works of art found in archaeological digs. You’ll never meet a Calusa Indian today because they are all gone. We didn’t care enough to do something when they started to disappear because of habitat loss and invasive species…namely us. I hope we don’t fail in our attempts to restore and preserve what’s left of the Everglades. There’s only one place like this on Earth. If we break it, all the money and science in the world won’t bring it back.”
CALOOSAHATCHEE RIVER SCENE
The Caloosahatchee River in Southwest Florida now begins on the western edge of Lake Okeechobee and stretches west 70 miles before emptying into San Carlos Bay between the cities of Cape Coral and Fort Myers. At the Gulf coast, the river helps create an “estuary of national significance” that is part of the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program.
The Caloosahatchee was originally a shallow, meandering river that began in the proximity of Lake Hicpochee. But in 1882, Hamilton Disston dug a canal through Lake Hicpochee to link Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf of Mexico. Between 1905 and 1927, the river was further channeled to accommodate navigation, flood control, and land reclamation needs. Agriculture is the prominent land use in the inland Caloosahatchee Basin where Kissinger’s scene is located. Citrus groves dominate the landscape, closely followed by sugarcane, beef cattle, and a significant selection of vegetable crops.
Today the river is part of the Okeechobee Waterway managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which links the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean via Lake Okeechobee and the St. Lucie Canal and River. The polluted waters of Lake Okeechobee are discharged into both the Atlantic and the Gulf through this waterway and the harsh impact of large amounts of polluted freshwater continues to severely impact the estuary systems on both coasts.
Loop Road in Big Cypress Swamp Oil Painting
Carol McArdle’s work is an expression of one of the most joyful parts of her heart. There is a reason her collectors often tell her they feel like they could just step into her scenes or that they can feel the silkiness of her painted bird feathers. “I am sharing my visual and emotional experience with places and things that I love and enjoy. My goal is for my paintings to take you to the scenes I paint and to express my experience and interpretation of those places.”
Like most fine artists, her connection to art is so viscerally strong McArdle insists she cannot separate herself from her art. “But,” McArdle adds, “I also feel the same way about nature—where I gather my subjects. I am so uplifted by exploring and breathing in nature. It is my cathedral, my oxygen, a source of deep gratitude and wonder.” She is successful in capturing that euphoric visual and emotional connection. Her compositions, and her talent for understanding the drama and play of Mother Nature’s lights against darks, consistently welcome the viewer in with glorious color harmony combinations.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
McArdle’s chose Loop Road in the Big Cypress Preserve because it is fairly close to her home in Southwest Florida and because of her fondness for the ferns, pond apple trees, pop ash, bromeliads and other foliage in the cypress stands. And the birds! McArdle also adores the region’s birds and her portraits realistically capture both the personality and poise of some of the region’s most popular feathered friends.
Her connection to nature has been ardent wherever she has lived, from her birthplace in Jamaica to her homes abroad.
She adopts the local eco-system, and in return, it has always adopted her. She’s only started exploring the Everglades in about the last four years after moving to Southwest Florida in 1995, but her relationship with the region already seems to be deep rooted. “I wish I had known the Everglades many years ago. I envy people who grew up around the Glades and knew the wonders of them like only a child can. I still have a wonder in my eyes like a child does though.”
Carol McArdle’s dreams and goals involve further exploration of the Everglades which will involve asking for more guidance from the locals and securing access by airboat and swamp buggies to portions of the wilderness that still elude her.
McArdle’s ‘artist eyes’ are critical to the future of the ecosystem because the Everglades does not always present the grandeur typically offered by mountain or canyon landscapes. “I have sent people to visit the natural areas that inspired some of my paintings, and they come back saying ‘there was nothing there.’ Artists can see beauty where others do not—but more importantly, artists tend to notice things that other eyes might miss if they weren’t pointed out.”
LOOP ROAD SCENE, Big Cypress National Preserve
Loop Road is a 27-mile meander through the dwarf cypress forests, pine forests and deep strands of Big Cypress National Preserve in Southwest Florida. The freshwater in the Big Cypress Swamp is essential to the health of the neighboring River of Grass to the east, but its watershed also supports the rich marine estuaries of Florida Bay to the south and the Gulf of Mexico to the west. The 729,000 acres of vast swamp host an uncommon mixture of both tropical and temperate plant communities. Bird watching opportunities in the preserve are spectacular along with its opportunities to encounter a host of remarkably diverse wildlife
Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve Watercolor Painting
As a former professional graphic artist, you would think that all of Smith’s paintings reveal her incredibly literal technique. But her body of work also includes figurative abstracts that reveal interpretations that are magically truthful. Some are designed to draw viewers in so they can create more of their own meanings, while in other pieces she may deliberately simplify her drawings so the art skills seem more accessible.
“With my realistic images, I sometimes add written notes that direct the viewer’s attention into different channels with information about science, history, mathematics, or even flashes of poetry. The more abstract images are meant to evoke added emotional responses and I’ll sometimes even use simple sketches to convey a sense of child-like wonder.” Although all of her art is presented as a component of nature deserving of the viewer’s reflection, collectors of her art seem to appreciate her style of sharing a sense of both mystery and story.
Smith believes her blog is an art form in itself and strives to instill a deeper sense of place and appreciation of nature through its informal images and words. It’s really her online field journal, and the blog’s weekly drawings and watercolor sketches invites participants to explore the natural world of Southwest Florida–and in the process–also coaches followers to start their own visual nature journal.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
Smith has been painting and sketching Southwest Florida’s natural landscapes on and off for 25 years and maintains that every time she sketches she learns something new.
Her painting of the estuary is just one part of the Everglades that Smith is enamored with. In terms of the overall system she speculates, “I think the colors and spaces move me the most. Just look at a vast yellow and green sawgrass prairie topped by a huge blue sky piled with violet-blue storm clouds in the late afternoon sun. Then again, I marvel just as much at the gnarled and twisted branches of a pond apple, bristling with airplants and secret animal and insect life. ”It’s easy to see that the natural environment thrills her, but its historical cultures and families also pull her into the landscape’s story.
The estuary system fascinates her because there is so much to see and experience there. “Estuaries are unique and a fundamental platform for the abundance and diversity of our oceans and coastlines. Rookery Bay contains several different habitats, and there is always some kind of bird activity.” Her passion for the estuary is evident as she describes how fresh and salt water meet there and are rocked by the tides, or how the Red mangroves interweave their roots to form protective nurseries for marine life, while their branches provide resting places for many types of birds. “Its sparkling water stained red-brown by tannins with the detritus that nourishes life pulls me in, while not much further inland,” she explains, “the dwarfed and stunted scrub oak emerges from an ancient sea bed of white sand surrounded by puffs of gray-green lichen. And, then nearby the grasses stretch across a flat wet prairie, dotted by wading birds. The visuals just go on and on for me there!”
Smith appreciates that she is lucky in her ability to express her unique connection to Florida’s natural and cultural heritage and does believe artists often make unique connections that echo in their audience. “People become aware of a resonant response deep within themselves that they didn’t know existed until they looked at a particular piece of art or read a certain moving phrase,” she insists. “Successful artists illustrate that which is difficult to describe otherwise–and I am hopeful about what can happen when showing others a new way to connect to nature.”
“I have a fascination with how humans interact with nature, and our penchant for collecting. From time to time, I create a painting of small natural items representative of a certain place or habitat–they become part of my ‘Cabinet of Curiosities.’ Part of my purpose is to draw attention to the stories behind these little bits, and to present them in a human context. “
ROOKERY BAY SCENE
Located in Southwest Florida, at the northern end of the area known as the Ten Thousand Islands, the Rookery Bay Reserve protects one of the few remaining undisturbed mangrove estuaries in North America. The fabled “Ten Thousand Islands” are really mangrove islands too numerous and varied to count. Within their reaches an incredibly diverse estuary is formed by the freshwater rivers and sloughs of the Everglades mixing with the saltwater of the Gulf of Mexico.
An amazing world exists within the Reserve’s 110,000 acres of pristine mangrove forest, uplands and shallow waters. Its rookeries—the breeding grounds of colony forming seabirds, marine mammals and even some turtles—nurture a remarkably diverse habitat. A myriad of wildlife, including 150 species of birds and many threatened and endangered animals, thrive in its brackish waters, upland hammocks, and scrub.
Christopher M. Still
Cape Sable from Florida Bay
Right now, LINC Board member and artist Christopher Still is focusing his eye on Tampa Bay including the 1757 expedition of Spanish explorer Don Francisco Maria Celi who first mapped Tampa Bay. As a part of his historical research and attention to detail, Still traveled the Florida coast last Summer following Celi’s route from Cuba to Tampa Bay.
Best known for his fascinating studies of Floridians in their natural environment, and his stunning landscapes, Still creates paintings celebrated for both artistic excellence and historical accuracy. His people are just as much a part of the landscape as the landscape is a part of his people. “What I try to do is use iconic images,” Still explains, “to tell a complicated story simply.”
Although Still is a native of Florida, he attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, took courses in human anatomy at Jefferson Medical College, and completed an apprenticeship in traditional techniques in Florence, Italy. Still returned to the Tampa Bay area in 1986, to explore his home state with what he calls “the new eyes” he had received through education.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
As a part of his current focus on the history and beauty of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Still chose this section of the Everglades after seeing the Cape for the first time from the waters of Florida Bay. “It was exciting for me to see a whole coastline with nothing on it. It was a wonderful experience just to imagine the Florida coastline the way it was for many years before all its urban development. It was very special to me. Jewel like.”
Still has worked in the Everglades for many years but insists that each visit is a new adventure. “To do a painting requires that I sit in one place and work for a long period of time. I’m often amazed by what I see by being still and patient.” He also recognizes that his artist eyes may allow him to experience its wonders differently than most visitors. “Since my work often requires me to visit the same place many times, and since I’ve done so over the years, I think I see details others might miss. Others might visit the Everglades with a plan to search for something specific where as I just go out and observe the natural world and wait patiently for something special to reveal itself to me.”
While attuned to the vastness and wildness of the Everglades, Still finds both its cultural and natural landscape “hauntingly spiritual.” He marvels that this still untamed wilderness “enabled the Seminoles to survive in the last century, and that its isolation in this century can still sustain some of the country’s most endangered wildlife.”
CAPE SABLE SCENE, from Florida Bay
Still’s oil painting is of Cape Sable, the southern-most tip of the North American continent. The peninsula in southwest Florida is part of Everglades National Park and stretches west from Flamingo before curving north into Ponce de Leon Bay where it ends at the mouth of the Shark River. It forms the southern and western boundaries of White Water Bay and provides an untouched stretch of glorious sandy white beaches facing the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Bay.
Behind the beaches, on the eastern and middle parts of the Cape, there is a marl prairie that looks something like a shallow freshwater slough. Lake Ingraham, the southernmost lake in the US, once provided freshwater to Native Americans and mariners. Tragically, it is now connected to the Gulf of Mexico and western Florida Bay by canals built in the early 1920′s.
Margaret Ross Tolbert
Capturing that awe! Communicating the kind of wonder that natural areas inspire is a very magical process for acclaimed Gainesville painter Margaret Ross Tolbert. She considers her art to be a kind of “Expressive Realism” and believes her message has been received “when my paintings inspire a connection rather than a recognition.”
No matter how you experience her celebrated paintings, Tolbert’s award-winning talents and skills are obvious. She received her Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Florida studying under Hiram Williams, and her stunning works are commissioned throughout the world.
Appraising her own paintings as “Painterly and ostensibly abstract, but simultaneously reflecting a reality of the place,” Tolbert admits an attraction to dichotomy in any work of art. She has developed this eclectic combination because it helps her to correspond with the “experience of the place” she’s trying to depict. “Beyond simply making a painting look like the place I see,” she counters, “I like to think my role in the depiction is also about trying to calibrate the place with the emotional landscape it reveals to me.”
In the case of her renowned Florida springs paintings, Tolbert understands how some might not recognize them at first. “The experience of being in the springs is not familiar to them.” She explains, “I used to look at things as ‘a scene’ until I learned to really enter a place and try to discern all of its energy.”
You can see and feel her Florida springs paintings in her stunning book AQUIFERious. It showcases twelve North Florida Springs and the threatened aquifer that sustains them. The publication took home Florida Book Awards, including a gold medal in the non-fiction category and a silver medal in the fine arts category. Although Tolbert’s art, photographs, artistic cave maps, poetry and performances are compelling on their own, the pages are also complimented by a scientific and literary edge. Contributing essayists and writers include scientists and historians like Bill Belleville, Tom Morris, Eric Hutcheson, Howard Jelks, and Jim Stevenson—among many others. A percentage of the book sales are contributed to groups helping the springs.
THE ARTIST & THE EVERGLADES
“For me it’s always about following the water,” the artist revels, joyfully embracing the complicated intricacies of the Everglades and what she calls its “visual conundrums.” With her celebrated interest in water, you can imagine how challenging it must have been for her to narrow down a place in the 16-county Everglades ecosystem. Always looking for what she calls “frequency,” the defining intensity of a place, Tolbert’s selection process involves identifying a place that strikes her collectively, “You see something, you hear the water, you feel the vibrancy of the heat, and then there’s the mosquito that bites you, a multifarious experience.”
Finding what she was looking for in the thread of forested swamp known as Fakahatchee Strand, she was enticed by its “intense and mesmerizing tangles—its kind of critical mass of arabesque and looping rococo frenzy. With all that going on, it definitely has a mysterious presence—not that the other places in the Everglades aren’t puzzling—but for me the Strand’s type of organized chaos offered up something I wanted to try and express.”
The challenge of communicating the Strand’s myriad and mysterious landscapes through art is one thrill for the artist, yet another is how to best present her story point on LINC’s Everglades Atlas. She says she didn’t want to do something that translated into a modernist abstract because it might only recognize the part of “Fakahatchee that is all over the place. Yes, that is what you might see at first, the vast swamps at the beginning of Janes Scenic Road, but I also want to reveal its very structured and melodic quality that is even more unusual.”
“I definitely feel like I am on another planet when I’m out in the Everglades. LINC’s Art Atlas project is giving me the opportunity to figure out why.”
Having worked in the Everglades on several occasions in the past, Tolbert is captivated with the constant discoveries it offers and still finds it to be “a crucible—a mother-lode, of inspiration for the visual artist. It seems to inspire all the senses simultaneously.” The project has her experimenting with both focusing on the Strand’s recognizable aspects, but also introducing its secret and perhaps little noticed delights—like the water plants and flowers that she hadn’t noticed on previous visits. And, beyond her painting venture in the Everglades, Tolbert confesses that she is also eager to compose music, create films and three dimensional works in response to the place.
Not surprisingly, the artist is as spellbound with the region’s enigmatic people as she is with its arcane wilderness. She’s read a great deal of Everglades literature and environmental history pieces including Peter Matthiessen’s Killing Mr. Watson series that adds to her awareness that it is not an easy place to live, even with modern conveniences. She is engrossed by the isolation of Everglades City–something of a modern pirate’s cove that Tolbert finds “strangely liberating. It feels like the jumping off place at the end of the world. Standing at Ted Smallwood’s store in Chokoloskee you look out on the mangrove islands leading to Florida Bay and you can’t help but realize you are in a strange frontier far, far away from the normal concerns of urban Florida. That realization makes everybody there seem very interesting to me.”
For the LINC project, Tolbert began shifting her traditional process and media to convey a new visual language of the Everglades. Oil on canvas, pen and ink sketches, and oil on aluminum are becoming her new methods of communication. “I am also working on silk screening my sketches on the canvas for oil painting to amp-up the drawing to correspond to the feverish energy of the Big Cypress Swamp.”
Tolbert freely admits that art may not always progress to the scientific mechanisms of the Everglades—the how and why of its ecosystems—but art often points out what she calls “the awesome and fantastic aspects” of this environment. “I like the idea of reminding people about our astonishment—how bewildered human beings can feel in the face of these strange, lavish and exotic scenes.”
FAKAHATCHEE STRAND PRESERVE STATE PARK SCENE
Just one of the reasons the Everglades are unique to the world lies deep within the Big Cypress Swamp in Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park. Its swamp is something of “the Amazon of North America” due to the number and diversity of rare and endangered tropical plant species that find shelter from the cold in its cozy canopy. You might not think Collier County in Southwest Florida gets very cold, but it does by tropical standards. The strand’s special insulation allows tropical species to thrive north of their typical range. With 44 native orchids and 14 native air plants, it is the Bromeliad Capital of the continent.
A strand is a beach-type geologic formation that provides a shoreline; and Fakahatchee Strand serves as a unique linear thread of forested swampland where clean, fresh water is the key to its existence. Oriented from north to south, the strand is approximately twenty miles long and five miles wide. For thousands of years it was sculpted by a slow moving shallow river—what is also known as a slough. The water in this particular slough has proven to be warmer than the ambient temperature in the winter and cooler in the summer. This subsequent buffering effect, and the deeper lakes that punctuate the strand, serve to shield the forest interior from the region’s colder temperatures.
The bromeliads are hosted by an ecosystem that encompasses the state’s most abundant groves of native royal palms, the only ecosystem in the world where bald cypress trees and royal palms share the same canopy. The mystical shelter also shields rare Florida panthers and Florida black bears that roam its uplands, and the spectacular migratory birding opportunities are famous.
The first non-natives to experience Fakahatchee Strand were the American military and the Seminoles fleeing south in the 1840s during the Second Seminole War. “Hatchee” is a Muskogee root word for creek, river or stream. Many Native Americans do not agree with the common lore that Fakahatchee means “muddy water.” Modern scholars suggest that “Faka” means hunt or chase—and the name signifies a water body for hunting.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park http://www.floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand/aboutthepark.cfm
LINC Board Member T. DeLene Beeland wrote about Margaret Ross Tolbert in LINC’s Spring 2011 Newsletter