“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
I’m just back from a personally perspective setting visit to South Florida, a trip which took me through the old haunts of my youth in Miami and the neon lit art deco district of Miami Beach, to the Everglades, the River of Grass, my original wilderness muse.
We can run but we cannot hide, nor should we, from the sources of our being – some good, some bad, some indifferent. For many and varied reasons I have avoided for many years, the city of my childhood, the Magic City of Miami; the place where, in the 1970s, I swam with manatees in the Tamiami Canal and pedaled for miles on a rusty old bike, from our tiny terrazzoed apartment on the final approach to Miami International Airport, to the elegant ruins of the Biltmore (since restored) to the tropical jungle of Alice Wainwright Park, through Little Havana and Coconut Grove and all parts in between.
The language of youth is gone – or at least broken, the Cuban half of my heritage shoved under the Caucasian camouflage of my other half. But I found I still love the sounds and smells and tastes of my original culture – the scent of cigars and pipes, the hot sweetness of cafe con leche, the rich fragrant jumbles of meats and rice and fruits, the music, the omnipresent chatty effusiveness and easy camaraderie of a people – my people – who wear their hearts brassily on their brightly colored sleeves.
The natural landscape of South Florida, which persists through even the most determined urban construction in Miami was the catalyst for my love of the outdoors; a veritable botanical Eden populated with the ubiquitous palms – coconut, royal, date, queen and more, giant ixora, hibiscus blossoms of every color, massive Bougainvillea, heady banks of jasmine, walls of bamboo. Everything that can grow here, does, erupting in verdant abundance through sidewalks and stone walls and even from cars parked too long in one place.
And at the edge of it all, that massive River of Grass, the place where all roads south of the urban landscape of Miami fall away, one by one, until only a narrow handful venture past the fields and sawgrass prairies of Homestead and the Redlands and enter the stark, beautiful inevitability of the Everglades, a wilderness which so few understand and upon which so much depends. The Everglades is the place where I cut my hiker’s teeth, along the Gumbo Limbo and Anhinga Trails, and later went stargazing with my pivotal South Miami High School Astronomy Club, and later on photo safaris and adventuring with my would-be husband in reaches far outside the tourist trails.
We are the sum of our parts – the depth and greatness of our being determined largely by the degree of our receptiveness to the influences and experiences – focused, incidental, accidental and peripheral – of our lives. Turn our backs on any one of our parts, and we are lessened by a commensurate degree.
Life is a series of lessons. Every experience is a required course, prerequisite to the experiences to come. The test of lessons well learned is to be able to revisit the past not nostalgically nor with bitterness, but with understanding and appreciation, using the past as a ladder to a hopefully more enlightened future; a future in which, in my case, my family, friends and cultural heritage will always be an integral part.