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.
– Marjory Stoneman Douglas
The Florida everglades is a sacred place for my family.
We gathered there, beside the dark water to remember both my grandmother and my father after they died. In my mind’s eye I see glimpses of family, old friends, china plates filled with delicious food, all together in the Florida wildness. And there we sat on the sacred ground to remember together.
We shared stories and music. Bagpipe music for my father. At one point my uncle stood and read a passage written by grandmother when she was a young mother. She described looking at my father while he was in his crib. These words were her words. These thoughts were her thoughts. I met a part of my grandmother that I had never known. I could see her standing there, so young, looking at my father. It was a moment so deep for her that she wrote down her thoughts. And now, because she put pen to paper, so many years later her descendants were reliving that moment.
I don’t particularly enjoy writing. I never feel compelled to write everything down the way I see others do. I’d much rather hold my thoughts inside me for further exploration. I am more likely to express what I discover through oral storytelling, the words and the act of sharing combining to become something new. I’m more likely to express what I discover through the creation of art, or the way I set the table, or simply through connection…however it comes.
But now I have my grandson, Emmett. He will know me through our everyday life together, the same way I came to know and love my grandmothers. I learned so much from each of them. One grandmother taught me about the beauty of the natural world, how to enjoy food, craftmanship, and everything beautiful. She absolutely was my friend, and we talked all the time. I have a photo of us getting off the plane in Mexico. I was six. Both of our mouths were open because we were talking to each other. That pleased us to no end! My other grandmother taught me about unconditional love and incredible faith. She prayed for us each by name, every night. I tried it once and I will tell you that it is an awesome undertaking because we are a large family. She was small in stature and very quiet. We didn’t talk that much when I was young. Instead, she was always busy cooking the most delicious meals for us. Once when I was older, she walked me through the intricate process of making pasteles. She told me how when she was a young girl in Puerto Rico, they used to run the large plantain leaves through an open fire to sear them. And I could see her too, young, cooking outside with the older women, learning to make the food her descendants would come to equate with love.
In my heart my beautiful grandmothers are like the Everglades. Natural. Unique. No one anywhere else is like them. And also…they are not wholly known to me. There are so many questions I didn’t ask them because I was too young to be curious about the great mysteries.
And now I’m a grandmother. And I have Emmett and I want him to have a chance to know me. Our time together will not be that long. He is two and I am sixty-seven. I will not be there for many important milestones in his life. For example, when he is in his sixties and thinking about the walking home, the winding down of life, I will not be there to share the beautiful truths that I have discovered.
And this is precisely why I have decided to write, even though its somewhat alien to me. I want to leave Emmett with many glimpses into what his grandmother experienced, thought, and believed. It is an act of love.
Emmett may never know the Everglades that I love, but I will be known to him.