"Lie with your ear to the ground. Let birdsong trace its complexities onto your eardrum."
Susan Cerulean, nature writer, Floridian, biologist and educator, writes these instructions in the elegant (if alarmingly short) anthology she co-edited, The Wild Heart of Florida: Florida Writers on Florida’s Wildlands.
Eighteen months ago I came to live – part-time and unwillingly – in Miami. I did not expect to find much wilderness. To my surprise, I have spent more time camping in South Florida than I ever have in Seattle. Perhaps that’s because Miami is easier to leave behind. Or because I prefer sweating to shivering. Whatever the reason (and in spite of the best efforts of developers, pro-business legislators, and oil-spillers), I recognize more tree and bird species in South Florida than I do in Western Washington.
There is no recycling in our eighty-unit Miami apartment building – though it’s called “Nirvana” (really!) – but less than an hour’s drive west of our home is a fifteen-mile bike-loop through the Everglades. Our metal coffee mugs are often rejected at cafes (public health hazard, they say), but eighty miles southwest lies the wonder of the Middle Keys.
On Long Key, you can pitch a tent just five feet from the calm emerald lips of the Atlantic Ocean. I did that this weekend and hardly left my campsite for two days. I sat at the picnic table and watched sanderlings flip small piles of dried seagrass in search of a meal. I scribbled in my notebook until Ursa Major rose like a question mark in the sky, asking Orion and the Pleiades what to make of happenings on the blue planet below. (A punctuation mark to the question that fills all my notebooks.) Orion pretended not to hear while Atlas’s daughters just shrugged. They’d never much cared for pointless questions.
I let birdsong and birdtracks trace their complexities onto my eardrum, as I asked myself another question that would only make the those seven sisters shrug: What will become of South Florida?