- Swamplife: People, Gators, and Mangroves Entangled in the Everglades by Laura A. Ogden
To unversed throngs of tourists, the casual public, or even many Florida residents, the Everglades is frequently perceived as a humid, muddy, alligator infested wasteland, but the often subtle, sometimes blatant, spatiotemporal variability of the human and natural systems begs for a popular appreciation that our modern society eschews for cinematic flash and dramatic vistas. As Dr. Laura Ogden so astutely recognizes, even in our attempts to restore what anthropogenic transformation has so effectively obliterated, we turn a deliberate blind eye on the human story of the Everglades, cognitively hewn from the natural world by the very concepts of ecology upon which we rely for restoration. In her own restoration project of a sort, the author wishes to redress the problem of displacing human history and contemporary landscape practices to a place of externalized difference by problematizing “paradigms of wilderness and ecosystems that continue to shape our understandings of the Everglades and to drive conservation and development policies around the world” (p 4). She assails the “politics of nature” predominantly through the lens “by which [the alligator hunter’s] history and experiences of the Everglades became marginalized, illegal, and largely forgotten” (p 3).
The narrative succeeds in its detailed descriptions of the poor white hunter’s methods, interactions with the forbidding fauna and environment of South Florida, and life altering transformations influenced by the socio-political forces from the turn of the 20th century through the conversion of a wild frontier to a humanized and managed system. She traces this history, from the bull’s-eye lanterns, pole-hunting in alligator dens, backcountry camps, moonshine stills, and juke joints of the century-ago largely untracked East Coast wilderness to the more recent criminalization of the alligator hunting enterprise and dissection of the Everglades landscape. The tipping point of the “human” and “natural” bifurcation revolves around the early post World War II era, when in 1947 Congress authorized the Central and Southern Florida Project for flood control and water management, resulting in drainage and settlement of fully half the Everglades system, and concomitantly set aside land for the natural world in the form of Everglades National Park.
Ogden traces connections to the socio-political [End Page 233] changes throughout this historic period and into the present with enlightening examples. One noteworthy example involves Royal Palm Hammock, a tropical hardwood hammock that became a botanical wonder to early 20th century naturalists who advocated and succeeded in its protection as a state park, becoming the forerunner and heart of Everglades National Park. The author includes an absorbing historical account and analysis concerning the transfer of knowledge about Royal Palm from Seminoles to hunters and explorers, to local amateur naturalists, and finally to professional naturalists, often dependent on local guides, who advocated protection to national and international audiences. However, the social history of Royal Palm as conveyed by professional naturalists excluded the local rural white hunters, explorers, and naturalists from whom their awareness of the site was obtained. The Seminoles, on the other hand, were included in historical accounts as a means to solidify the impression of an isolated Paradise in North America untrammeled by modern influences (Coincidentally, the Seminoles are again largely relegated to context in Swamplife itself). The author emphasizes that the myth of a dehumanized landscape continues in modern public perception. The national park remains devoid of signage concerning human history, excepting examples of anthropogenic ecological disaster.
Equally interesting are the effects of laws and regulations on the reshaping of the hunter’s landscape to what the author labels a “subversive landscape,” where the law was ever present and “invisibility, secrecy, and violence predominated” (p 139). The growth of the tourist economy in the mid-20th century and establishment of the alligator as a symbol of Florida quickly changed perceptions of traditional economic activities. The Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission changed their official position...