Primal Dreams in the Everglades

The Everglades in South Florida.In a new article up on GoNOMAD, I discuss a new book out by Penguin Books, called The Conde Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys. The collection is 21 stories of great travel experiences. In the article, you can find one story in its entirety, by Russell Banks. The story is about going to the Florida Everglades. Here’s a selection.

Beyond any other national park, perhaps, the Everglades bears repeated visits, justifying a traveler’s return trips, but maybe requiring them too. Without intending it, over the years I’ve acquired from these visits a gradual accumulation of information—about my layered self, I suppose, and, more important, about the place—which has helped me learn to look at the Everglades and see it for what it is instead of for what it isn’t. The first few times I didn’t get it. There are no high mountains, no rushing cataracts, no grand panoramic vistas. There’s no rain forest, no powerful continent-draining rivers, no rocky seashore. No, the Glades is quiet and low and slow, a shallow, almost invisible river of grass, an intricate, extremely fragile subtropical ecosystem that seems shy and difficult of access to the human eye, which is, of course, one of the reasons humans have come so close to destroying it—and may yet succeed.

To see the Everglades for what it is and not what it isn’t, however, you have to develop a kind of bifocal vision, as if you were floating down the Mississippi on a raft with Huck Finn. You have to learn to switch your gaze constantly from the concrete to the abstract, from the nearby riverbank to the distant sky. You need an almost Thoreauvian eye for detail and the interrelatedness of nature’s minutiae, for it is a 1.5-million-acre Walden Pond we’re talking about here, the largest wetland in the United States. From November through May there are between fifty thousand and a hundred thousand wading birds in the Everglades.

Read the rest of Russell Banks’ story at