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RSW Living Magazine

Capturing the Everglades: Through the Words of Those Who Know It Best

Anne McCrary Sullivan and Holly Genzen are intrepid Everglades explorers. They have spent countless weeks paddling and trekking through the vast river of grass and have produced two books about their adventures. The latest is a coffee-table-size book, The Everglades, filled with “stories of grit and spirit,” accompanied by stunning photos that capture the breathtaking beauty of the mangrove wilderness. 

The second book is an outgrowth of the first, a guidebook called Paddling the Everglades Wilderness Waterway. In researching that book, the two women, both Florida Master Naturalists, encountered a number of like-minded souls for whom the Everglades is a way of life. After talking to these fellow adventurers, the two authors realized, “We have another book to write.” 

Only the preface, introduction, and acknowledgments of The Everglades are in the authors’ voices. The rest is culled from their extensive interviews with more than 20 people who live in, work in, travel in, or study the Everglades. These include John and Donna Buckley, who have spent 29 winters on a houseboat as Everglades National Park volunteers, guiding group tours, redirecting lost campers, rescuing beached pilot whales, or whatever else needs doing.  

Then there’s Skip Snow, a wildlife biologist who spends his time tracking manatees, dolphins, pythons, and bats in Everglades National Park; Tony Terry, whose job is law enforcement and resource protection; photographer Constance Mier, who documents the beauty of the Everglades through her lens, usually while traveling in her canoe; and Ann Rougle, who upon retirement decided to sail a hybrid kayak/sailboat named Hazel around the Everglades.  

The authors also interviewed old-timers, whose stories are amazing examples of fortitude: Bill Truesdell, author of the first guidebook to the Everglades Wilderness Waterway, shares his memories beginning as a naturalist in the late ’60s; Ralph Miele, who got his pilot’s license in 1939 and became the first ranger pilot for the National Park Service, spent years in the air finding poachers, fighting fires, monitoring wildlife, and conducting aerial tours; and octogenarian Wanda Brown Townsend relives her memories during a kayak trip to Fakahatchee Island, where she spent many childhood visits with her uncle Phinnes and aunt Ada. She lived on nearby Chokoloskee for 57 years. “I was born on that island. I didn’t leave till there wasn’t nothing else for me to do down there,” says Townsend, who now lives in LaBelle, Florida. “Most of my people has moved away from Chokoloskee. But I know a few that says when they moved, it would be in a box. And I believe it.”   

Sullivan and Genzen say the reward for putting their book together was getting to know the people in it. “They are fascinating people. They have deep spirits. It is a privilege to be with them, to hear their stories.” 

The attraction of the Everglades is many-faceted, but often boils down to one quality, conveyed in these mesmerizing pages by one of its characters, Vivian Oliva, a rare woman who fishes out of a solo canoe in the Everglades: “The silence. The silence. To be away from the noise and be in the wilderness. Traveling with the rhythm of the Everglades…, traveling slow enough to really experience the subtle beauty of this wilderness…”