Saturday, January 5, 2008

A Super-sized Christmas Everglades tour with the Millers

When Lisa suggested she wanted to bring her family on my Everglades tour I was elated. When she told me there were 24 family members that would join me for this pre-Christmas excursion I had to super-size the plans. Our regular 14 passenger vans would not do. It was time to break out the 25-passenger "Funmobile"!
I worked with Lisa in Vermont from 2002-2006 before she took the helm of the Four Winds Nature Institute - a community based environmental organization staffed with some of the best educators around. She's just "super" and one of my favorite people. I must admit that guiding her family around the Everglades was a daunting task. Imagine the headlines if I inadvertently drove the entire family into a lake of alligators? It's the exact reason the President of the United States and Vice-President are not aloud to travel together - although I'd be glad to drive those two into said lake. I met the group in Fort Myers and after being chased away from our designated rest area/parking spot by an over zealous rest area/parking spot security guy, we found a better spot, left the caravan and headed south for the Everglades. The Miller family was every bit as energetic and enthusiastic as Lisa. It was almost scary. I'm used to my family gatherings where games of Monopoly are routinely ended by an "earthquake" and angry passengers threaten to leap from moving cars. But I digress as usual.

The boat cruise took us out to the edge of the Mangrove forest along the Gulf of Mexico where I could blissfully forget that not only did I lock the Funmobile key in the bus. I locked them both in there. Don't tell the boss. And if he's reading this. I'm just making it up for this story. Which I'm not. We were treated to a first for me on our Wildlife Drive when a 5-foot Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake slithered across the road. It paused. Rattled and eventually slithered into the sawgrass. A good reminder to watch our step along the way. (Apparently I was saved by my mother at the age of 5 when I wandered in our backyard and almost stepped on a Rattlesnake. other than that -this was my first wild one). On my tours, I always talk about the natural history as well as the troubles and the successes the Everglades have endured. I'm always concerned that environmental problems are a downer, but throughout the day, any mention of Everglades restoration success was met with spontaneous and unsolicited cheering. It was the most endearing thing I've experienced on a tour since a 5 year old boy told me back in 1999 that he wanted to save the Everglades so the Panthers could have a home.
My biggest worry for the day was selling the airboat as a legitimate part of an "eco-tour". They are noisy, but in the shallow waters of Lake Trafford and the Everglades, there is no other way to explore, lest one wishes to wander through the mucky swamp water of the most densely populated alligator lake in the world. Do they degrade the environment? Do they have a negative impact on the plant and wildlife. I will argue no. I hope I convincingly sold that. You have to experience it to understand it.

Our December 23rd trip was a day after the Winter Solstice. For the last 5 years I have led night-time solstice hikes up Mount Equinox in Manchester, VT. Although I missed it this year, it was nice to spend this day experiencing the solstice in a new way. I was hopelessly late getting to our airboat ride which was met with spontaneous and unsolicited cheers as the setting sun provided fantastic scenery around the lake.

The following day I discussed successful restoration projects in the Everglades and looked back to see the reaction of my new guests. They smiled and continued to listen. No spontaneous applause. I won't begrudge them of this reaction. It might be unfair to hold others up to such a high standard - There's really no family quite like the Millers.


  1. Pete,
    You were busy! Glad to see you blogging again:)

  2. Nice post! The photos are great and the group looks like they had a great time!


  3. Pete,
    Thanks for a fun day! It was so nice to meet you and spend some time exploring the Everglades.
    All the best,

  4. Pete -- I read your blog out loud to Van and the kids and they broke out in spontaneous cheering and applause! Then I sent the link off to the entire Miller family knowing they'd love your blog. Did I mention to you that once you've been in the funmobile with more than 20 Millers, you automatically become a member of the family? Welcome!!