I am reminded, on infrequent visits to Biscayne National Park, of the simple shock that one can still view signposts of the natural past despite a hundred years of pollution, the mangrove cutting and wetlands filling, and general disregard of elected officials for laws, regulations and enforcement meant to curb the Great Destroyers.
On a quiet winter day, while the light is low in the sky, it is still possible to find a baby manatee feeding at the shoreline in three feet of water, thrashing the bay bottom only five minutes from the boat ramp. Dolphin and sharks of all sizes, from small blacktip to massive bullsharks sunning in the shallows. There are heron, cormorants, and osprey. There are even a few bonefish left, though to see the solitary numbers is to be sadly reminded of the legions that once roamed the shallow water meadows like squadrons of grey ghosts, seeking out pockets of shrimp and crabs before disappearing to the safety of deeper water.
To sight a bonefish from the deck of a small skiff, one has to look very closely and carefully through the skinny water column. Against a dark bottom or mottled sea grass, they show up as fleeting images, easily confused for barracuda at first glance. It makes one look harder at a shape I call, the green torpedo.
One can go for hours without seeing a bonefish, and unless one's eyes know what to look for, they may be impossible to see much less catch. This kind of fishing isn't for everyone, of course. Most like to throw bait in the water and the faster a tug at the other end of a fishing line, the better. I've always been drawn by the subtlety of flats fishing. The silence. The patience required, the adrenalin and failures to lure these objects of fascination onto a fly or shrimp or small crab baited to a hook.
It turns fishing into an exercise in close observation. That's my preference. I shared the best moments with my father in this pursuit, in Florida Bay. He's gone now. So is Florida Bay. In different ways, these losses make me sad.
My father paid for a guide to take us to remarkable adventures on the flats, always dependent on season, tide, and temperature. His death was in the natural order of time. We come into the world in pain, and it is painful to leave, no matter. But the lightly examined loss of the Everglades, of Florida Bay and the treasures of Biscayne Bay is shocking. This chasm our decades opened represents a breach in thousands of years of natural history and tens of thousands of years of evolution. What brand of intelligence allowed this to happen?
You hear this criticism of mankind levied at church or synagogue or in a mosque on Sunday, but it rarely includes the assignment of sin as a personal violation of the trust between God and that natural world man and woman ought to protect. Somehow the religious right and our radical politics have spurned environmental protection entirely. That's too bad.
I don't make religion of the environment, although that is exactly how the Great Destroyers describe the 'zealotry' of environmentalism. But I do believe that the natural order makes observable, as though through a keyhole, the grand, breathtaking beauty of the planet we share. To me, it is a tragic mistake of organized religion to imagine there is another place -- a heaven -- that awaits us for good personal behavior that somehow fails to account for our destruction of natural order.
If the best we can do with living is to create the conditions that ensure the generations to follow will no longer be able to experience the orderly flow of seasons into years, we are savages. It is said the devil is in the details. So is God. That is what I bring home after a day on Biscayne Bay, failing to catch what I sought yet richer.