There are Pythons in the Everglades: And Other Things I’ve Learned about Marriage

Recently, my husband and I spent a week on vacation in the furthest, southern, sunny geography in the continental United States; south Florida. We also recently spent several rainy, winter months in counseling in Seattle, Washington. We didn’t choose to go to Florida, and if we didn’t have to, we wouldn’t have chosen to go to counseling. But my husband, the intrepid bread-winner, won this trip to the Sunshine State through his work. It was a rare accomplishment for his large company, and since we were not taking the kids, it was also a rare opportunity for us to spend some extended time alone.

I was mostly excited; only a touch nervous.

Ritz HorseWe started off being utterly spoiled at the Ritz Carlton on Key Biscayne. This was the company portion of the trip. In those four days we took a boat tour around Miami, went to a Heat basketball game (my husband is a huge NBA fan), and took an air boat tour of the Everglades. We ate, drank and slept our fill over four days in luxurious style. Like a relaxing, self-endulgent massage on tense muscles, it was a perfect way to soften us up for the rest of our trip—our personal vacation away from the company people, deeper south in Key West. We left the Ritz, somewhat remorsefully, and made our way, slowly, southward along Hwy 1 where we would spend three days alone.

But before we could get there, we had to drive through the Everglades.

The Everglades is actually not a swamp, but a river. It’s a remarkably lazy one because it moves (slides really) off the edge of Southern Florida at a whiplashing rate of a half mile a day. When it reaches the ocean, the fresh (although muddy) water mixes with the shallow, light blue seas of the Caribbean. If you draw a latitudinal line through the Everglades all the way around the Earth you will not find another geography like it. It is a truly unique ecosystem.

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The Everglades is also a petri dish for wildlife. If, by chance, a new species makes it way to this lazy river, that species proliferates beyond its typical boundaries. It grows larger, more resilient than usual, disturbing all other things and creating chinks in the chain of homeostasis. Apparently geriatrics are not the only population who thrive in Florida.

Like most ecosystems, the Everglades are sensitive to change. The slightest hiccup; the subtraction or addition of a plant or animal can bring sweeping and permanent change to all the parts. Michael+Jackson+snakeThe most publicized, and perhaps most exotic of these invasive species is the Burmese Python. Sometime in the 80s, no doubt a misguided pet owner channeling his inner Michael Jackson, let lose some Burmese Pythons that had grown too big to wrap around their mullets. That mistake resulted in a population of Pythons that are now estimated in the 100s of thousands. These monster-sized snakes are now eating the natural predators at the top of the Everglade food chain, the alligators. In some areas, the Pythons have devoured 90% of the animal life; everything from wrens to deer.

Realizing the potential for destruction of one of the world’s most unique habitats, the government now spends $500 million dollars a year trying to save it. And it’s not just from Pythons; there are trees, snails, mice and yes, men who want to take over this prime real estate.

As we traveled south I thought of those Pythons. People in Florida hate them. They hold contests to see who can kill the most snakes. Once, a tour guide operator even jumped in after a one attempting to wrestle it with his bare hands. He was almost strangled to death in front a group of tourists. Pythons are Everglade Public Enemy #1 but they didn’t really do anything wrong. They are just Pythons being Pythons. But that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t belong there, even if they like the warm weather and plentiful golf courses. It does not change the fact that if left unfettered, they will destroy a good thing.

As I looked out the car window onto the mangroves and saw grass, it hit me. I’ve let loose Pythons in my marriage.

Marriage Pythons are unforgiven deeds. Resentments. Marriage Pythons are deadly and if allowed to grow unfettered, they will proliferate and destroy 90% of all the other pieces that make a marriage unique and beautiful. If you can’t stop the Marriage Pythons, the ecosystem will collapse. Right then I decided to become a Python hunter, but since I’m more a catch and release kind of gal, I’m not killing them. I’m caging them. Studying them.

Now, I see Pythons all the time. I’ve learned how they move, where they hide, what they eat and where they breed. I’m catching them one by one. I’m giving them names, shining a light on them inside their cages and letting your little fingers to tap on the glass. Hopefully, I’m educating a few on the dangers of owning exotic animals, 80s hair and marriage pitfalls.

By the time we reached sunny Key West, I had recommitted myself—not to my husband, but to honing my most valuable Python catching tool: forgiveness. So far, it’s been the hardest thing yet.

But Key West wasn’t the furthest we had to go on this journey south. We went even further. We took a float plane 70 miles south to the most southern and key of all; The Dry Tortugas. This is where a pre Civil War military fort, Fort Jefferson, has been turned into a pristine and magical animal sanctuary and protected state park.

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Fort Jefferson’s history is gruesome; a tropical island of horrors. Slaves built the fort in the early 1800s.  They are called The Dry Tortugas because the island lacks access to fresh water. The fort was designed to sit on top of a massive cistern that would hold fresh rain water. But the engineering was faulty and the massive brick structure collapsed under its weight, cracking the cistern and 087filling the surrounding moat with sewage water. Imagine a moat of standing sewage in tropical heat? During the Civil War prisoners and soldiers in their heavy wool uniforms were forced to stay here. Disease ran rampant. Many tried to escape, and many others died.

Today, the moat is clear blue ocean water. The canons and shackles are rusted relics and the attached land is a rookery for all kinds of beautiful tropical birds. As we walked this empty, ethereal and solemn place, I realized that this was me. I am a fort, on an island, in a shallow sea and if I do not seek peace, I may collapse under my own weight, surrounding myself with sewage water while chained to the wall. I am also beautiful, magical, a sanctuary. I can be deadly. My history; flawed. If I cannot learn to forgive even myself, to turn the page, if I cannot hunt the Pythons inside my head and bring the waters to homeostasis, I might flood my moat and destroy my own habitat.

I came home from Florida changed. But do you know the best part of all? The most heart-clenching truth I found in this most southern, foreign of places? That sometimes is it out of war, that beauty arises. Sanctuaries are found. That love lives on behind high walls and dirty waters.

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Muster Up A Little Faith

Image credit- aswirly.com

Image credit- aswirly.com

We sit on our couches in the dripping wet moss of the Pacific Northwest, or high desert, land-locked mountains, or sunny beach communities, and we watch a swirling dark cloud whip up people’s lives in a place we don’t know. We feel horrible, we feel slightly comforted that we are not them, we feel sad and helpless.

We are all flabbergasted by the seemingly random, potentially disastrous and sometimes instantaneous way life can knock us sideways. In times like this, we tread along similar thought patterns of self-soothing–prayer, anguish, altruism–because even if we were not near that town, buried under that rubble, we  know, even fixate on the idea that bad things can happen at any moment. To us too. Sudden, devastating tornadoes are symbols of the impermanence and unpredictability of everyone’s life. It is this constant, most basic and low-frequency fear that drives us to seek out vices and means of control.

My mode of control is thought. I will think a thing to death. I will flip it over and over between my fingers–one by one and back and forth like a drummer with his drumstick–until there is a glimmer of sense to be made. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because it forces me to be honest, to stay curious, seek information, use my brain. A curse because there is never a definitive answer and I am often wrong.

My primary focus has been people. If I can figure out why people feel, and do, and behave, then I can feel safer, more able to predict the future, more in control of my world. I have learned a lot about people this way, but it is not with other people that I am most concerned. The person I’m preoccupied with figuring out is, of course, myself. If I have learned anything over the years, it is that this is an impossible task.

People are as different and intricate in their thoughts and reasoning as the composition of the universe. There is simply no outer edge to human potential which is, in itself, a scary/comforting thought. There is no quantifiable algorithm that will make people suddenly make sense to me. It is impossible to discover the secret to suffering and pain and love and hate and love, because those things hold no definitive quality or concrete definition. They are forever moving, always out of reach like the funny shapes that move under your eyelids. As am I in any given day.

People are as crazy, hopeless, fantastic, capable, blinded and varied as the stars, and yet, at he same time, we are the same. It’s a circular thought. Our name might be Jane, or Randy, or Natalia or Xerxes; we may speak different languages, want different things, but we all still want… and feel, and try, and love in various combinations of each.

Science thinks it knows these things better than all else. I know, because I love science. Why do I love science? Because science is the pinnacle modality of control. Inarguably its goal is to quantify the world, deduce it down to elemental parts. It uses formulas and statistics and empirical data! to prove we are all knowable and known. Don’t you love the word empirical? But science has an outer edge.

And when you reach the outer edge of anything you can do two things: turn back, retrace your steps and tread a deeper path along the only thing you’ve ever known; or… you can close your eyes, muster up a little faith, and jump.