[The following is a popular favorite originally published on Jan. 31, 2011.]
Miami River Rapids, 1907.
I would like to share with you a work in progress that is special to me. Some of you will recall that I have posted images of the painting in its earlier stages. Yet certain journeys cannot, will not, be rushed, and are likely to announce the next bend in the path ahead only when it might please them. When and if they should become good and ready.
THERE is a place that I have always wanted to go, since the very first I heard about it. The location is not far away from where I now sit writing, about ten blocks over to the West, to 27th Avenue, and then North along that road for just a few blocks more. Yet there nevertheless remain certain practical difficulties in getting there, it must be granted, as technically speaking the place no longer exists. Nor has it for nearly 100 years now, since that morning the men came with the dynamite to open up for themselves a wider river more ready for proper use, at last.
Though this picturesque spot beloved of Miami’s earliest pioneers had given no cause for offense, it had no place in their ambitious plans for the re-shaping of the area. Wild and untamed nature had held sway over the much of the South Florida area for long enough, damn it, and its ancient cycles were neither fully understood nor convenient for the purposes of planned land use, its settlement, agriculture, and so forth.
THESE men were all about “reclaiming” the Everglades, and they meant business. Their assigned mission, or perhaps better put, crusade— was to redeem at last, from the fetid waters of the great gloomy swamp, the hundreds of thousands of acres of perfectly fine farmland that had lain submerged for thousands of years, going only to waste. As one of the two natural pathways for the endlessly flowing sheets of water discharging along the Eastern edge of the Great River of Grass (along with Fort Lauderdale’s New River), the Miami River seemed a self-evident target for those fixated upon draining Hell out of the Everglades.
The natural configuration of the River as left by Nature was fatally flawed in two insufferable respects. First, it lacked efficiency! It would allow water to just swirl in eddies and bounce about before exactly as it would, hither and yon, before finally pouring over the rock ledge that was the rapids, to begin its precipitous descent and three-mile course to Biscayne Bay.
Second, everyone knows that a navigable waterway is invaluable to the success of trade and commerce in an area, and these picturesque falls of tumbling frothy water were certainly not navigable, even to canoes or small rowboats.
SO intent were these workers upon their overarching mission of “reclaiming” from thief Mother Nature of her ungovernable Everglades, and so focused upon seeing the ancient Miami at last broken to the proper service and use of Man as a navigable waterway, that the ancient architecture of the rapids had been obliterated by the lunch-hour.
As of that afternoon the Earth was a sadder place, for just after the concussive blasts of dynamite exploding there had suddenly fallen an eerie and unnatural silence. The proud and ancient song of the falling water was to be heard no more.
And yet: why is it, how can it be, that at times I can still hear the music? Why do I feel in my heart that somewhere the Miami still flows free
I WANT TO GO to the Miami River rapids. Would you like to come along? I want to make passage through the deep green shade of the ancient forested hammock, guided always by the sound of the rushing water until stepping out at last into the brilliant open. I want to be dazzled by the vast fields of blue above and all around, to take in the song of the countless birds wheeling in flight above and the music of the falling waters behind. I want to take all the time I need to stop, look, and listen for all the ancient harmonies and melodies that must have once seemed to partake of the eternal, since they had always been, but are now long forgotten.
I want to breathe deep, take in the white clouds drifting lazily above, see their placid reflection transformed into kinetic art upon the swirling, dancing, falling sheets of clean blue water in rapid motion, all around me.
I want to feel the racing wind upon my face, and breathe deep the smell of an Earth fully alive.
Sometimes, if we are to get anywhere at all, we must allow the wings of our own imaginations to serve as transportation.
I once had a very special friend named Jane Reno. (Her daughter Janet would go on to win some celebrity as hosting a dance party on Saturday Night Live, and in other other endeavors, as well.)
Janet with Will Ferrell, as Janet
I might more respectfully say Teacher or mentor, rather than friend, but such was the nature of Jane’s gift that I cannot. She wouldn’t hear of such a thing. Jane knew nothing of half measures, and when her light shone, it shone all the way through. She particularly loved poetry, and the most beautiful smile would cross her face as she’d recite the gems she most treasured from the vast storehouse of her memory.
So it was that these words, written by Thomas Wolfe shortly before his untimely death at the age of 37, came to take root somewhere in my personal Heaven:
Something has spoken to me in the night, burning the tapers of the waning year; something has spoken in the night, and told me I shall die, I know not where. Saying:
“To lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth–
“–Whereon the pillars of the earth are founded, toward which the conscience of the world is tending — a wind is rising, and the rivers flow.”