The video I am sharing today was filmed by the late Dr. Dale Hipson. Born and raised in Stuart, Dr Hipson was an avid wildlife lover, and very involved at the Stuart Heritage Museum. http://www.stuartheritagemuseum.com
Through the help of my mother, Dale’s family, and the community, I share one of Dr Hipson’s most famous videos from 2006 filming what seems to be hundreds of alligators marching across Powerline Road in the Dupuis Wildlife Area. I recall asking Dr Hipson why they were all crossing the road. “They are seeking more water,” he said, “levels change abruptly all the time.”
In the video, Dr Hipson and Shirley Corley’s “amazements” can be heard in the background. The video is quite delightful, even funny at times, and deserves to be reintroduced to the public. I know you will enjoy it.
I grew up in Martin County in the 60s and 70s. Nature and “healthier” rivers were abundant and a part of everyday life. We did not comprehend that the rivers were already dying; we did know of a people whose culture had suffered greatly because our white ancestors had “pushed their way in.” In spite of this terrible history, I was raised to know of the Native People who had lived along our waters’ shores and to respect their ways. We learned of the tribes that had lived here and others throughout our entire country. The Ais, the Seminole, the Miccosukee, the Lakota…
One of the most profound memories of my youth is local artist, James Hutchinson and his wife, Joan, who lived with the Seminole Indians at Brighton Reservation for six years, located on the north rim of Lake Okeechobee. I will share part of their story today.
To set the tone, I would like to begin with a reading from Black Elk, a Lakota, from out west:
“I am blind and do not see things of this world; but when the light comes from Above; it enlightens my heart and I can see, for the eye of my heart sees everything. The heart is a sanctuary at the center of which there is a little space, wherein the Great Spirit dwells and this is the eye. This the eye of the Great Spirit by which He sees all things and through which we see Him. If the heart is not pure, the Great Spirit cannot be seen, if you should die in this ignorance your soul cannot return immediately to the Great Spirit but it must be purified by wandering about in the world. In order to know the center heart where the Great Spirit dwells you must be pure and good, and live in the manner that the Great Spirit has taught us. The man who is thus pure contains the Universe in the pocket of his heart.”
It is our hearts that will bring back the river of grass….”Kahayatle”… “Love’s power” is transformative and changes broken people, and broken waters…
So to continue, artist, James Hutchinson, was long time friends of my parents; in 1962 he and his wife Joan received an Arthur Vining Davis Foundation grant, and moved to the Brighton Reservation to paint portraits of the Seminole elders. Many years later, Mr Hutchinson wrote me in a personal letter in 2009 after my husband commissioned him to paint “Lena Tiger”—the figure chosen by Hutchinson when I asked for a woman to go with my warrior prints.
The letter reads:
“When Joan and I moved to the Seminole Indian Reservation at Brighton, we found ourselves at a loss as to begin our work…there were many weeks where we were isolated from the tribe and we thought we had failed. Lena Tiger was wife of the last true medicine man, Waha-Tiger. She saw how lost we were and came to our rescue, taking us around to meet several families’ campsites scattered around the reservation. Our travels with her gave us a sense of place…Lena introduced us to Billie Bowlegs III who became our close friend and taught us a few words of Muscogee as well as stalking.
She was an endless source of Indian etiquette which was essential to outsiders like us….Lena was a person of the of the highest character, one who witnessed great change and challenges to her people and one who offered the welcomed hand of friendship.”
Without this “friendship, this “love,” Hutchinson would never have been able to document the Seminoles of that era and learn of their historical brothers and sisters first hand. The work that Hutchinson did at Brighton defined his career and helped others appreciate a culture their ancestors had destroyed. Healing begins…
The moral of the story?
We too must offer the hand of “friendship” to our “enemies.” This does not mean that we do not stand up for what we believe in, but it does mean that we open our hearts to those who “cannot see.” It is through being open that the power of the Great Spirit will bring back life, and light, to the Florida Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, and to the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon.
*In their own Miccosukee language, the Tribe uses the word “Ka/ha/ya/tle” to refer to the shimmering waters…the Everglades.
I have always liked alligators. I have been around them as long as I can remember in one way or another. When I was a kid and we would go water skiing near North River Shores close to the North Fork of the St Lucie River, we would see small ones leisurely resting in storm pipes coming out of people’s seawalls; in my household everyone was always cheering for them as my grandfather Henderson, my parents, and later myself and brother also graduated from University of Florida. Jenny my sister is a traitor and went to Emory. 🙂
My parents have an awesome collection of alligator postcards that I will share today, and I figured now is a good time to write about gators as their babies should be hatching soon in nests along the fresh and some brackish areas of the St Lucie River/Indian River Lagoon. The females lay their eggs in early June and the little ones hatch out about 65 days later.
“Crocodilla” fossil records show alligators have been on the earth for more than 200 million years. That’s pretty amazing in and of itself. But they have had many hardships.
According to Sandra Thurlow’s history writings on our Treasure Coast, when many of the first pioneers came to Florida and took river tours, they often just shot as many as they could “for fun.” This went for egrets and herons too. Sorry. But what a bunch of idiots. I know, I must be open minded and look at things “historically” within the context of the times….kind of like how people drained the whole state with out thinking…
As far as alligators, more recently, hunting, poaching, the fashion industry, pollution, and loss of habitat pushed the Florida alligator to the brink of extinction by the 1950s. In 1967 the US government listed alligators as an endangered species and gave them protection. In one of the great comebacks of the “endangered,” alligators were increasing in numbers by the 1980s. They still have protections today, but are off the “endangered” list.
Here are some of the antique postcards from my parents’ collection.
Recently, a friend called me up and asked if there was someone who could move a small alligator on her property in Palm City. I called trappers recommended to me, and each of them said by law, if the alligator was reported as a “nuisance” and was over four feet, it would be removed and killed, not relocated.
I found this depressing but this is how the state manages the “nuisance gators.” Apparently they may be used for their leather and meat keeping the population in check. Hmmm? The trapper also said, “If you don’t want it killed, just leave it alone, chances are it will move in time to another area.” This makes sense to me.
According to a Stuart News article by Ed Killer in 2010, in the state of Florida, the Florida Wildlife Commission from 1948 to 2009 documented that there were a total of 512 allligator bites; unprovoked: 330; provoked, 182; fatalities, 22. There have been two deaths in our Martin/St Lucie area. In 1978 a 14 year old boy was killed while swimming across Hidden River Canal off Bessey Creek and in 1984 an 11 year old boy was killed while swimming in a canal in St Lucie County. The alligators were 11-12 feet long.
This is terrible and heartbreaking. Like sharks, alligators share our environment are dangerous when large; we must be careful in their presence.
To end on a more positive note, in my reading I learned alligators have been noted using tools, like humans, a trait that belongs only to a few “intelligent” species. Yes. Alligators have been documented purposefully diving under the water putting sticks on their heads so water birds will land on them when looking for sticks to build their nests. Ingenious!
Maybe if we destroy the Indian River Lagoon and St Lucie River completely, along with the rest of the planet, they will return walking on two legs? Perhaps they would manage the waters of South Florida a lot better than humans…