Botanical Illustration in one of North America's Last Frontiers By Kathleen Konicek-Moran, (The full article can be found in the December 2013 Issue of the Botanical Artist)
This is what I have encountered in the Everglades National Park of Florida: alligators (of course), chiggers, deerflies, pythons, sandflies, poisonwood, and hordes of mosquitoes that have been bitten me right through my bug jacket. I’ve trod on a water moccasin (who fortunately did not bite me), fallen into sinkholes and found myself entangled in pull-and-hold-back vines. I’ve helped push the botany airboat out of the weeds that had gotten it stuck while in water up to my armpits, had the bottom of my kayak walloped by a crocodile, and had a run-in with feral hogs. Sadly, I have only seen the fabled, endangered Florida panther from the air.
So, you might ask, why have I been a volunteer in the Everglades for the past 14 years? Because of the amazingly close interactions with nature that occur here - what Dick, my husband, and I call our “miracles of the day” - that by far surpass any aggravation that we experience.
When we retired from our jobs as college professors, Dick and I had a plan of traveling the country to volunteer in all of our national parks. Instead, our hearts were captured by the Everglades and we never went further.
I began as a volunteer nature interpreter, leading tours, but soon found my way to botany. My first job was to look for either rare or invasive plants. This meant that I had to trek through the marsh to get to a hammock and then to survey it - dividing it into quadrants and walking back and forth, identifying plants. Since I was doing this alone, I developed a lot of woods-walking skills – figuring out how to avoid aggressive alligators or how not to startle poisonous snakes. When I walked in the sawgrass, I would have the eerie feeling that it was possible no other human had ever stepped foot in that very place where I was standing. It is, after all, one of the last areas in North America to be explored or inhabited (except by native peoples who lived mostly in the hammocks) – no scientist hazarded the Everglades until the turn of the 20th century.
I began my artistic life when I ventured into the big city to take a course in botanical watercolor at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in 2007, and began drawing and painting Park plants. I work with a wonderful botanist, Jimi Sadle, who had begun focusing on endangered and threatened plants, which are, unfortunately, not uncommon in the Everglades because of the Park’s long history of water problems due to development and agricultural issues outside its boundaries. Jimi inspired me to embark on my goal of painting every endangered plant in the Park before they were lost to the world. We organized an exhibit of botanical art depicting some of these plants in 2011, collaborating with the Tropical Botanic Artists.
The Everglades have been the source of inspiration and adventure for me for many years now, and I hope that they will be for you. They are yet a wilderness, which is amazing in these days of rampant development. Although they have their share of discomforts and danger, the Everglades of Florida are also rife with miracles.