My kayak knifed through warm Gulf waters as fast as it could run. We had outfitted our boats with 10-foot masts, outrigger arms on inflatable sponsons, and 2-foot-long leeboards, happy to be plying the wind instead of slogging by paddle. When I shook out the sail reef for more speed, the sponsons skipped over waves like thrown stones. Holding tight to shore, I adjusted my course by tapping the rudder pedals to dodge sharp mangrove stumps. I briefly closed my eyes, happy to have escaped winter, immersed in a sense of mastery as I inhaled the rotten-egg fecundity of the Everglades. America’s most magnificent swamp stretched limitlessly before me.
I had never seen so many different bird species in one place, often clutching fish in their talons or beaks; squadrons of pelicans, teams of ducks, musterings of storks, and herds of curlews. All morning long, stingrays leapt and splashed into the sea.