Marjory Stoneman Douglas~ Feisty Fighter for the Glades

Marjory Stoneman Douglas, writer and advocate, lived to be 108 years of age (1890-1998). Throughout Douglas’ life, she fought for the rights of others. Suffragist, anti-prohibitionist, supporter of the ERA and civil rights, she wrote passionately in the roles of private citizen, as reporter, columnist, and assistant editor for the Miami Herald. In her mid-50s, and on until her death, she took up the cause of preserving the Everglades of South Florida.

Douglas was a skilled, seasoned watchdog picking another fight for the environment-against the odds, in the face of harsh criticism from peers, society and the powers that be.

In 1947, at the age of 57, Douglas published what would become a  “must read” for anyone fighting to save the environment from the developers, from greedy big business, you know, the usual suspects in the destruction of the natural world. The book is titled The Everglades, A River of Grass. So lyrical, so poetic is the language, so persuasive is its appeal, you forget you are reading an environmental protest. Marjory Stoneman Douglas, you are my hero.

Douglas opens her book with immediacy of place:

“There are no other Everglades in the world.

They are, they have always been, one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known. Nothing anywhere else is like them: their vast glittering openness, wider than the enormous visible round of the horizon, the racing free salt-ness and sweetness of their massive winds, under the dazzling blue heights of space. They are unique also in simplicity, the diversity, the related harmony of the forms of life they enclose. The miracle of the light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slow-moving below, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades of Florida. It is a river of grass.” (6-7)

She wrote, she protested, she lambasted developers, bombarded government officials (including several U.S. Presidents), pushed back in defense of nature, and stressed the intrinsic value of the ecosystem.  It was an all-out assault against those who set their destructive sights on the Everglades, her beloved river of grass. And her voice was heard. In the latter part of her life President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her environmental work in the Everglades, even as she attacked his administration for being too soft on industry in the area.  She was tough on the Army Corps of Engineers too. She spoke her mind, and had the expertise to back it up.

In spite of her valiant battle, sadly, the Everglades is still at risk today. Species are endangered and falling into extinction. Developers, after a brief pause, took a deep breath and continued on their destructive path.

When I visit the Everglades I thank Marjory Stoneman Douglas for her persistence, her staunch devotion, her unyielding defense of this elegant, vibrant, expanse known to us Floridians as “the Glades.” Even now as I sit in my Colorado home I remember the Glades and I relive the beauty, peacefulness, and sheer vastness of the place. I hear the birds and the rustle of the wind through the grasses, I see the lush green mangroves. I imagine the river as it flows ever slowly towards the ocean so close by I can smell it.  The Glades are alive, but for how long? More research is indicated here, but for now I leave with an awareness of fights to come in honor of this cherished river of grass.

Douglas is an inspiration to me and what is looking like my own lifework of writing for nature; animals, landscape, seascape, in whatever manner, to whatever eventuality. Writing takes us where it wants us to go, I always say.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ writing was clear, unfiltered, and bold. Her purpose defined. She was a true Rhetorica Heroica!

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. saundie
    Oct 12, 2011 @ 13:27:23

    Very cool! thanks for sharing. I’ll have to check out some of her books!

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