Be Determined. Stay Rebel! Presented by Athleta Girl

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas: The Alligator and the Activist

About the Episode

Meet Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a woman who fought tirelessly, year after year, to preserve Florida’s Everglades, a land that she loved. Marjory’s story shows that even the smallest of us can make a difference.

This sleepy story is from the new Rebel Girls app! You can listen to more stories like this, PLUS all the podcast episodes you know and love. Just go to go.rebelgirls.com/dream-on to download and listen for free!

This podcast is a production of Rebel Girls and is based on the book series Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This story was produced by Giuliana Mayo. Sound design and mixing by Brian Skipworth. It was written by Emily McMahon-Wattez. Narration by Abby Sher. Haley Dapkus is our production manager.

A big thanks to the whole Rebel Girls team who makes this show possible! For more, visit rebelgirls.com. Until next time, stay REBEL!

Transcript

It’s time to rest again, Rebels. To channel your energy from the ups and downs of your day into a deep lazy river, gliding downstream. Close your eyes, and imagine yourself floating down the river, letting the current carry you as it weaves its way around the unexpected bends and boulders of the day, and then splits into streams, each one narrowing and slowing…

As you float, down, down… I’m going to tell you a story about a woman named Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a woman who worked tirelessly, year after year, to preserve a land that she loved –– a land that I call home.

Marjory’s story is one about persistence, and how even the smallest of us can make a difference, if we only try. It’s a story about water, about the flow of water which brings life. 

And in a way, it’s a story about me…an old Florida alligator, who has lived for many years, and seen many things.

Before we get started…let’s settle in. Snuggle down, and follow the streams as they narrow to a trickle, the water sparkling as it dances over pebbles and pushes to the finish line. Follow the streams as they empty into a vast open lake, so wide you cannot see the other shore, and so deep you cannot swim to touch the ground.

Before Marjory was a grownup, fighting grownup battles, she was a girl. A girl who wore glasses, and had a crooked nose, and hair that was never perfectly straight, nor particularly curly. A girl who loved all animals and went to the water any time she could. A girl who loved to learn, and to read, and to imagine.


Marjory grew up in New England, a place with long cold, icy winters. But when she was four years old, she and her parents took a train all the way down the country to visit Florida, my home. Though I was not yet born, and we would not meet for many years.

Her trip South took days and when she finally emerged from the roaring clickity-clackity of the railroad tracks, she was amazed by the warmth of the southern tropical sun, and the bright glow that covered everything as far as the eye could see.

Marjory never forgot her trip, the wonder that she felt staring up at the enormous Florida sky as she pulled sweet smelling oranges directly from the trees. So, when Marjory grew up, she left her winter boots behind and settled in Miami, a city on the sea right at the bottom of Florida, a city perched on the edge of a mysterious wilderness.

Marjory enjoyed studying the plants and animals that made the area their home. She

would sometimes go adventuring with her friends, camping and fishing and birdwatching in a very unique place they called the Everglades.

And this is where I enter the picture, as the Everglades is my home, and as Marjory knew, there is no other place like it in the whole world.

The Everglades is a wetland covering thousands and thousands of miles of the Southern end of Florida. In summer, as you know, the whole space is flooded with water, water which comes from heavy rain storms, water which runs down from rivers and streams and gathers together to form a giant lake, The Okeechobee. 

When that lake gets too full it overflows and sends its excess downward into our low-lying land, forming massive flooded pastures where swaying sawgrass grows. The water forms the canals where we find our food, and feeds the mounds of mangroves – the twisty trees whose gnarly roots all join together to form small dry islands, where we and many others make our nests. 

One the day that we met, Marjory followed a road deep into the Everglades and then boarded an airboat, a giant wide metal raft with a huge fan in a wire cage, stuck to the back. The boat roared as it skid across the surface of the water and reeds, faster than I could swim, speeding through narrow canals where the grass on either side grew as tall as the trees.

I stood my ground – this was my home after all, though most other animals swam or flew nervously away. I stayed to watch as the boat came to a stop just a few feet from me. I could see several people on board and I swam close so that I could hear what they were saying, and to see if they had any food.

I was young and strong, and very fast back then. Nearly 10-feet long, with a beautiful hard bumpy back. “Look,” someone called out, and pointed my way. “That’s quite the alligator! Glad we aren’t swimming with that one!”

“Do you suppose she likes Marshmallows?” someone asked. Marjory, never one to be afraid of any animal, came close to the edge of the boat and tossed a soft white morsel towards me. Always quick on my feet when it comes to food, I opened my giant toothy mouth and caught it with a snap. The sweet sugary treat melted on my tongue, and I swam closer, hoping for more.

When Marjory moved to toss another my way a sneaky little bird, a Purple Gallinule who had been taunting me all day, swooped down and stole it right out of her hand. Marjory laughed as the bird carried my marshmallow away, his iridescent feathers glistening in the sunlight. He landed in the nearby branches, just high enough that he knew I could not reach, and chuckled in his chirping way.

I followed the boat for a while that day, lured by the marshmallows, and I listened while the humans talked and took photos of my home. They stopped their boat when a mass of Great White Herons suddenly filled the sky. The majestic birds traveled in huge colonies, 30 or 40 thousand great white waterfowl, swooping in circles through the sky towards their nesting grounds.

We watched as they moved in unison, like a giant wave in the air. One heron split off from the others and landed nearby to wade in shallow water. The bird moved among the reeds, slowly, slowly, one leg at a time, waiting for just the right moment to pounce on a shimmery silver fish.

Normally I’d have leaped towards the unsuspecting bird before he ever caught a thing, but Marjory was talking passionately to the others about my home, so instead I stayed still and I listened.

Many people believed that nothing could survive in the Everglades. Marjory scoffed, gesturing to the life all around us. What those people really meant, was it was too wet to build buildings or pave roads. People wanted to drain the water, dry out the land, so they could create more cities and farms, airports and oil refineries.

But Marjory wanted people to understand that the Everglades were important, not just for the animals like me who call it home, but for humans too. Already miles and miles of beautiful wetlands had been destroyed in the name of civilization, and if that continued it could mean the end of Florida itself.

Marjory was writing a book which would explain how the Everglades wasn’t a static soggy field. 

That it wasn’t something that could just be drained and developed, but in fact the Everglades was a moving body of water – a “River of Grass” flowing from the lakes down to the sea.

Some of the water never makes it through the grasses and twisty roots of the mangrove trees, but instead sinks down through the layers of mud, forcing its way into the holes of the limestone rock deep underground, and fills the underwater aquifers that Florida rests on – the fresh clear water source that all of the people in all of the southern cities rely on. 

And much of the water of the Everglades evaporates back up into the humid buggy air, defying gravity, rising and filling the clouds, and fueling the daily Florida rainstorms that in turn water the farms and fill the lakes.

She was right of course. As we all know, water is restless. We spend our lives navigating currents so we understand, water finds a way to wherever gravity may pull.

Eventually I left the side of the boat and made my way back to my muddy pool, one I’d carved out for myself, digging deep into the peaty muck to hollow out a comfortable space where I could swim freely and chase fish to fill my belly. Plus I’d laid a clutch of eggs near the edge of that pool, and those eggs needed guarding. 

Perhaps it was my sentimental nature as an expectant mother, but I developed a great fondness for Marjory that day – and I told every animal I met about this human who actually understood our home. I asked them all to protect her, should their paths cross, as this was a kindred spirit, who would be no more comfortable living inland than I would. And so my neighbors all kept an eye out for her through the many years that would follow.

Not too long after our encounter, a pod of manatees swam down a nearby canal. Huge sea cows, bigger even than me, grazing and munching on the soft plants and algae that grow along the bottom of the sloughs. 

They told me they’d swum down the Miami river and heard men in boats talking of how Marjory had helped stop the construction of a Jetport that would have devastated our home.

Once, a year or two later, a boastful Florida Panther sought me out, as he knew I’d like to hear that he’d tracked Marjory and some of her researcher friends for an entire afternoon, in order to educate us on the progress the humans were making. He said they were talking about her book, that it had been published and sold out multiple printings. 

We all understood that the more humans learned about our home, the more likely they might be to preserve it. As he left to find me, he crossed the road directly in front of Marjory, swaying his black tipped tail in the air as a hello and goodbye, as he sauntered into the brush.

A nosy Osprey was the first to hear that a large part of the Everglades had been dedicated as a National Park – an area where man could no longer drain or develop. He flew from island to island to spread the news, and we all slept a little more soundly that night.

I was reminded to tell you this story, my dear hatchlings, because just this morning I saw a canoe of humans sailing down our canals, and I heard them speaking about a group they had joined, called Friends of the Everglades. They said that the group was started by the very same Marjory who I once met. It was a group dedicated to “preserve, protect and restore the only Everglades in the world”. 

I know I tell you to stay close, not to wander too deep into the cities, where the humans and their hustle and bustle has overtaken the land. But a few years back when I heard word that Marjory was aging, and no longer likely to be found navigating our waters, I thought it was only fair that I go on a great adventure to visit her home as she had come to visit mine. 

With the help of some small deer, a few birds, and quite a few turtles, I found my way. There’s a small canal that ends nearly in Marjory’s front yard, in a place called Coconut Grove. And perhaps it was luck, or perhaps it was meant to be, but as I dragged my belly slowly through the grass I heard a creaking noise. And there she was, old and wrinkled, her skin more like mine, sitting on her front porch, rocking in a chair back and forth.  

I watched her for some time. She seemed so restful, and I tried to imagine what she was thinking of. Perhaps she was thinking of all of the animals that she had helped to save. Thinking of the yellow-banded alligator babies, just like you. Alligators squealing for their mother, climbing onto her bumpy back, and settling down to soak in the sunlight of the day.  Whispering to each other in their throaty growls, how thankful they are for this home.

Perhaps she imagined the herons too, curling into their branchy nests, keeping their eggs warm. 

The chicks all snug in their egg-shaped worlds, listening to their mothers explaining that this place exists in part due to a little old lady named Marjory.

Perhaps she imagined a Panther, the great-great-granddaughter of the handsome male she once saw, nestled with her kittens in a soft cozy den. The panther telling her babies how most of the Everglades park has been recently renamed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness.

And perhaps Marjory imagined the pod of Manatees nuzzling their cubs with their fuzzy whiskers, floating in their watery beds. And I hoped that she felt a sense of pride, knowing that won them their peaceful rest. 

So quiet down now my dears and know that you are safe here. 

Remember that sometimes it only takes one to spread the word to many, and to change the course of the world. Listen to the wind around us as it rushes steadily through the grass. 

Listen to the quiet splashes and plunks of our friends, swimming through the canals. Listen to the cackle of the birds, and the buzzing of the bugs. Isn’t it wonderful, our home?

Listen with me, to the sound of crickets chirping and frogs calling. Let’s imagine the creaking of floorboards as Marjory rocked, slowly, back and forth, and that the rocking reminded her of the way her boat would sway when she stopped to look out at the wonders of the Everglades.

And as we imagine, let’s all let our minds drift off and feel the warmth flow through our bodies, just as the water of the Everglades flows, slowly, so slowly, out to the sea.