Friday, January 18, 2008

Lake Okeechobee is drying up much like the rest of South Florida already has ... in different ways


If God were to cut the state of Florida in half, the rest of the South probably would convert to Christianity.

The southern half of the state has been polluted by the influence of the North. Its extensive subdivisions, its Mickey Mouse ears, its palm trees make it an anomaly. And it's almost blasphemous.

The South is country music. It's home cookin'. It's hospitality. It's sweet tea.

But all that is South Florida is not the real South. Nothing belongs here. Everything has been shipped in.

So I decided to escape for a day - or an afternoon, actually. I took a trip into the heart of Florida, where little of this Northern poison has soaked in. A bit more than an hour south of Melbourne, Lake Okeechobee is a freshwater soup of alligators, needle fish and herons of all sorts. It's one of the largest freshwater lakes in the country.

I woke up early so I could have plenty of time to make a complete circle around the lake. But because no one can drive here in Florida - mostly because they're elderly retirees - my efforts were thwarted by a firey wreck on Interstate 95. My route was detoured and my trip delayed for more than an hour.

The detour took me through Fellsmere, a tiny community of mostly migrant workers. As a result, it's the Little Mexico City of Indian River County. The signs are written in Spanish - definitely not the South of the U.S. It's more like the south that is south of the U.S. border.

My theory that everything here is shipped in was further solidified when I saw a truck loaded with palm tree stalks.

But as soon as I exited the interstate, I saw something different: fields, growing fields. This is more like the South I expected.

First, there were orange groves, then fields of sugarcane, above, closer to the lake, then cornfields on the eastern side.

But while I view them as an integral part of the South, the fields are actually the problem in the Okeechobee area: They're sucking the lake dry.

Boat ramps where recreation crafts once launched lead to nothing more than mud puddles with algae covering the surface like congealed gravy the day after Thanksgiving, above.

The elaborate system of dikes to protect surrounding communities from floods seems pointless. It would take a glacial event for the walls of dirt to be topped with water. If only the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did such a job in New Orleans, where the opposite problem of too much water has plagued that city.

As I did in New Orleans, I wanted to investigate to see what Lake Okeechobee was like for myself. I present my findings here through a mash-up via Google Maps. I've embedded the map on this page, but your best bet would be to click here or "
view larger map" to see the thing through the Google viewer. This narrow page has its limitations.

View map in Google (recommended)

View Larger Map


Wordnerdy said...

Nice job. Now if only your northern brethren had as much foresight and curiosity as you.

I love the photo of the sunset over the lake.

And in NYC, the vendor served KETCHUP with sweet potato fries? Ugh. I've only had cinnamon.

Anonymous said...

One thing I still haven't figured out from this post. What does the first sentence mean?

If God were to cut the state of Florida in half, the rest of the South probably would convert to Christianity.

Most of the South was born again long ago. Do you mean the remaining heathen sectors?


Andrew Knapp said...

I meant "the rest" as in those who haven't yet converted - those people who would thank God for getting rid of the people polluting their midst.

So it's really not that much of a religious reference - more of a cultural-preservation one.

I liked the sentence, but maybe it doesn't work. ???