Miami has a history. And a river.
Above is an image of the mouth of the Miami River from around 100 years ago. Miami, like most cities, exists where it does because of certain environmental and geographic features. And people have been here for thousands of years, in shuffling order. Manifest Destiny did not just push westward. Florida during the late 1800’s has been referred to as the “forgotten frontier” because so much more attention has been paid to the Wild West. But while they were shootin’ it out at the OK Corral, some crusty guy from some overcrowded northeastern city was whacking his way through gumbo limbo and chewing on gator jerky. And when white settlers did push into Florida, they certainly weren’t the first people there.
Here are some Seminole Indians on the Miami River. Clearly they’re taking their dugout to da club. Dances With Snooki and Stands With a Situation are waiting for them.
In places like Miami, in Florida generally, it can be hard to see this history. Everything seems new. The flatness adds to this I think, making the state seem like a blank slate. But if you look closer you can see slight changes in elevations, and in them the layers of the past. Peel back that skin of neon orange spandex (and possibly also the neon green spandex) and you can get a glimpse of the “Old Florida” that people talk about. It took me quite a while to see this side of Miami, and while I lived there I never poked around the Miami River. As it turns out, the river is a great place to see some of the old backbone of this city.
If you squint your eyes, you can kind of see it.
One thing I’ve noticed on this trip is that there are a ton of wintering Laughing Gulls down here. Some of these same guys are undoubtedly in New York in the summer. Just like the art world people, they migrate to Miami in the winter. It’s only a matter of time until they opt to take Jet Blue over their own wings. No direct TV in them there feathers.
I didn’t see any Art Basel tags on them, but a couple of them looked sort of pretentious. They also totally look like New Yorkers waiting on the subway platform. Just waiting for the L train…
We went over to the other bank of the river, to Jose Marti Park, to toss the bottle. When I was in Cuba you couldn’t take a step without tripping over an image of Jose Marti. He’s sort of their Virgin of Guadalupe. I dug my bottles out of my bag. I have no idea how I got these through security without being checked. Could this look more like some kind of IED? –
Pulled out the one that had a Caspian Tern in it –
And tossed it in the River right here –
It certainly doesn’t look like this anymore:
Florida went through the changes that the rest of the US did. It just went through them so much faster.
I had a professor at the University of Miami who had grown up in Miami. That’s a rare bird indeed. In class once she was reminiscing about her childhood and talking about just how quickly the city changed. She was NOT old by the way, probably her late 30’s early 40’s, and this was in 1993 or so. She told us about how she would see so many sea turtles in the Miami River, and how the manatees would gather there. She grew up immersed in the wildlife of this place. And then she recalled the day she knew everything had changed. There were a bunch of kids on a bridge over the Miami River. They had recently moved to the state. She walked up to them to see what they were up to and realized they were throwing rocks. Then she realized they were throwing rocks at a manatee. And then, as she put it, “I knew it was over for Miami.”
I really hope that’s not true. For the manatees, for the laughing gulls, for the turtles, for the gumbo limbo, for me, for people who still don’t know how beautiful and amazing South Florida is when you look beyond that margarita with two Corona’s jammed into it. People just gotta keep their eyes open…