Where the sunrise is best on Lake Okeechobee, the sun”s rays are directly in our faces. Southbound from Clewiston we stride on paved surface, rhythmic footfalls in tandem with hiking partners. It’s a windy, cloudy morning as the curtain rises over vast marshes with a ribbon of blue beyond, the sweep of open water defining the far horizon.
The near horizon yields to sugar cane. In times long past, the River of Grass flowed freely out of our great lake, nourishing the earth. Settlers who came here spoke of vast custard apple forests and tangles of moonvine.
Today, it is lost, these ancient Everglades, under an endless sea of sugar cane that underscores the non-wilderness aspect of this hike. We are in the heart of agrarian South Florida, a cane harvest with rumbles, clatters, and beeps awaking our camp at 2 AM. No matter time of day, holiday, season, the rotational harvest of the cane is relentless, the sounds around us agro-industrial, the dike so close to US 27 that passersby beep and wave.
Yet walk down the dike a little towards the lake, and perspective changes. The ancient Everglades are alive on this marshy rim, the sputter and squawk of birds, waves lapping at the bases of ancient custard apple trees, primitive campsites providing a view into the past.