Local writer Nathaniel Sandler is throwing a party in the Everglades to celebrate literacy, art and the tangible beauty of books as he completes a month-long Artist-in-Residence-in-Everglades (AIRIE) on Sunday.
Through the nonprofit AIRIE, an organization supporting artists, writers and musicians who wish to spend time in the Everglades, Sandler is documenting the swamp through non-fiction collections-based writing and what he describes as “long-form swamp-based fiction’’ while he lives in Everglades National Park in Homestead.
His mobile library Bookleggers will be set up to provide free books and varied reading materials at the Royal Palm Visitor Center near the Anhinga Trail. Sandler says this is the best place in the south entrance of the park to see wildlife like gators, birds and turtles this time of year.
Describe your monthlong residency in the Everglades.
It’s an immersive experience through AIRIE, which works in cooperation with the national government and the Parks Service (which oversees the residency, but more importantly the Everglades). My days living in the park are spent writing, reading, meeting with rangers or researchers, or walking around in the muck by myself. Occasionally a friend or some family (hi Ma!) comes to visit and I take them to do all the scary things while making panther noises. I am lucky to be here in March, which due to nice weather and minimal bugs, is by far the best month to be here. I’m sure there’s a few sucker out-of-town artists who figure August is the best month for them. It’s not.
What exactly is “long-form swamp-based fiction?”
I feel like at this point I’ve jinxed myself talking about it publicly and the gobber is going to just fail miserably. But, it’s a novel with the main setting being the South Florida Swamp. Kind of an alternate-reality-Everglades-adventure-tale (with swashbuckling), a trip through “Miamuh,” a few pirates and some sultry swamp princesses.
The other work I'm doing down here (which is less sexy) is digging through the park’s museum collection of physical objects and researching some of the unseen objects kept here. The archive is a repository for all of the parks (Big Cypress, Biscayne National, Dry Tortugas, De Soto, and Everglades), and there is a completely wild range of objects — both natural and man-made. Dr. Mudd’s cane, deer skulls, tree snails, you name it.
What should city-dwelling bookworms expect when they visit you on March 30?
I’ll be set up with a bunch of free books right at the mouth of the Anhinga Trail, which is truly a magical place. I’ve been nearly every day this month and I notice something different every time. The Anhinga is a water bird that nests along the trail, and when I got here they were little chicks but have since grown amazingly. You can see them in the pond apple trees on the boardwalk. The main overlook of the trail hangs over a spot where at this time of year you can see anywhere from five to 50 gators just sitting there basking in the muck. They are gloriously lazy dinosaurs. It’s pretty special just being so close to them.
Recommended attire for the subtropical wilderness?
Sunblock and a hat, a bottle of water (guests should bring their own refreshments), and a smidgeon of faux pioneering spirit. The trail is paved so you’re not sloughing around. Everything will stay clean and no one will get hurt. Completely safe for both little kids and big idiots alike.