A blue heron takes off from a gnarled mangrove root as local playwright Ed Reardon and a tour group ply the waters of West Lake Park in Hollywood by boat. Suddenly Reardon lets fly a few lines from Rose Strong Hubbell's 1932 poem "The Mangroves Dance" as the water laps the sides of the craft: "... Gray old mangroves. Awkward and stumbling/Twisted legs-tortuous-tumbling on to a shuffling/ Tune/As they dance and prance in the light of the moon...."
The moon's not out at the moment, but sunlight is certainly sifting through the boat's canopy now that the clouds have cleared. Reardon is leading his listeners through River of Words, a tour program put on by Anne Kolb Nature Center and the Florida Center For the Book. During the tour nature poetry and prose are recited as part of an educational look at the park. Included are the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and others.
After refreshments and a brief video about park wildlife, passengers board the boat, which courses through the mangrove swamp as the captain, Sonny Bertram, shares his knowledge of the park and its inhabitants. He explains that there are three species of mangrove: red, white, and black. So much for Hubbell's gray trees. (But it's nighttime in her poem, and she no doubt took literary license.) Whatever color a mangrove is, its roots jut from the water in search of oxygen, and armies of mangrove crabs scurry into the shrubbery as the boat passes.
Today Reardon is the tour's reader. The award-winning playwright is also an actor, TV writer, a part-time teacher at Lynn University, and author of several young-adult books. He's sincerely interested in Florida's history and in environmental issues, especially when they pertain to water. His nature readings enable him to combine practical interests with his love of literature.
Larry Melvin, also know as Swampwater Larry, is the park historian. Back in 1920, he says, the land on which the park sits was bought by Joe Young (of Young Circle, Hollywood, fame) at just $1 an acre. For years he had plans to develop the land, but in the mid-'70s the late civic activist Anne Kolb began a crusade to preserve the land and turn it into a park. Her efforts came to fruition in 1985, when the land was bought with government money to establish a park.
Soon after Melvin's spiel Bertram points out a yellow-crowned night heron, and before long the boat circles Horseshoe Island. At this point Reardon passes around a book entitled Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak, the popular children's author responsible for Where the Wild Things Are. The boat's occupants take turns reading a letter of the alphabet and its accompanying phrase. "P," for example, stands for "pushing people," which is an unsettling thought on a boat -- especially if an alligator is close by (which doesn't seem to be the case today).
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At the end of the tour, bookmarks printed with a list of the day's readings are passed out. Most of the selections come from Florida in Poetry, from which Reardon reads during the 45-minute tour. Bartolome de Flores lauds the attributes of Florida's "fertile paradise" in his 1571 poem while Sylvia Maltzman admits to being a "slumlord" for reptiles in her 1995 poem "Lizards." And Don Blanding pokes fun at both sides of tourism in "Chorus of Welcome: To the Tourists."
He greets the "... Southerners, Westerners, Creoles and Yankees/And girls who wear bathing-suits smaller than hankies." The audience nods knowingly as Reardon cries out: "The tourists... the TOURISTS... THE TOURISTS are coming!"
-- Eileen F. Jager
The next River of Words tours take place Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18, at 11:45 a.m. The tours' theme will be "Celebrating Broward's Environmental Heritage," which is linked to the Pioneer Days celebration at Anne Kolb Nature Center, 751 Sheridan St., Hollywood. Tour cost is $8. Call 954-926-2480.