This morning, Hiaasen is piloting his skiff through the saltwater estuarial section of EvergladesNational Park and railing against Jet Skis. “The idiots think it’s fun to harass wildlife,” he says. “You always dream about something terrible happening to them.” He smiles wickedly. He rants against the builders of subdivisions. Florida rivers, he explains, flow toward the sea, cleansing the Everglades with freshwater before emptying into the ocean. But developers siphon freshwater from the Everglades for irrigation. “Without the freshwater flushing,” Hiaasen explains, “the water in FloridaBay becomes too salty to support the vast array of wildlife.”
He motors in and out of mangrove islands, threading his way through a labyrinth of man made shortcuts with quirky names—Bucky Stark’s Wheel Ditch, Crocodile Dragover. Pulling close to one island, Hiaasen points to a circle of white in the green waters. “That’s mullet mud,” he says of the swirling sand, the result of a stirred-up school of baitfish. “Look!” he says, pointing into waters four feet deep. “That’s a sleeping lemon shark. You never see sharks sleeping.”
Back in his office, which he built next to his house—he files his Herald columns from here—Hiaasen picks up a favorite book, The Everglades: River of Grass, written in 1947 by Marjory Stoneman Douglas. “Her efforts got the EvergladesNational Park dedicated,” Hiaasen says. Douglas founded Friends of the Everglades, a nonprofit group dedicated to saving the wetlands. Juanita Greene, the organization’s spokesperson, says that Hiaasen “has done the best job of spreading the word about the Everglades problem.”
Hanging on the wall is a photograph—of the moon rising over cypress trees—taken in the Everglades by another champion of wild Florida, Clyde Butcher. And there’s Hiaasen’s framed certificate for largest bonefish, from the Bonefishing World Championship, 1998. Sun streams through the window. Sea breezes flow like rainwater through the tall grass. Here, far from the chaos of Miami, Hiaasen is recharging his batteries, gathering strength to battle the forces that would destroy his world.