In January 2020, I drove down from Orlando to the easternmost edge of the Everglades and booked a room in the neon-dazzled Miccosukee Casino & Resort, a hotel in the no-man’s-land between the glitz of Miami and the seemingly endless wilderness of the glades. That night, I looked out of my window on the casino’s tenth floor, drinking in the surreal feeling of the trip. I had come there on Outside magazine’s dime to write a story about python hunters.
Out on the glades with the hunters, I quickly realized they weren’t who I expected, some caricature of rugged, bloodthirsty hunters. They were intelligent, compassionate conservationists. They were funny, too, with a humor that was equal parts dark and zany, just like my own. I found kindred spirits in them.
After spending the entire day with the hunters, trawling the levees for invasive snakes, we stopped where the levees forked and took a break as the last breaths of light drained from the expansive sky. Before that day, I had always thought of the Everglades as a massive wilderness, untamed and inhospitable. In my mind, the glades had been home to alligators, pythons, a bounty of mosquitoes, and not much else. Yet as fireflies drifted like motes over the sawgrass, a sense of wonder gripped my heart.