BRUCE RINKER: A Damn Butterfly Chaser

H. Bruce Rinker

Who was Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998)? An author and conservationist well remembered for her famous 1947 book, “The Everglades: River of Grass.” The book opens with a warning: “There are no other Everglades in the world.”

We should not confuse her with Florida’s other notable Marjory but spelled Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (1896-1953), whose book ”The Yearling” won the Pulitzer-Prize for fiction in 1939.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas was a journalist, writer, and outspoken advocate for women’s suffrage and civil rights.  At 79 years old, she played a central role in the protection of the Florida Everglades in its “Eleventh Hour” from efforts to drain, to develop, to contaminate with agricultural runoff, and to plow under the river of grass in part for a proposed jetport.

She faced down the Army Corps of Engineers and the President of the United States. Richard Nixon tried to undercut her stalwart efforts by calling her “a damn butterfly chaser.” Later she railed against Ronald Reagan and his Secretary of Interior James Watts for their lackluster commitment to conservation. “You can’t conserve what you haven’t got.”

In 1993, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Several halls of fame inducted her and nicknamed her the “Grande Dame of the Everglades.”

During one of her public presentations about saving the River of Grass, a small-minded colonel with the Army Corps of Engineers dropped his pen on the floor to distract her. As the colonel stooped to pick it up, Ms. Douglas stopped her speech to reproach the colonel by saying, “Colonel you can crawl under that table and hide but you cannot get away from me!” Marjory Stoneman Douglas remains one of America’s remarkable conservationist figures. One reporter said that she “had a tongue like a switchblade.”

In 1990, in Parkland, Florida, outside Miami, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School opened in her honor. In February 2018, a horrific shooting occurred at the campus that left 17 dead and 17 more wounded, making the shooting one of the world’s deadliest school massacres.

Law enforcement officers arrested the perpetrator shortly afterward. Subsequently, students began a “Never Again” campaign for gun legislation that included a minimum age requirement, a waiting period for the purchase of rifles, background checks for gun buyers, and allowed the hiring of school police. The National Rifle Association challenged the federal constitutionality of the age requirement in the resulting bill, and then Donald Trump retracted his previous support.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas ended her book with this apropos observation: “Two things only give any hope at all in the eleventh hour of fire and salt: a large number of aroused citizens east, west, and all over who insist angrily that something constructive be done, and fast.” “Unless people act, the fires will come again.”

We must counter political inertia, corporate greed, and institutional foolishness with courage, a willingness to learn and to work together – with a clarity of heart, mind, and spirit as exemplified by the “Never Again” movement. Let us encourage and applaud these young people to help us find sustainable, reasonable, and responsible solutions for gun-management.

We simply must stop the killings NOW! Each of these young victims is a beloved one of a kind – as a society we cannot afford the grievous loss of their potentials. There are no copies of these youth anywhere in this world. Let’s honor each of these martyrs for carrying America forward through some of its darkest hours in the feisty spirit of Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Biographical Sketch: H. Bruce Rinker, Ph.D., is a forest ecologist, science-educator, and explorer who resides in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Bruce is also the founder of Bioquest Solutions LLC, a multi-service environmental consultancy at home and abroad. You can reach Bruce at [email protected].


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