Jules Buck Jones in the Austin Chronicle

Jules Buck Jones’ ‘Everglades’

Sleeping with the gators

BY KATE X MESSER

After one summer surrounded by the boggy morass of the Florida Everglades, writer/artist/musician Jules Buck Jones is more than qualified to rush the fraternal order of the eco freak, joining the cadre of such noted naturalists as Jon Krakauer, John Muir, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Henry David Thoreau, John James Audubon, and, most importantly, fellow Evergladian Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Jones spent an off-season – a humid, sticky, buggy, sweaty off-season, in a bunker, all alone (save for the frogs, herons, owls … and oh yeah, sharks, alligators, crocodiles, and panthers, not to mention pythons) – documenting all manner of slithering, hopping, flapping, flopping beast found in the nation’s beloved river of grass. Suffice to say: The dude is kinda fonda fauna.

Jones’ documentation took on numerous forms and expressions, from factoid-laced text musings to simple scratched-out etchings to elaborate watercolor portraits summoning the spirit of Audubon and Florida’s Highwaymen all at once. He also recorded an entire disc of original music inspired by the sounds he discovered in the ‘Glades and even got the crickets, the frogs, and the night chorus to sit in on this bountiful, boggy jam session. And for all his trouble, Jones emerged from his Florida “vacation” not with the requisite “and all I got was this lousy T-shirt” but with a fertile volume that local bookmakers Monofonus Press have honored with a coffeetable-worthy purple hardback titled Everglades.

The book is guided by the points on the compass: north, south, east, west. And it’s easy for readers to get a sense that Jones well-covered all four on his quest. “It does not take a feat of imagination, a handful of hallucinogens, or even mild sleep deprivation,” says Jones of his temporary home, “to understand this is the first place on earth. In the ripest pockets of the Everglades you can smell the Cretaceous scraps. You can see Pterodactyls.” Jones places himself in the narrative of this creation. Like so many naturalists before him, he goes in for a deep soak. “You can feel your mammalian descendants, scavenging, burrowing, adapting, and breeding.”

Prose like this (frequent throughout the passages) is so rapt in its simple wonder that I quell my impulse to question if he means “ancestors” rather than “descendants,” because I can imagine that in being so saturated in that primordial setting, one’s instincts, feelings, and sense of place could cut both ways. Submersing in “the first place on earth” positions one atop any timeline of survival – that which has come before and that which is yet to arrive.

Despite its adherence to compass conventions, what the book does best is get the reader lost: lost in Jones’ prose, lost in the humidity, lost in time, lost in the simply stunning plates of animal studies (oh, the panther alone!), and lost in one’s own total-immersion experience. Once it hit me how well the book accomplishes this, I soon got over my annoyance at the decision to use difficult-to-read hand-scrawled lettering instead of typesetting. The hand lends a feeling of immediacy and intimacy that a computer could not.

Jules Buck Jones heeded his own call of the wild. We humbly posit that Muir, Audubon, Stoneman Douglas, et al., would welcome him to their ranks.

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