I first visited the Everglades in August 2000, when Congress was about to launch a multibillion-dollar project to save the swamp. The weather was muggy. Mosquitoes were swarming. I saw none of the majestic canyons or rugged cliffs that Americans associate with national parks. The Everglades seemed flat, wet and mushy. I must confess, my initial reaction was, Why would anyone want to save this?
Early explorers dreamed of draining the Everglades’s uninhabitable, soggy wasteland and creating a subtropical paradise. After a century of visionary schemes and swampland jokes, they made their dreams come true. The watershed stretching from Disney World down to the Keys now supports eight million residents. Even more than air-conditioning, bug spray or Social Security, water management made South Florida safe for one of the most amazing development booms in human history. It made the megalopolis possible, and I can’t be too critical without being hypocritical. I’m one of the eight million it keeps dry. Most of us now live in former wetlands, but we don’t like it when they get wet. We call animal control to report gators in our backyards; we forget we’re in their backyard.
The remnant Everglades is an extraordinary place: the panthers and royal palms and ghost orchids you see on postcards, the majestic wading birds that once darkened the South Florida sky, the bizarre flora and fauna found nowhere else, the silence of the wild minutes from the megalopolis. Still, it’s an acquired taste. Everglades was the first park protected for its biodiversity rather than its scenery. It’s less ooh-and-aah than hmm.
Environmentalists like to say the Everglades is a test; if we pass, we may get to keep the planet. It’s where we’re going to figure out whether man can live in harmony with nature. Right now the park is still dying. It’s hard to get people to save places they don’t love. It’s hard to get people to love places they don’t visit. And it’s hard to get them to visit places that don’t make them suck in their breath.
Utah is a trove of natural wonders and wild landscapes, from the Wasatch Mountains in the north to the red-sand deserts in the south. The state is also home to five national parks—Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon and Zion—collectively known as The Mighty 5.
From August 11 to 17, the natural wonders will host another state treasure, the Utah Symphony, which will present a series of free open-air, classical-music concerts during its first-ever tour. Led by music director Thierry Fischer, the Utah Symphony’s performances anticipate the organization’s 75th anniversary and highlight the centennial celebration of the National Park System, both of which take place in 2016.
Visitors are encouraged to tour the parks by day and enjoy the free classical concerts by night (the shows begin at 8 P.M.). Against the natural backdrop of southern Utah’s sandstone arches, spires and canyons, the 75-piece orchestra will perform pieces including movements from Dvorák’s New World Symphony and Gershwin’s An American in Paris, as well as vocal selections featuring Utah native and soprano soloist Celena Shafer, performing Gershwin’s “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess. Additional free concerts and events inside the parks include chamber music at visitor centers and outdoor amphitheaters, active excursions with orchestra members and music education opportunities. utahsymphony.org/mighty5.
Combining wine, food, wellness and once-in-a-lifetime cultural experiences into a single, well-rounded package, Napa Valley Festival del Sole (July 12–21) is one of those events that seems to have it all. In its eighth season, it is the sole time each year when such a conglomerate gathers at various locations in the area.
“Every summer Napa Valley Festival del Sole showcases the brightest stars and rising talent in the worlds of music, dance and theater blended with Napa Valley’s exceptional wines and cuisine,” says festival cofounder and director Richard Walker.
With more than 60 performances and events and 100 participating wineries, the festival kicks off with a headlining show by Tony Award winner Audra McDonald, who will hit the stage at a castle at vineyard Castello di Amorosa (pictured here). (Single tickets are sold out, but a multi-day VIP pass [$650 to $7,500] is still an option for admission.)
Other highlights include a Deco-style gala (July 14) at the grand Meadowood Napa Valley resort, the Yoga in the Vineyard series (July 14 and 21) at the Entre Nous estate and winery in Oakville and a Dance Gala (July 19) featuring the Russian National Orchestra backing dancers from Ballet San Jose, San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. And one of the most popular performances, 24 Hour Plays (July 20), stars the likes of Alfre Woodard, Allison Janney and Chazz Palminteri, who are tasked with creating four ten-minute plays—from germination to final performance—over the course of one day.
Luckily, you and the roughly 10,000 festival attendees have ten full days to enjoy everything the gathering has to offer. 888-337-6272; festivaldelsole.org.
The literati has descended upon Manhattan for a week of readings, performances and panels at the PEN World Voices Festival, which will gather 100 writers from 25 different countries to celebrate the power of the written word around the world. Poet Tracy K. Smith, who was recently awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her latest collection, Life on Mars, will speak on the Memory in Harlem panel (515 Malcolm X Blvd.). Departures sat down with Smith to talk about the festival and her recent work. Memory on Harlem panel on May 5 at 5 p.m.; pen.org.
Q: Congratulations on winning the Pulitzer! What does this mean for you and for your work?
A: It’s gratifying and humbling at the same time, in large part because it feels like my poems have been invited into a more public conversation with the poems and poets who have always inspired me as a writer and a person. It’s also a profound honor to join the four other African-American poets to have received the Pulitzer since the prize’s inception: Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa and Natasha Trethewey.
Q: What poets have influenced your work?
A: That list is constantly changing. I return again and again to Elizabeth Bishop, whose poems are just so perfectly made. I love Lucille Clifton’s moral and social conscience and the spare, poignant impact of her lines. I love the largeness of vision of Jack Gilbert, whose poems, to me, feel a lot like Platonic philosophy.
Q: Life on Mars is pretty wide-ranging thematically. Did you have a sense of how you wanted the poems to cohere in the reader’s mind?
A: I always put a lot of thought into the architecture of a collection of poems. I want each of the individual poems to play an important role, but I also want the reader to move through the book with the sense of being taken on a journey. With that goal in mind, I look at the ways poems seem to speak to one another, and I use arrangement to heighten that sense of conversation.
Q: Why do you look forward to the PEN Festival?
A: I have such respect for PEN’s commitment to literature and freedom. As a writer, I don’t know what is more important than the kinds of questions that literature teaches us to ask, and the freedom to go in pursuit of their answers.
Q: What festival events are you planning to attend?
A: This is a situation where I wish I could be in more than one place at once! I’m very interested in the Doon Arbus, Michael Cunningham, Francine Prose and Diane Arbus event, because the relationship between photography and poetry has been important to me for such a long time. I’m also quite curious about the Writing from the Domestic Workers United workshop. It’s going to be an amazing weekend.
The Moth, a New York–based storytelling nonprofit, has had a lot of practice when it comes to throwing a good party. But May 8 marks the company’s biggest affair of the year: The Moth Ball, which is set to take place at Capitale in New York. The organization hosts several informal events each month all over the country, and its StorySlams, which allow volunteers from the audience to tell a story (five minutes tops, the tale must be true, no notes allowed), sell out from Brooklyn to Louisville. The Moth’s Mainstage events, which occur a handful of times a year, often feature noteworthy storytellers like Jonathan Ames, Malcolm Gladwell and Garrison Keillor.
Similarly boldface names highlight the gala, with Simon Doonan hosting; big-band leader and musician Vince Giordano (a favorite of Woody Allen) playing live music; and writer Adam Gopnik presenting the 2012 Moth Award (which honors the art of the raconteur) to Martin Scorsese. There will be dinner, dancing and, of course, stories from The Moth all-stars. The event will also feature a silent auction, where guests can bid on items like lunch with David Chang at his eatery Mà Pêche, a week in the south of France or dinner at farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill with Gopnik himself—all rich fodder for new stories. At Capitale, 130 Bowery; tickets, from $195; May 8; themoth.org.