Monthly Archives: May 2012

Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide Part 2

As you find your way onto the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation, you’ll find this sign:

Photo courtesy of

“Welcome to Big Cypress” it says, greeting visitors, commuting employees, and residents alike. To those traveling out, it’s more than a sign, its affirmation and relief that you’re on the right path. Of course these feelings have been diminished in the era of GPS. However, what it doesn’t say is much about the journey or the destination, thus we come to the Part 2 of the Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide. Part 1 shed some light on the past, but now we’re focused on the present which brings me first to the journey, and second to the welcome sign.

A friend recently told me she had an idea where Big Cypress is located, but asked me “Where, exactly, is it?” This question has many answers, all depending upon your starting point, however, allow me to sum it all up with this – Big Cypress is in the heart of southern Florida, just an hour away from wherever you’re at. I know that’s vague, but being that this is the era of GPS, just input “Big Cypress Seminole Reservation” and I promise you’ll find us just fine. We residents of Big Cypress do a lot of driving, and on one drive out these thoughts came to me:

A Place Called B.C.
Let me take you for a ride my friend
To a place that I call home It’ll take an hour or two, but no mind
Cause there’s vistas of sawgrass and blue
We’re headed to a little place called B.C.
Now’s a time for us to catch up
Let’s spend this time wisely on the who, where and what’s
And as we draw near, you’ll notice out the window
A change of scenery, gators, snakes, and crosses inscribed “In Memory…”
We’re headed to a little place called B.C.
As we draw nearer, it’s time for some hospitality
You’re welcome in my home my friend
And if you haven’t noticed by now
I’m talking about a little place called B.C.

Now about that welcome sign, I’ve heard rumor the welcome sign is soon to be remodeled, given a makeover and an updating. This is just a rumor but while I’m on the subject, allow me to suggest that what’s added will give those new to the area an idea of what they’re getting themselves into. My suggestions include adding the following vital information:

Big Cypress state animal – Run over Carcass
Big Cypress state flower – Brazilian Pepper Tree
Big Cypress state song – “Seminole Wind” by John Anderson
Big Cypress state motto – Love All, Serve All

There is a lot to learn about Big Cypress and I guarantee much of it you won’t find by searching Wikipedia. The journey to Big Cypress is an experience in of itself, and as any traveler knows, the journey is half the fun. Once you arrive at Big Cypress there’s a lot to catch up on, including the wildlife, the ecology, and the people. If you’ve been following along with this guide, then you will be well prepared. Don’t take too much time wondering if you should come, you’re already a step ahead by completing part 2 of the Big Cypress Survival Guide.

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Filed under General Interest, Native American

Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide Part 1

It’s been almost a year since my family and I moved onto the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation.  I’ve had the privilege of being raised on the Hollywood Seminole Reservation and the Brighton Seminole Reservations, spending roughly half of my formative years on each.  Together, these three reservations comprise the bulk of the Seminole Tribes’ reservation land and hold a majority of its people.  There are many similarities between each of the reservations, most prominent is the shared history and culture that make up the Tribe’s citizens.  However, there are also some differences that are worth noting – especially in regards to the Big Cypress Reservation – and I’m combining these differences into this Unofficial Big Cypress Survival Guide.

Before I get to the guide, allow me to share a few of my experiences with Big Cypress, all prior to me moving out to Big Cypress.  I’ve gotten involved in many different sports over the years: bowling, skating, football, baseball, track and field, basketball, and rodeo.  Some of these sports are individual and some are team, but all taught me different life lessons. These lessons include teamwork, dedication, and, most prominent, perseverance.  Over the years the teams I was a part of ended the season on the lower side of the winning spectrum… in other words we stunk!  Perseverance, for me, was learned in the heart of those poor seasons, when I stuck it out and decided to improve.  Of course, sticking it out in bowling is a lot easier than sticking it out in rodeo, especially since I was a bull rider.

Rodeo is big on the Brighton reservation, stemming from the history of cattle raising that began in the early part of the 20th century.  Rodeo has always been in my life, I count the movie 8 Seconds as one of my all time favorites.  The most influential person of my life, my grandfather Fred Smith, loved rodeo.  I recall countless trips to the Brighton rodeo arena to watch the cowboys and cowgirls perform, I loved getting behind the scenes and looking up close at the livestock.  The Brighton rodeo arena now bears the name of my grandfather, a tribute to his love of rodeo and his dedication to the community.  The best part of being at the Brighton rodeo arena was the people.  I have great memories of folks both young and old – the people at the concession stand cooked some amazing food.

Given all that history I have with rodeo, getting involved in the sport came naturally.  Had my grandfather been alive, I may have chosen calf roping or bull dogging, he had a great appreciation for the skill and precision it takes to do what those cowboys do.  In his absence, I chose bull riding and thus began my mom’s panic attacks… okay I’m kidding about the panic attacks, but she did stress each time I climbed onto the back of a bull.  Rightfully so, if you’ve ever seen a cowboy tied up on the back of a bull then you know why EMS staff are always located arena side.  I wore a protective vest each time I rode, and it definitely saved me from serious injury a few times.  My legs, however, went unprotected except for the chaps I wore but they aren’t much relief when 2,000 lbs of live beef comes crashing down.

Like Brighton, Big Cypress has a foundation in cattle and rodeo.  Several times I found myself behind the chutes at the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena, nervously preparing for my next ride.  If you find yourself passing by the arena, with the arena lights on, and rows of horse trailers parked out back, then stop in.  You’re guaranteed a good show and a full stomach.  At various times there are rodeos that are bigger than others, with more participants and higher payouts, but no matter the time of year, the first part of your survival in Big Cypress should be to understand the history and people of rodeo.

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Filed under General Interest, life, sports

First Time Experiences in Teaching

“Were we your best first class ever?”  A student recently asked me this question on the last day of our class.  For those present that night, the answer I gave was a diplomatic one – “Of course, it’s not like I’ll ever have another.”  This answer was met with mutual laughter from the students and me, partly by my answer and also partly in the relief that comes with knowing the semester was ending.  Our lives are filled with memories of first-time experiences, and my first class definitely set a positive tone for my collegiate teaching experience.

Around the country there are thousands of students wrapping up their first year in college.  Some are headed off to summer jobs, others are focused on summer classes, but all have experienced a year of newness – new friends, new difficulties, and new adventures.  Remembering back to the end of my first year, I couldn’t wait to get out of the dorm and enjoy the break.

I’m finding myself reflecting back on the end of that first year in college now because I recently finished my first semester of teaching at two community colleges.  I had the honor of teaching public speaking and an introductory communication class.  All in total I had about 90 students for the semester, separated into four classes.  I thoroughly enjoyed all of the classes, each took on its own dynamic and the students were great.

The first classroom I walked into was an evening class; it began at 5:40 p.m.  I was very nervous that first class, I recall practicing over and over what I would say beforehand.  The students were a mix of traditional and non-traditional, meaning that some were ages 18-24 while others were ages 25-40.  It was definitely a new feeling to look at each one and know I would be responsible for helping them to learn the material in our syllabus.  This first class, for many reasons, will be in my memory forever.

Students aside, this first semester was one massive learning experience for me.  I learned several things, the first relating to this being my first time teaching.  I found myself over prepared and over planned for the first month or so of class.  This wasn’t a negative; I just noticed that I often had to pare down the material that I planned to cover so that it would fit into the scheduled class time.  I often tried to place myself into the students’ shoes by asking myself “Would I have learned X, W, or Z from this particular lesson?”  This constant reflection helped me throughout the semester; I’d often change how I was planning to teach after I answered it.

If I were to be asked by that student again “Were we your best first class ever?” my answer would be a resounding YES!  I’m thankful for that first class and the experiences I had in class with them.  They all performed admirably in class and I appreciate their commitment to getting themselves educating.  I’m grateful to have been there for a step in reaching their goal – earning their diploma.

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Filed under education, General Interest, reflection