By Terry Catchpole
Updated September 21, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lost Man’s River, Peter Matthiessen’s guided tour of the Ten Thousand Islands region of Florida’s Everglades, is effectively an anti-travelogue, a gorgeous piece of photography during which narrator Matthiessen takes pains to enumerate the region’s inhospitality to civilized man: bugs, rats, scabrous plants, killer snakes, heat, humidity, violence, etc.

All of which appeals enormously to author-naturalist Matthiessen, an appeal he articulates with exceptional effect: ”This is the kind of place you have to pay attention to, where you can’t take anything for granted. The only time you’re truly alive is when you’re paying attention to the moment.”

Matthiessen’s commentary is broken by readings from his new novel, Killing Mister Watson, a fictional account of legendary Everglades renegade Edgar ”Bloody” Watson. The 56-minute film includes a visit to ”the heart of the Watson myth,” the outlaw’s former home ground in a raw, primordial mangrove swamp that for Matthiessen is a ”dark and menacing power place.”

Watson and his ”power place” are metaphors for the Everglades. It’s the largest wilderness in the lower U.S., a disappearing frontier being depleted by agri- and aquaculture technology.

”We tend to trample the little things in life on our way to the big things,” says Matthiessen. ”We forget that every moment has its own importance, precision, and openness, and if we can perceive that, then we’re alive.” Lost Man’s River is alive with the brute beauty of a wild and lovely place, and the thoughts of a man who has dwelled on its meaning. A