Monday, September 10, 2018

The Gift of a Vision



One night in a dream, near Rum Island Spring where I make offerings to the naga, I am given the gift of a vision.
I am lifted high up into blackest space where I am allowed to hover with no visible support. When I look down, I can see the whole upper part of the Florida peninsula from Orlando to the Georgia line. Like the Technicolor animation in an old Disney movie, exquisitely hand-drawn in the finest detail, I can see beneath the topsoil and into the holey limestone of the Floridan aquifer, that huge storage tank for one of the world’s largest supplies of freshwater.
I watch in awe as groundwater bubbles through porous bedrock, rising here in springs and rivers as rain falls, falling there as water is pumped out for people and farms—a dynamic, percolating system with limestone rendered in grey, beige, and brown, water in every color of blue from ultramarine to turquoise to aquamarine.
As I watch, I don’t just observe but understand how rainfall and withdrawals at one place on the peninsula can change groundwater levels even hundreds of miles away as that water alternately seeps, flows and rushes through limestone conduits that range in size from pinholes to underground rivers.
I wake with the image of the dream firmly and vividly implanted in my mind, and with a question:  Why have I been given this vision?

Saturday, April 21, 2018

My Florida Water Lineage

Photos:  Wikimedia Commons


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On this Earth Day weekend, I’m thinking about my water lineage.

Lineage is an important concept in the Vajrayana, the form of Buddhism that’s practiced in Tibet and, increasingly, worldwide since many of the Tibetan Buddhist teachers were driven from their homeland by the Chinese Communist invasion in the 1950s.

Lineage in Tibetan Buddhism is like a highway, but it’s a highway of people instead of asphalt. Depending upon which particular teaching you’re referring to, there was a starting point—a Buddha, bodhisattva or person—from whom the teaching originated. Then there were successive lineage holders who were authorized (by virtue of empowerment, learning, practice and realization) to pass that teaching on to others. The transmission goes from the teacher’s mouth to students’ ears. The individual student is the end point of that person’s particular lineage highway, although of course the same teaching can be transmitted to many more people.

My water lineage is similar except it doesn’t flow in a straight line like a highway; it meanders like a river according to people I’ve met who have influenced my love for, and increased my knowledge about, Florida’s waters.

I can trace my water lineage back through various people I’ve known, but I cannot trace it forward. Here’s how it looks to me right now.

My parents

From the writers Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and from her own lived experience, my mother developed a strong love for Florida and the state’s history. She also loved swimming and she passed all those loves on to me.

From his love of fishing Florida’s waters, my father developed a similar love for Florida that he passed on to me. “They won’t be happy ’til they’ve paved over the whole state,” I remember him grumbling about developers.

My parents made sure I had swimming lessons and when we visited Florida before we actually moved here, they took me to Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs.

When we lived in Miami Springs, my parents took me to the beach at Crandon Park and to Miami Beach.

When we lived in Orlando, my parents took me to New Smyrna Beach and Rock Springs at Kelly Park in Apopka. Later, they made sure we had a membership in a neighborhood pool so I could swim whenever I wanted.

My parents also took me on my first visits to Cross Creek and St. Augustine.

My peers

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, I learned the locations of springs from people who had already been there. These secrets were passed from mouth to ear, much like the Vajrayana teachings.

On a school picnic at age 13, I visited Sanlando Springs.

With my peers when I was in high school and college, I discovered Wekiwa Springs in Apopka, Poe Springs on the Santa Fe River, Ichetucknee Springs, Manatee Springs and Cross Creek/Lake Lochloosa.

My teachers

It was my community college creative writing teacher, Cissy Arena Wood, who told me how to get to Ginnie Springs on the Santa Fe River.

It was my community college geology teacher, Jean Klein, who stood with me on the banks of Ginnie Springs on a class field trip and said, “If these springs ever get polluted, it will take hundreds of years to clean them up.”

I believe that it was through the blessings of my Buddhist teachers that I came to be involved in my current water work, trying to save Florida’s freshwater springs. Homage to His Holiness Ogyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwa Karmapa; to Ven. Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche and Ven. Bardor Tulku Rinpoche; to Lama Yeshe Gyamtso and the other interpreters who so skillfully rendered Tibetan into English; and to Guru Rinpoche, Yeshe Tsogyal and Machik Labdron, who all continue to inspire me.

Homage, too, to the following people:

  • Gil Kushner, my major professor in anthropology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, who helped me to understand—even many years after my classes—that saving Florida’s springs is actually an exercise in culture change.
  • Cynthia Barnett, the Gainesville writer whose work with developing guidelines for a Florida water ethic “is how we win,” according to a flash of insight I had when I first heard about her ideas.
  • Sister Patricia Siemen and Jane Durocher of the Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School in Orlando, whose thinking about the rights of nature inspired another “how we win” insight.
  • Maya van Rossum, whose book “The Green Amendment” expands the rights of nature dialogue to include the rights of human beings to clean water, clean air and a healthy environment.
  • Annie Pais and Stewart Thomas of Florida’s Eden, who gave me my start in water work when they hired me to coordinate their Blue Path programs.
  • The Gainesville water writers Margaret Tolbert, Jack E. Davis and Lola Haskins, who with Cynthia Barnett enthusiastically participated in the reading event I organized for Florida’s Eden at Santa Fe College, “Of Thirst and Beauty.”
  • The scientists, lawyers, citizen activists and water managers who continually deepen my understanding of Florida’s hydrologic system and water history through detailed yet wide-ranging conversations, in particular:  Jim Stevenson; Bob Knight; Jim Gross; Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson; Heather Obara; Traci Deen; Margaret Stewart; Bob Palmer; Bob Ulanowicz; Loye Barnard; Charles Maxwell; Wendy Graham; David Kaplan; the folks at the Suwannee River Water Management District and others too numerous to mention!
  • The past and present members of the board of directors of the Ichetucknee Alliance.
  • The explorers and photographers who have revealed a whole new world under our feet through documenting their ventures into the depths of the Floridan aquifer and into our springs: Jill Heinerth; Wes Skiles; Mark and Annette Long; Tom Morris; Travis Marques and Joe Cruz and all the members of the Spring Hunters Facebook page.
  • And finally, to all the artists, musicians, writers and graphic designers who have paid their own homage to water through their magnificent and inspiring works, some of which grace my home:  Will McLean; Dale Crider; Whitey Markle; Margaret Tolbert (again); Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson (again); Rick Kilby; John Moran; Lesley Gamble; Johnny Dame; Steven Earl; Richard Eberhart; Harriet Huss; Nancy Vogler. And—full circle completed!—Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.


Who are the members of an environmental lineage that you honor on Earth Day?










Sunday, November 26, 2017

Book Report: "Butterflies on a Sea Wind" by Anne Rudloe

I just finished reading "Butterflies on a Sea Wind" by Anne Rudloe, who with her husband, Jack, ran the Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratory in Panacea, Florida (she died in 2012). What I did not know is that Anne was also a dharma master, Ji Do Poep Sa Nim, in the Kwan Um School of Zen!...and Abbot of the Cypress Tree Zen Center in Tallahassee.

"Butterflies" carries a "Beginning Zen" banner on the cover, which--along with the fact that I recognized her name--caused me to pick up the book at Book Gallery West in Gainesville. Anne Rudloe also has another book, "Zen in a Wild Country," that I will now search out. I don't know why it surprised me to find a Florida woman environmentalist with a Zen background, but it did.

I was particularly struck by this passage from "Butterflies," in which Rudloe is describing her experiences at a Zen retreat:

"Then a mental image arose of an underwater sand fountain in a spring back in Florida. The water jetting out of a crack in the limestone kept the sand above it in a constant cascade. Endlessly cycling in its silvery plumes, the sand fountain had no beginning, no end, no going anywhere. There was just a perpetual moving round and round in a balanced, harmonious, and beautiful way. It was a model of the universe, and it was also a model of human existence. Each journey of a grain of sand up and down equaled a lifetime. Each grain's trajectory was determined by all the forces that were, or had been, or would be, present and acting on it. My life was one cycle of one of those sand grains....There is only what is happening at any given point in time. We continue the process of being aware of the cycling and remain in harmony with it day by day and moment by moment. When I first saw it, I had known immediately that the sand fountain in the spring was sacred, and now I understood why." (pp. 163-164)

Rudloe also includes this wonderful quote from Zen Master Dogen:

"From ancient times wise people and sages have often lived near water. When they live near water they catch fish, catch human beings, and catch the Way. For long these have been genuine activities in water. Furthermore there is catching the self, catching catching, being caught by catching, and being caught by the way."

I thought that the last chapters of Rudloe's book, in particular, did a great job of revealing the whole "point" of Zen and Buddhism, which as I understand it is to let go of the fixation on a permanent "self" as something that is separate from reality as we usually perceive it.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Still Life With Water, Part Two: Adulthood

Fate—or is it karma?—sends me from high school to university in an area of Florida that is home to the largest concentration of freshwater springs on the planet. The first spring that I visit is Poe Spring on the Santa Fe River where a thick, knotted rope hangs from a tree that stands sentinel on the bank. I grab the cable, pull it a few steps backward, then run forward to swing out over the spring, let go and hang suspended for a split-second before plunging into the cool water. This, I think, must be what it’s like to fall into love.

My creative writing teacher and I have a conversation about my experience at Poe Spring. She tells me about a larger spring, Ginnie, off the same road in the northwestern part of the county. I write down her directions:  Pass a set of large power transmission lines and then a smaller set of lines. Turn right onto a dirt road that’s bounded by a line of trees along the west side of a pasture. Follow the dirt road as it rounds downhill through the woods toward the river. There I find the most beautiful spring I’ve ever seen, a pool of translucent water edged with a lush growth of underwater plants. The water shimmers as it deepens from pale aquamarine over a limestone shelf to deep turquoise blue over the spring vent. And there is a rope swing here, too!

Ginnie Spring becomes my happy place. Before I leave work at 4:30 p.m., I change into my bathing suit and drive out to the spring on long summer afternoons that seem to last forever. I drop into the spring from the rope swing and swim laps around the perimeter, then take breaks and rest by floating above the vent, aware of the afternoon sunlight as it dapples through the trees surrounding the spring onto my closed eyelids. On many afternoons, I am the only person there. This, I think, must be Paradise.

Ginnie Spring, Gilchrist County, Florida

One afternoon, someone brings his Irish setter to the water. I watch as the dog does interminable laps around the spring. Finally, the owner goes into the spring and fishes his tired dog out.

On another afternoon, my friend brings her Afghan hound. Eager to teach the dog to swim, she supports the Afghan with her arms under its chest as they wade into the water. When they reach deeper water, she lets go and the Afghan sinks to the bottom! My friend dives underwater and quickly retrieves her dog.

When I start seeing more and more SCUBA divers at Ginnie, I learn that there is an underwater cavern and cave beneath the spring vent. One day, I’m happily floating on my back above the vent when I’m tipped over by a hard bump. I roll around to see a SCUBA diver, who has just surfaced from the cave, shoot me a nasty look before he swims away. I start to notice that the two groups—swimmers and SCUBA divers—don’t interact much and tend to give each other a wide berth.

I fall into conversation with a woman who is sitting on the underwater log that crosses the spring run as it flows out toward the river. She tells me that she and her family have purchased the property and have plans to construct restrooms and other facilities. The restrooms, at least, are needed and will be welcome.

There are other springs on the property and I like to take my first dip of the day at Ginnie, then hike upriver past an old hollow cypress tree to Devil’s Ear and Devil’s Eye springs. I swim from there at an angle across the river to July Spring, then back across the river at another angle to Ginnie, then hike downriver to Dogwood Spring and Twin Spring. I marvel at this oasis of beauty and clarity.

Devil's Eye Spring, Gilchrist County, Florida


Dogwood Spring, Gilchrist County, Florida

A friend and I visit Ginnie Spring in the winter, when the 72-degree, constant-temperature water is warmer than the air. We decide it will be fun to tell people about skinny-dipping in the cold weather, so we strip off our clothes and jump in. We swim around until—much to our dismay!—two vanloads of SCUBA divers arrive out of nowhere. Embarrassed, we slither back into our clothes and escape as fast as we can.

My college geology class takes a field trip to Ginnie Spring. While other class members explore the area around us, I stand on the bank of the spring with my instructor, Jean Klein. We are silent, looking into the depths of the spring, when Jean says, “If these springs ever get polluted, it will take hundreds of years for Nature to clean them up.” This moment burns like a brand into the deepest cells of my memory.


Chad, one of my roommates who meets many people when he delivers pizza for a local shop, tells me he has learned about a spring I’ve never heard of—Ichetucknee. With our other roommate, Pam, we make a longer than usual drive northwest of town, then out a two-lane blacktop to a dirt road that leads back into the woods. It’s a beautiful autumn afternoon and the three of us are the only people at the spring. When we’ve been swimming for a while, Chad climbs up onto a rock, produces a bar of soap that he has hidden, and begins singing and lathering up in a mock soap commercial. After laughing so hard my sides hurt, I climb out of the spring and walk up a little hill where I can spread out my towel and lie in the late afternoon sunlight. All around me, trees are beginning to turn gold, russet and crimson. A gentle breeze stirs the leaves and I lie back, closing my eyes. I can hear Pam and Chad laughing from the spring. As I rest, the rustling leaves begin to sound like whispered voices. The murmuring gradually gets louder and louder until it resolves into words—but these are words in a language I’ve never heard. There must be other people in the woods, I think, foreigners of some sort. I rub my eyes, stand up, and slowly turn in a full circle, looking for the people I can now hear speaking clearly. But there is no one else there.


Ichetucknee Spring, Columbia County, Florida

Many years later, I visit Wakulla Springs for the first time with a friend who is working on a book. We are waiting to take the river tour and curious about why the glass-bottom boats aren’t running. A park ranger explains to us that the spring is too dark, too polluted, so the glass-bottom boat rides have been halted. We talk for a while about the pollution that plagues the springs. After a moment of silence the ranger says, “That’s all right. Mother Nature will eventually take care of it.” What rings like a clear bell in the silent air between us is the rest of his thought:  “But we won’t be here to see it.”

At Wakulla Springs

Algae at Wakulla Springs



Still Life With Water, Part One: Childhood

I am at a lake west of Orlando with my parents, aunt and uncle. An arc of small cabins hugs the sandy shore and the water sparkles under the afternoon sun. I am mesmerized and begin wading into deeper water toward the center of the lake. I’m startled when a pair of adult arms encircles me and pulls me back to land.

On Miami Beach, I am magnetized by little boats that I see to the east where the sky meets the sea. I stage a full-blown screaming fit when my parents refuse to let me swim out to the little boats. My father explains to me, very patiently, that the boats are not little; they are freighters in the Gulf Stream.

My parents take me to Venetian Pool in Coral Gables. The pool—the largest freshwater pool in the country—is built on the site of an old coral rock quarry. I am drawn to the area of the pool that is a like a grotto with caves. I don’t want to leave.

Venetian Pool, Coral Gables, Florida

Our house on Willow Lane in Decatur, Georgia, has a long back yard that drops away in terraces to a creek bordered by woods. I spend many happy hours alone in those woods, following the creek when I feel like moving and sitting by the water in the shade of the trees when I feel like resting. It is still decades before parents think that children must be constantly supervised, and I love the sound of flowing water, the dappled sunlight through the trees, the independence and solitude I find along that little creek in the woods.

We visit New Smyrna Beach and I play in the surf, relishing the sea air and the stinging scrape of saltwater on my skin. Again, I don’t want to leave. When I’m told we must go, I stage another screaming fit.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Silver Springs and Rainbow Springs are two of Florida’s biggest tourist attractions. We visit both of them, craning our necks to peer at fish and underwater caves through the glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs. At Rainbow Springs, we ride beneath the surface of the water and watch sunlight break through watery prisms into dazzling arrays of color. I ask my parents if this water is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I’m in elementary school and on a field trip to Rock Springs in Apopka, where the coolest and clearest water I’ve ever experienced flows between boulders of ancient limestone. This is water like no other, cleansing and rejuvenating and magical. I don’t want to leave but I’m too embarrassed to stage another screaming fit in front of my peers. For many years, I beg my parents to take me back to Rock Springs but they always refuse. I think they fear the screaming fits.

Rock Springs, Apopka, Florida

Our suburban neighborhood gets a community swimming pool! Almost every day during summer vacation, I hike to the pool with friends and neighbors. I spend hours in the water and experiment with going off the high dive and seeing how far I can swim underwater without surfacing for air. When my fingers are puckered, I crawl out of the pool and lie in the sun. When I get hot again, I repeat the cycle. Rock Springs fades from my memory and a chlorinated pool full of screaming children and young adults feels like the water of salvation.

(to be continued)

Friday, September 15, 2017

Voices of the Wells


we were
the voices of the wells
before we were born
we chose

this time
this place
this world

to be
articulate
brave
powerful

to speak
for
water

at the heart of the world


(c) 9/15/2017 

This is for everyone working to restore, protect and preserve Florida's freshwater springs.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Oracle

"The Snake Charmer," painting by Henri Rousseau


The Pythia has fled her cave at Delphi
overturned the three-legged stool in her haste
to escape the mobs of tourists
and their chattering cameras

She and her snake now wander
the groves the forests the wild places
sometimes in company of her cousin Artemis
more often alone

Pythia still speaks to those who recognize her,
who can decipher her prophecies
but hers is a complicated language
and you can only find her
deep within the woods
or in your dreams

But she will come if you call her
by using your Talent
or speaking for the Earth
for Justice
for Light in the dark time
for Love in the time of hatred

If you call her you will see her
standing there in the shadows
her snake wound ’round her arm

silent
waiting

waiting for your question



© 2001