My photo of the statue of Ponce de Leon, above, was taken at the Fountain of Youth attraction in St. Augustine, Florida.
Sunday, July 22, 2012
My photo of the statue of Ponce de Leon, above, was taken at the Fountain of Youth attraction in St. Augustine, Florida.
Monday, April 16, 2012
This morning I blended a banana, a tablespoon of peanut butter, some strawberries, some blueberries, and a cup of soymilk for a breakfast smoothie. I was rinsing the blueberries at the kitchen sink when I noticed the label on the package: Clear Springs Blueberries out of Bartow, Florida. The graphic shows an exuberant tree and the sun rising over a clear blue stream that flows through the landscape. Nice image, I thought, that conveys clean growing conditions and a healthy product (and my smoothie tasted great!).
Then I started thinking about the many ways that Florida businesses, as well as state agencies like Visit Florida, use the idea of “clear springs” in their marketing efforts. How many developments and shopping centers are named for a river or a spring? How many food products? How many ads throughout the United States and the world tout our pristine waters? Surely the fact that we have the largest number of freshwater springs in the world has been a boon to marketers of all things Florida, dating back to shortly after Ponce de Leon’s landing in 1513—when the myth of the Florida’s fountains of youth took hold in the world’s collective imagination.
Speaking of 1513 and the fountains of youth, next year—2013—is the 500th anniversary of Ponce’s landing, years before the Jamestown colony in Virginia and the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. You can bet your orange blossoms that businesses throughout the State of Florida are going to play up that “fountain of youth” theme all year long.
Florida’s businesses and tourism boards would be crazy not to use our fountains of youth in their advertising, except for the small, troubling fact that most of our fountains—our crystal springs of myth and marketing—may be gone by then.
Freshwater springs used to dot the landscape of the whole state. All the springs in South Florida are now gone; there are thousands if not millions of people who call Florida home who have never seen a spring. Many of the over 900 springs in North Florida are dead or dying at an alarming rate, victims of increased water use and aquifer depletion that correspond to population growth as well as consumptive use permits that are handed out by our water management districts (WMDs) to everyone who wants our water. Our WMDs (weapons of mass destruction?) seem to have no regard for the amount of water that needs to remain in natural systems in order for those systems—and, by extension, the drinking water for most of North Florida’s population—to survive.
This list of dead and dying springs—dead to flow or dying by pollution—is by no means complete: Fenholloway, Hampton, Kissingen, White, Worthington, Marion Blue, Hornsby, Royal, Convict, Suwannee, Buzzard, Sulphur, Health, Gemini, Green, Rock, Pitt, Hunter, Blue Hole, Volusia Blue, Bronson Blue, Rainbow River, Fanning. I’m certain there are more names that could be added.
To add insult to injury, there is now a consumptive use permit pending at the St. Johns River Water Management District for a cattle ranch and slaughterhouse, Adena Springs Ranch (note the “springs” in the title), that would draw as much water as the City of Ocala from the springshed of Silver Springs while adding tons of cow manure, a primary source of nitrates that cause the algae blooms and pollution that is killing our springs. Adena “Springs” Ranch is being sold to Ocala and Marion County as an economic boon that would create about 100 jobs. Yet a 2004 Florida Department of Environmental Protection study showed that Silver Springs, Florida’s original and still premier tourist attraction, is responsible for over 1,060 jobs and over $61 million in annual economic benefits.*
And there are people who think that if the consumptive use permit for Adena Springs Ranch is granted, that will sound the death knell for Silver Springs.
If and when the Adena Springs Ranch permit is issued and Silver Springs is lost, Ocala stands to lose 900 jobs and over $61 million. This tradeoff makes absolutely no sense to anyone but the owner of Adena Springs Ranch—but such are the consequences of a permitting process that fails to take into account the costs of bad decisions about our water. (Case in point: the Everglades, with restoration costs now in the billions of dollars.)
An even more curious thing about Adena Springs Ranch is that site preparation is already underway before the consumptive use permit for water has been issued! I can only shake my head and file this information away under “things that make me go ‘hmmmmm…’.”
The Florida Constitution, Article II, Section 7(a), reads: “It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”
It’s clear to me that the State of Florida is not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to our natural resources. I think it’s past time for us to raise a little hell.
Don’t wait to act until no water flows from your tap. Here are some things you can do right now.
Visit the website of Audubon of Florida, where you can send a message to our governor and the members of the St. Johns River WMD that you want Silver Springs to be saved.
Join and get involved with your local springs working group or springs friends group. Educate yourselves about what is going on with our water. Read Mirage and Blue Revolution by Cynthia Barnett; your local library probably has these books. Use less water and demand the same from agriculture and industry.
Talk to your friends, family members, co-workers, and church groups; get other people involved. Find businesses and agencies that use clean water in their marketing, and ask them to speak out for Florida’s waters. Be persistent; why should businesses stay silent while the very things they use to tout themselves are lost? Visit your local legislators and let them know you care about our water and are troubled to see our springs being lost, because if they don’t hear from you, they assume you’re okay with the status quo. We need a massive public outcry to turn this situation around. Remember that our springs can’t speak; we have to speak for them.
And finally—pray, because we need a miracle.
*Information from Dr. Robert Knight of the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute.
Wednesday, October 12, 2011
If I get behind one more logging truck or big pickup and can’t see far enough ahead to pass, I think I’ll scream. The speed limit through Georgia is only 55, and I’m on a two-lane highway through pecan groves and cotton fields, rows of peanuts and planted pines, crossing bridges over rivers and creeks, headed to the writing workshop. I gun the red Prius up to 80 mph to pass the big white Ford F350 in front of me with the large black tarp slung across the bed.
As I get closer, my focus shifts and I notice what looks like a mammoth, black, hairy human foot dangling off the passenger’s side of the truck. “What the heck!” I mutter, doing a double take as my car’s speed increases and I draw even with the truck bed.
It’s not a tarp I’m seeing. It’s a huge, hairy, black body, the head—with red mouth agape—hanging off the driver’s side. A bear. Dead. With a large bullet hole open and angry, a jagged ruby wound in the creature’s huge chest.
“Oh, shit!” I exclaim to myself. “Damn!” I grip the steering wheel harder and feel the muscles in my shoulders freeze up. I suck in my breath and work to keep my focus on the road as I pass the truck and its inert cargo while a great silent wail, a tsunami of hot energy, moves up from below my belly and out the top of my head.
I remember the mantra of Chenrezig, the great pearlescent bodhisattva who, unblinking, views the sufferings of sentient beings throughout the worlds—and I begin to chant his mantra that relieves those sufferings, OM MANI PADME HUNG, OM MANI PADME HUNG.
I wonder how the bear died. Was he roaming alone through what he thought was safe forage, looking for berries or honey? Did he feel the wind through the pines, the wind ruffling his thick fur? What were his bear thoughts in the final moments of his life, before the rifle blasted that hole through his heart? Was he aware, in those last seconds, that something had gone awry in his world? Did he feel a giant stabbing pain when the bullet tore away his flesh and scattered his life force, or he did drop all of a sudden to the ground there in the middle of the forest, with the berries ripening and the bees humming and the wind making its wild music in the pines with autumn coming in? What was the last thing he saw? What strange bear image counted as his last thought?
I’m in Georgia, I remembered. Bear hunting is probably legal here.
I feel like I’ve been shot through the heart.
I wrote this piece at a workshop where we were asked to convey an emotion by describing our sense impressions. Do you know which emotion I'm describing here?
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
October 11, 2011
Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to address you as “dear.” I hope you’ll understand. J
I just read an article that’s attributed to The Miami Herald in which you are quoted as saying, “How many more jobs you think there is for anthropology in this state? You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology?"
I sure hope you were misquoted, for a couple of reasons. To begin: Every school child learns that subjects and verbs need to agree, and your first sentence reads like an elementary school dropout is speaking. What you should have said was, “How many more jobs DO you think there ARE for anthropology in this state?” But with journalism not being what it once was, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe the reporter goofed here. Stranger things have happened. You’ve probably been involved in stranger things yourself, like that time when you were running HCA Inc. and they settled the largest Medicare fraud case in history for $1.7 billion.
But yeah, I know your mama thinks you’re a good boy. She said so in all those ads you paid for when you bought…oh, sorry…when you got elected governor of Florida.
Now about anthropology. I know a little bit about anthropology because it was my undergraduate major at the University of South Florida; that’s the big school just north of Tampa off I-275, in case you don’t know, because I know you haven’t lived in Florida all that long. I’ll put a picture of something from the school at the top of this article so you can see what it looks like.
This will probably shock you, but I didn’t pick my major to qualify me for a job. I picked it because I loved the subject matter and because it expanded my knowledge about the world and other cultures, and because knowing those things made me a better person and a better citizen of the United States.
By the way, I have to tell you that I love the U.S.A. I was born here—in Texas! where that Rick Perry lives, the one you like so much. My dad served on a destroyer in WWII and my mom was a stay-at-home mom who did the cooking and the housework and baked great pies. While I was growing up, my dad worked in the defense industry and, for a while, in the Federal Aviation Administration. I registered to vote as soon as I was old enough, and I think I’ve voted in every election since then.
Anyway, back to anthropology. Anthropology has a special characteristic that sets it apart from other academic disciplines—the “holistic viewpoint.” What this means is that anthropologists don’t try to understand just one aspect of a culture. Let’s use politics as an example. If I were trying to understand the politics of Florida, I’d examine not just politics but religion, economic systems, social customs, history, languages, health care systems, maybe even the environment, to see if and how each of those things influenced politics. I guess this means I’d investigate whether our politicians were actually representing the people of Florida, or whether they were being paid off by corporate lobbyists to do the bidding of big business. But I digress. J
I loved my studies in anthropology and I graduated with honors. I went on to get a master’s degree in another subject out in California, and I spent most of my adult life working full-time in higher education institutions. No, I never had what you could call a job “in anthropology,” but I sure used what I learned in anthropology in every single job I ever had.
I never made a lot of money, though. I guess this means you will automatically think of me as a failure. But see, that was a choice I made. I wasn’t happy working at institutions where money was the be-all and end-all of existence. I was happier helping people, learning new things, and trying to be of service to the arts, literature, and the environment, because those things are really my passions.
So when you ask “You want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can't get jobs in anthropology?" I have to answer yes. I didn’t get “jobs in anthropology” but I don’t think Florida’s tax dollars were wasted on me. I don’t think those tax dollars would be wasted on students today, either.
I’ve been a productive citizen ever since I got my bachelor’s degree. I’ve always worked. My education in anthropology helped me to think critically—even creatively—to look at the “big picture,” to appreciate the value of a liberal arts education, to respect people who disagreed with me or held different opinions, to shun labels and sound bites, to think independently, to analyze things, to ask questions and not settle for easy or simplistic answers, and to take seriously my responsibilities as a citizen of my country—including voting.
Oh, wait…something is coming to me. An insight. Could it be…? No. I sure hope not. Well, I have to ask anyway.
Is the reason you don’t want people to study anthropology because you don’t want people like me out here asking questions about you when you run for re-election? And then going to the polls to vote? Now that I think about it, I’m really curious about your answers to these questions.
Looking forward to the courtesy of your reply,
A Word Witch
Thursday, September 29, 2011
School didn’t start, then, until after Labor Day—probably because it was so hot before then that our brains refused to work in un-air conditioned classrooms, and no teacher in his or her right mind wanted to deal with sweaty, unfocused teenagers with greasy faces who stank of sticky 6-12 gnat repellent and raging hormones.
Shopping for school was fun, though. I remember the cedary smell of new pencils, with shavings that curled happily into gray hand-cranked sharpeners that clung to the walls of our classrooms; the snappy click-click of new ballpoint pens and the careful slurping up of thick black ink from glass bottles into old-fashioned fountain pens; the hard bright snaps of shiny three-ring binders; the rustle of new lined notebook paper with holes already punched; the time spent carefully lettering plastic index tabs in bold red, green, blue, and yellow for English, math, science, civics. If I was lucky, I got to pick out a couple of new skirts and blouses, a new snuggly sweater, a pair of soft leather Capezio flats in the year’s latest color, and a fresh lipstick and bottle of nail polish chosen after careful perusal of the latest sultry Revlon ads in Glamour and Mademoiselle magazines.
Orlando in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a sleepy little cow town. The only real shopping districts were on Orange Avenue—where Ivey’s and Dickson-Ives department stores faced off on one corner—and the specialty shops in upscale Winter Park. Drive farther out of town in any direction, and what you found were used car lots, cow pastures, or orange groves as far as the eye could see. No Disney.
September meant weekdays filled with classes and evenings filled with homework, Thursday afternoon pep rallies, Friday night football games with friends, giant floodlights, Coke, and popcorn. September was languid Saturday mornings with the weekend stretching out ahead like a river and, often, Saturday night movies. Sundays were church in the morning, after-church lunch at Morrison’s cafeteria, and late afternoon drives with my parents.
“Let’s go for a drive!” my dad would cry, and clap his hands, and we’d pile into the car just for the fun of driving around, seeing what we could discover on back roads outside of town when the light took on a golden glow and began to slant in shimmery rays through oaks and Spanish moss, through tall pines and spreading orange groves, with the smell of wood smoke from bonfires and cooking fires wisping through the countryside.
Sometime in September, usually right around my birthday near the equinox, we could tell that the quality of light was changing and the weather was shifting, too. Out there on the dirt back roads between Gotha and Windermere, Clermont and Ocoee, DeLand and Cassadaga, early twilight brought a cooldown or even a chill, and we’d reach for the sweaters we’d brought in the car and start murmuring happily about the hot cocoa, marshmallows, and chocolate chip cookies that waited for us at home. On the best of these late afternoon drives, we’d watch the harvest moon come up over the groves, big and orange and brilliant in the smoky blue-dark dusk.
Back then, September was truly the beginning of fall—the month of welcome relief after the long, oppressive summer heat. I’ve never been able to decide what caused my spirits to lift more—my birthday, the new school year, or that first beautiful fall chill. I suspect the answer was “all of the above.”
The memories of those long-past autumns haunt me now, not so much because my parents are dead and buried—although that’s certainly a factor—but mainly because lately we are well into October or even November before we get the fall cooldown that was once September’s hallmark. I live two hours north of Orlando now, so I reckon from past experience we should be feeling fall sooner, not later, but that’s not the case.
Climate change, they say. Global warming, they say. And while there are naysayers, it does seem as if a great majority of the world’s climate scientists agree that something is going on that’s given the earth a fever, and we human beings may be the germs that are causing that disease.
So lately, fall has been a disappointment. My birthdays come and go, and harvest moons rise and set, with no perceptible change in the weather. My Halloween socks lie unused in their dresser drawer until almost Thanksgiving. Instead of sharpening pencils or filling fountain pens and squeezing into a rickety wooden desk chair, I take my seat on a Steelcase ergonomic marvel at my big-screen iMac. It’s not school that occupies my thoughts now, but writing, drought, and the sorry state of our rivers and freshwater springs.
I do still get a rush, though, when the back-to-school shopping flyers start to appear. I think I’ll take a Facebook friend’s advice and do some school shopping next fall and donate what I buy to Stuff the Bus, a local organization that accepts donations for needy students.
Maybe it’s because I’d given up hope, or maybe it’s just a total quirk, or maybe it’s some other reason that I can’t know, but we’ve been blessed this year with what’s felt, at least for a couple of weeks, like an old September. The first break in the heat came just before Labor Day, with another, longer, cooler break—nights down in the 50s and highs in the 80s—a couple of weeks after that. I’ve been tempted to clap my hands and holler, “Let’s go for a drive!” but with gas at $3.50 a gallon, I’ve hesitated.
But tomorrow is the last day of the month, and like a gift, we’re getting a cold front, with forecast lows in the 50s for September 30 and 40s for October 1. Maybe I should throw a party.
Or maybe I should just take a long drive out an old country road. I’ll take a sweater, and I can look forward to a big steaming mug of hot chocolate and marshmallows once I get home. Maybe the fragrant smoke from wood fires will waft like ghosts through the late afternoon sun that glows in golden shafts through big live oak branches and Spanish moss. Maybe I can spot the fingernail-thin crescent moon, just past new and beginning to wax, near the Western horizon. In a perfect world, the moon would ride there accompanied by bright Venus or shiny Jupiter, sparkling like heavenly messengers.
Yup, I think I’ll take that drive, because this might be the last old September I’ll ever have.
Thanks to Forrest Stowe for the use of his photograph, above.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
fourth largest spring in the world
cave wide as a
deep as a
home to Creatures
great and small
real and unreal
alligators in the grass
gill men in their lairs
skinny-necked anhingas dry wings
yellow-legged moorhens tend babies
on the banks
heron, ibis, cormorant
egrets in young plumage
cardinal flowers among
wax myrtle, islands of
clear water amid murk
“Once so clear it was transparent 120 feet down”
says the ranger
cloudy bluegreen water
covers head spring
the ranger says
the ranger says
it will be clear again someday
“nature will take care of it”
we won’t see it
I hear echoes of
my geology teacher:
“If these springs ever get polluted,
it will take thousands of years for them
to get clean”
Would Tallahassee move its spray field
for this wonder?
Couldn’t we all use
How do we dissolve nitrates, phosphorus?
How do we reverse the damage?
Above the spring
I search for my reflection
See only cloudy murk
And ask myself
Why didn’t I come 20 years ago?
What took me so long?
And I cry, Wakulla