Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Springs and The People: A 21st-Century Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a place called Florida that had more freshwater springs, and more big freshwater springs, than anyplace else in the world.

Even before the land was called “Florida,” the springs were gathering places for the native people who visited them to fish, to gather water, and to tell stories as they sat and whittled their arrow points.

When the European explorers first came to the land they named Florida, they were enchanted by the springs. Some of them even thought the springs were fountains of youth, magical places where people could be cured of their ills and come away rejuvenated.

Later on, more explorers and naturalists were drawn to the springs. One of them, William Bartram, gave us some of our first written descriptions of these water wonders. And because people were learning how to communicate over great distances, Bartram’s writings—and Florida's springs—inspired poets and artists and curious people in faraway lands.

As time went on and word about these enchanted places spread, people came from all over the world to visit these water wonders.

People came to camp and canoe and hike the trails along the runs where the clear blue spring waters ran out to join the brown waters of the rivers that flowed long distances to the sea.

People came to dive hundreds of feet below the surface of the springs to explore the vast, mysterious network of underground caves where no one had ever gone before.

People came to swim in the bright sweet clear spring water as it gushed up between limestone rocks from deep inside the earth.

People were enchanted by the springs.

For many years, no one worried about the springs. Everyone assumed the springs would flow forever, crystal blue and shining with that sweet smell of really clear water, under the Florida sun.

But then, as always, things began to change.

People who lived near the springs and rivers began to fertilize their crops and their lawns, not realizing that fertilizer is something that hurts the springs.

People brought in many dairy cows, not realizing that the waste from cattle is something that hurts the springs.

More and more people began to water their lawns, not realizing that using so much water is something that hurts the springs.

Some people even realized that they could pipe free water out of the springs and sell it for profit, not realizing or not caring that pumping so much water is something that hurts the springs.

Eventually, some of the people who visited the springs started to notice changes.

Underwater plants that used to flourish in the clear spring runs began to disappear.

The water in the springs, usually a clear bright blue, slowly began to turn green. Something called algae began to show up where it had never been seen before.

Springs began to produce less water. Some springs even disappeared completely.

The people who were worried began to make little noises. The people in Florida who had the power to make laws to protect the springs mostly ignored these noises.

The worried people began to make louder noises. The Florida lawmakers turned their backs.

The worried people decided to take their case to court. They were willing to use every tool they had to save the springs. They went to court, and got a big federal agency to agree to enforce some laws that the worried people hoped would protect the springs.

But the lawmakers couldn’t be swayed. Protection costs too much, they said. We can’t afford it, they said.

So the lawmakers—who were supposed to represent all the people, but who really represented only a few people who had a lot of money—took actions of their own to make sure that the springs would never be protected.

Over time, swimmers began to get rashes from the water, and some of them even got sick.

Over time, the springs got cloudier and darker.

Over time, fish began to die.

Over time, the water got so murky that the cave divers stopped coming.

Over time, the swimmers and canoers and hikers and picknickers stopped coming to the springs.

Over time, the many people who ran businesses that catered to the springs visitors closed up shop. Little towns along the rivers began to look like ghost towns.

And on bright hot summer days at the springs—when once you would hear the laughter of families and friends as they splashed and swam and grilled and ate and were happy—all you could hear instead was a vast silence.

And when the springs died, a little bit of all of us—and a little bit of enchantment—died too.

Moral: Our springs need champions, but it doesn’t look like we are going to get any from the political arena. So it’s up to each and every one of us to do whatever we can to save the springs. What can YOU do?


  1. Have you heard about this:

  2. Hi Rick. Yup, I'm working for them now. :-)

  3. Hey, Word Witch!

    I was thinking of you the other day.
    The Oakland airport has a lovely walk-by display about Poetry Flash.
    Hope all is well with you and yours.

    Laura from Berkeley

  4. Laura!! It IS you! I wondered...yes, we are fine. Many long stories about that, though. Hope all is well with you and yours, too! Would love to hear more from me at word witch (at) windstream (dot) net, all run together, all lower case, with all the usual conventions. Thanks--would love to see that Poetry Flash display! I miss the Flash.