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

to speak

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


"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


waiting for your question

© 2001

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Rum Island: The Slow Death of a Small Spring

Time to Lose Our Lawns/Save Our Springs?

I moved to southern Columbia County with this phrase from “Cross Creek” by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings echoing in my mind:  “We need above all, I think, a certain remoteness from urban confusion.” A bonus of that move was that almost right around the corner, there was a beautiful little blue spring at Rum Island on the Santa Fe River.

My visits to Rum have been fun, inspiring and soul-healing. I’ve seen the spring in bitter winter, when mists whirled on the water like dancing spirits. I’ve been followed by a school of tiny fish as I waded in golden water while the rising river encroached into the spring. I’ve gone swimming on a warm Christmas day, taken photos on a magic May morning when the last evening’s rain dripped from the trees, hiked to other small springs upriver. And I’ve seen the spring completely covered by dark river water, re-emerging only when the river receded.

And all that time, Rum Island Spring was slowly dying.

Yes, I knew that the Santa Fe River springs, like many of Florida’s springs, were in trouble because of pollution and declining groundwater levels. But it was a chance comment on a Facebook post that gave me a wake-up slap in the face.

Lars Andersen, river guide and owner of Adventure Outpost in High Springs, administered that “slap”:

Sadly, it looks like Rum Spring will be the next to go. It’s in the death throes…Santa Fe’s springs seem to be on the front line of the slow demise of all Florida’s springs…this browning of Rum Island at this relatively minor high water event is new. We’ve had occasional brownings in recent few years, but very rare and with higher water. It is now happening more frequently and with less river water to make it happen. This was the same pattern we’ve seen in Poe and Lily before they lost their color. While those springs aren’t completely brown, they now have a very apparent mix of brown river water and spring water even in the best conditions. Further upstream, the story is the same for Columbia and Hornsby Springs. It looks like Rum is following that pattern. It may get clear again—maybe even several times—but if the pattern holds, the color will slowly morph into the brownish/greenish mix of river water and spring water we’ve seen in the others…all of Florida’s 1000+ springs are losing their flow, some faster than others. The combined average of all the 300+ springs on and near the Suwannee basin have declined an average of 48%.

And in response to a question, Bob Knight of the Florida Springs Institute chimed in:

Lars and I have both been observing these declines for decades. Just as Poe stopped flowing during the 2012 drought, that tragedy will be coming soon to Rum.

These predictions from two trained observers put the fear in me, so I went looking for scientific data that would confirm their theories. I found it. Scientists have documented that Rum Island Spring had a discharge of 60.8 cubic feet per second (cfs) in 1990, 23.7 cfs in 2000, but only 15.8 cfs in 2010.*

I am unwilling to sit back, do nothing and allow Rum Island Spring to die. What about you?

If we agree that saving our springs is something we need to do…if we acknowledge that to do that, agriculturalists as well as homeowners must use less water and that implementing agricultural changes is going to take time…and if we want to do something now…one thing we can do is to lose our lawns, since lawn irrigation is usually the biggest use of water by homeowners.

What would a “Lose Your Lawn/Save Our Springs” effort or water ethic look like? What if…
  • Everyone in the area surrounding the Santa Fe River springs (ex:  Alachua, Columbia, and Gilchrist counties) who had a lawn quit watering it, fertilizing it, putting pesticides on it? Or installed rain barrels or gray water systems to use as alternatives to using groundwater?
  • We switched all or part of our yards from turf grass lawns to native plants, Florida friendly plants, groundcovers or wildflower meadows?
  • We made water conservation a top priority?
  • We convinced local governments and businesses to model this effort to save the springs and find ways to help homeowners and agriculturalists make needed changes? 

Could we do it? Will we do it? The alternative—a dry sinkhole where Rum Island Spring once flowed—is too tragic to contemplate. Yes, change is hard. But aren’t our springs treasures worth saving?

*Draft Report, Santa Fe River and Springs Environmental Analysis, Phase 1, Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute, May 2017, Table 22, p. 97.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cold Spring Poems

the boardwalk to Cold Spring
passes through blue woods
alone at twilight
I hear voices murmur in the river
who comes with me
on this sacred journey?


the way to Cold Spring
used to be hidden
no signs, no roadmaps

you could only go with
someone who had gone before
or maybe follow scribbles
on scraps of old paper
directions from someone's mouth
to your ear

today the journey's open
not secret
maps, Facebook, newspapers
all point the way
for thousands

those crowds
don't know
what we have lost


the road to Cold Spring
shrouded in fog blanket
in half-light of dawn
rabbits, deer, fish
moon's reflection in water
my only companions


I was young when first I went to Cold Spring
when I left, I was gone for many years
I am old now, and returned
a bag of bones
floating in memories
of Love that will not die


through shaded glen
road rounds the island
to Cold Spring
whose feet trod here before?
whose will tread after?


Cold Spring
clear light
I empty myself
of my self
only Love remains


knowledge holder  awareness holder—
same word root as
he told me
past life points
to present, points
to future
down the clear stream
to Cold Spring


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Water Visions: Wrapping Up a Year of Columns With a Vision

It’s been fun to write these columns for a year, but it’s time to pass the baton so that someone else may contribute their thoughts to The Observer. I hope that my columns have helped you learn more about our aquifer, springs, rivers and the problems that plague them. Most of all, I hope the columns have inspired you to get involved with finding solutions to those problems.
The take-aways. Here’s a summary of what I hope are your take-aways from the past year.
We live in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth, surrounded by more freshwater springs than anywhere else on the globe.
Our springs are economic, ecological and spiritual treasures—but the decisions we’re making and that our state agencies are making are damaging them.
Long-term trends show that groundwater levels and spring flows are declining and water pollution is increasing.
Every drop of water that we use is one less drop for our springs and rivers.
In our area, the porous limestone under our feet allows anything that reaches the ground to enter the aquifer that feeds our springs and provides our drinking water.
By not limiting the pollutants we’re allowing on the ground, we are using our aquifer, springs and rivers as sewers for waste that comes from septic tanks, agricultural and urban fertilizers, animal manure, wastewater spray fields, biosolids spreading areas, stormwater runoff, and pesticides.
We humans are interconnected with our springs, rivers and each other through the Floridan aquifer that provides our drinking water.
Our water problems are not scientific problems but people problems. Each of us is part of those problems, so each of us must be part of the solutions. (Remember that when we point one finger, several other fingers point back at us!)
Our water problems are also political problems. The governor of Florida appoints the people who make decisions about water use (the directors of the water management districts) and decisions about how Florida’s water laws are enforced (the head of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection). Elections matter.
The vision. How can we begin to reverse the damage? What is our vision for the future? Here’s my version.
We understand that a mindset of “us vs. them” will not solve our problems.
We collectively agree that the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth is worth saving. We are willing to make the necessary sacrifices to do so.
We recognize that saving our springs—thereby saving the aquifer that provides our drinking water—requires profound changes in our behavior and in the culture that enables us to pollute and to use water faster than rainfall can replace it.
We realize that in the absence of visionary leaders, we are “it”—those behavioral and cultural changes are up to us. We accept personal responsibility for how we use water. We remember that silence means agreement with the status quo.
We know that since our water problems are multi-pronged, solutions must also be multi-pronged.
We encourage brainstorming, new questions, and bringing everyone to the table to identify creative solutions.
We adopt the guidelines for a Florida water ethic proposed by the Gainesville writer Cynthia Barnett:
  • Floridians value water, from appreciating local streams to being willing to pay an appropriate price for water.
  • We work together to pollute less and use less.
  • We try to keep water local in order to avoid the financial, environmental and energy costs of long-distance transfers.
  • We avoid the two big mistakes of our history:  over-tapping our natural supplies and over-relying on the costliest fixes that bring unintended consequences to future generations.
  • We leave water in nature—in aquifers, wetlands and rivers—so that our children and grandchildren, with benefit of time and evolving knowledge, can make their own decisions about water. 

We convince our water managers to adopt the Precautionary Principle:  In the absence of scientific agreement about the causes of or solutions to environmental problems, we choose the most conservative action—the action least likely to cause environmental harm. We remember that “conservative” and “conservation” come from the same root word.
We question whether we need changes to our laws. Should private property rights for a few trump long-term water security for all? Should we manage our water as a public trust, the same way we manage financial trust funds? Should our natural systems have legal rights to exist?
We remain conscious of the legacy we are leaving for our children. Taking a cue from the Native Americans, we consider the next seven generations when we make decisions about our water.
We educate ourselves about water issues and we vote wisely.
We agree that Water Is Life.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Water Visions: The Ichetucknee: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Public Meeting on Draft Ichetucknee Springs State Park Unit Management Plan, Photo by Eric Flagg

One Step Forward:  A Good Draft Park Plan. As part of my work for the Ichetucknee Alliance, I have been reviewing the new draft management plan for Ichetucknee Springs State Park. The plan is a good one that does not mention multiple or consumptive uses such as cattle grazing and hunting that have been floated as moneymaking ideas at some of our state parks. There is mention of timber harvesting, but only at specific sites where the Florida Park Service (FPS) wants to restore disturbed areas to more natural habitats, something the FPS already does routinely.
It’s heartening to read that the Park Service acknowledges what we already know, that the Ichetucknee is impaired by pollution and loss of flow. Since the plan urges that FPS cooperate with other state agencies to solve problems within the park, we might expect FPS to be an effective advocate for policies that could restore the Ichetucknee—except for the fact that some of those other state agencies are the ones that are trading the long-term health of our publicly owned rivers and springs for short-term private profits.
  Two Steps Back:  A Bad Water Supply Plan. A case in point is the new North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan that was approved by two water management districts, Suwannee River and St. Johns River, in January of this year. While the plan acknowledges that pumping from as far away as the St. Johns affects flows in the Ichetucknee area, the Directors and Advisory Board members of the Alliance found nothing in the plan to ensure the Ichetucknee’s restoration.
According to Florida law, the state is required to establish “Minimum Flows and Levels” (MFLs) for our rivers and springs. The idea was for the state to decide how much damage or reduction in flow it would allow before needing to create a recovery strategy for those natural systems.
In 2015, the state set an MFL for the Ichetucknee that disregarded much of the loss of historical average flow that had occurred since the mid-20th century. Even though the MFL recognized that the Ichetucknee should be “in recovery,” the decision to ignore part of its flow loss was an effective and convenient boon for people who are today requesting large water use permits throughout North Florida.
Florida law requires that a recovery strategy be developed “concurrently” with the MFL for any rivers that need to be in recovery. For the Ichetucknee, that time frame applied to the January 2017 adoption of the new North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan.
Florida law also requires that the water supply plan include specific information that shows how flow recovery will be accomplished. It’s that detailed information—prioritization of new water supply projects, cost, timing, benefit to flows, implementation schedule and funding commitments—which reviewers from the Ichetucknee Alliance failed to find.
While the new water supply plan mentions water conservation, there is no commitment to cap water use permits or to implement water use fees. Instead, there are plans to develop alternative water supply projects or ways to increase the amount of water that recharges the Floridan aquifer. Those projects could be expensive, however, and if they are funded by taxes—which seems very likely—that means the public will pay to replenish water that is being freely used by a few people and corporations to generate private profits. I’ve heard this situation described as “privatizing profits and socializing losses.”
Conclusion. So we weigh a good park plan (one step forward) with a bad water supply plan (two steps back). On March 17, 2017, the Ichetucknee Alliance filed a Petition for Administrative Hearing to challenge the water supply plan for its failure to provide the legally required recovery strategy for the river and springs. We’ll see what happens.
In the meantime, as usual, I’m left with questions.
If we can’t agree on a water conservation ethic, won’t the creation of expensive water supply projects simply lead to more and more water use?
Should the true costs of water use be factored into the costs of water supply permits?
Is it right for people to make private profits while publicly owned natural systems suffer as a consequence?
How do private legal rights intersect with the impairment of a critically needed public resource such as water?
Should we agree to limit the issuance of water use permits and if so, under what guidelines?
Should our laws focus on the amount of damage we are willing to allow to the Ichetucknee, or should they instead provide for its health?
Do we really want to save the Ichetucknee and are we willing to make sacrifices to do so?

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Water Visions: Healing Our Springs: The Holy Grail, the Wounded King and the Waste Land

Like many people, I grew up fascinated by the legends of Merlin, King Arthur, and the Holy Grail. The one idea in the Grail stories that puzzled me for years, though, was the legend of the Wounded King or Fisher King—the last keeper of the Holy Grail, the king whose wound is bound up with the Waste Land that he rules. When he heals, the land heals too. I finally grasped this connection on a deep emotional level when I watched the movie “Excalibur,” in the scene where the Waste Land comes back to life.
The longer I work on water issues in Florida, the more clearly I understand that profound connection between leaders and land.
My fascination with these old legends led me to read more and to discover that throughout the British Isles, many springs are considered sacred and some wells are recognized as holy. Even today, many communities continue an old tradition of “dressing” the wells as the seasons change. And people still make pilgrimages to visit the sacred springs.
Traditional societies and religions worldwide have recognized the special or even sacred nature of water for thousands of years. For an exhibition about springs that I worked on several years ago, I collected quotes about water from different faiths and cultures. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Water was enchantment, certainly. But it was also deeply feared and honored, held close to the heart in both mystery and awe. It was sacred. -Bill Belleville (writing about the Timucua who inhabited Florida at the time of Ponce de Leon)
  • I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. -The Bible, Old Testament, Isaiah 41:18
  • Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure. -St. Francis of Assisi
  • By means of water, we give life to everything. -Koran, 21:30
  • The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives. -American Indian Saying
  • Filthy water cannot be washed. -West African Proverb
  • You don’t miss your water ’til your well runs dry. -William Bell, American singer/songwriter
  • By perceiving ourselves as part of the river, we take responsibility for the river as a whole. -Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright/politician
  • Our bodies are molded rivers. –Novalis
  • The supreme good is like water, which nourishes all things without trying to. -Tao Te Ching #8, translated by Stephen Mitchell
  • When you drink water, remember the spring. -Chinese Proverb 

These quotes reveal how water and people are interconnected; they speak to the significance of a healthy relationship with water. “Water is life,” as the water protectors in North Dakota and here in Florida reminded us recently. Our bodies are up to 60 percent water. We can live about three weeks without food but only about three days without water. While water sustains us, we must in turn sustain water or suffer the consequences.
So what does the Grail legend about the Wounded King and the Waste Land have to do with the Suwannee, Santa Fe, and Ichetucknee rivers and their springs?
I was at Rum Island one day after a swim when I passed a young woman standing on the bank gazing at the water. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked. Her response was immediate:  “It’s sacred.”
At the Ichetucknee headspring, area churches have baptized the faithful for years. Steven Earl’s book about the Ichetucknee is subtitled “Sacred Waters.” Talk to almost any spring visitor and these ideas about sacred water, reverence and rejuvenation (remember the “Fountain of Youth” legends?) crop up.
In the early years of the 21st century, we are not as far removed from the idea of sacred springs as we might think. But we’re polluting too much, pumping too much, and turning our “Holy Grail”—the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth—into a Waste Land.
In the Grail legends, the Wounded King and the land are healed when the knight Perceval asks the right question:  “Whom does the Grail serve?”
So I wonder:  Are we asking the right questions? Are we like the Wounded King? Is our wound the failure to understand that as water suffers, we must suffer too? Can we heal our springs and rivers by healing our relationships with water and with each other? Do we need a stronger water ethic?
And where are the leaders with the courage to make the tough decisions needed to convert a springs Waste Land back into a Springs Heartland?

To learn more about…

This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Water Visions: Why We Should Care That the Ichetucknee Got a Bad Grade

Last fall, scientists at the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI) updated the Ichetucknee River System’s report card with a C-minus (C-) grade.
“This system is not healthy,” said Dr. Robert Knight, executive director of FSI who guided the work that resulted in the report card. “If you have a sixth grader who is getting C- grades, you aren’t proud of that.”
The bad grade means we should be taking better care of these priceless natural wonders—a river and springs that are economic engines for our area and have been magnets for human beings for thousands of years.
Back in 1984, the State of Florida named the Ichetucknee an Outstanding Florida Water. According to the website of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, this designation means that the Ichetucknee is worthy of special protection because of its natural attributes. This special designation is…intended to protect existing good water quality.”
But water quality has gone downhill in the Ichetucknee, as indicated by the “D” grade for nitrates earned in 2016 and shown in the graphic.
Nitrates are nutrients from urban and agricultural fertilizers, septic tanks and stormwater runoff. Nitrates can cloud our waterways and feed the growth of algae. The difference between the Ichetucknee of today and the Ichetucknee of the 1960s or even the 1980s is plain to those of us who floated or canoed the river decades ago. Today, the water’s clarity is dimmed and brown algae coats eelgrass that once shone bright green beneath the water.
Nitrates are measured in concentrations of milligrams per liter (mg/L). At 0.79 mg/L, nitrates in the Ichetucknee are twice as high as Florida’s recommended standard for springs. “Nitrates in the Ichetucknee have been at this level for years and this harms the whole ecosystem,” Knight explained.
While murky water and brown algae create a less-than-perfect experience for Ichetucknee visitors, nitrates create the potential for an even greater danger. Elevated nitrate levels threaten the purity and security of our drinking water supply, especially for those of us in rural areas who depend upon water pumped from private wells. High levels of nitrate can create health problems for adults; newborns are especially sensitive. Do you know the level of nitrates in your well water?
Given an increasing population, given that water pollution from nonpoint sources such as agriculture, urban areas, and roads, highways and bridges is unregulated and often uncontrolled, and given the increase in industrial-level agricultural operations in North Florida, we can expect that nitrate levels in our springs, rivers and drinking water may go up, not down, in the coming years.
Knight is also concerned about loss of flow on the Ichetucknee, the other area in which the river system got a “D” grade.
“Flows are way below the historic average and are staying down,” Knight explained, “and there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them to go back up. Both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) have agreed that flows are too low, but they’ve done nothing to reverse that situation by reducing the numbers of water use permits.”
The 2016 rate of spring discharge, 306 cubic feet per second (cfs), is well below the long-term median flow of 347 cfs. FDEP and SRWMD have recognized that the Ichetucknee River System needs to be “in recovery” and FDEP has established a new restoration focus area in the Ichetucknee springshed. Knight said that more efforts at protection are needed, however, given that long-term trends show declining levels in the groundwater that feeds the springs.
Those falling groundwater levels are another threat to the security of our area’s water supply. For every foot that the groundwater level drops, the underlying layer of saltwater rises 40 feet. Saltwater intrusion is a threat not only to drinking water but also to agriculture, business and the economy. Maybe that bumper sticker that reads “No Farms/No Food” should read “No Water/No Farms/No Food.”
Given that, as an Outstanding Florida Water, the Ichetucknee was not supposed to experience any degradation after 1984… thinking about the latest Ichetucknee Report Card…realizing that current efforts by state agencies are not reversing declines in flow or lowering pollution levels…and concerned about the link between conditions in the Ichetucknee and the security of our drinking water supply, I am left with one big question.
Do we need stronger legal protections for the Ichetucknee?

To learn more about…

The health effects of nitrate exposure

Nonpoint sources of water pollution

Long-term trends in flow and pollution in the Ichetucknee

The Ichetucknee’s 2016 Report Card

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Water Visions: The Springs Heartland Has a New Sierra Club Organizer and Office

John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club in 1892, had hiked from Gainesville to Cedar Key in the late 1800s when he had the insight that our natural systems have value in and of themselves, apart from any benefits they provide for humans. Muir wrote about that idea in the journal that was later published in his book, “A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf”:

…Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation? And what creature of all that the Lord has taken the pains to make is not essential to the completeness of that unit—the cosmos? The universe would be incomplete without man; but it would also be incomplete without the smallest transmicroscopic creature that dwells beyond our conceitful eyes and knowledge

I like to think that Muir would be pleased with news that in June 2016, the Sierra Club hired Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, former president and policy director of Our Santa Fe River, to lead a new effort to protect Florida’s freshwater springs from pollution.
Before Christmas—as American Indians at Standing Rock were making headlines to protect water from damage by the Dakota Access Pipeline—I sat down with Merrillee to talk about our springs, Florida’s Sabal Trail Pipeline, and her new role with the Sierra Club.
“The Sierra Club hired me because they needed a grassroots organizer in North Florida to work for springs protection,” Merrillee explained. “The club is concerned about the amount of pollution that is damaging our springs, so I’m focused on that. My job also includes complementing the work that’s being done by the club’s Suwannee-St. Johns Chapter.”
The new Sierra Club office is located at Merrillee’s family-run business, Rum 138 in southern Columbia County.
Geographically the largest Sierra Club chapter in the eastern United States, the Suwannee-St. Johns (SSJ) group has close to 2000 members and includes all or part of 16 counties in Florida’s springs heartland.
One of Merrillee’s projects is to assist with the creation of SSJ’s new North County Working Group. Designed to encourage people to be the eyes and ears of Sierra in North Central Florida—to watch for development, changes in water use or land use regulations or anything else that might damage our springs—the group meets once a month on the third Saturday at 10 a.m. at Rum 138.
“The big effort is trying to get better land use development on top of high aquifer recharge areas,” Merrillee explained. “I’m working with groups to push for better land uses that do not affect our aquifer and springs. Right now, I’m involved with people in Brooker and other communities in Union and Bradford counties to stop new phosphate mining that has the potential to pollute the Santa Fe River. I’m also working with people around the state to try to stop the potential for destruction caused by the Sabal Trail fracked gas pipeline that is coming through our region.”
Designed to carry large amounts of natural gas, the Sabal Trail Pipeline has received its required permits and is under construction, boring through wetlands and sensitive areas that are prone to sinkholes. To protect the springs and the Floridan aquifer, the Sierra Club joined with the Flint Riverkeeper in Georgia and the Gulf Restoration Network in a lawsuit challenging permits for the pipeline. At press time, the lawsuit is still in the court system.
“The Sabal Trail Pipeline is newsworthy because the power corporations involved are locking us into fossil fuels rather than moving toward more sustainable energy sources such as sun and wind,” Merrillee explained. “There is a statewide movement against the pipeline because of that and because pipelines can leak, explode, and damage water supplies.”
“Stopping the pipeline requires a huge movement,” she continued. “We as citizens can stop this, even though it is now being built.” To support that claim, Merrillee cites the stoppage of the Cross-Florida Barge Canal in the 1960s and the recent actions at Standing Rock, where American Indians have at least temporarily halted construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
“Standing Rock put the wind in our sails when we saw what they accomplished to delay a fossil fuel behemoth,” Merrillee said. “The tribal network gave that movement its energy and people’s motivation to get involved was their water supply, something they could all stand behind.”
To learn more about the new North County Working Group or other Sierra Club activities in the springs heartland, email Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson at or call her at 386-454-1542.

To learn more about…

Sierra Club Suwannee-St. Johns Chapter:

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.

Water Visions: Gifts of Water and Water Gifts

I’m writing this the week before Thanksgiving and thinking about what I’m thankful for this year. At the top of that list is knowing that I live enfolded in the Springs Heartland of Planet Earth.
What healing gifts these springs offer to the world! Gifts of beauty, inspiration, relaxation, rejuvenation, life itself. Gifts not only to humans, but also to fish, birds, turtles, manatees and plants that depend on our springs and spring-fed rivers for life-giving water.
Water makes these gifts to us and, because we are interdependent with the world around us, we can also give back to water.
Since we’re moving into the season of Christmas, Hanukkah and Yule/Winter Solstice—holidays traditionally marked by gift giving—here are a few suggestions for local places to shop, if you’re looking for a water-related gift, or to offer a contribution, if you want to donate to a good cause. (See links in the sidebar.)
Rum 138 has something for almost everyone on your gift list, from canoe/kayak trips on a section of the Santa Fe River known for its many springs to water-themed books, paintings, pottery and jewelry. The gallery offers work by artists including John Moran, Jill Heinerth, Mark Long and Rum 138 owners Doug Jipson and Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson.
Lanza Gallery and Art Supplies carries paintings, jewelry and pottery from local artisans as well as art and craft supplies. Lanza also offers classes and workshops for adults and children. Whose water-related creativity could you inspire with the gift of a class or art supplies? Some of the artists whose work you’ll find at Lanza are Barbara Knutson, Tim Malles, Karen LeMonnier and owner Tina Corbett.
Canoe, Kayak and Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) Outfitters. Why not give someone a chance to experience our rivers and springs on a fun outing? In addition to Rum 138, there are many outfitters who offer shuttle service and rent canoes, kayaks and SUPs for trips on local waterways. Check out Adventure Outpost and its Springs Republic boutique, Drift, Santa Fe Canoe Outpost, Paddling Adventures, and Ichetucknee Family Canoe & Cabins.
If you’re considering a year-end donation to a nonprofit group that educates and advocates for protection of our springs, rivers, and aquifer, check out these local and nearby organizations.
Our Santa Fe River (OSFR) stopped a potential influx of water bottling plants on the Lower Santa Fe, advocates for a moratorium on water use permits, and is actively opposing the Sabal Trail Pipeline and a proposed phosphate mine on the New River (a tributary of the Santa Fe in Bradford and Union counties). OSFR also holds regularly scheduled paddle trips and is involved in a multitude of other activities.
The Ichetucknee Alliance legally challenged a bad minimum flow and level rule and worked to move the Sabal Trail Pipeline away from the Ichetucknee. The group monitors water quality and fish populations, organizes the “Water Voices” speaker series, and maintains a dialogue with state agencies that resulted in a new restoration focus area and economic incentives for agriculturalists to protect the Ichetucknee.
With a long-term goal of establishing a permanent springs research center, scientists at the Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute (FSI) develop restoration plans and management goals that serve as blueprints for many springs advocacy groups, including members of the Florida Springs Council. FSI also offers monthly Springs Academy classes at its new North Florida Springs Environmental Center and holds annual “Give Springs a Break” events for college students. The Environmental Center also sells springs-related books and t-shirts.
The Florida Springs Council is made up of close to 40 advocacy organizations that represent over 150,000 citizens. The Council organized the 2016 Springs Restoration Summit that brought scientists, water managers and advocates together for 2-1/2 days of discussion about how to save our springs. The Education, Legal, and Legislative committees work actively in those three areas to restore, protect and preserve Florida’s springs.
Through their website, exhibitions, transit bus wraps and other activities, the three artists (John Moran, Lesley Gamble and Rick Kilby) who run the Springs Eternal Project (SEP) work to inspire people to value and redefine our relationship with springs. This past summer, SEP ran a Springs Ambassadors camp for middle school students.
The 10-year-old Center for Earth Jurisprudence at Barry University Law School in Orlando is focused on changing and expanding our laws to provide better protection for springs and other natural systems.

To learn more about…

Rum 138

Lanza Gallery and Art Supplies


Our Santa Fe River

Ichetucknee Alliance

Howard T. Odum Florida Springs Institute

North Florida Springs Environmental Center

Florida Springs Council

Springs Eternal Project

Center for Earth Jurisprudence

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of "The Observer," a free monthly tabloid (circulation 5000 copies) distributed in the High Springs/Alachua/Newberry/Jonesville/Fort White areas of North Florida. Many thanks to publisher Barbara Llewellyn for her kind permission to post it here.