A Paean to Florida Springs
Have you ever been in a Florida spring? I don’t mean just any old spring, where the ground dips below the water table and water piddles out in a little creek. Florida has another kind of spring--artesian--cradled in limestone formed during the state’s undersea past. The limestone underlying north and central Florida serves as an immense rocky filter and sponge, absorbing the heavy rainfall we receive and keeping us above water. Rain seeps through the porous rock, is filtered and cleansed along the way, and forms vast underground aquifers.
At thousands of places, pressure forces water up through limestone cracks to form springs. Some of these springs are so enormous they form instant rivers. The flow from the largest springs--Silver, St. Marks, Rainbow, and Wakulla—can exceed half a billion gallons a day each. These crystalline floods are more heavily concentrated in Florida than anywhere else. In fact, the total flow of Florida’s 33 biggest springs probably exceeds the combined output of all other springs from any other state or nation. Spring water is clear and cool, with temperatures between 67-75 degrees year-round.
But you could get all that from an encyclopedia. Let me tell what springs are really like, for I have been to nearly 500 of them. Coming upon a spring is like turning a corner and rediscovering Eden. Traffic, tree farms, clear cuts, etc., yield to a circle of water framed by hardwoods and limestone outcrops. At the fringes the water is perfectly clear, and as your eyes are drawn to the center the color asserts itself. Every shade of blue and blue-green appears, with the water gaining the deepest blue at the point above the vent. Plants provide the green, while refracted sunlight creates the unbelievable blues.
A spring is alive--it flows and pulsates. Over the vent, water rises to the surface and spreads out in what is called a "boil" or "slick." Most boils are gentle, like smoke flattening against a ceiling. A few springs have pronounced boils--even a foot or two above the surface like a fountain. At the vent, usually visible and within skin-diving distance, sand and shells are often gently "blown" and tumbled by the water. For many years, DeLeon Springs near Deland had a plume of shells that were shot 15 into the water.
But seeing is not enough. You must enter the water. It is best to swim on a sunny day when the temperature is at least 90 degrees; fortunately (?) north-central Florida meets those conditions half the year. Don’t wade in an inch at a time; plunge in and feel the effect of the water on your entire body all at once. Even if you have jumped into springs 1,000 times, the chill of the water on a hot day is invariably astonishing. Swimming in a spring is participating in a reincarnation; the water has completed its journeys of evaporation, falling as rain, and being purified by the earth, and is now born again as you are enveloped in it. It is cleaner than you are, and you are cleansed by it.
Go underwater. Hold your breath and dive down to the vent if you can. The vent is the opening to very womb itself, and the water gently pushes you back as if you do not pass its muster. Hold your nose, roll back, and look up through the glassy water at the clouds and trees above. There is no sound. There is no predation in the diaphanous water. Then, if you can find equilibrium so that you are suspended under water, it will happen.
Time stops, and you discover that the hogwash about Ponce de Leon and the Fountain of Youth has a form of truth after all. Now, even though that fortune-seeking explorer never sought a fountain, the legend retains validity. Hanging in the water, you do not age. Your body functions slow in the cooling flow, and you are AT ONE with the water and the earth. Words cannot capture the sensation; you’ll have to try it for yourself.
When, finally, you must return to the land, the epiphany is not immediately gone. The body--if not actually younger--is braced and rejuvenated, and you will not sweat again for the rest of the day no matter how hot it gets. You have been cooled, in and out, and the effect lingers until the next time you bathe and replace the amniotic spring fluid with soap and chlorinated tap water. I will not recommend any particular spring to you, for they all have their unique qualities. Go find one, and look for me there.