and Springs in the Bible
A Bit of Poetry
. . . in front, just under my feet, was the enchanting and amazing crystal fountain, which incessantly threw up, from dark, rocky caverns below, tons of water every minute, forming a basin, capacious enough for large shallops to ride in, and a creek of four or five feet of water, and near twenty yards over, which meanders six miles into the great Lake George, where they seem to remain pure and unmixed. About twenty yards from the upper edge of the basin, is a continual and amazing ebullition, where the waters are thrown up in such abundance and amazing force, as to jet and swell up two or three feet above the common surface: white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters, near to the top, when they diverge from the center, subside with the expand flood, and gently sink again, forming a large rim or funnel round about the aperture or mouth of the fountain, which is a vast perforation through a bed of rocks, the ragged points of which are projected out on every side. . .and Manatee Springs . . .
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran . . .
Joe Clark, a longtime Tallahassee resident and spring lover, has dived in many of Florida's springs and sinkholes. His poem, "Sink Whole," is reprinted with permission.
By Joe Clark
So here's what you do, man:
You turn off the too-smooth smothering dead pavement;
bounce, jar, swerve, bounce, and slide
down the tunnel of woods
til you circle it once:
an emerald bigger than your house.
Twist the key into silence. Open the door. Walk closer.
Limestone cauliflowers and acute tree-trunks
tumble again to the crystal ball of water.
First, take the rope swing, whoop and splash'--feel it:
shock of cold,
clear as air,
your bare feet tempting imagined nightmares below.
Next, suit up and strap on the machine.
Close your visor,
and (now sounding like Darth Vader)
past antique benthic corpses,
sculptures of pressed oolite,
skewering trees up-pointed;
Aquifer, god of life, broods in shadow,
Sighs in unseen corridors,
Watching you float above a tomb of submarine pharaohs.
Mind the dust, now.
Breathe in, bubble out.
Death winks, flounces her skirt,
disappears down ever-dark halls,
daring her lover to follow.
Uplooking, breathe the machine's breath.
Uplooking, see green arms caress the sky.
Uplooking, exhale ascending dreams.
And don't forget to watch your gauge.
This essay is copied from an editorial in the Tallahassee Democrat printed April 27, 2003
Springs have a way of getting into your mind and staying there. My first spring was a small one, a goblet hollowed out of the earth, but I have never forgotten it.
To drink you got down on your hands and knees and put your face into it. On the bottom--maybe two feet down--was a crayfish, wriggling a bit in the sand boils. Above a snake curled around the limb of a tree. It did not matter. I leaned over and lapped up that sweet water anyway--and the mystique of springs was forever imprinted on me.
Since then, there have been many springs, most of them larger and more powerful, springs you could swim in, some with gators lounging on the banks of the far side. Sometimes it was like swimming in Tarzan's water cooler.
That mystique always was there. Always there was a freshening and cleansing by water that poured out of the ground like an incredible gift, like a process of rebirth. It was something that seemed too large for simple gratitude and appreciation.
Geologists and water managers can break down the springs into numbers and explain how and why they came to be, but the mystique of the springs leaps far beyond exact measurement into the imagination. What I saw happening--while traveling this state and writing about it for a quarter-century--changed me. It turned me into one of those common folk who want Florida to remain Florida, to remain a real place, not to become a chintzy imitation of itself.
We common folk see Florida as a place struggling to stay true to itself--struggling to maintain an honest identity. We are people who find significance not only in headlines, and beauty not only in colorful horizons, but also in the small things of Florida--the sights and smells of home that were blooded and boned into our beings as we grew up. These represent heritage and affirming identity. For us they are the true things of Florida.
High among them are Florida's springs. The beaches and the oceans are the marvels that attract the tourists. The springs are the marvels that attract Floridians who have a larger sense of this unusual state. Like nothing else, they add a melody to our measled land.
"Measled" was Archie Carr's description. Florida's great poet-scientist used words with clinical precision as well as lyrical imagery. Looking around at Florida in 1964, he said, "The world is all broken out with man." He made it sound as though Florida had come down with a case of the measles. He saw the overdevelopment of Florida as "the partly aimless, partly avaricious ruin of unequalled natural riches."
Now you do not have to be an Archie Carr to know. You can see it for yourself. Look around you in Florida at all the self-inflicted injuries and stake stock. All Floridians can see and mourn.
In the opening pages of The Yearling, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' wonderful book about Florida past, the boy Jody goes rambling from his home in the Big Scrub. "He went down to the spring . . . a secret and lovely place . . ." Rawlings wrote. "water bubbled up from nowhere . . .(it) cut itself a channel through white limestone and began to run rapidly downhill to make a creek. The creek joined Lake George . . . part of the St. Johns River . . . the great river flowed northward and into the sea . . . the beginning of the ocean. . . . The bubbling spring would rise forever from the earth. . . . When he was an old man, as old as his father, it would continue."
Today, Jody could not be so sure about that. If he looked at the diminishing volumes of the springs and the dry or dwindling lake beds he would have second thoughts about whether his bubbling spring would last forever.
Rawlings' words lift a small spring into the formation of an ocean. She reveals this everday piece of Florida as significant to a vision of the world. She tells it the way Floridians want to believe it.
Springs deliver messges to all of us. Somehow they reach and salve hungers that transcent our conscious appetites. With their mystique, they become "watering holes of the spirit" where we can refill our imaginations with hope, where there is a pool of inspiration to revive our jaded views of the world.
Springs nourish clues to our natural past, and they encourage us to recognize that what we have left is too precious to squander on hucksters who never sipped from a spring while keeping an eye on a crawfish at the bottom, or on a snake hanging off a tree limb overhead.
Whatever the distractions and distortions around them--however strip-zoned and ugly the road there might be, and however concreted and constrained those once sandy banks might have become--springs still can deliver a living piece of Florida that performs much the same way it did during our childhood, and even before that.
In our parks the springs still set a scene that lets you imagine with some accuracy how it must have been before your memories started, what it was like before there were interstates and jets and skyscrapers, when native Americans or Spanish conquistadors knelt and drank from waters that looked very much like this. Except that in some of them, the color might be clouded a bit and have a suggestion of salt or a chemical bite or even the faint flavor of cement dust. And now if you drink carelessly, you might discover that lovely water was not as virginal as it looked. Yet, our springs still have magic. They still offer experiences that we can find nowhere else, and out of those can come a sense of connection with how Florida evolved and what Florida really is.
We go there for a swim or a float or just a gawk, and there comes a nudge toward historic understanding. Despite wars and freezes, Democrats and Republicans, incredibly the springs still keep bubbling, and they still keep promising that in Florida there remain these lovely and inspirational gifts that are irreplaceable--beyond dollar value--easily enjoyed if left natural, easily destroyed if too closely captured.
Those old Spanish conquistadors who came here in the 16th century looking for the fountain of youth found one but they were looking for the wrong thing. Though they never understood it, this really was a place of rejuvination, but it was not located in a single magical spring as they had hoped. Instead, it was in the nature of this place. Rather than one spring that restored youth there was a dazzling array of natural gifts--many springs, rivers, and lakes and an extraordinary range of geography, climate, plant and animal life. Springs that were then--and still are today--watering holes for the spirit where every minute, every hour, every day are created new beginnings and new capacities for life.