In early November 2013, I spent a week in Gainesville signing posters (above) and attending events. WUFT (NPR) had featured Oasis in the Dark, a collaborative night time shot of a spring on the Suwannee River John Moran and I made, for its annual fundraising drive. The reception for poster-receiving donors was held at the Florida Museum of Natural History where the Springs Eternal Exhibition was simultaneously being shown. This beautiful and informative museum exhibit is now installed in the Gallery for Innovation and Arts at the R. A. Gray Building in downtown Tallahassee. Two of my collaborations with John Moran are included. Check it out.
So, back to my week in North Central Florida. While there, John and I made several photo excursions to nearby Florida gems. Florida is riddled with swiss-cheese-like holes that connect the surface with the vast underground rivers of freshwater flowing down the peninsula. Some are sinkholes - eyes into the aquifer - while others gush forth as springs (the weeping eyes of Florida?). We chose to do a spring hop this week. Below, through my camera's lens, I will take you along to re-visit some of the highlights.
John Moran and Lesley Gamble (along with designer Rick Kilby, the creators of the Springs Eternal Project) had been shooting all summer and fall at Gilchrist Blue Springs Park, so I'd heard all about the amazing water clarity and numerous turtles. We spent an entire day there, (and with special permission, well into the night). This is one group of springs among MANY along the Santa Fe River - undoubtedly a future destination I'll have to feature at this blog.
The main spring bowl (above) and run had some turtles, but many of the summer gang had left Blue after recently being captured for study (and released). There are several side springs, like Naked (above), and Jonathan (below), each more intimate and natural, and with its own unique beauty. Under heavy overcast, I was able to do a "nightscape" shot at Jonathan, showing off the gnarly sentinel trees that line the banks (gnarly no doubt as a result of decades of human interaction).
As the day faded into a cold evening, Lesley goaded us into swimming from the spring head all the way down the run to the Santa Fe. I didn't get shots of our surreal downstream blast past turtles and fish in the beam of my shivering flashlight (or was it my hand?), but as part of the deal, Lesley joyfully spent a good half hour floating in the main spring being my model, as I made photographs (below) from the (warmth of the) dock. To light this one, Lesley held two flashlights while John dropped additional ones on lines from the dock. One was rocked from side to side during the 15 second exposure. It was after 10 pm by the time John and I got in the water for the downstream run. (We climbed up to the boardwalk at the end and walked back, as much because the current was impossible to swim against as anything. The night snorkel was really - no pun - cool.)
Right in the midst of urban Gainesville is Glen Springs. While the spring itself was "urbanized" long ago, the lovely spring run still winds through the bottom of Alfred A. Ring Park as it makes its way to Hogtown Creek. Like all of Florida, plenty of exotic species abound (such as the giant elephant ear)... but so does plenty of beauty (and natives, like needle and sabal palms). We had a delightful morning exploring the run, feeling quite isolated from the city whirling above us.
South of Gainesville, in the Ocala National Forest, Florida's iconic Silver Springs has enough flow to paddle or powerboat its run. We launched before daylight near the confluence with the Ocklawaha River and headed up the Silver River in search of a sunrise shot. A swooping palm along the flowered bank called to us. As we often do, John and I stayed in that spot for several hours shooting the palm, mist, and swamp asters as the day awakened... then took a hike through the floodplain.
Oh wait. Is that a monkey? Yes, monkeys roam these swamps. Several troupes of wild rhesus monkeys have thrived in the river floodplain since a few ancestors escaped from Silver Springs many years ago. Controversy over what to do about them has been around as long as they have been here.
Taking a bit of artistic license, I'm adding a few more springs photos from previous trips to the Gainesville area. Starting with the poster photo that opened this post, here's a daytime shot of the same spring on the Suwannee... minus the light-in-dark magic. And a couple other springs along the same stretch of river.
Devil's Den is the name used for a rocky formation along the Ichetucknee River (a beautiful clear spring run) .
..and Devil's Den is also the name of a mysterious cave-entombed spring SW of Gainesville. There is a vine-curtained "skylight" letting dramatic light in through the limerock ceiling.
In addition to the famous Silver Springs and River, the Ocala National Forest is home to a number of other spectacular springs - there are several in the Juniper Springs Recreation Area.
And nearby Silver Glen, with its schools of stiped bass and mullet...
There you have a taste of central Florida's spring water. And all beauty shots. But, as many of you know, our springs are in trouble. My photos only reflect the prettier sides of what is still here, but beneath their beauty-masks lie not-so-clear greening waters, overgrowth of algae, low flow, and diminishing wildlife. With my "bright-side" images, I try to encourage all to appreciate of our remaining springs and wild places, urge you to get out there and enjoy them for yourselves, and above all, wish to instill a sense of stewardship - a desire to help look after our natural assets so that they may be around for our grandkids to enjoy.
For me, the connection with nature is essential to my health... our human connection to Mother Earth essential to the health - the very survival - of our species. I encourage everyone to check out the Springs Eternal website and/or the exhibition at the R. A. Gray Building in Tallahassee for a deeper look at what is happening and some ideas about what we can do as stewards of our springs. Thanks for visiting!
David at Sweetwater. Photo by Bruce Morgan