Tag: Florida Springs

Another Way to Connect

Another Way to Connect

Pizza slices, cherries, flamingos, ducks, bulls, dolphins, sharks….plastic devices for floating down the Sante Fe River at Ginnie Springs whizzed past.

A steady parade of these and many more creative devices tied to the tops and sides of all kinds of vehicles, but especially pick-up trucks, made its way past.  The choking dust drifted over dive gear, into eyes and lungs and I wondered what in the world we were thinking. Sunday at Ginnie Springs during the ‘season.’ The season of wildness where people mount and ride the variety of colorful floats, some the size of a small room, while pulling coolers of favorite libations with portable stereos blasting country, rap, Mexican, hip hop, 80’s and everything except classical…there was no classical music. Scantily clad people from late middle age to toddlers demonstrated a different way to enjoy the 72 degree, clear water.

Generally I’m underwater in a cave at Ginnie Springs or in the cavern or just underwater playing with my camera gear and this during the cooler months when cold water and cold beer aren’t nearly as attractive when straddling a bull while floating down the river. But this is when the trip was scheduled so we dealt with the situation.

I hurriedly got my gear assembled and slid into the water while the other divers were getting situated. The canal or run going from the steps to the Devil’s Eye cave entrance was almost completely silted out due to bouncing, tube-happy, inebriated merry-makers. I wound my way through legs of all shapes, sizes and colors and tried to avoid being kicked or hit with wildly waving hands paddling underwater.

The Eye, one of two entrances to the Devil Cave system, was inviting. At about twenty feet in depth, the nearly perfect circle was empty at the bottom. I drifted down, grateful to be out of the barrage of insanity. Peace….

An open water instructor and a student or two came down for a while but eventually I had it to myself and waved at a couple of cave divers as they slid past into the gaping mouth of the cave. I knelt on the bottom and photographed….played for over half and hour with the light and shapes of people coming and going overhead.

Then I braved going out of the Eye and headed toward the Ear entry of the cave, hoping that the brown tannic water of the river would be intruding with clear, spring water just enough to create interesting photography. I had to wait for a few open water divers to leave and eventually they did. I dropped into the Ear and felt the rush of the fresh water spring as it blasted against me. I dumped the air from my BC (scuba vest) and landed on a large log at about seventeen feet in depth. I straddled the log and sat for another thirty minutes or so and watched as the brown water swirled overhead with the sun giving special effects. I didn’t want to leave but after an hour in 72 degree water in a wetsuit, I was cold.

On my way back to the take-out point I passed our open water divers and took a few images of them then headed into the chaos of the channel, back through more legs and thrashing arms and finally exited to dust, blaring music and screams of people enjoying their Sunday afternoon.

I couldn’t get in my car as my keys were locked in another diver’s truck, so I removed my soggy wetsuit and sat on the bench drinking water while watching as the parade of merry-makers passed in their trucks, golf carts, four-wheelers…all carrying their colorful and quite bizarre vehicles of floatation on top, tied to the hood, sides…anywhere they could secure them.

Some of our group of open water divers enjoying the Eye.

At first I admit there was judgment on my part about the noise and rowdy behavior but as I softened my attitude and simply observed, I saw how much fun they were having. They could have been sitting at home becoming brain-dead with televisions but they were interacting with nature and having a blast.  And somewhere in my surface interval I came to appreciate the fact that connecting with nature isn’t always about solitude and quiet.

A UFO (unidentified floating object) overhead from my perch on the log in the Ear.
Going Green

Going Green

It had been a while since I had been wet….from diving that is. Friends from North Carolina were leading a trip to a few Florida springs so I decided to go along and spend time submerged with my underwater camera setup. How could it get better than doing my two favorite things in one trip?

Our first stop was Manatee Springs. Being weightless was wonderfully freeing and I felt like myself again after a few weeks of challenging life experiences. The weightless environment lifted my spirits and helped me unwind.

But it was with great sadness that I witnessed the choking algae growing in the spring there. This has been an ever-increasing problem but I had never seen it so thick. From an artistic perspective it was lovely and inviting but what it portends for the Florida aquifers, the water supply for Florida, is not good.

Septic system and sewerage treatment discharge contributes to the over-growth of algae as does chemical fertilizers that filter down into the underground aquifers. Excessive nitrogen levels create the excessive growth and cause reduced water clarity and fluctuations in dissolved oxygen levels which can stress fish and other aquatic life.

The first-magnitude spring produces an average of 100 millions gallons of water daily and playing in the outflow was relaxing and fun as it pushed me around the spring. But the thick ropes of green fibers….they were not fun to contemplate.

Catfish Hotel, or Catfish Sink, provided a beautiful, green covering of duckweed. As much as it is loathed, duckweed is a natural super-filter and consumes large quantities of contaminants. In studies it has been shown to remove 98% of total nitrogen and ammonia content and 94% of the total phosphorus. (Living Green Magazine). But it needs still water to grow in and large volume springs like Manatee would not be good habitat for the plant.

I had hoped for the opportunity to dive beneath the verdant covering to see if rays of light would appear. I wasn’t disappointed. Diving suspended in beams of light took me further into my happy place…even though it meant submerging into less-than-appealing water. Sometimes we must dive into what appears unpleasant to achieve the goals we long for….the outcomes we desire.

Going green is generally a term used to describe planetary stewardship. The algae over-growth is anything but positive and in fact signals that ‘green’ isn’t a good indicator for Florida Springs. Witnessing the excessive algae was sobering to the truth of what we are doing to our water supply.

I left the site relaxed and at peace from diving and photographing the spring and sink but with a nagging sense that we are fast moving over the tipping point. What are we doing to our water planet?

Going Green….thanks to Val H for the title of this photo which inspired the blog title.


Blue Heaven

Blue Heaven

In Three Sisters Spring, a highly-visited spring in central Florida by manatees and people watching manatees, there are areas set aside as sanctuaries for resting manatees. Humans are not allowed to follow them past the barriers and the manatees know this. They head to these quiet places to rest and seek respite from the colder river.

I totally understand their desire to hide from massive amounts of people in this ‘warm’ water haven. In fact, I have often wanted to request a sanctuary for humans that simply want to float in stillness and quiet rather than be among those kicking, splashing, talking, yelling or crowding manatees….where is my sanctuary?

Earlier this week I found it. Two days in a row I had the spring to myself. Well….there were fish and a cormorant and maybe a sleeping manatee but there were no other humans. I floated face down watching the spring bubble up 15 feet below me and dropped into a deep stillness that comes when I’m in water, in my happy place.

There was no splashing, no loud voices…it was an amazing experience of beauty and peace.

Ripples of light reflecting off the sand created a wave of rainbows in constant motion. Bliss…delight…wonder…awe.

Suspended weightlessly, the spring and I were one.  There was nothing except those moments of harmony. What a time of renewal, of restoration.

One afternoon there was a large, sleeping manatee. I swam far away and past it to the big spring for my meditation. The manatee and I held space for each other to rest and relax with no expectations or demands. All encounters are not face-to-face. Perhaps some of the most profound are not even in close physical proximity.

I felt so alive and wonderful after spending so much time floating, drifting in stillness.

If you know me, you know I love manatees and whales and sea lions, whale sharks, dolphins….but what I love almost more than an encounter with them is giving them their space and honoring their need for rest and stillness. Cultivating respect for others…accepting their choices to engage or withdraw…and doing the same for myself leads to increased inner harmony and balance.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all could do that for each other and all species? That would perhaps be heaven. For me, it was Blue Heaven.