Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A plea for the Econ

Last Saturday I went kayaking on the Econlockhatchee River not too far from my Central Florida home. It’s my second trip on that lovely tanin-stained waterway; my first trip included my one-and-only spill out of my kayak. Trying to climb over some fallen trees rather than portage around them, I ended dumping my kayak in what I am convinced is the deepest hole in the river. Nonetheless. I continued on and had a remarkable day and fell in love with the river.

Wikipedia says “The Econlockhatchee River is a 87.7-kilometre-long north-flowing blackwater tributary of the St. Johns River that flows through Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties in Florida. Its name means 'River of mounds'". I only know that I took way too long to finally "discover" this winding waterway and now it is being threatened by the actions of a politician from the panhandle. This tributary of the St. Johns River has been well-protected in the past and is an oasis of peace near the hustle and bustle of Central Florida. The pending bill in the Florida senate would eliminate Orange County's ability to regulate wetlands in the Wedgefield subdivision and potentially damage the health of this "Outstanding Florida Waterway."

So much of this area is already paved over, strip-malled and franchise-full, we need to do anything we can to hold on to any little bit that is still pristine. On my trip last weekend I saw mountain bikers on trails, fisherman catching pass and kayakers and swimmers reveling in a beautiful April day. A Great Blue Heron watched our progress as we traveled up river and we saw at least half a dozen gators plop into the water. Please help me encourage our Tallahassee lawmakers to preserve this little bit of paradise. Email your Florida state senator and urge them to vote NO on SB 1684.

Seepage spring in the clay bank of the river.

Update: "In the final days of the legislative session, the Florida Senate steppedup and removed two of the most egregious sections of the bill; the local government wetlands pre-emption for Chapter 298 drainage districts (Econlockhatchee River) and a last minute fertilizer moratorium that was never heard in any committee." – From Florida Audubon

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Sanford Shuffle - Save the Date!

Ever since my first visit to the St. Pete Shuffle, I've been wanting to do something comparable in Central Florida. It looks like it's finally going to happen! Stay tuned for details!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Celebrate Our Springs Earth Day Event

Celebrate our Springs April 20th 
at the Florida Museum of Natural History
Join us for an 11 a.m. panel discussion
featuring springs artists and writers

Learn more about the beauty, the whimsy and the frailty of Florida’s ice-blue springs as part of the Florida Museum of Natural History’s Earth Day observance on Saturday, April 20th.
Two current exhibits – Springs Eternal and Finding the Fountain of Youth – celebrate Florida’s natural springs as they also explore past history, document current threats and lay out Floridians’ role in their preservation.
Join the artists behind the exhibits – John Moran, Lesley Gamble and Rick Kilby – for a panel discussion at 11 a.m. Saturday April 20th moderated by journalist and author Cynthia Barnett. The panel and the exhibits are free and open to the public. Families are welcome – kids and adults alike will have the opportunity to question the artists and find out what they can do to help protect our springs.
The Springs Eternal: Florida's Fragile Fountains of Youth exhibit is a 30-year retrospective of Florida nature photographer John Moran's love affair with the springs of Florida. The exhibit mixes stirring text with then-and-now pairings of photos that document dramatic changes to our springs. The project channels joy and beauty and grief and anger and is a sobering wake-up call for every Floridian who uses water. The exhibit also features an enormous, 60-foot-wide backlit translucent clerestory window photo of a pair of manatees at Crystal River.
Based on the forthcoming book by Rick Kilby, the Finding the Fountain of Youth exhibit examines how the legend of Ponce de Leon’s quest for restorative waters shaped the Sunshine State’s image as a land of fantasy, rejuvenation and magical spring-fed waters. Rich in images, this exhibition shows how the myths surrounding the discovery of “La Florida” influenced perceptions of the state that still echo today.
Reaching beyond the museum walls, Lesley Gamble’s Urban Aquifer bus project and Springs Eternal website lend additional public engagement including a fleet of Regional Transit System buses soon to bring stunning visions of Florida’s springs to the streets of Gainesville.
During the panel discussion, the three artists will show some of their favorite images, talk about the role of art in saving natural places, and engage the audience in a lively discussion about the springs.
The exhibits run through Dec. 15th. The Florida Museum of Natural History is located in the University of Florida Cultural Plaza off SW 34th St. and is open six days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Note: my book "Finding the Fountain of Youth: Ponce de León and Florida's Magical Waters" will be on sale in the museum gift shop. Also on sale will be the Sanlando Springs T-shirts I worked on with Vintage Roadside.

Mock-up of Urban Aquifer bus

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Confessions of a devout lover of Florida

© New York Times
The following is my response to an T.D. Allman's April 1st Op-ed piece in the New York Times. Allman has been creating a furor in Florida academic circles since the release of his"Finding the Florida" book earlier this year...

I must confess as a graphic designer and admitted collector of "Ponceabilia" the most attractive element of T.D. Allman's recent editorial in the Times is the brilliant pen and ink illustration by Johnny Sampson.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must also admit that I, unlike Mr. Allman was not born in the Sunshine State but have resided here for forty-six of my forty-eight years. But Florida is my home and I love her completely, warts and all.

I attended the commemoration of "The First Landing" in Melbourne Beach and Mr. Allman couldn't have known this, but no statue of Ponce was unveiled on this day. For some reason the statue was not ready and rows of folding chairs faced a statue-less podium on April 2nd. The chaotic event was much like what I love about Florida; diverse, surprising, and slightly surreal. I saw little "illusion" referenced by Allman; the reenactors put on their period armor in plain sight of the attendees; yet the folks still crowded them for photos like they were Mickey at Disney.

I never even got to see the reenactor who played Ponce – he was two hours late and by the time he arrived I had moved on. The real Ponce's biggest contribution was the discovery of the Gulf Stream, the current that allowed the Europeans to return safely back to the Old World –  making it the first highway to return tourists home. As for his landing point, well that is subject of great debate, as any firsthand accounts of the expedition of his journey have been lost and we may never be exactly sure where Ponce first stepped foot in the land he named La Florida.

Mr. Allman points out Ponce's arrival ultimately led to the extinction of the state's original inhabitants, the hundreds of thousands of indigenous people known as the Timucua, Calusa, Ais, Apalachee and others. But he didn't point out that in the 18th century the surviving members of the tribes, along with former slaves, were given sanctuary by the Spanish and were ultimately driven from the state by the British and their allies, the Creek Indians from Georgia and the Carolinas. When the Creeks stayed in Florida, some of these original natives, as well as the former slaves, were assimilated into what we now know as the Seminole nation. Since the day Ponce arrived, Florida has been a melting pot of people of different colors.

Ponce's association with the Fountain of Youth, an archetypal myth with roots stretching back to ancient Greece, goes well beyond Washington Irving to 15th and 16th century accounts by Oviedo and Herrara. The century-old attraction known as the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine was not created by Walter Fraser but by "Diamond Lil" McConnell who claimed to have unearthed the stone cross created by the Spanish explorer on his initial landing.

My favorite statement by Mr. Allman is "if we took the trouble to understand the past, we might stop building our lives on sinkholes." The release of his book "Finding Florida" earlier this year has generated much publicity and kick started a conversation about our state's past. In the complex, multicultural Florida of the 21st century that in itself is an accomplishment. But our state's history is not as cut and dry as Mr. Allman claims and our perspective as Floridians is constantly evolving.

My personal journey to learn more about Florida's past has led me to become a champion of Florida's threatened natural resources including its most incredible wonders – its 1,000 artesian Florida Springs. Much of the indifferent attitudes of those in power in Florida expressed by Mr. Allman have put these real fountains of youth at risk. But instead of taking shots at those that got us here, maybe we should focus our energy on solutions. The challenges facing the state today are complex, as is Florida's rich past.  Narrow definitions and incomplete portrayals of where we came from, can limit the creativity needed to go forward. For those of us who embrace Florida and all her blemishes, a more complete understanding of Florida's past than is presented by Mr. Allman is necessary to prevent our fall into the sinkholes of the future.