I usually over plan trips to insure their success. But sometimes the unplanned trips are the best. This trip was supposed to be an instructor training trip that I wasn’t able to make due to a nor’easter that dumped ice and snow along the east coast from Georgia north. There was no way I could drive through those conditions and make it to the training on time. I still had the week reserved with no other commitments and decided to use it anyway, just head to the springs instead of the coast and snorkel. I brought Gracie with me. We slid south in the lull between two snow events, but this was much more than a trip to escape the cold.
My graduate school advisor gave me a lot of great advice, but some of the best was personal. She recognized that my two careers and graduate school were taking me away from my family life and instructed me to make sure to spend time with my kids, no matter how important I think my life’s mission is, because they are the ones who will continue my work.
I don’t know if Gracie is going to continue the work of telling people about the amazing life in our freshwater rivers and streams but this trip was an opportunity for me to share some of the places I hold as sacred. Ever since I was introduced to the Florida springs I feel a strong urge to make a pilgrimage at least biannually to pay homage and reconnect. These are some of the places I hold sacred, and I wanted to share that with Grace. This was my chance.
She needs to know about these spots, and how they make me feel, about why I think they are so special, why they need to be protected, whether she chooses to carry on the job of telling people about the life in these aquatic wonderlands or not. I am far from done, and nowhere near ready to pass any kind of torch. But she is growing up fast, and will be out of the house all too soon. Opportunities like these will become more rare.
Millions of gallons of clear 72 degree water flow from the spring at the bottom of the pool 30 feet below. The clear water creates a river scape of blue and green hues accentuated by the bright colors of fish. The spring bowl is ringed with submerged grasses that grade to shallow fine sand flats covered with algae. Pods of emergent plants provide great habitat for a variety of fish, though most just hang out in the open and seem to be pretty used to humans. Large turtles bask on a log. Different species set up shop in different habitats and predators, grazers and piles of juvenile fish flow in a delicate cautious ballet.
I pointed these things out to grace, how different species held in different areas and habitats, and how they related to each other. I pointed out the ecology of the spring. But what was more important was telling Grace about how all of this made me feel alive. The sense of awe, wonder, adventure, and discovery it inspired, and how I feel connected to this place and everything living in it. I told her how these feelings are common anywhere I snorkel, but some places have an intangible quality that makes them spiritual. Alexander is one of those places.
I don’t need to go to the Florida springs to feel connected. I don’t need to go to the Conasauga River, or anywhere else. Snorkeling my local rivers and streams does that. But I am grateful that I occasionally get the opportunity to explore the diverse collection of freshwaters across North America, and I am grateful that I get to share this impromptu subtropical adventure with Grace.