It was a time of abysmal permeating sadness and drabness.
Life seemed weak and drained.
My daughter and I, moored in grief, crushing pain. Just six weeks since moving from dark and cantankerous Midwest-land near Chicago-the pestilence struck her, five years ago.
It was a few months after my wife of 19 years had departed from cancer; a momentous and ever-chaotic time, us hoping and despairing, then just a deep inky silence where she had been.
After my wife’s departure, we began to take trips to reclaim our balance and to see the bounty of Florida.
Maps were studied; net was consulted. A park with a natural spring shimmered into our review. It is in Central Florida a little north of Orlando. Hmm. Nestled in a heavily wooded park, limpid waters flowing.
The rickety car (it seems we always have these ancient buggies that make travel an interesting challenge) was loaded for a day trip heading West across the boggy swampland and smoky hazy sky.
Onward we rolled, until we went down an ordinary street and into an ordinary park. Off we strolled. It did not seem like very much, just a plain park with usual greenery, squirrels, broad trees.
A sign said “Spring This Way”, next to a wooden boardwalk shielded by a thick hedge.
We pushed through to the boardwalk and down a small path to a silvery platform with stairs trundling down into the spring water on each side.
It was late and sunlight slanted through the trees.
Thunderstruck, we surveyed the aquatic scene before us. Brilliant shimmering blue-green water-glass clear pristine water bloomed up at our feet. Eyes agog and jaws limp from astonishment, gazing at the fauna inhabiting the water.
Large Florida Spotted Gar with long tubular spotted bodies and an insanely long snout riddled with needle teeth swam by in droves. Up they surfaced and gulped air, as they have a primitive lung. Large bulbous catfish tangoed in the water, chasing each other and also popping up to the surface and flitting back down. We saw huge tarpon fish sailing by in schools. A turtle or Atlantic Sting Ray would languidly flap by.
It was like being on a Cousteau marine expedition-with us tied to the front mast peering into the waters ahead of the vessel at all the oceanic treasures below (like the occassional baby gator, which, babs, of course, had to dunk into the blue lucid depths to swim with).
The greatest stars of the Spring were the manatees. A dozen can cluster together like giant logjams. Each was a huge gray leathery 1000 pound or more gentle herbivore, related to the pachyderm, with a giant back flipper, two front flippers and a giant comically whimsical head with whiskers and two tiny eyes that peer at you, each creature diving, gliding and surfacing in breathy sprays of wondrous glory. If a human slips into the spring, they like to follow, but must be left alone and are heavily protected and endangered. They come and stay in the spring in winter to escape cold water elsewhere (spring is 72 degrees year-round).
Brilliantly showcased, the wild happy creatures cavorted and played in Nature’s most stupendous aquarium.
Words escape us as it is: Truly a Spring of Paradise.
In honor of Jode, my wife, on her birthday today, January 24th
From Sire, with Love