Since our last entry from Fort Desoto, we have been to St. Leo Abbey (north of St. Petersburg and shown here) for a two-day retreat. The time there brought us the great gift of being fed and housed with no effort on our part. We are most grateful for the hospitality of the Benedictine monks.
We arrived here at Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland, FL (about 150 miles north of St. Petersburg) on Thursday, February 12 for four nights. There is no cell phone or Internet so occasional trips to town afford us the connectivity that permits this kind of posting.
Over the 12 years we have been coming to Florida, we have visited a couple of the remarkable springs that make up the fresh water aquifer that is the unacknowledged treasure of Florida. The geology of this region is unique in the world because of its limestone formation that functions like a sponge to filter and a container to hold the fresh water essential to the cities, the agriculture, the economic vitality of the entire state. It is fragile, invisible, and in danger.
Some of the water in Manatee Spring has been age-dated (based on the presence of diatoms, or algae) to be upwards of hundreds of years old. Manatee Springs is one of Florida’s 33 first magnitude springs, which means that it discharges at least 65 million gallons of water per day. In some cases, Manatee has discharged 150 million gallons per day. There is a post here at the springs, which shows the record flood levels. In 1948, the high water mark was higher than I am tall.
The campground is spacious. This morning I bundled up (it was 30 degrees) and walked about 10 minutes over to the spring. Imagine a large, but shallow, lake the color of sapphires with a marbling of iridescent emerald green around its deepest point, which is about 25 feet deep. The spring is park of an underwater reservoir, which flows into the nearby Suwannee River. There is a labyrinth of underwater caves which draws scuba divers and which links the springs. This morning we saw two divers, a father and son, getting ready to dive into a pool called “Catfish Hotel” presumably to explore some portion of the five miles of limestone formations beneath the surface of the water.
Yesterday, we spotted a juvenile manatee (see the photo here) basking in the spring’s shallow water in the morning sun, rising about every 15 minutes to breathe. The water is a constant temperature of 70 degrees, so on a cold morning like today, it seemed like every black vulture in the county was perched in one of the cypress or live oaks that circle the spring, occasionally spreading its wings to warm in the thermal currents of warm air. They would swoop and dive and their wings sounded like leather snapping in the cold air. They were intimidating in both size and number.
There are dozens of deer roaming the campgrounds, curious and not intimidated by us. Two days ago, we saw a feral sow and her litter of baby pigs, the color of chocolate milk, rummaging around the base of the trees. We learned that the feral pigs are a huge problem in the park because, unlike the deer, they become aggressive and will charge and attack people. An armadillo trudged along at an imperious pace and I imagine he was probably grumbling about something. They just seem to have that air around them.
There was not an alligator to be seen, which was fine with me, though the ranger said a 13’ gator was seen a couple of days ago. There is also a report of a python that has moved into the area, though none of the rangers has seen it. Pythons have become a huge problem in the Everglades where people who got tired of having them as pets have released them. Now, as an invasive species from South America, they are upsetting the balance of nature in the Everglades. Are they moving north? This is a story to be continued.
The park is in the town of Chiefland, Florida with a population of about 2,200. It is clustered on either side of U.S. Highway 19, no more than one block deep. It has a wonderful bike path, called the Nature Coast Trail, that stretches for 9 miles north to Old Town, Florida and over the Suwannee River. We biked it two days in a row, and it is beautiful. Here is a photo of an exuberant Peter, breaking into his rendition of “Suwannee” on the bridge. Priceless.
The town has a Winn-Dixie market where Peter lined up with the locals for the fresh-caught Gulf shrimp, with hot Cajun spices, cooked up on demand. Let me say that over greens, these are amazing!
In every town we visit, Peter picks up a newspaper and so here are four stories from the February 12 issue of the Chiefland Citizen which provide a snapshot of the current events in the town:
* The Saturday (February 14) Farmers Market will delay opening until 9:00am due to the cold temperatures.
* The City Commission was presented with an application to allow a Ten Commandments granite monument to be put back on the lawn of City Hall (it was removed in the late 2000s).
* The Chiefland Future Farmers of America held their annual Sweetheart Cake Auction at 6:00pm on February 13.
* Two of the high school’s brightest are heading to college with athletic scholarships. One of them, a 3-year starter on the varsity football offensive line, will be going to Brown University, in Providence, RI. He’s got a 4.0 GPA and looking at a scholarship valued at $250,000.
We’ll catch you next time as we journey up to the panhandle and St. George Island State Park.