Thursday, May 5, 2011

Adventures With The Boy (Where Tarzan Played And Mastodon Died)

Lily and Owen and Jessie and I took off today for Wakulla Springs which is one of the most beautiful places in North Florida. Or maybe the entire world. I don't know.
But it is so lovely.
When I was pregnant with Lily I took Hank and May down to the springs several times a week at least, where I could get my huge self into the cold, clear water and float for a little while. That water is like ice and the hotter it is outside, the colder it feels. But even just a few good dips would make me more comfortable, cooler for hours. The water boils out of the spring at a rate of 200-300 million gallons a day. Yes. You read that right. It is, according to Wikipedia, "...the longest and deepest known submerged fresh water cave system in the world."
Right here. North Florida.
And people have been living on its banks for 12,000 years. They have found entire giant mastodon skeletons in its depths, one of which resides in a museum in downtown Tallahassee and which scared the living shit out of three-year old Downtown Guy once. He screamed when he came around a corner and saw that thing like I have never heard anyone scream before or since. It is pretty scary looking.

But just telling about water flow rates and mastodon skeletons doesn't begin to explain the glory of this place. It's a State Park now, and as such, is in danger of slipping away from us under our current Criminal Governor and Republican Legislature.
Okay. I don't want to talk about that.
I want to talk about an enchanted place which for now, is available to all visitors for six bucks a car load. There are the springs and you can swim in a roped off part, and there is a high dive where in the summer, kids line up, tossing around dares and shivering from their previous jumps and gathering their courage and closing their eyes, they leap off into space and flying and falling and tucking their legs close to their bodies, hit the water and sink and then rise to the surface to know rebirth.

I have never personally jumped off of it myself. I am not a jumper-into. I am a wader-into. But I watch kids do it and I think Mr. Moon has done it and a few of my kids too.
There are glass-bottom boat cruises like the ones you see above which float gently around the spring head and the operator of the boat calls to Henry, the jumping catfish. I have no idea how they train catfish, but they have, and Henry jumps.
Here are a school of mullet we saw- the protein which have kept the humans alive in this area for forever. They are delicious.

The spring forms the Wakulla River and flows eventually to the Gulf of Mexico and you can take a jungle boat cruise, which is one of my favorite things to do. I never tire of it. You'll see alligators basking on the banks and swimming in the river, looking for all the world like slow-drifting logs. There are cypress trees so old they were standing there when Jesus walked the Earth. Birds of all kinds. Here's an anhinga (snake bird) drying its wings on the other side of the spring head today.

There's something just so eternal and calming and reassuring about Wakulla Springs. I never fail to wonder what it looked like to the earliest people to come across it. Fish literally jumping from the clearest, coldest water on the continent and animals of all sorts come to drink from it, to eat from it.
So okay, there were and are gators and bears and every sort of poisonous snake known to mankind, but still...
I imagine children playing in the shallows, just as they do now, older kids jumping from the high branches of trees. I see people floating in dugouts, fishing for mullet and catfish, I see fires and smell the roasting fish. I see what must have been billions of stars in the clear bowl of sky above the spring when the sun had set and I can hear the gators bellowing, the frogs croaking, the wildcats screaming off in the jungle.
Can you imagine? Can you just imagine?

And here are Owen and Jessie and Lily, come to enjoy the springs the way I did before they were born, the way people have been doing for thousands and thousands of years.

So okay, maybe the path was not paved in those old, old days, but you know there had to have been a path.

Owen pointing to the water from the boat dock:

His mama carrying him into the water for the first time.

Lily and Jessie and my grandson went out to the floating dock and the girls laid in the sun while Owen played with the water in his bucket. I lounged on a quilt on the shore and read an article about Stephen Tyler and watched the people, the water, the sky. Three little kids were playing in inner tubes near the bank and they yelled at their mama and daddy: "Y'all coming in?"
"No," the parents said.
"Why are you smiling?" asked one of the kids. "Are you going to kiss? Are you going to go make-out?"
The parents laughed and so did I.

That's another thing people have probably always done by the banks of the Wakulla. Kissed. Made out. Made babies. What a lovely place to make a baby.

Speaking of, there's a lodge at the springs, built back in the thirties by Edward Ball, a very rich man. It's a hotel now and you can stay there and relax and maybe even make a baby if that's what you want to do. It's a slow and graceful place, stucco with a red-tiled roof, a huge fireplace in the lobby and a gracious old dining room. Here's the view from one of the arched windows in that room.

Look at that water. And yet, people pass up Wakulla Springs all the time to go to Disney World with its own jungle cruise where animatronic hippos bask in the man-made, cement-lined river.
Good. Let them go there. Let us keep our secrets here.

We had lunch in the dining room.They serve the best water and iced tea in the world there. In fact, the Nestle company has taken note of the purity and deliciousness of the water and wants to start pumping it out of the springs and bottling it and that's why I have the signs in my front yard that I do.

Okay. I don't want to talk about that either.

I'd rather talk about the lovely lunch we had.

Salads for us ladies and fried grouper and fruit for Owen.
While we were waiting for our food, I took Owen out to the lobby. Look at these beautiful cypress beams, painted by artists, commissioned by Ed Ball.

We also checked out Old Joe, an alligator in a glass box in the lobby. The sign tells the story.

"He never harmed or molested man, woman, child or pets."
He was murdered, y'all! Cold blooded murder! Which the killing of an alligator would rightly be.

One of my personal favorite Wakulla Springs stories is about the time I was on a Jungle Boat cruise and we came around a bend to find a dead deer being feasted on by a bunch of gators, ripping its flesh from its bones.
The tourists were horrified but I was delighted. FLORIDA! You can fucking try to tame it, but in the end, it's dog eat dog and gator eat Bambi.

After our very civilized lunch, Lily wanted to buy Owen an ice cream in the snack bar. And so she did. Owen however, was not in the least interested in dessert. But he was quite impressed by the cone and the ice cream within.

He took a few licks and then when we he went outside, he let the ice cream drop in a flower bed and proceeded to stick his fingers through the cone.
"Broke!" he announced, and then crumbled up the rest of it.

"Shit," said Lily. "Four dollars, completely gone to waste." Not completely. I did get that picture.

We were going to take the Jungle Cruise but it was so obviously time for Owen to take a nap and so we packed up and headed home. As always, when I leave the springs, I wonder why there is so much time between my visits.

Well. We went today. And I'll leave you with one more fact about Wakulla Springs. They filmed a few Tarzan movies there. Tarzan movies starring my very first boyfriend, Johnny Weismuller. Here's a picture that I have tacked up in my office.

Yes. Check out that loin cloth.

Supposedly, Wakulla means Land of Mysterious Waters in some native language.
That sums it up perfectly for me.
Land of ancient cypress, beautiful endless mysterious waters, bear and alligator, mullet and bird and turtle and catfish.

And Johnny Weismuller.

What more need I say?
It was a good day. A very, very good day. And Owen has been baptized in the mysterious waters of Wakulla and for a boy in North Florida, that is a rite of passage, and in my mind, one more step on the road to heaven.


  1. Awesome. Sounds like a fabulous day and one that you will treasure forever. Kyle and I had a pretty good day but not as cool as this. And thank you for the wonderful information as well. Have a good one, Ms. Moon.

  2. gawd i would Looooove to take my whole family there and meet up with your whole family and bask and eat and swim. gorgeous!

  3. I will have to go there some time. It looks way better than Disney world.

  4. Disney...what a rip off. I love you pictures of Wakulla Springs though. I would definitely choose it over those tourist traps.

    I had a mental picture of a mini-DTG screaming his head off when he saw that mastodon. I giggled.

    So how do they keep the gators out of the swimming area? I wouldn't want to end up like that deer.

  5. That's so great -- thank you for the tour. I've never heard of Wakulla Springs, but I wish that I'd visited it in my childhood. Maybe when i come visit you one day, you'll take me there?

  6. Indeed a lovely place to make a baby. It looks as good as a cold drink tastes on a hot day. Delicious.

  7. Beautiful! So interesting :)

  8. Yea, it is prefect and pristine. I hope we can keep it that way. The Tibetan Monks do their sand painting ceremony there and toss the finished product into the waters after praying over it. It's magnificent and I hope their prayers add a little extra protection for the waters and earth and animals in that place.

    That photo of Own with the ice cream cone is CRAZY cute! That face is just... I don't know WHAT the heck was on his mind, but it's hilarious!

    And Jessie looks beautiful in that hat. I'm so happy she likes it.

    I'm sure Owen and the gang will be back many many more times... maybe with Waylon and his parents too!


  9. I love, love this post. I remember commenting on your Weekie Watchie Springs post many moons ago how we too love the natural Florida and have never taken our kids to the Disneys and the Sea Worlds. We've said, "Do you want to stand in line for hours waiting for a ride with hundreds of other people or do you want to go to a hidden treasure and have a whole beach to yourself." Speaking of which, it is the outer islands of the Bahamas where we'd take them--like the islands that your friend Lis went to (although they are more built up now than before). We'll pass on Nassau and Paradise Island any day and instead go the "rougher" but no-fabrication route.
    I love your story of going to the springs with your little ones and now it is passed to the next generation.

  10. Sigh. One of my most favorite places on earth is Wakulla Springs. I enjoyed seeing it again through your lense and words very much. :)

  11. I loved this post. Thank you for today's field trip away from the office.

    I think Owen is more interested in Aunt Jessie than the damn ice cream. Laugh.

    I can't believe DTG was EVER afraid of ANYTHING.

    I love y'all.

  12. I love that place! I took my grandson there last year and we had the best time. If I hadn't brought home a tick between my toes, it would have been a perfect day!

  13. It's true, y'all. I saw that beast and every instinct I had said "YELL LOUD AND GET THE HELL AWAY".

    Oh, and here's Wakulla in 1870:

  14. Mr. Shife- Your boy would love it too. Maybe someday...

    Maggie May- Yes. It's one of those places where everyone can find something to love.
    Maybe some day?

    Syd- Cheaper too.

    Mel's Way- I am not sure how they keep the gators out but they do. And don't go swimming where you shouldn't- it does not end well.

    Elizabeth- Believe me, if you visit, I WILL take you there.

    Angie- You can drink it AND swim in it. Holy water.

    Jo- The pictures nowhere near do it justice.

    Petit Fleur- It is truly one of our blessings here.

    Michele R- You are smart.

    Nicol- I know you must miss that place. How could you not?

    Ms. Bastard-Beloved- Believe me. DTG was scared to DEATH over that mastadon. Yep, primal.
    Glad I could take you away for a moment.

    Lois- Ah, ticks. I get 'em in my yard.

    DTG- I couldn't find a good picture of the mastadon. But that one of Wakulla is awesome. Too bad they didn't have cameras 12,000 years ago, huh?

  15. Wow! Wakulla Falls looks amazing! I'd love to go. And lunch looks good.

    This cracked me up... "The tourists were horrified but I was delighted. FLORIDA! You can fucking try to tame it, but in the end, it's dog eat dog and gator eat Bambi."

    Brilliant. I love you xx

  16. There the O-boy is with his ice cream! I have gotten way behind, what with traveling across country here, and had to read down in order to connect this dot with your comment to me. It looks like you gals had a great outing to the Springs with the boy.

    Thanks, as always, for dropping by my place.
    x0x0 N2

  17. I stumbled upon your blog tonight. What a beautiful find. I loved hearing about your visit. Thank you for an awesome read. I'll be back to read more.

    Sandi Evans


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