Exhibit shows that time is running short for springs


Published: Sunday, March 24, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, March 22, 2013 at 12:08 a.m.

John Moran has a time machine.

And you ought to take yourself over to the Florida Museum of Natural History to see what he's done with it.

As might be expected of such a wonderous contraption, it will make you gasp with wonder. It will fill you with awe.

And it should make you angry as well.

Because John Moran's time machine makes it perfectly clear that time is running out for Florida's fragile and much-abused springs.

Some of them are already dead or dying, and most of the rest are flowing on borrowed time.

Moran is a former Sun photographer who left the newspaper business to pursue his real passion: capturing images of natural Florida.

For more than 30 years, John has used his lens and his keen eye to reveal nuances and dimensions of our lush, green state that few of us ever take the time or trouble to notice for ourselves. His signature photo of Alachua Sink at night, illuminated by the light of his flash as reflected in the glowing eyes of scores of gators, is a classic.

But Moran's camera is a time machine as well.

For three-plus decades Moran has been taking photos of Florida's great springs — Weekie Watchee, Itchetucknee, Ginnie, Silver, Peacock and the rest. And the images he's preserved over the progression of time clearly show once-pristine blue water boils gradually growing murky and sterile under the twin assaults of groundwater over-pumping and nutrient pollution.

Which is why you need to see Moran's “Springs Eternal” exhibit currently on display at the Florida State Museum. It is photographic documentation of the decline of Florida's great springs.

And these pictures don't lie.

Contemplate Moran's images of Ichetucknee circa 1988, 2006 and 2012. If the photographic evidence of its degradation doesn't break your heart, you have no heart.

Then look at his “before and after” images of Peacock Springs and ponder the shameful evidence of our neglectful stewardship. Or contemplate the devolution of Gainesville's own Glen Springs from sparkling community swimming pool to something resembling an urban cesspool.

“But this isn't just about grief and anger,” Moran, ever the optimist, says. “This is also about hope. Because many of our springs are still in relatively good shape, and there is still time to save them.”

I hope he's right. But absent a vigorous public demand that our politicians begin to take seriously their responsibility as environmental stewards, the degradation of natural Florida is bound to continue.

Which is why you really ought to make it your business to see Moran's exhibit. And then call your state legislators and tell them to take a stand for clean water.

By the way, Moran's exhibit is one of a handful in Gainesville dedicated to the miracle of Florida's water. All are keyed to this year's 500th anniversary celebration, and to “La Florida” discoverer Ponce de Leon's legendary search for the Fountain of Youth.

Also at the Florida Museum of Natural History is “Finding The Fountain of Youth.” This arresting collection of graphic displays by Orlando artist Rick Kilby depict the many ways entrepreneurs and hucksters have used the fountain myth to lure tourists, make money and spur development.

Of special interest are 19th century posters touting the sulfur-laced waters of White Springs as a cure for “rheumatism, kidney and bladder troubles.”

Whether or not the “cure” actually worked is academic now. That once fabled spring on the banks of the Suwannee River dried up and died long ago.

Also, beginning March 29, the Thomas Center Gallery and the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center will jointly present “The Fountains of Youth,” a collection of more than 60 works of art celebrating the glory of Florida's springs.

And on April 22, Santa Fe College will host “Of Thirst, Beauty and Vision: Writing to Save Our Water,” which will feature readings by local authors Cynthia Barnett, Jack E. Davis, Margaret Ross Tolbert and Lola Haskins.

It is not difficult to imagine that when Ponce de Leon first set his foot on La Florida, its still untainted springs — bursting from the ground cold and blue and crystal clear as if propelled by magic — surely did convey the impression of eternal life.

If only life would imitate art, we may yet manage to preserve some vestiges of Florida's real Fountains of Youth.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun.

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