art, literature, film and culture
Silver Glen Springs
You can bet that the Indians who lived around Silver Glen for over ten millennia had a rich oral account of the springs. But, this is lost to history. Our earliest written account comes from the American naturalist William Bartram, who wrote about Silver Glen Springs in a 1775 report to his benefactor. Bartram’s reports and journals were the first descriptions of what north Florida was like before the Europeans really got around to altering it, and they continue to interest layman and scientist alike. Bartram is also known for the quality of his botanical and ornithological drawings, which are prized by art collectors.
Silver Glen is mentioned again in Marjorie Rawlings’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel “The Yearling”, published in 1938. The following lovely excerpt, from Chapter One, takes Jody to the Silver Glen sand boil springs:
“He reached the thick-bedded sand of the Silver Glen road. The tar-flower was in bloom, and fetter-bush and sparkleberry. He slowed to a walk, so that he might pass the changing vegetation tree by tree, bush by bush, each one unique and familiar. …
The east bank of the road shelved suddenly. It dropped below him twenty feet to a spring. The bank was dense with magnolia and loblolly bay, sweet gum and gray-bearded ash. He went down to the spring in the cool darkness of their shadows. A sharp pleasure came over him. This was a secret and a lovely place.
A spring as clear as well water bubbled up from nowhere in the sand. It was as though the banks cupped green leafy hands to hold it. There was a whirlpool where the water rose from the earth. Grains of sand boiled in it. Beyond the bank, the parent spring bubbled up at a higher level, cut itself a channel to make a creek. The creek joined Lake George, Lake George was a part of the St. John’sRiver, the great river flowed northward and into the sea. It excited Jody to watch the beginning of the ocean. There were other beginnings, true, but this one was his own. He liked to think that no one came here but himself and the wild animals and the thirsty birds.”
Marjory’s prose is so beautiful, and her depiction of the landscape so palpable, that each time I read this I am transported back to this exceptional place. And things have not changed that much since Marjory’s time. So, if your heart occasionally aches for a journey like Jody’s, go to the sand springs. The sparkleberry, twisted fetterbush, bay and magnolia are all still there. And the sand springs? Why, they will last forever.
In 2005, I was lucky to journey 200 miles up the St. Johns River with the late Wes Skiles, the famed documentary film maker and champion of Florida’s springs. The purpose of the trip was to showcase the St. Johns River and examine threats to its health. We knew that no documentary about the river could be complete without going to at least one spring, and we had several to choose from. But Silver Glen was always at the top of our list.
Wes decided this would be the place to feature the aquifer, and what better way to do it than with a dive into an aquifer cave. Wes captured the sporting nature of the cave as well as its beauty, and, if you would like to see what the inside of the Floridan Aquifer looks like, get yourself a copy of “Waters Journey: The River Returns”. View a trailer here.
Around the turn of the century, Bill Belleville journeyed down the entire 310 mile length of the St. Johns River. His 2001 book, “River of Lakes”, explores many aspects of the river. It has been compared to Thoreau’s “Walden”, and captures the essence of the rivers’ remarkable history and value as a natural wonder. If you are interested in the river, and its springs, don’t miss this one.
Renowned artist Margaret Ross Tolbert published AQUIFERIOUS in 2010. Twelve North Florida Springs and the great aquifer that feeds them are featured in her beautiful book, which won the Florida Book Awards gold medal for non-fiction. AQUIFERIOUS includes photographs, artistic cave maps, essays and scientific articles from thirteen contributors that recount a world of extreme cave diving, history, literature and science. SilverGlenSprings is not among the featured twelve, but two of the Ocala National Forests’ other great springs, – the nearby Juniper and AlexanderSprings – are.
Cynthia Barnett’s 2007 book, “Mirage,” has been compared to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ “River of Grass”. Cynthia makes the case that America’s belief in a cheap and unlimited water supply is an illusion. This is a must-read for anyone who cares about water and the future of Florida.