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Escape to Blue Spring

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

I'm writing this on a dreary Ohio evening. I've just returned from a four-mile run and a singing session in the Waxler Church at twilight. It's the most I can do to fight the gloom. The boys are at a StupidBowl party, something that is frankly so far down on my scale of Appealing Things that it's flatlining. I'm wondering if I can conjure a little of the magic of the day Liam and I threw our suitcases and backpacks in the car, wound down through the hamlet of Bonn, Ohio, where we spotted a cat verrrry high up in a tree. I think this is one of those situations where it's a lot easier to run up than to ooch your way down...yiiiikes! I do not envy that kitty. But trust it got back down...they usually do.

 We fought our way through a sudden snowstorm to Canton/Akron airport 

sat on a Southwest jet for 2.5 hours, rented a car in Orlando, and headed to Blue Springs State Park for the final 45 minutes of the day before night fell.

I'm glad I didn't look at the map before embarking on our journey, because in no way is Blue Springs on the way to Titusville, as I had imagined. All I knew is I wanted to show my boy some manatees.

In that, we were not disappointed.

Consider the contrast between the monochrome, frigid world we inhabit, and the limpid, 72-degree turquoise green waters of Blue Spring. We certainly did. 

Liam shrugged into shorts and I rolled up my pants and peeled off layers of shirtage
and we walked with bare arms! in the evening warmth.

Gazing into the water, we watched the manatees gently lolling, rising every so often to exhale, phaaaaaa! and inhale.... thwipp!

and it all had such a surreal quality that we couldn't stop sighing along with the enormous placid sirenians.

I set about trying to get photos of their nostrils and eyes because let's face it, the rest of the manatee is but a vast and beautiful expanse of gentle blubber, ending in paddles

I squealed when I got this shot because it shows the nostrils slamming shut.

Let's have a closer look.

and that my dears is about all the spout you're going to get out of a manatee. I wish I could have gotten a better photo of the eye, because the eyelids close more like a sphincter than lids. Hard to describe, but the eye looks like it's at the center of a many-petaled flower or a star. It's beautiful.

before she sounds in the four-foot depths of this warm spring. The manatees are here for the geothermal upwelling which warms the water to a constant 72 degrees year round.

The fish like it, too.

Most prominent: the invasive exotic blue tilapia, Oreochromis aureus, native to Israel and escaped from fish farms and distributed throughout the Deep South and Central America now. I hadn't known the tilapia was a member of the cichlid family (the darlings of aquariists). I have eaten my share of them, especially in Central America. Pretty good eating, but a bit mucky-tasting to my palate. 

A common snook, Centropomis undecimalis. A native predatory fish, prized as a gamefish. It did look a bit lurky there. 

Longnose gar, Lepisosteus osseus. Gar are super cool looking fish, also predaceous and well-armed with snaggly teeth.

I stared at this one for a long time, and couldn't make it out to be anything but a pacu, which I recognized from my hours of staring into aquariums. Pacus are large tetras (charachins) native to South America. (Piranhas are also charachins.) I understand that in Papua New Guinea, these hefty fish have been known to rise up and neatly remove the testicles of skinny-dippers. One would presume that, in these fruit and nut-eating fish, this is a case of mistaken identity. Or a semantic error.

That has got to be terrible. Fatal, even. Eeesh! Wear your swim trunks!

Speaking of dangerous, we found this gentleman moored to the shore, trying to look like a sodden log.

Our first gator of the trip, a nice big'un. We would see many more, since the weather would be near perfect the whole week. Ahhhh thank you Florida. I understand it was craptastic the two weeks before our visit. Sometimes you just get lucky.

Like when you catch a manatee yawning, or something. No. It couldn't be yawning underwater. 

Maybe it's laughing. Yeah, that's it. Making pacu jokes. Get a load of those papillae. I have been honored to be mawed by young captive manatees in Brasil, and I can tell you that the suction power of that velvety mouth is awesome.  I tried to stay in front of the molars...which reminds manatee on my Bite List? 

I felt very lucky not only to see manatee lips, but to finally be SLEEVELESS, and best of all to have a traveling companion for the week like Liam. Someone who can dig the scene with me, who makes me laugh. I'm grateful that his school doesn't object when we occasionally yank him out for travel and enrichment. Better than throwing a pinata to the elephants. They know he's going to learn a ton of things Ohio can't teach him. Like about pacus. He just ran out of the studio, doubled over. Keep 'em thinking, my dad always said.

Far too soon, the sun sank on Blue Spring, and we turned toward dinner and Titusville.

We heard cricket music, the sweet exhalations of manatees in the gathering dark. And we were so glad to be in Florida. On the way into Titusville, we stopped to find Comet Lovejoy in the inky sky. I found it in a matter of seconds, having learned where it was back home, shivering in the cold. We got back in the car and hadn't gone 100 yards down the road when a huuuge orange fireball exploded into the sky. I'd never seen anything like it. I thought I'd seen my first UFO.  We finally realized that they must've launched a rocket from Canaveral. Atlas 5, with a Navy communications satellite on baord. And we were in the perfect place to observe the launch. Our trip was starting most auspiciously.


Julie, it was such a pleasure to meet you and Liam! I hope you come back with your whole family during the summer months when you can snorkle and tube our FL springs. No manatee in the springs then, but otter are often seen, often cutting through swimming areas at Blue Springs. For a manatee fix you can revisit Blackpoint Drive and Merritt Island, where they can be found during warmer seasons. Hoping our blue skies stay with you until springtime. :)

Posted by Gail Spratley February 3, 2015 at 9:06 AM

A wonderful travelogue to read today, after digging a path through 1' of snow to get to my bird feeders. Thank you for the sunshine and warmth!

Thanks for sharing your adventure to Blue Springs. We may be moving to St Augustine soon and it's on my list of must do exploring. Not sure how I feel about the lurking gator, but manatee - what's not to love.

We have about 4 springs, (probably more) named "Blue Springs", but you definitely picked the right one.

I like your snook, a saltwater fish who probably swam into the St. Johns River mouth away up north in Jacksonville and then swam south and into toasty Blue Springs.

More, More Florida!!!

We got manatee as well but the photo ops just don't compare.
Nice to see ya'll down there.

A magical experience of my youth was canoeing at Blue Springs (not sure if one can still do such things). Floating around in our wee craft with the occasional manatee surfacing nearby--something to remember after thirty-plus years.


Wonderful photos of Blue Springs, one of my favorite spots. Thank you!

Posted by Rae Karen Hauck February 4, 2015 at 8:15 AM

How I envy you hearing cricket music. It's will be a long slog before Cleveland hears the sweet sound!

Posted by Anonymous February 4, 2015 at 3:18 PM

My vet said, "There are no cat skeletons in trees".
I have never posted here before, but am a loyal BWD subscriber. Here in NM, it was almost 70 and sunny today. Not tropical, though.

Posted by Anonymous February 7, 2015 at 7:09 PM

[I just call that game "the Supperbowl" because it is really all about snacks and drinks... :( ]

Did you see any of those laid back southern barred owls? We were thrilled to have them sit in front of us in daylight, lazily blinking an eye and ignoring us at close range.

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