People often say it's the feeling of paradise – a technicolor postcard manifested – that's so compelling about Florida. To me, that has always been a description left wanting.
Florida's enticement has always been more than its image of a neon, palm-laden escape. It's more about the way the sweat sticks on you on a late morning in November, yes, November, when you expect it the least and expect it the most. It's the way the humid air wiggles incomprehensibly above the oppressive asphalt roads. The ever-presence of Spanish moss. It's the people, the way they move – how slowly they move. When they don't move at all. The steady creep of wrinkles, brought on by the harsh Florida sun, around a Floridian's eyes full of those crazy sparkles that freak most other people out. It's their nature. Their unpredictability. A calm and a chaos in the way only a person who runs into the ocean waves as a hurricane arrives knows.
And yet, for me, it's still more than that. After a while, I realized what drew me to this place was not just the heat, its mother sun, the technicolor buildings and their equally colorful inhabitants.
It was the water.
It was the water in the lakes I grew up running around and jumping into. The water in the springs I so fondly remembered on day trips as a child and later as an adult. The ocean waves, rushing over my dad and sister when we were younger, on me as an adult returned. The water that, despite our treatment of it, is Florida's lifeblood.
In Florida, water is everywhere. Everything here – the people, the development, the nature of existence here – is connected to it. After all, Florida was once covered in water, and only through the slow drip of time has the peninsula emerged from its watery origins, now dappled with vibrant springs, winding rivers and lakes, and rimmed by the longest coastline in the contiguous United States.
Naturally, I wanted to further explore this revelation as a journalist. In an effort to pinpoint my ever-expanding curiosity with the water and its role here, I decided to choose one tributary to explore. After much thought, I chose the St. Johns River, a historically vital and important river that lies east of Orlando, where I live.
Over the past few months, I've started to explore the St. Johns, following the footsteps of such intrepid explorers such as Bill Belleville, the late writer whose eloquent book River of Lakes I'd recommend to anyone; Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings; Harriet Beecher Stowe; William Bartram; among others unsung.
As I was borne of Florida, and Florida was borne of water, it only makes sense to dive in.
I'm now developing a photo reportage series on the role of water in Florida through the lens of the St. Johns and, by extension, the relationship between people and place, a fraught bond that plays an outsize role in growing climate threats that threaten both. I'll be sharing more with you in the coming months.
With love and light,
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