Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sweet Water

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Sparkling jewel of the Ocala National Forest, Sweetwater Spring is tucked away on Juniper Creek. Unbeknownst to most people, there is a Forest Service cabin on the spring that is rented out year round (by lottery).  My friend, John Moran was lucky enough to win the first week of July this year and invited a group of buddies to enjoy it with him.  I felt most grateful to be there.

This trip was more for fun than serious photography, but I tried my hand at both.  The cave above is my novice attempt at underwater photography using my wife's little waterproof Pentax Optio.  The Challenge: could I, all in one breath, swim into the little caves of the spring vents without stirring up silt, get turned around, and then make a photo without my lungs demanding that I BREATHE NOW! in no uncertain terms?  Then there's Alan's photos:

Alan Youngblood, accomplished underwater photographer, arrived later with some cool gear.  "OK, I'll be the model", I almost insisted.  That's Alan's handywork above starring yours truly.

When it comes to partying, I am a major wimp. (Earplugs are the secret to successful sleep in a bunkroom of a party house/yard.)  The flipside is that I get to enjoy the peaceful early mornings while everyone else sleeps... well, almost everyone.  Bruce Day was just pushing off his kayak when I got down to the spring the first morning. An early solo paddle up Juniper took me to Ledge Spring (above) in lovely misty light.  Ahhh, I really get juiced by places like this.  This silky springwater is the fountain of youth in Florida's summer heat.  Mmmm.
I left earlier the next morning for a much longer paddle upstream to "rapids"!  (Juniper Creek does not have rapids... except during big droughts like now, so this was a MUST SEE.)  The roar preceded the view.  Then, there it was, a class-one-fourth whitewater rapid.  Walking my kayak up the slippery rocks, I finally came to this rock ledge (above) at the top of the banged shins, lost paddle, broken wrists, or dunked equipment so far. Whew.  After making my photo, I paddled a bit further before turning back for breakfast.  Juniper Creek is amazing, but NOT an easy paddle for the novice -- as was evidenced by some of the paddling passersby at Sweetwater. Lots of twists and snags and swirling water to bully the newbies.  We had a wayward woman and her two youngsters dragging an icechest up the Sweetwater spring run in search of help after her man abandoned her because 'the canoe wasn't working right.'

Blasting down the bumpy-watered rapid (with full camera gear in my kayak) was a thrill... now I'm really awake. My day for dumping will come, but not this day.
Bruce Day (above) knows and loves this Creek better than anyone.  Saturday evening he led a small group of us up to a secret spring he had discovered years earlier, which he calls Vortex in Space and Time (below).  On the way we stopped at Nine Palm Island and the nearby hollow cypress tree. Four of us managed to cram into its sensual opening.  John tried to get in as well, but it was not possible, especially with the camera timer counting down ten...nine...eight... so he gave up and made this photo (below).  Then, there's the goofy-looking Tree Gnome -- my big head in major wide angle lens distortion. Despite our irreverent playing around, both the tree and the secret spring felt sacred.  It took Bruce years to come upon these and his other hallowed treasures along the Creek.  Thanks for the special tour, BDay.  It was worth missing seeing the bear near the cabin.
The other treasure we found at Sweetwater was the camaraderie in this gathering of men  --  two Johns, Mitch, Alan, two Bruces, three Davids, Mike, Gene, Ed, Doug, Steve, Gary, George, Chip, and probably others who arrived after I left on Sunday. Rich in thought and wisdom, lively talk and funny stories, open hearts and generous spirits, daring stunts, fabulous food, and beautiful music -- the weekend was really joyful for me.  Thanks John, and all of you. Here are a few of the men.
Sad to leave the gang at the spring, but my parents were staying nearby.  So for the Grand Finale of the holiday weekend, I went to Cocoa Beach for some great family time.  Ron Jon's put on an outstanding fireworks show over the Atlantic.


jonmoy said...

DAVID, This wonderful show of your photos has left me speechless for the appropriate words ...the week before you came to Cocoa Beach must have been really great fun with your other photo friends; But the other shots, the abstract closeups and compositions deserve showing in some of the top art galleries of the world..Its a shame so many people will not be aware of them and will miss seeing them. And your poetic well written blogs. I am very impressed, David, and proud to be your father. I love you! Dad

Linda Hall said...

David, Your photographs are beautiful...they seem to have an elemet of magic.

sasquatch said...

What a great trip. Fifty-something looks good on all those dudes, probably because they spend time in places like that.

Eric Zamora | Qivana said...

I love your photos and writings, David. Having spent some time with you and John, and many in that a superb group, I know what I missed not being at Sweetwater. It makes me work that much harder on my path. In the meantime, I'll live through you. I love the mysticism surround the "Vortex of Space and Time" the early morning forays onto the river while everyone else slept. I'd be right there with you, my friend.

Susan in FL said...

You are in your element at last
Susie said...

Just stumbled across these while gazing at Moran's "Then and Now" online. Thanks, They are filled with Florida magic. And it's heartening to see a group of people who have been touched by it.

David Moynahan said...

Thanks for all the comments and kind words.

Unknown said...

Hello David, I had the pleasure of staying at Sweetwater Cabin about a decade ago. I have been camping and canoeing the Juniper run since the seventies. Thought I knew every nook and cranny of that run. Never heard of 'Ledge Spring' though. Can you help a fellow photographer and nature lover out? Where is this spring off the Juniper run? Thanks! Don