River of Dreams · Fireflies
on the Ichetucknee
The Evolution of a Photograph
Sometimes I lie awake at night and think
about the ceaseless flow of the miracle we call Ichetucknee
Springs. Even as we sleep, the river is always out there,
silently yielding its gift; a daily offering of two hundred
million gallons of life-giving water flowing onward to the
sea. In my mind's eyefrom the comfort of my bedI
often journey to the springs, alone in the dark, to relive
in memory the experience of being at the sacred river.
The Ichetucknee has long been heralded
as Florida's most pristine river, but in recent years a dramatic
spike in the level of nitrates in the groundwater feeding
the springs has fueled the growth of noxious algae, a thick
sludge that is choking native river grass and upsetting a
delicate balance of flora and fauna thousands of years in
the making. The sacred river is polluted. Fertilizer from
farms and homes, animal waste, stormwater runoff, failing
septic tanks and Lake City's municipal wastewater spray field
have all been implicated. Public awareness is rising, and
a river awaits a solution.
Early in 2006, at the invitation of the
river advocacy group Save Our Suwannee, I presented a program
at Lake City Community College to show in pictures and discuss
the changes I've seen on the Ichetucknee in the past 20 years.
I spent a week on the river in advance of the program, making
new pictures to add to my archival edit.
By nature I'm an optimistic person. I've
long believed that you tend to find in life what you look
for, and I've found few places in Florida that have inspired
me like the Ichetucknee. It was my time spent here twenty
years agodays of wonder and gratitudethat set
me on the path of photographing natural Florida with real
But my days of bliss and beauty on the
Ichetucknee have become an exercise in painful avoidance;
a calculated effort to selectively focus on the remaining
beauty of the river. And to be sure, there is still plenty
to celebrate here, but I have adapted by composing most of
my recent pictures on the river with an eye to eliminating
the algae and the sludge that reminds me of the problems of
the world beyond the boundary of my favorite state park.
Which brings us to the photograph I've
titled River of Dreams/Fireflies on the Ichetucknee, the culmination
of several trips to the river in the spring of this year.
A gushing pulse of water rises audibly
at Mill Pond Spring; it ripples and boils, dances and retreats;
quickly joining the flow of the gathering river downstream.
Alone and in awe, I am mesmerized by the scene, but it's time
to get to work.
Standing in the water, late afternoon
sunlight dapples through a veil of tall oaks. I compose the
picture, instinctively moving closer to the spring boil. I
shoot, and consider the photograph I've made. Not bad, but
hardly a picture that conveys to the eye what I feel in my
heart. I wonder how the water would look if the sun was an
hour higher in the sky, reflecting directly off the boil.
A week later, a late-season cold front
delivers a flawless blue sky. Returning to the river, I wait
and watch as a blazing sun drops into position, neatly punctuating
an opening in the tree canopy. The roiling water comes alive,
the intense light almost painful to behold. A million molten
diamonds skitters across the scene. Sweet!
Still, I want more. In a state overflowing
with incredible water, this is a scene of uncommon beauty.
I decide to attempt a picture of beauty beyond words, a visual
love letter to my River of Dreams. And I want the picture
to include fireflies, those bioluminescent bits of childhood
wonder that I hope will bring the finishing touch to my night
Two weeks later, I'm back at Mill Pond
again. After sunset, and cast in a new light, the water has
softened and the diamonds have morphed into silk, yielding
new layers of luminous beauty.
Night settles in and the fireflies begin
their flickering dance in the woods. Rising at my feet, the endless gushing waters of a living planet complete the seduction. Once again, the river affirms that magic still
happens in the dark.
River of Dreams • Fireflies on the Ichetucknee
here to download this photo as wallpaper)