Sunday, January 25, 2015

How to hide from the rain

The sky sounded hungry. 

A few half-hearted grumbles warned of thunder somewhere in the distance, but we were safe and ready to escape the rain. As if by magic, the dreary, grey sky gave way to blue, but the rain did not subside. Out of reach of the raindrops, I slowly submerged, feeling the first trickle of chilly spring water sneak through the zipper onto the back of my neck, sending chills down my spine.

The empty spring basin is reminiscent of a distant, watery planet in another galaxy. Bare limestone and fallen logs create a far away feeling as the sound of escaping bubbles fills my ears. In the empty silence between the each breath, I can barely make out the swishing sound of the raindrops in the dancing, shimmering sky overhead. Raindrops are plunging towards me, but they cannot reach me as my watery world wraps me up like a blanket.

I leave the dancing sky to enter the cavern, where the sky turns to limestone rock. Bubbles escaping to the surface are trapped in what appear to be upside down, reflective lakes. They create the illusion that the surface is not too far away. Which way is up?

The dim light from the two openings to the cavern creates an evening ambiance. All of a sudden it feels like dusk, and there is just enough light to drift towards the back of the cavern with a few effortless fin kicks. I peer over the drop-off to see Harry gliding 30 feet below. He is a dark shadow hovering near the grate, moving small lights around to paint the once-black walls with vibrant shades of greens, blues, and yellows. There appear to be fireflies at the back of the cavern as he moves around the small lights to set up the shot. But with the flick of a switch, it’s no longer nighttime in the cavern – it’s as if the sun has just risen. The whole back wall is illuminated and the cavern comes alive.

We move the lights to another part of the cavern where the reflective pools on the ceiling act as mirrors. A back corner of the cavern that was hidden in the black abyss is now full of illusions and brilliant blues.

And as we turn off the lights and make our way towards the entrance, it once again appears to be the middle of the night. The driving rain can easily be mistaken for one of the most beautiful arrays of stars I have ever seen, twinkling in a moonlit sky.

But when we surface, the sky is again grey and although the sun has not set, it is invisible, along with the stars that glowed in the sky only moments ago.

Beacon of hope for our springs?

This unforgettable afternoon of diving in the rain was absolutely gorgeous, but midway through writing this post, I shared a few of my photos on Ginnie Spring's Facebook page and found this historic photo. One of the biggest fears held by the people who experienced the springs in their former glory (and even people who can see some of the more pristine springs today) is that future generations will not understand or get to appreciate what a healthy spring is supposed to look like. (In fact, some people would argue it's already too late and that all springs have degraded). This idea is embraced in biology and ecology as "shifting baselines." These two photos, 44 years apart, will give you an idea of what I mean...

The entrance to the Ginnie Ballroom in 1971 - photo by Greg Fight. Ginnie Springs posted this on their Facebook page for "Flashback Friday" on 1/22/15.
...and 44 years later, the white box in the photo below, once filled with lush, green, native submerged aquatic vegetation, is a gorgeous blue void with no trace of the past:

The entrance to the Ginnie Ballroom in January 2015. The white box is the approximate location of the 1971 photo by Greg Fight. It's safe to say I didn't miss the vegetation by cropping my photo...
Is it too late to save our springs? And what is this saying about our groundwater (aka drinking water supply)?