Sunday, December 13, 2015

Splashed -- Reflections on TEDx Jacksonville 2015

Usually, getting splashed is no big deal. I spend 50% of my time thinking about water and the other 50% actually in the water -- but above water, I’m not known for my grace.

X marks the spot. [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Pacing in the bright, mirror-lined prep room before my talk at TEDxJacksonville, I walked back and forth, rehearsing from memory the carefully chosen words I had spoken countless times to my living room wall, as worries swam through my mind. Taking one last swig of water, perhaps to wash away the butterflies, I managed to spill it all over the front of my shirt… probably a subconscious attempt to disappear underwater instead of marching out onto the giant red X-shaped stage waiting for me in the other room. Not to mention the 300+ pairs of eyes and the live-streaming cameras. Can I trade these high-heeled wedges for flippers and swim away? The thought crossed my mind.

But instead, Jordan Edelheit walked in, a contagious smile spread from ear to ear. Earlier that day, she had delivered an absolutely incredible talk -- powerful, killer stage presence, and hugely inspirational. She started TEDxOhioState while she was an undergrad and went on to create TEDxMarionCorrectional -- the first TEDx to be held in a prison. Totally badass.

At face value, the subjects that brought me and Jordan to this small room seemed worlds apart: she spoke of empathy and the amazing connections she was able to make with incarcerated men, people with whom she seemed to have very little in common with at first… and I spoke of the cavernous world beneath our feet and the power of underwater photography to reconnect us to our fragile freshwater. Similarities between our subjects weren’t exactly obvious.

Yet there we stood, laughing as she fanned my shirt, somehow quite successfully drying most of the water I had poured all over myself. If I were her, I probably would have doubted this fish out of water, but instead, she unwaveringly encouraged me, told me I was going to be amazing. I smiled, and honestly tried to believe her.

And instead of walking out of the room nervous and soaking wet, I walked out dry and happy, feeling confident and inspired. I walked out and realized that the most important thing each of us brought wasn’t our individual “idea to change the world” but rather our passion and camaraderie. We not only shared our ideas but supported each other, learned from each other, and in the process, found ourselves another family.

2015 TEDxJacksonville speakers... so thankful for this wonderful new family! [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Every speaker who stepped on stage before me inspired me, and made me realize that standing on the big X wasn’t so scary after all. And when I (carefully) walked up the steps onto the stage with no mask and snorkel, no giant underwater camera to hide behind, I looked out at the audience and the amazing TEDx team and saw not an intimidating group of people, but rather a group that was interested, on the edge of their seats, engaged. I saw a group that wanted me to succeed, who encouraged me with their nods, smiles, and looks of shock when I showed the algae-laden spring. I felt like they were there with me in the caves, swimming beside me in the spring basin, and dipping their toes in the chilly water by my side.

"Our connection to these springs is not always apparent. In fact, most Floridians have never seen a spring. Here you can see areas of high population density in red, and low in green. And the blue dots represent Florida's major springs... But just because we cannot always see the springs does not mean that we are not impacting them, and they us."  
[Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
In the months leading up to the event, and the incredible day itself, I learned so much more than how to write, memorize, and deliver a 12-minute talk without notes. I learned more than how to share my idea about the power of underwater photography to reconnect us to our fragile freshwater. Above all, I learned the power of those who believe in you, the importance of surrounding yourself with people who are better than you, and who, in the process, make you better.

Thank you all for your continued support, inspiration, for keeping me afloat, and perhaps for drying me off when I’m unexpectedly splashed. And thank you to the TEDx team: fellow speakers, speech coaches, organizers, website builders, social media & tech support (ALL of whom are volunteers!!!), for your guidance and for this invaluable opportunity -- you have changed my world.


You can watch my talk, "Illusions: a lens into our fragile freshwater," on the TEDx Talks YouTube Channel. And you can view all of the talks from TEDxJacksonville 2015 here. You can also find a brief summary of the event on the TEDxJacksonville website. Photos from the event are on the TEDxJacksonville Flickr page.

"But there is hope."
[Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
Thank you to the Female Nature Photography group for sharing my talk, as well as the Florida Springs Institute, not to mention the countless others who have helped spread the word via social media. I truly appreciate every comment, share, and view, because a change in our water ethic will involve all of us... together we can create a brighter, and bluer, future for Florida.

And last, but not least, thank you to my family, who tuned in from all over New England, thank you to my parents, who traveled all the way from Rhode Island to cheer me on, and thank you to Greg, who heard me rehearse the speech countless times in the living room, at the kitchen table, and underneath my breath at all times of day and night.

My 2 favorite guys. [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]
My parents meet some other amazing attendees early in the morning... my mom is even sporting her springs-themed attire!  A huge shoutout to them for always supporting me, and for making the trek from RI :) [Photo by TEDxJacksonville]

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Takk fyrir

The thick Icelandic wind warned of winter. It harshly dried my tears, which had fallen in endless waterfalls down my cheeks like the powerful waters of Gullfoss.

The wind brought on chills, shivers, uncontrollable shaking. The damp earth where we laid slowly stole my warmth. A distant red-roofed farmhouse stood in stark contrast to the dramatic mountains, decorating the valley where we crashed. It appeared to be a picture perfect scene from a movie, and I felt as if I were in one, or perhaps in a distant dream. Somebody wake me up.

Four thousand miles from home, but close to each other, we laid in the grass, whipped irreverently by the relentless wind. We were insignificant obstacles in its path towards the angry ocean at the base of the nearby cliffs.

We laid and we waited. Laura ran down the road to find help as we hung on to the hope that someone would drive by. Anyone.

Time did not seem to move forward. Worse case scenarios ran through my mind. I don’t remember how long we waited, but I soon felt a gentle touch and caught a glimpse of white hair as it touched my cheek, soft like silk. A calming, motherly voice said hello; she said her name was Sue. She told me it was going to be okay… so I believed her.

Faces blurred in and out of view, blankets piled on top of us, rocks placed around the edge of the blankets to keep them from joining the torrents of the wind. People held cushions to barricade the harsh wind, building a fort around our sprawled bodies.

More people arrived and the wind soon carried foreign words, worried tones. Minutes felt like hours and strangers became friends as we learned the language of expression, tone, and smiles. Kind gestures speak volumes.

Our eyes tried so hard to close, but Sue’s words kept us awake. In a friendly Toronto accent, she and her husband Dave asked us about our trip, asked us our names, and constantly reassured us it would be ok. We weren’t sure what to believe, but we nodded, still fighting the urge to sleep.

Magni joined Sue. He was driving from Ísafjörður to Reykjavik to visit his daughter when he saw the remnants of our van and stopped to help. While we waited for the ambulance, he taught us the longest word in Icelandic: Vaðlaheiðarvegavinnuverkfærageymsluskúraútidyralyklakippuhringur.

Magni’s smile came in and out of view as he taught us various Icelandic phrases and brought blankets and more barriers from the wind. Others stopped to help, braving the devastating wind to collect our belongings and help the other four in our group. We got word that Fiona couldn’t move.


I still now have flashes of flipping – as I fall asleep, I am often awaken suddenly by the feeling before we rolled, my heart racing. I can vividly remember the moment, frozen in time, when I knew we were going to die… and also the moment when the chaos came to a halt and we somehow didn’t.

Just moments before the crash, we stopped to admire the majestic Icelandic horses. I marveled at their resilience, picturing them in the dead of winter, eyelashes covered in ice, hooves in the deep white snow.

Just moments before, I ran back to the RV, sprinting up the middle of the wide-open road, tiptoes touching the double yellow lines, every step pushing me through the strong wind, feeling energized, blissful, free.

I grew up longing for wind and lived by it for years of competitive dinghy sailing. We called ourselves sailors, but I now realize we were really acrobats of the wind. We jumped, hung, and balanced in the boat, every precise movement carried out with calculated grace. And we did all of this while reading the wind, analyzing every pattern on the water, preparing for what we anticipated it would do next. Many metaphors relate sailing to life, but for me, sailing was life. We lived by, and for, the wind.

But all sailors also know that the wind can be challenging, unpredictable, unforgiving.

When our RV emerged from behind the wind shadow of a mountain in Iceland’s West Fjords, a damaging gust violently threw us off the road.

There are simply no words to describe the feelings moments after the accident, besides perhaps pure shock. I had no idea what had happened or how many times we rolled, or where I had been when it happened.

We screamed for each other, cries drowned by the roaring wind. It lets up for nothing.

Some of us emerged from the rubble. Fiona had been thrown from the van as it tore into pieces during the roll. Greg’s face was painted red with blood. It wasn’t until 2 hours later that I realized I suffered a bad concussion.

We found each other and fell to the ground next to the van. The wind instantly ripped the roof and sides from the RV, sending them flying like pieces of flimsy cardboard, across the field and into the roaring ocean below.

Photo by Jennah Caster

It’s amazing how something can be so horrific and traumatic, yet so beautiful. We experienced the kindness and generosity of total strangers – in a foreign land, we felt like family.

A helicopter came for Fiona, and Magni graciously offered a few of us a ride back to Reykjavik – the ambulances from the west fjords didn’t go to the hospitals in the capital. It was the longest 2-hours of my life, but along the way Magni made it a bit better as he pointed out various landmarks and told us their names, and often a little story. He shared with us his love for his gorgeous country as we drove by scenery that looked unreal – this simply added to the dream-like, dazed, and shocked feeling of the whole endeavor. But as he taught us more complex, yet beautiful, Icelandic words, we realized that there was really only one word we wanted to learn: thank you. “Takk fyrir,” he said. It took us quite a few tries and I’m not sure we ever mastered it, but Magni smiled.

I have eternal gratitude for the people, both local Icelandic citizens and other travelers who, selflessly and without hesitation, went out of their way to help us both at the scene of the accident and throughout the difficult days that followed.

In a world so often full of negative news – from natural disasters and war to sadness, tragedy and devastation – this was a beautiful reminder of the compassion and kindness that still exists. It’s also a reminder of the fragility of life, how everything can change in seconds.

Just as we will never forget the gust, the shock, the trauma, and the tears, we will also never forget the incredible people, once strangers, who now hold a special place in our hearts. To those who we will never see again, to those who we did not officially meet and we never learned your name, to those who took the time to comfort us, help us heal, and make it back to our own home: Takk fyrir.

For more details about the accident, see Patrick's Facebook post and for photographs of our adventures during the 10 amazing days in Iceland before the accident, check out @Waterlust & @jmadler.

A photo posted by @goingowengone on

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Springs Take Center Stage

This Saturday afternoon (10/24), I will be one of 12 speakers at TEDxJacksonville's 2015 event "Into The Machine." I will share a talk titled "Illusions: A lens into our fragile freshwater." Basically, my "idea worth spreading" (the take-home "nugget" of every TED or TEDx talk) is that underwater photographs can help reconnect us to our threatened freshwater. I will take the audience on a tour of the underwater world that has captured my heart, from sparkling spring bowls to the winding aquifer hidden beneath our feet. I will tell you more of the details on Saturday, don't want to give too many away yet!

To my friends and family in far away places -- if you don't have a ticket, don't worry! The talk will be live-streamed at; you can click on this link between 10 am and 6 pm on Saturday (10/24) and watch from the comfort of your home... or perhaps on your cell phone while you're out and about. If you happen to be in Jax, you can also join viewing parties at the University Park Branch Library or the Webb Wesconnett Branch Library. My talk is part of the last session of the day, which will run from 4:30-5:50 pm EST, but I highly recommend checking out the live-stream at other times throughout the day, because the diverse line up of speakers and performers is incredible!

A tiny preview of the 12 speakers, as listed on the TEDx Jacksonville's website ( There are also 4 musical performances that will take place throughout the day and bios of the performers are listed on the same TEDx Jax page, just below the speaker bios.
I am incredibly grateful to the amazing team of volunteers at TEDx Jacksonville who have worked countless hours over the past months and have been so supportive throughout this entire creative process -- from developing and fine-tuning my message and idea, communicating this idea in a way that is coherent and understandable to a diverse audience, and now practicing to the point where I fall asleep every night reciting it in my mind. It is because of their generosity and dedication that this event is possible, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of the training, coaching, and sharing of ideas that has been ongoing since July. I am excited to let the springs take center stage and to have the opportunity to share my favorite underwater world with a wider audience. I look forward to hearing from the other speakers and performers and to writing more thoroughly about the entire TEDx Jacksonville experience after it's done -- now to get back to practicing!

Thank you all for your continued support!

A lens into our fragile freshwater...

Friday, July 24, 2015

Stolen Stars

As the sun set, shivers set in. We had just surfaced from a dive in the Ballroom and the damp neoprene and soggy booties weren't doing us any favors. 

A cloudy, grey night obscured the moon, leaving no hope for any stars. But we knew where to find them. 

For now, we had them bottled up. The stars, that is. The back of the car glowed until Bre took the bottled up stars and tucked them into the pocket of her drysuit. We geared up and headed for a new galaxy - but instead of heading for outer space, we plunged into the depths of the aquifer.

We each found a safe spot amongst the limestone boulders in the vast, underwater cavern and signaled large circles with our lights to let each other know that we were okay. With the flick of a switch, the last light was extinguished and total darkness ensued.

Before the stars emerged, it was impossible to tell if my eyes were open or closed. There was no distant city glow, no moon faintly shining through a thin layer of clouds. There were no dim streetlights, no headlights. Simply no light at all. Somehow, the darkness was comforting - it wrapped me in a black, watery cloak and suspended me, weightless in an empty room. 

But just as soon as my eyes come to terms with the total and complete darkness, a glow emerges below. The stars have been released.

Galaxy Dive
Friday night lights. [don't forget to click the HD button on the bottom right ;)]~~~There is nothing like a galaxy dive (except, I imagine, being an astronaut!). Thanks to Narked Scuba for an awesome night!
Posted by Jennifer Adler Photography on Saturday, July 18, 2015
A colorless cavern is transformed into a glowing, otherworldly landscape. It's a mix of the Milky Way and a giant cloud of fireflies. The invisible water flows furiously from the cave below, carrying the shimmering stars like a swift night wind.

Shooting stars are too numerous to count.
In this galaxy, shooting stars are too numerous to count. They ride the current and dance in our bubbles, some staying suspended in what appears to be thin air and others falling to blanket the sandy bottom.

Stars streak through the cavern and settle to the limestone floor. A tiny diver's silhouette is dwarfed by the cavernous underworld.
I reach back and squeeze Greg's arm - sometimes I dream I can breathe underwater but this appears to be real. He squeezes back, but there are no words underwater. We hover, speechless but not silent - each exhale pushes a stream of bubbles that grumble like thunder as they push through the limestone crevices in the sky. Soon, the stars fade, as if storm clouds followed the grumbles of thunder and extinguished the underwater stars.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Where Turtles Can Fly

There is a place on earth where turtles can fly…

… and you can too.

It’s a place where feet flock to hide from the heat of the sweltering summer, 

…and where some take refuge from the winter’s chill.

It is a place to relax and destress,

...and to explore the intersection of two worlds.

It is a calming green paradise, replete with swaying Sagitteria, 

... and an abundance of diverse vegetation that serves as a habitat for a fishes and invertebrates.

It is a place where reflective illusions play tricks on your mind,

... where some come to dream in a storm of blue,

... and others come to study what happens just beneath the surface.

This impossibly clear water is not only a haven and a laboratory but also a reminder of what lies beneath. It's a little glimpse of the invisible aquifer beneath our feet: the fragile source of water that sustains our daily lives. 

This, and so much more, is Gilchrist Blue Spring. And it's for sale.

Words and photographs will never do justice to this amazing place, but we can try, and I hope to help by sharing these photographs and accompanying words that are all inspired by Blue's refreshing waters. I hope that you will take the plunge at Blue Spring and fall deeply in love for yourself. And I hope that you will also take action to help Blue become a Florida State Park. This Friday, June 19, 2015, the Acquisition and Restoration Council will meet in Tallahassee to consider the spring as a state park. Please sign this petition to help them reach their goal of 750 signatures: 

...and please see this informative post by Our Santa Fe River for more information about sending an email to the council on behalf of Blue Spring. It's the least we can do to thank Blue for all that she so generously offers us through her inspirational and relaxing waters. Thank you so much for taking the time and for joining me in supporting something so close to both my heart and the hearts of so many fellow Floridians.

PS on a more personal note, Blue is my favorite place to photograph. Its reflective waters have inspired some of my best photographs and writing and have been the site of my scientific field studies. I have visited blue about 50 times and cannot imagine my world without it. I am optimistic that together we can preserve this unique and irreplaceable ecosystem so that we and our children, grandchildren, etc. may continue to enjoy its crystal blue embrace <3

Friday, May 29, 2015

Congratulations Dr. Wendy Graham!

It was a pleasure working with University of Florida Preeminence to shoot the images for their feature on Dr. Wendy...
Posted by Jennifer Adler Photography on Friday, May 29, 2015

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Lenses and Love

My latest blog post is up on the "State of Water, State of Change" blog, a blog that highlights the work of students at the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications. This past semester, I was lucky to take an Environmental Journalism course with Cynthia Barnett - "Lenses and love: The art of Saving Florida's springs" is my final long-form piece for the class, a story about the role of art in saving Florida's springs. A million thanks to the amazing artists that talked over tea at Volta, under live oaks at the Prairie, on the phone while driving to a presentation, and in their own living rooms - you are all incredible sources of inspiration and I thank you for sharing your beautiful stories. And of course thank you to Cynthia, whose patience, 5 a.m. edits, always-helpful suggestions, and kind words have so incredibly shaped my development as a writer.

Check out the latest story from State of Water, State of Change, a showcase of work from Environmental Journalism...
Posted by Cynthia Barnett on Wednesday, May 13, 2015