Click for larger view
View full resolution
My brother Bill knows most of the natural springs in north Florida. He camps near the clear, rushing water of Blue Springs or, his favorite, the Econfina (ee-kin-fine-uh). For years, he led canoe trips for birdwatchers down the Choctawhatchee (chalktuh-hatch-ee) and other waterways throughout the Panhandle. But it wasn’t hunting the ivorybilled woodpecker that taught him to move silently through the water.
The water in Florida’s natural springs is cold and clean. Filtered by limestone rock, the fresh water is as clear and perfect as blown glass. The source, or boil, is coated with colors of minerals deposited by the rushing waters—greens and blues, orange and pink. Hundreds of these portals pump millions of gallons a day from Florida’s natural underground aquifer, the Floridan, the river that runs beneath the peninsula. Most of the springs aren’t widely known; many are unmarked. Once they get “discovered,” divers congregate at the boil many feet below, stirring up the silt with their fins, clouding the water. Even at the surface, though, the force of the flow is strong enough for me to swim as hard as I can and make no forward progress.
Early on a steamy August morning a few years ago, Lowell Kelly, a local developer, came by my brother Bill’s place on Blue Creek, in Ponce de Leon, Florida. He had hired Bill to do some day labor for him, so Kelly and his friend Kevin Hicks were to drive Bill to the worksite. Nearing sixty, Bill came prepared, with his water supply, lunch, and favorite hand tools. They told him to sit in the truck behind the shotgun seat and then drove past the small, remote Gator Pond, stopping near a dense, green wall of overgrowth that blocked access to the larger swamp. Kelly got out on the driver’s side and ran around the back of the truck, so that when Bill stepped out, Kelly was running at him with a baseball bat, screaming about his money. The first blow landed on Bill’s head and spun him around. My brother is a big man and didn’t hit the ground right away, but he was surprised—literally blindsided—by the assault and stunned by the actual blow to his head. Kelly had a moment to swing again, but this time, Bill instinctively pulled back, and the bat glanced hard off the left side of his head, inflicting more sharp pain. Blood began to pour from his torn left ear, and he stumbled back. That’s when he noticed that Hicks was standing by the open truck door, his right hand hidden. Bill assumed he held a gun. When my brother slipped and hit the muddy ground, Kelly was over him quickly and beat him hard, in the gut, the chest, the legs, no longer with the advantage of surprise, but with the relish of a guy on top. Bill managed to scramble away from Kelly and stood, trying to shield his head from more blows, which allowed Kelly to bash Bill’s elbows and belly.
My brothers and I will jump into any body of water we find. Well, I may pick my way in, but the three of them (Bill, the oldest; Byron, just younger than I; and Bobby, the youngest) jump. They play games, mostly involving Frisbees, complicated rules, and fifty years of paybacks. Sometimes I swim around them in wide circles, paddling and bending to the right, then I turn around and circle to the left, like in a folk dance.
Kelly wiped the slippery, bloody bat on his jeans before chasing Bill into a blind alley of land surrounded by swampy muck. When the dry land ran out, Bill turned and faced Kelly again, having a hard time seeing through the curtain of blood, thinking only there is nowhere else to go. Bill stumbled toward Kelly, who turned and ran back toward the truck, even though he still held [End Page 41...