The best part of living in North Florida these past four years was meeting the incredible springs painter Margaret Ross Tolbert. Margaret has been painting springs in Florida for over twenty years. She also paints the springs in Turkey. On her website it says, the North Florida Springs "paradisiacal presence provides a sense of ideal destination and the exotic in the here- and-now that counterpoints the sense of passage, time and journey implicit in the Door paintings." When I saw Margaret suspended over the eel grass in Juniper Spring, I saw that for her time truly is suspended when she is beneath the surface. It was amazing we made it through four springs that day, as we both tend to get lost. Perhaps that is why we are such good friends.
Yet though time stops when Margaret is in the water, time has not stopped since she was first inspired by the springs. Sadly, springs in Florida have become increasingly polluted over the last twenty years. Filamentous algae cloaked the eel grass at Juniper Springs, even though ti is located in the Ocala National Forest. In Alexander Springs, there was algae everywhere, and we saw it in Silver Glen and Salt Springs too. Why this is happening in the middle of a forest is a mystery that scientists have not yet been able to explain. In springs located near agricultural operations the reason is obvious. Perhaps in these forest springs it has something to do with the increasing saltiness of the springs (from salt water intrusion or the lower, saltier aquifer making its way into the fresh water aquifer closer to the surface), or maybe warmer temperatures, or perhaps runoff travels much further than would be expected. Whatever the reason, even these springs are being lost.
When I saw Margaret swimming over the underwater cliffs and cracks of Alexander Springs, which were cloaked with algae, I felt the ephemeral nature of the springs and a deep sense of loss. It seemed ghostlike down there and I couldn't bear to focus on what I was seeing. Alexander Springs is the only first magnitude spring within the forest and at one time it must have been incredibly beautiful Margaret has not abandoned even the impaired springs. I wanted to flee as quickly as possible, especially after clumps of algae got stuck in my hair and on my camera. I saw her suddenly as an ancient water guardian. I felt ties to a vanishing past, the trace of which still exist in the present through these crumbling karst rocks. Margaret is fascinated with ancient cultures and ethnic dances and traditions that have been passed through the ages. Knowing her is a lens to the present and also the history of the world and water. Spending time together always makes me look at things differently and appreciate indigenous ways from when we were more united with the forces of nature and our watery essence.
Margaret is such a great artist because she always goes deeper, never satisfied with merely skimming the surface,. She has always been a serious athlete, even training with Olympians during her running days. She posses the strength and courage to meet the world's challenges and look at them from another perspective.
When I saw Margaret in this pose, looking up at the surface of the water in wonder, I understood how deeply the springs inspire her paintings, When she dives and goes in crevices or explores vents and bubbles and then suddenly shifts her perspective by looking at the world above from this watery underworld she feels so at home in, her lens is blurred and bended and reflections become as real as solid rocks.
Perhaps my favorite image of all that day was this one of Margaret totally cradled in the rocks and at one with the springs. If we all felt this close to these precious waters that provide life, fluidity, transformation, and eternity in each moment, we would not allow as much harm to befall water as has happened in this state.
To learn more about Margaret's work, visit her website at: http://www.margaretrosstolbert.com/ or http://www.aquiferious.com/.