State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.

spring

by Natalia

There is a fierce competition to use Florida springs: divers, children, manatees, tourists, alligators. Most springs we visit are part of extensive and well managed Florida state park system. Looks like no income tax policy here does not automatically translate into no public services.

The springs are at constant temperature. Usually between 68 to 72 degree Fahrenheit (20 to 22 degrees Celsius). During the hot wet summer it translates to teeth shattering cold. But it must feel warm in winter and this is when manatees visit. Divers don wet suites and proceed to explore underwater caverns trying, in vain, to pinpoint the exact spot that the flow starts. Children simply make tremendous noise as some springs foolishly provide multilevel platform to jump to the frigid water. Surely a swimming pool closer to home would be cheaper option. Tourists board glass bottom boats to peek into the great abyss. Thankfully they quickly proceed downriver to gaze at alligators. Alligators. Swim with caution! is the exact wording of the omnipresent sign that is apparently aimed at those few alligators that can read and are stupid enough to approach the beach full of campers.

In contrast to clear springs local rivers are brown from tannin produced by decomposing leaves. Great for the tanning industry, not so pleasant for swimming. I can't deny that dipping in the cold water on a hot humid day is my favorite beach activity. Especially since some of the springs we find are desolate and beautiful. Selfishly, and predictably, I would prevent development of springs to preserve their serene beauty intact.

I have little desire to scuba in cold dark waters of Peacock Spring but, if I had, the signs forbidding open water divers to do so wouldn't deter me. But I'm sure the signs were placed after careful cost to benefit analysis of accident prevention. I wonder how underwater cave exploration started. Nobody can explore without certification yet before the first one was issued someone must have explored to learn the skills needed to be certified.

Manatees don't get cold in summer so they scatter around instead of congregating as they do in winter. I wanted to see the giant herbivores, so we went to Homosassa Springs. First I spot something that looks like a huge submerged stone, then it moves and I realize I look at the living animal. And then another swims by and it's four times as big. Wikipedia states that manatee can grow to 12 feet (4 meters) but I swear the ones I see are even larger. It would seem that the interpreted manatee activity at the park is a perfect opportunity to mention evolution: they are after all close cow relatives that opted for underwater pastures and developed numerous interesting adaptation as the result. But the ranger steers safely away from this controversial topic. After all majority of Americans think that animals arrived on this planet fully formed for our enjoyment and nourishment. Nevertheless, I'm sure the park today is much less garish after the state took it over from a private company. The only manatees kept there are those who cannot be released to the wild due to injury. They are fed mostly romain lettuce for the entertainment of visitors many of which would benefit themselves from such diet.

space

Another day, another stereotype out of the window. This time it's personal. Personal space to be exact. We always thought that in many subtle and not so subtle ways Americans tend to keep to themselves with a good buffer of empty space around. They arrived after all on a continent that was scarcely inhabited, they are mostly descendants of farmers, their cities are awkward attempts at cohabitation: all that means that people will stay out of your way effortlessly.

family

You don't choose your family. Well - by extension - you sort of choose your spouse's family, but with all the hoopla associated with tying the knot screening the aunts and uncles is probably not high on the priority list. It should be though. Having your relatives conveniently scattered around the world helps should you decide to spend some time traveling. We take full advantage of that in Jacksonville. It's the first time I meet this particular branch of Damian's family (and let me tell you, his family has more branches that he can remember), but we hit it off rather well. They live in a well established suburban community that is close to everything: not that far from the beach, and acceptable distance from the downtown. One day, on their recommendation, we decide to ride our bikes 5 miles to the beach. It is really close on the local scale: covering 874 square miles (2,264 square kilometers) Jacksonville is the largest city area-wise in continuous US and the second largest in America. Anchorage, Alaska occupies over twice as much land, but something tells me biking options might be a bit limited there. Also, last time we checked, no relatives in Alaska (we are open to the idea of adopted family - volunteers welcomed).