How to Become a Better Writer: Blue Spring Florida Artist Date

The Artist Date is a dream-child of Julia Cameron, helping readers learn how to become a better writer. We’ve discussed her book, The Artist’s Way, and highly recommend both the book and the weekly date. An Artist Date can be life-changing. It can open your creativity like nothing else. Let’s walk the boardwalk at Florida’s Blue Spring.


For most of the year Blue Spring is the picture postcard of old Florida. Cabbage palms, palmetto bushes, cypress trees, and wild orchids grow along the banks of the run that connects Blue Spring boil to the St Johns River. During winters in Florida the water in the run stays at a constant 72 degrees, which is why, on this day, between 250 and 300 West Indian manatee are congregating at the head of the spring and along the run down to the river. The water in the ocean and the lagoon where I live is down to 50 or 60 degrees, so the manatees I usually see on a daily basis have migrated via the interconnected waterways, moving to the warmer waters of the spring.

As I walk along the boardwalk built to protect the fragile ecosystem, I can see an armadillo off to the left foraging for food among the leaves and undergrowth. He looks like a little armored car with ears. Park visitors are not sure about the little guy, so I stop and explain who and what he is and where he fits in with the odd ecosystem of alligators, manatees and other strange creatures that call Florida home. Despite it being January, the breeze carries the slight scent of wild honeysuckle, though few tourists seem to notice as they jockey for the best shot of the manatees, focused on getting the perfect shot.

High overhead in a yellow pine, a male bald eagle returns to his nest with a fish in his mouth. When spring arrives, he and his mate will produce a clutch of eggs, and the rangers and I will start a pool on when they will hatch. At birth, the hatchlings look like fierce feathered cotton balls with bright yellow beaks.

Walking farther along toward the boil, I spot a gopher tortoise lumbering along with determination. His battleship gray color doesn’t offer much beauty, but the intricate patterns on each section of his shell are as delicate as any jeweler’s work.

Finally I arrive at the boil, which is a gash in the earth approximately 20 feet horizontally and 60 feet underwater. The water from the underground spring is being pushed up through this blue-green gash under such pressure that is almost impossible to dive to the bottom without adding significant weight to your dive belt. The water is so clean you can see 60 feet down to the mouth of the cave.

how to become a better writer blue spring manateesTourists armed with their cameras are lining the upper area of the boardwalk as six manatees play amid the boil. They dive deep and allow the jet of water to push them to the surface. Their friends swim under and over them in what looks like mock seduction play. One, or perhaps two, roll over and show their pale underbellies. A little flirting, perhaps?

I have taken up a position on a lower deck where divers enter the water away from the crowds. I can see the manatees a few yards away. Spanish moss hangs down from an old oak tree that stretches out over the water. I can hear the sound of last summer’s childish dares to climb higher or to jump in clinging to its leaves and bark. As I sit there on the damp deck lost in the scents and smells of the pure water and woods, a cheeky young manatee silently glides over and splashes me with water. He glides away, holds up one flipper at me and waves as if to invite me in.

As much as I love swimming with manatees, 72 degrees is a bit cold without a wetsuit, so I stay on shore. He continues to wave and splash at me as if to ask if I have forgotten where my selkie skin is, as if to ask have I forgotten when I was a creature of water like he. I wish I could slip it on to dive in and play, but I’m forced to remain on land. As I watch, he turns a sad brown eye to me and shows me his belly.

Featured photo by Jenny Downing. Creative Commons license via Flickr. Manatees photo and post by Kathryn Neel.

How to become a better writer? Browse Artist Dates for inspiration, then head out on your own. 


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  1. says

    Manatees are such wonderful creatures. As a child, my son was quite taken with them; we read more than once the book “Sam the Sea Cow”.

    The manatees, unfortuantely, have suffered a lot of losses because of boaters.

    Blue Spring is a lovely place to visit. Thank you for allowing me a return visit, Kathryn.

  2. Kathryn Neel says


    This past year has been very hard on the manatees and dolphins and “my” lagoon. Lots of work trying to find “the problem” which in the end will be silly human nonsense (again)no doubt.
    It has recently been shown that dolphins can understand as many as 50 human words, what does it say about humans that we don’t understand word one of the ocean?

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