Certainly the Ace of Cups in my Florida travels was our visit to Little Salt Spring in North Port near Sarasota. It’s not a place on the tourist maps particularly but it holds treasure. It is not the fountain of youth but more like a portal to the afterlife. It’s The Source, like a James Michener book, the connection and the origin to something much bigger than ourselves, which is the Ace of Cups in the tarot. And we wouldn’t have found it if the Hubs hadn’t been reading the local newspaper.
“I want to go to this Little Salt Spring place,” John said, comfortable in Cousin Margaret’s orange living room with its Dresden blue accents. I like Margaret’s ideas about color. That living room is a place for ideas to be born.
“What Little Salt Spring place?” I wanted to know. I was usually the one with the big ideas about what to do in Florida. I was curious about what caught his eye.
“It’s archaeology,” John said. That was enough for me. The newspaper article talked about trying to raise funds to keep the site going, a constant struggle for archaeologists everywhere. Even scientists have to eat. But this isn’t care and feeding of the scientists. This is about doing the scientific work they need to do to verify what they have and to share it with the community as part of educational outreach.
The contact information they gave was for fund-raising. OK, we agreed, but we want to see the place. Show us the cool stuff. We promise not to touch. Through a bucket-brigade of phonecalls, we finally reached Steve Koski who could just barely fit us in on Thursday afternoon. Perfect. We had no idea what to expect other than, well, it was an archaeology site at the spring, they’d found First People’s burials and notably a huge and beautiful green amulet. It was just the thing for California Jones and Calamity Jane or whoever John and I are when we go adventuring.
With the help, sometimes questionable, of the GPS in my phone whom we dubbed Elphaba or Elph we made it to Little Salt Spring. It’s only a couple of blocks from the Croatian Church; you can’t miss it. We did of course, called Steve (the site manager) and pulled up into a dried clearing with some dismal trailers. Yup, funding issues, for sure.
We found Steve, got his intro to the site with diagrams, history, happy accidents and not so happy ones and the funding pitch. It is too bad that I don’t have a couple hundred grand to toss his way but I’m hoping that little by little, this place can become something more welcoming to the curious public with pleasant amenities like, say, bathrooms.
“Oh, yeah, and I hope you aren’t too squeamish about bugs,” Steve continued, “or, uh, snakes.” Snakes? In the trailers?
“Have you lost any snakes in the trailers lately?” I asked grinning, still in need but judging the risk.
“Well, no, not lost, per se. They come and go.” That’s Florida. I was able to avoid the snakes and the x’s, mission accomplished.
Our next stop was the site itself. We stepped through the palmettos and small trees, again cautioned about snakes, this time about cotton-mouthed water moccasins who will, total pinky swear here, actually leap out to attack you unlike the more live-and-let-live diamond-back rattlesnakes who just want to be left alone.
“The way you can tell if it’s a cotton-mouth,” Steve went on, adjusting his hat, “is that it’s the black snake with the white inside its mouth.” He paused thoughtfully. “Of course, if you can see the inside of its mouth, you’re too close.” This solidified my desire to learn from the mistakes of others, of course. What’s an adventure without an element of danger, after all?
At the end of the narrow trail was our goal, a perfectly round lake with a gently sloping bank that was weedy and full of little fish. We stepped out onto the narrow dock while Steve talked about underwater archaeology, the structure of the spring, how they first found the burials which were in the water on those weedy banks right under our feet and all around the spring. A dark blue heron fished for goodies on the opposite shore.
People and animals have been coming to this spring for thousands of years. Somewhere in time, the people who lived there felt the place was holy and the most beautiful resting site for the dead. They buried tools and other artifacts with their loved ones. Nothing more clearly said to me that they believed in a happy afterlife than looking at the beautiful pool surrounded by trees, visited by animals.
Steve took us back to the trailer that has the bins of the findings from the site so far. Giant sloths and other extinct species had been there. And then there were the people, their tools and most remarkably, the green amulet. The stone is large, tear-drop shaped, greener than green greenstone. It comes from the Carolinas, meaning there was some kind of trade and travel. And it was made thousands of years ago and buried with someone beloved. At least that’s the current theory. Two other amulets have been found like this one in all of Florida but is there certainty? Without funding, Steve, the University of Miami and other people associated with this project can’t afford the carbon dating they need to authenticate their findings. In the meantime, this is the Pool of Treasures!
Appetite for this project waxes and wanes, especially depending on the sympathies of the current university administration. But the vision is tantalizing. Instead of snaky, run-down trailers, what if there was a building that could house a display to show everyone what we know about the First People who came to this spring and thought it sacred? Up to 12,000 years of history is there and so little of it explored, verified and preserved for future knowledge. This isn’t just a swamp in Florida with a handful of bones and an arrowhead or two. This is who we are, who we were and what is still sacred to us as people.
I took a last look at the trailers with their boarded up windows, peeling paint, evidence of mold and envisioned a modest cinder-block structure, able to withstand storms, cool and inviting to eco-tourists and school groups eager to learn about the Florida beneath the surface. I envisioned bathrooms too. I know the best way to help with this project is to write to the university to tell them what a gem they have in this site and in Steve Koski, a modest man whose work on the evidence of the past links us to our essential future. Sponsor this, please.
Want to learn more about Little Salt Springs? Visit these links and please, every donation and expression of support helps.