The Fourth River

In Community: The Manatee & The Writer

By on February 12, 2016


By Kim Hambright, assistant editor


Each year, hundreds of manatees migrate to Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County, Florida to escape the colder waters of the St. John’s River. Enjoying the consistently balmy temperature of the 72˚ spring, the manatees share the waterway with fascinated canoeing companions. This year, the sea cows have more to celebrate than just warmer temperatures, as the federal government recently announced plans to remove them from the “endangered” species list. Their reclassification as merely a “threatened” species brings relief to the surrounding community of people fighting for their survival, a community of people responsible for over 35 years of the Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival.

As a visitor to Blue Spring, there is nothing more peaceful than paddling out onto the river and situating yourself alongside one, two, or twenty grazing manatees. When their whiskered mouths emerge from the placid water barrier to tug at the edges of the lily pads, the pressures of a hectic work schedule dissipate like air bubbles on the river’s surface. The manatees share their vacation home peaceably, both with one another and with the thousands of curious tourists who flock to them each year.

In many ways, the manatees resemble a community of writers (not unlike past groups of students at Chatham University’s own Summer Community of Writers) who come together for a shared goal of warmth and prosperity. Each manatee fights her own battle of survival throughout the year, migrating on her own individual journey, but together, they find solace for the tough winter months. Joined as one body, the aggregation of manatees creates the largest impact.

As writers, it is all too easy to regard ourselves as islands, isolated from all who came before us or those who fight alongside us, but it is in the comfort of our solidarity that we often find the readership to confirm our greatest successes or the encouragement to continue pushing further. Like the manatees, we thrive together in a peaceable community, for each of us is travelling down a long, cold river of our own.

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