Stream of consciousness

It appears that the end may finally be near.

The suspense has been killing us.

But the signs are everywhere.

The news is telling.

A plague of Biblical proportions looms.

Storm clouds are gathering.

But we know from bitter experience that there are strange forces out there capable of….um….surprising us.

But dare we hope this time?

For a glimmer of light at the end of this impeachment tunnel?

Because don’t we have other things to worry about?

Than this clown?

Even as we speak, the birds are going missing.

And we don’t know why.

Are the insects next?

It’s getting to the point that the only thing more endangered are moderate Republicans.

Can’t we all just stop for a moment? And maybe take a deep breath.

And ponder whether there more to this invisible line dividing us than walls and shadows?

I only ask because, well, the guy’s a publicity hound and we’re still throwing him bones.

Where are the adults in the room?

Perhaps we are arriving at a generational moment.

Don’t we have bigger, um, fish to fry?

Have we finally trapped this rat?

He broke it. We bought it.

The evidence is clear.

The defense has rested.

You don’t even have to read between the lines.

To arrive at a just verdict.

That’s guilty.

Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!

He knows it. She knows it. We know it.

You don’t need a weather vane to know which way the wind blows.

Time to exit. Stage right.

Out of sight Out of mind.

The hand that mocked them. That colossal Wreck. Boundless and bare.

Gainesville’s choice

There must be a bureaucratic graveyard somewhere in which are entombed the bones of all the studies, reports and plans that were never implemented.

But make no mistake. Charlie Lane, UF’s CEO, is as serious as a heart attack about breathing life, form and function into the strategic master plan he’s been nurturing for nearly four years.

It’s not good enough that UF has been ranked the 7th best public university in America by U.S. News and World Report. They intend to break into the top five.

And to get there, UF will spend nearly $1.5 billion over the next several years for new buildings and initiatives – many of which will have far reaching impacts both on and off campus.

Like turning the northeast quadrant of campus into an “Academic Walk” zone in which automobiles may not venture. That means parking and driving in and around campus won’t get any easier, even as the 2,000 acre campus sprouts more buildings and more activity.

The good news is that UF’s strategic plan is intended to foster future growth and economic prosperity into Gainesville proper rather than outward toward the suburbs.

“When I-75 came through it changed the dynamics of Gainesville dramatically,” Lane said at a breakfast gathering on Wednesday. “A lot of economic development flowed toward the interstate and continues to flow there.” The master plan, he said, will try to direct that flow inward.

All of which raises a crucial question for city commissioners:

Wither the Great American City?

The phrase has emerged as shorthand to describe the sort of dynamic town-gown partnership necessary to ensure that the changes UF envisions will be beneficial, not detrimental, to its host community. If Gainesville is not successful – at fostering strong healthy neighborhoods, a bustling economy and a climate that encourages collaboration and innovation – then neither will UF succeed.

We haven’t heard much talk about all this of late. Really, not since former City Manager Anthony Lyons was forced to resign because he was making life uncomfortable for city employees.

You can fault Lyons for his people skills, but his commitment to the town-gown partnership matched Lane’s own determination to master plan a better future for UF. Lyon’s single-minded focus on changing the culture of city government likely cost him his job.

I only bring this up because the city commission still hasn’t replaced him. An initial field of 55 applicants has been narrowed to five. But in talking to some commissioners I haven’t detected a lot of enthusiasm for any of the finalists.

I would argue that this city manager hire may be the most crucial Gainesville has ever undertaken. We have had our share of caretaker managers whose longevity has depended on keeping commissioners and city workers happy. But what Gainesville needs now is a change agent. Someone who grasps the importance of this still nascent town-gown partnership to Gainesville’s future. Someone who has both the savvy, and the courage, to keep Gainesville’s own strategic blueprint (yes, there is one) out of the bureaucrat’s graveyard.

The folks in Tigert Hall pretty much ignored City Hall before Charlie Lane convinced them that what happens downtown matters as much as what happens on campus. UF could easily slip back into “splendid isolation” mode if it detects waffling on the city’s part.

The next city manager needs to be strategic, visionary and committed to making the New American City a reality.

Even if that means making people in City Hall a little uncomfortable.

(Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. Read his blog at floridavelocipede.com)

Bartram and Palatka

A piece I wrote for the Spring, 2018 edition of FORUM

On a “fine, cool” May morning in 1774, William Bartram navigated his tiny craft up a broad stretch of the St. John’s River and nosed toward the western shore.

“I suddenly saw before me an Indian settlement, or village,” he wrote. “Some of the youth were naked, up to their hips in the water, fishing with rods and lines, whilst others, younger, were diverting themselves in shooting frogs with bows and arrows.”

Four months later, Bartram – artist, explorer, map maker and botanist – would return to the village to partake of the tribe’s watermelon fest.

“We were received and entertained friendlily by the Indians, the chief of the village conducting us to a grand, airy pavilion in the center of the village,” he wrote. “Here being seated or reclining ourselves after smoking tobacco, baskets of the choicest fruits were brought and set before us.”

It was as fine a welcome to Palatka – or what would eventually become Palatka – as a Quaker from far off Philadelphia could hope for.

This gentle stranger who would become known to the Seminoles as Puc-Puggy: Flower Hunter.

Nearly a century and a half later, Sam Carr sits in Palatka’s gleaming new St. John’s River Center and ponders the relationship between America’s first naturalist and Carr’s beloved hometown.

“When you read Bartram’s writings his heart becomes our heart,” said Carr, retired Ford Motor Co. executive, avid fisherman and homespun conservationist. “He was more concerned about how man took care of God’s creations. He was the first to see the relationship between our wetlands, the river, the wildlife, the seasons.

“This guy belongs to Palatka. He’s ours.”

Carr is not so much a Bartram enthusiast as a Bartram evangelist. For the past several years he has lived, breathed and expounded upon Bartram’s writings and explorations – to just about anybody who would listen.

From his home in nearby Satsuma, Carr can see Murphy Island, which Bartram described as “1500 acres more or less of good swamp, and some hammock.” And last year, when Palatka hosted for the first time the national, annual Bartram Trail Conference, Carr took conferees on a journey up river to sulfurous Satsuma Springs to experience that “prodigious large fountain of clear water of loathsome taste.”

“There were people with tears in their eyes to realize it’s really here as Bartram described it,” he said.

His book “Bartram’s Travels” was wildly popular in young America. And partially as a result, “people were coming here to find that this was indeed what he called a creator’s garden. They came to see the springs, the river, the flowering plants and all that creates Palatka.”

The city’s popularity as an early nature tourism destination was such that Palatka once boasted nearly 6,000 hotel rooms. Most of which burned down in a disastrous fire in 1884.

Palatka never fully recovered its luster after that inferno. But it may yet.

Palatka has seen many economic evolutions since then, alternatively fueled by shipping, railroads, citrus, lumber and paper mills. But busts have inevitably followed booms. An article in the Washington Post last year deemed Palatka and its 10,000 residents, a city “desperate for an economy to call its own.”

Which is where William Bartram and his legacy may come in.

Bartram’s travels up and down the American east coast are well recorded. And his Florida explorations took him the length of the St. John’s as well as to points as distant as Alachua County’s Paynes Prairie and the Suwannee River.

But Bartram mapped more sites, 32 of them, in what is now Putnam County than anywhere else on the river. And for the past few years, Carr and other members of Palatka’s ad hoc Bartram Committee – with financial backing from the city, county and the Florida Council on Humanities – have been locating and marking Bartram’s sites with colorful information kiosks. They have also mapped a growing network of greenways (biking) blueways (kayaks) and hiking trails with the intention of once again establishing Palatka as the ecotourism center of Florida. Maps that will lead modern explorers from Palatka to Welaka, Port Royal, Georgetown and points in between.

Where Bartram once set foot, others can now follow.

“Putnam county’s assets are amazing,” Carr says. “We have a huge amount of public lands and the river. We can be the bike trails hub, the river hub.”

Carr and others hope that Bartram’s legacy will become integral to this river city’s very sense of place.

In addition to hosting last year’s Bartram Trail Conference – drawing scholars and enthusiasts from as far away as London – Palatka now sponsors an annual “Bartram River Frolic,” which offers visitors historical reenactments, riverboat tours, food and drink and concerts and art displays. At the River Center visitors and student groups learn not only about Bartram’s travels, but are also schooled on how to exercise environmental stewardship over the land and the water around them.

“This is the headquarters for Bartram recreational trail,” Carr says. “Go through the Bartram exhibit, get the brochure, the maps. Figure out whether to hike, bike boat or drive. It takes about four days to see everything and it’s rather unique.”

Another Bartram Committee member, Linda Crider, recently converted her two-story historic home near the river into the Bartram Inn. “What I really wanted to do was promote adventure tours and wrap it around our Bartram efforts,” she said. “On the second floor I have on the walls all the kiosks panels that explain who he is. Every room has a brochure. I have bicycles available to do Palatka’s historic homes and murals tour.

“The Bartram Inn is probably Palatka’s first tangible business-commercial connection,” she said, “but I think it’s going grow. Who knows where it might lead?”

Puc-Puggy surely knew. He who sailed up this great river to discover a “boundless apartment of the Sovereign Creator…inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing” yet “equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.”

For more information

William Bartram in Putnam County

http://bartram.putnam-fl.com

St. John’s River Center

http://www.palatka-fl.gov/256/St-Johns-River-Center

The Bartram Trail Conference

http://www.bartramtrail.org