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Nature's beauty ebbs amid drought

By JOSH ZIMMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 2000


Our back yards, our favorite vistas and our best fishing holes are disappearing.

These photos show nature wearing a most unwelcome face.

Drought has robbed much of the lushness from Citrus County and, consequently, a piece of our souls is missing, too, because instead of wallowing in its most distinctive charm -- water -- we can only dream about communing with the wading birds and riding a boat in the evening sun.

Receding shorelines promise a trip to nowhere. Only hope reconnects us with our surroundings.

Isolated images of the drought pervade as we drink our morning coffee, drive to work, walk to lunch and return home. These aerial photos, taken over vast, water-starved acres, stitch together frustrating snapshots from our daily lives.

In many places, the Withlacoochee River, normally a great place to fish and launch a canoe, is more puddle than waterway.

The Tsala Apopka Chain of Lakes, all 19,000 acres of it, is shriveling. Pine trees are beginning to shed their needles for lack of moisture.

Even old-timers, experienced in dry spells, say we are unusually unlucky this year.

People flock to Citrus for the water. In few places are so many waterfront pleasures open to both rich and poor. But nature is a great equalizer. So we're all suffering together.

What biologists have to say about our present circumstances suggests that in the wildlife world, people are the hardest hit of all. Maybe that's because we can complain. No more green lawns and lazy evening pontoon rides.

Plants and animals are not immune to stress. In the coming weeks, critters may venture closer to homes and swimming pools than they ordinarily would.

The Citrus County Health Department last week cautioned the public against handling sick or injured wildlife and advised people to call the county's animal control unit if they see animals behaving in unusual ways.

Yet cycles of dry and wet are embedded into their sense of survival. We have to will ourselves through the drought.

If the folks paid to predict weather patterns are correct, we'll better understand those ebbs and flows in about a month. Sure, there's reason to worry. Scientists often are wrong. It may not rain this summer. Then, wildlife would really face a threat, biologists say.

But eventually, the water will begin to flow again. Once again we'll be able to appreciate nature our way.

-- Staff writer Jim Ross contributed to this report.

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