For the last two weeks, I worked on a cruise ship. I occasionally take “gigs” working with American Cruise Lines as a guest lecturer, and this time I was working their “Great Rivers of Florida” cruise, sharing presentations about Florida’s natural springs, its centuries-old history of canoe-making, the first (legal) free black settlement in the U.S. (Fort Mosé in St. Augustine), and other topics. 

This trip was particularly special for me, because it started and ended in Jacksonville, Florida, where my great grandparents built and lived in a cabin in the mid-to-late 19th century, right along the coast of the St. John’s. Just before my trip, I wrote to my uncle about the cabin, and he told me that a new cabin (a replica of their cabin) had been built in its place, and the land remained undeveloped because it was near a shell mound–evidence of the Timicua and other indigenous peoples who once called these riversides their home.

log cabin

“Rolling on the river” like the steamboats of long ago, I had time to reflect on the river as a way of thinking about our life journeys. 

Oftentimes we use the metaphor of the “path” to describe our personal journeys, as if we are forging a path through a wild world, making our way alone. Yet the river reminds us of our interconnectedness. Florida springs feed the river, and it branches off into many tributaries. It always finds the path of least resistance, and keeps moving, flowing …

Like water, our life journeys are always merging and blending with those of others. They are linked to the journeys of our ancestors and those of others who have lived wherever we might find ourselves.


As much as we might want to “fix” ourselves to a particular place, time or destination, the water reminds us of the importance of flow–flowing with the journey. We don’t necessarily need to pick up a symbolic machete and hack our way through the underbrush. 

When we imagine our journey as a river’s journey, we can open ourselves more fully to the unexpected, and allow ourselves to feel and recognize the “hidden springs” that fill our heart and keep us going.

sunrise Jacksonville


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