PLATE 1. The magical Blue Spring empties into the Current River, Shannon County, Missouri. February 20, 2009.
Deep & Blue: Springs of the Ozarks
by Joshua Heston
Pure water spilling from the rock itself. There is an elemental quality to the idea. Particularly to flat-landers, there is something enchanting about Ozarks springs. The scene of water boiling up from the earth itself (AS AT GREER SPRING) or cascading from beneath a high rock bluff (as at Turner Spring), tends to conjure up a variety of images.
Images of creation itself. Half-remembered lessons of Moses in the desert. Legends of magic waters from old Celtic and Japanese mythologies.
Understanding the mechanics of springs does little to remove the sense of magic.
The Ozark Mountains are made up mostly of limestone. After enough years, limestone erodes in odd patterns, creating fissures and sinkholes that swallow up rainwater as if it were never there.
Gravity pushes that water lower and lower into caverns — underground stream beds — where it courses along. Millions of gallons of rainwater, hidden far below the surface — lost rivers.
Eventually, fissures occur in the ceilings of these lost rivers. When that happens, the river boils up out of the mountain itself. A spring is born.
Before the days of water towers, pumping stations and harnessed electricity, springs were places of great importance, first to Native Americans, then to European settlers.
Native Americans considered springs culturally and spiritually significant, seeing more in the cold running water than a place to water horses.
European immigrants built mills.
Today, a few Ozark springs continue to supply pure water. Many old mills remain (SUCH AS ALLEY SPRING MILL), testament to the days when the community still revolved around something as simple as flowing water and ground corn.
Despite the changes in the world around us, the old, old Ozark springs tend to take us back to a simpler time and place. Watercress still abounds in the old mill ponds and streams. On the stream banks, witch hazel still blooms each February.
The Spring of the Summer Sky — now Blue Spring — still churns water from a cavernous well 300 feet deep. And for a moment, all can seem right with the world.
Originally published MARCH 17, 2009