I've been to Zephyrhills four times in my life.
The first time I was a little boy, packed into the back of a Ford wagon as we went to see my mom's folks in their trailer park. The trip was exciting for a pre-pubescent boy, and for years I'd been thinking of Florida. For as long as I could remember my grandma had been a snowbird, and would bring me little trinkets from her times down south fleeing Michigan winters. A plastic alligator. A sand dollar. A large bag of fresh oranges. The trailer park was surrounded by an orange grove and on the porch where I slept I could smell the citrus on the night time wind. My grandfather took my brothers and I to the Epcot Center at Disney World and it remains one of our best memories.
This first trip was where I first discovered Zephyrhills Water. The town is pretty much a long drive from anything, but Zephyrhills has diversion all its own. One of the diversions I found on this my first trip was the natural springs of the area from which the famous bottled water derives. Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water is largely pulled from Crystal Springs, a natural spring I swam in on this first time. The aforementioned water company is owned by Nestle corporation, which owns the majority of bottled water manufacturing in the US. Nestle also owns San Pellegrino, Perrier, Poland Spring, Ice Mountain, a bunch that don't matter as they're sold in Europe, and of course Zephyrhills. In 1996 the owner of the land on which the publicly accessible Crystal Springs pool was located, a rancher named Robert Thomas, sold the pumping rights to the spring to Nestle, and closed it to the public.
I remember the spring fondly for a couple of reasons. In my mind's eye I remember a warm day, and we went in the late afternoon when the special golden light of a slanted sun makes everything illuminated like its own best self. There were families grilling and feasting on food spread out on blankets. The water was so clear it was like it wasn't there. I hadn't ever seen water so clear, and don't think I have yet. My brothers and I swam, and splashed each other, and didn't care how much of it we got in our eyes and mouths. The other reason I remember that moment fondly was a young girl my own age in a checkered swim suit who swam by me and smiled. She seemed like the most beautiful girl I had seen at that point. I hope she ended up happy in life.
So now that beautiful, clear water is being placed into bottles made of polyethylene teraphthalate and being sold to people too scared to be drinking from the water hose. My grandparents are dead, and I haven't been to Zephyrhills since they got too sick to make the trip. The farmer who owned the orchard I'd run through sold it all to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. What are you going to do?
Nestle has a bad environmental history. Here in Michigan, Nestle has come under fire for pumping water out of public resources of the Great Lakes and selling them for their own profit. There are citizen groups in both Michigan and Florida advocating for local control of precious water resources, but those hot chocolate swilling fatcats in Switzerland are sadly a mega-corporation now.
Still, everytime I see that bottle of Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water I get a little smile. I remember clean water surrounded by fragrant trees. I remember sitting with my grandpa and watching the skydivers that populate Zephyrhills and wondering if I'd ever have the guts to do that. I remember trailer parks filled with Christmas lights trying to bring something of home to these refugees from cold lands. I remember playing chess with Emerson VanAelst and shuffleboard with Marjorie VanAelst; good people the world could still use. I remember a checkered bathing suit.
That's not bad for a bottle of water.