This year is a landmark for our state, marking 500 years of La Florida, as Ponce de Leon named this land when he sighted it in March 1513.
What did the explorer intend when he bestowed the name? No one can say for sure, because his voyage journal has been lost. However, Florida historian Gary R. Mormino writes that a Spanish historian who had access to the journal observed, "Believing that land to be an island, they named it La Florida, because it appeared very delightful, having many fresh groves, and it was all level, and also because they discovered it at the season which the Spaniards call Flowery Easter (Pascua Florida)."
Roughly translated, La Florida means "flowery place" or "land of flowers." Regardless of Ponce de Leon's intentions when he named it, there is no doubt he stumbled upon a paradise in which riches were counted in glorious natural resources rather than the gold he sought. This wealth consisted of springs of pristine water, mystical cypress swamps, majestic longleaf pine forests, uplands that were once ancient islands, and stunning white beaches.
La Florida is still a paradise to many, a much-lauded vacation destination with swaying palms, theme parks and world-class shopping. Many visitors and residents venture forth to sample its natural treasures — sinuous rivers, meadows of swaying wildflowers, and trails through scrub, oak hammocks and primeval swamps.
But five centuries of exploitation have left ugly scars. Longleaf pine forests are all but gone, harvested for their wood. The withdrawal of millions of gallons of water each day has the shrinking Floridan Aquifer reeling. Salt water is intruding into wells, and pollution from septic tanks causes algae to grow thick in waterways. Wetlands have been filled or drained, and parts of the Everglades have vanished completely. Meanwhile, money with which to purchase conservation land has become scarcer than a Florida panther.
The course for the next 500 years is ours to set. What will we write in the blank book set before us?
We all have the power to make changes that are good for Florida, whether it's to use rain barrels to conserve water, plant native species that provide wildlife habitat, reduce our impact by living simpler, or elect politicians who support conservation of our water and land.
The year 2013 is not only about the commemoration of 500 years of La Florida; it's about our stand for the future.
Lisa Roberts, executive director, Florida Wildflower Foundation, Maitland
2012 a deadly year for cyclists | Dec. 30
Helmets are essential
In this article, I was astonished to read that solutions to the problem included bike lanes, lights, reflective vests and even "Look" signs — but not a single mention of helmets.
It's bad enough that motorcyclists are not required to wear helmets, considering they travel at speeds that can be deadly. An acquaintance refused to wear a helmet and, following a serious accident, is now blind and suffering from dementia as a result of a traumatic brain injury.
Cheryl Stacks, St. Petersburg's bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, commented, "Sometimes it's the simplest stuff that can make a big difference." Exactly.
Bill Berensmann, Clearwater
Good deal, as far as it goes | Jan. 3, editorial
Meeting the needs of elderly
I found David Brooks' "fiscal flop" take more persuasive than the Times' editorial budget characterization. As an aging father of Henry (high earners not rich yet) adults, now with their own tweens, I'm heedful of the ruin Brooks describes. Conservatives must find their voice in convincing the "parenting class" to value entitlement reform.
Leaders must emphasize the need to rebalance how we meet the needs of older Americans. Family care-giving is an important part of the story, and resources need to shift to long-term care, not just intensive end-of-life medical interventions. Also at issue is how we invest in the next generation of Americans to build a better workforce — by recognizing the human capital investment parents make in children and crafting a more politically attractive education reform agenda.
This is a strategy that changes the mix of trade-offs involved: It's not entitlement reform in exchange for low taxes on high-earners; rather, it is entitlement reform in exchange for a family-friendly tax code, a high-performing and cost-effective educational system, and greater emphasis on helping working families care for aging parents.
Gary Harrington, St. Petersburg
House passes fiscal deal | Jan. 2
Stimulate the economy
There were some good things about the deal, but a better way would have been to let all the Bush tax cuts expire. Then you enact a stimulus plan that only has government projects, no tax cuts.
Putting people to work will stimulate the economy, and having reasonable taxes will allow the government to pay off our debt.
Christopher Radulich, Apollo Beach
19 days of gun deaths in America | Jan. 3
A sobering chart
I hope that the Times and every newspaper in the United States carry the graphic chart of gun deaths every day so that people would understand that guns do kill people.
I know it would take courage to do so given the pressure that the gun lobby would bring to bear, but that list brought home the devastation that guns bring.
Catherine Naranjo, Palm Harbor
Biden gets a second shot at gun laws Dec. 31
Balancing rights, safety
I am a strong supporter of the Constitution. That said, if someone breaks into my house and I want to protect my home and property, there is no reason to light them up with 15 rounds.
If I choose to go deer hunting, there is no reason to light the deer up with 15 rounds. A true sportsman would never bring down an animal using 15 rounds.
Let's do what they do with ale pints in England. Pay a fee to house your military-type weapon at the range, sign out for it and shoot all you want. After that, return the weapon to the rack at the range until next time you have the urge to fire it again. No weapons would be allowed to leave the range.
Then, go buy a .22 for house protection.
John Masterson, Spring Hill
Sandy aid bill's omission blasted | Jan. 3
Bill loaded with pork
New Jersey, New York and other victims of the storm need quick relief. However, House Speaker John Boehner is being wrongfully criticized for delaying the House bill.
Blame should be placed on the Senate for attaching riders amounting to almost $600 million in pork barrel funds to the bill. That is politics as usual, and totally shameful.
Wasn't it the president who mentioned cutting expenses?
Jim Jackson, Apollo Beach
We regularly read of Florida drivers and/or front seat passengers who have been ejected and killed or seriously injured in an accident as a result of not wearing seat belts. A few months ago, for example, one such driver was ejected right off an overpass.
Despite Florida law requiring seat belts, the law does not appear to be strictly enforced. I've personally noted that many drivers openly flaunt the fact that they are not wearing seat belts. If I can spot it so easily, why can't law enforcement do the same and take appropriate action? Let's enforce the law and reduce the carnage.
John Maddaloni, Sun City Center
Defense Department spending
Too many televisions
As a military family member, I have visited military treatment facilities around the world. The growth in the number of televisions and cable access is such places (as well as throughout the Defense Department) is wasteful and unnecessary.
I have to wonder whether there is some kind of secret deal with cable companies and TV manufacturers. What a waste. We don't need TVs in any military treatment facility, and we really don't need them in any Defense Department offices except maybe public affairs.
Think of the money we can save if the Defense Department stops buying TVs and cancels the unnecessary cable subscriptions.
Katherine Kelly, Tampa