CHICK HUETTEL: This Fountain of Youth legend will grow on you

Chick Huettel
Chick Huettel

In a few more months, specifically April 3, 2013, your state will celebrate its 500th birthday — when, according to historical records, Juan Ponce de Leon placed his foot on our eastern shoreline in the St. Augustine area. But there is, of course, a bone of contention about where exactly his skiff was rowed ashore. Some say farther north, others say farther south.

But as St. Augustine later became a settlement, they established that here was where it all started. He called our state, “Pascue Florida“ (Festival of Flowers) as it was Easter season.

In regards to the legendary search for the “Fountain of Youth,” the real reason for Ponce’s adventure was first gold and second, settlement of new lands and thus his right to be governor to enrich himself.  The story of him searching for the Fountain of Youth wasn’t even attributed to him until well after his death. A Spanish historian wrote that he had heard Ponce was looking for an anti-aging cure. Another shipwreck survivor, Fontanda, lived with the Indians for 17 years and wrote that Ponce rescued him and inquired about the legend.

And that is the story of his search for youth.

But where did the “Fountain of Youth” first bubble up in the new world?

The fountain legend is believed to have come from the Bahamas. There is a vine there called the Bahamian Love Vine, which was noted by the island Indians in the Caribbean zone as an aphrodisiac potion. If that was the case, Ponce de Leon saw a great potential as a businessman and evidently made efforts to gain more information on the vine, which could possibly be more valuable than gold.

When he was living in Puerto Rico, he perhaps saw the Indians brewing a strong “brown tea” that gave some sort of kick! A noted historian, Arne Molander, surmised that the Spanish conquistadors misinterpreted the Indian word “vid,” which meant “vine,” for the word “vida” that translated  into “life.”

Thus the spreading Bahamian Love Vine, also called the “fountain vine,” was inadvertently interpreted to mean ”fountain of life.” The Bahamian Love Vine (Cassytha Filiformis) thrives today. When observed, it looks like a cascading spread of tentacles. So far, I have not been able to locate the vine and test its qualities for anti-aging or better yet, amorous adventures.

But one must never stop trying to achieve one’s goal in life. But I have come in contact many times with opposite effect of a woman’s wrath by stumbling into the poison ivy vine. I often wonder did Ponce get the scratch, too?

Ponce de Leon did not fare well with the Florida Indians. Before him, pirates and mercenary seamen raided the shores for Indian slaves and when he arrived they were weary of the sea rover. His first attempt for discovery did not gain him any fortune.

He made a second attempt but this time he turned up along the lower Florida west coast and landed near Port Charlotte harbor. Attacked by Calusa Indians, Ponce was wounded by an arrow believed to have been dipped in the sap of the highly poisonous Manchineel tree. He returned to Puerto Rico and died of his wound. His tomb is in the Cathedral of San Juan.

Fair winds to ye .

Chick Huettel is a long-time Walton County resident, writer and artist. He is a member of a number of local organizations including the Emerald Coast Archeological Society.