“Patsy” and “Doc” will have to wait. Luckily, I wrote down enough of the dreams when I first staggered out of bed yesterday morning to fix the memory in place. Buck and I spent most of yesterday preparing for and briefing some of our local officials on our property rights issue coming before the planning board February 4th. Today is for reading the fine print on some ancient scrolls (old meeting transcripts) and a luncheon of the Pensacola High School class of 1955, Buck’s graduating class and a group of folks I have come to love. I’m always the “babe” in the room because of my relative youth (only 68), but they seem to like me okay anyway. We meet at a little local Italian restaurant called Franco’s. They make a mean minestrone soup. Hang in there, Patsy and Doc. I’ll tell your story soon.
Longleaf Lou and I walked our usual path from house to gate this morning. The short 1/3 of a mile gravel road was nearly covered over by small twigs, leaves and pine needles. I picked up a dozen or so branches and threw them off the road and into the woods.
My hair turned into a dark cloud of humidity-saturated frizz. The silver lining to living in a damp Florida forest is that it’s kind to aging skin. Hair not so much!
Birds, wasps, and other critters are not immune from losing their homes in a mid-winter rain and wind storm.
Buck bought the first sixty acres of thick pine woods we call Longleaf in 1974. The only access was a dim road, a hunter’s trail, paper company land on three sides. He was a man of many hats even then: corporate executive, husband and father to three young teenagers, community volunteer, part-time farmer, and entrepreneur. I was five years out of high school, married and living 350 miles east in Florida’s capitol city. We had not yet met.
Who could have imagined that by 2020 Buck’s first wife would be dead? His middle son dead. My first husband dead. That next month we will have been married for 35 years? That I would have no natural children, but two beloved step-kids who are my good friends, seven grandchildren and three great-grands.
Or that our county plans to build a road through the middle of the now ninety acres of Longleaf where we built a home and have lived since 2000? Or that we would learn the county approved an overlay on top of our land and that of many of our neighbors that would diminish its value when the time comes to sell? Of course we are working to remove this cloud. It has taken more than a year of research, but we are ready. Our case will be heard by our local planning board on February 4, along with three of our neighbors. Should be quite a show.
As for the road, we support that, even though it changes forever my morning walks to the gate and the total privacy we have enjoyed all these years. We and our neighbors need the road. The current one is narrow and way below basic county standards, with multiple blind ninety-degree curves. It has become the corridor between new businesses and subdivisions at one end and a new elementary school and existing middle school at the other. More than 50 school bus trips a day run the gauntlet. We cannot in good conscience oppose it. So. Two different issues. Both presaging major change.
2020. Shaping up to be a barn-burner. My “word” for 2019 was FLOW. This year’s is READY. I told Buck about my word. He chuckled and said, “Mine is MOVE.”
I’m getting all the food pictures out of the way so when I write in this space tomorrow morning while it’s still dark, drinking a great coffee so black and strong it barely needs a cup, I’ll be ready to talk some truth.
But for tonight, one more food photo. It’s emblematic of me gathering strength: fresh collard greens made with onions, garlic and a small smoked turkey thigh; boiled plain turnip roots; a buttered cornbread muffin.
Oh, and hey — we’ve got a storm coming — a late tropical storm with an intriguing name: Potential Tropical Cyclone 16. Sounds like an edgy perfume. A cold front and a tropical storm. Should be interesting.
Lucky to live here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where any day of the week Buck and I can drive the shady lane from house to gate in the Longleaf woods and drive roughly 17 miles to Joe Patti’s Seafood down on Pensacola Bay. We come away with treats like the ones you see above. Two pounds of Gulf shrimp go a long way with us: first night peel and eat with Buck’s spicy cocktail sauce, second time around a version of scampi redolent with garlic and laced with capers, then a third go chopped for a lunchtime salad. Similar story with the blue crab claw meat: tossed with a smidge of lemon butter as a delicacy with the boiled shrimp, then another night as a luscious topping for garlic-Parmesan baked grouper.
Each morning I slip out of bed early. Lou-dog pads silently out of the room with me, leaving Buck to roll over in the warm space, hug my pillow, and dream a while longer.
The cedar and sage scent from a bar of soap greets me, a reliable standing stone symbol. Dried peonies hang over the framed photo I took years ago when, on a fire-line walk in our woods, I happened upon a field of blooming pitcher plants. The photo is a touchstone from a time that I was braver in my woods walking, less fearful of the coyotes and snakes who live here, too.
I was drawn to the small pine cone. It had fallen from a tree on the far side of our gate down by the main road. After several days of seeing it on a morning walk, I popped it into my jacket pocket, where it stayed another week, nestled into the soft, dark fabric. Now, I see it each morning and ponder while I brush my teeth: Why does seeing this little cone add to my feelings of comfort and joy?