Perch like a bird on the edge of the world. Get out of Dodge and dive in. Experience the thrill of the unfamiliar. It’s found in that place outside the comfort zone, somewhere between fear and ecstasy. Touch and taste the incredible awayness of it all. #blogcategories
When WordPress’s weekly photo challenge asked participants to complete the sentence, “I’d rather be,” images of our 2012 road trip from Pensacola to the Grand Canyon and several of Utah’s magnificent national parks were the first to pop into my mind.
Buck took this picture of me, dumbstruck by the limestone fairy chimneys and hoodoos.
Note: Now that I’m on Blogger rather than WordPress, I can’t create a pingback and publicly participate at The Daily Post’s daily prompts and weekly photo challenges. It’s really a lovely, well-done tool for creativity. So, from time to time, I’ll still utilize their post prompts and photo challenges, giving them credit always for the creative spark their ideas engender.
Our supper the first night Buck and I were in Ponte Vedra came from Barb and Wally’s Down South Barbecue. A funny pair, assuming the ugly ducklings were Barb and Wally. It was a hole in the wall storefront, and while the smells were authentic low and slow smoke, with sweet and vinegary sauce top notes, plus the granular aroma of velvety collard greens, it was clearly more a take-out spot than a dine-in venue.
We ordered a whole smoked chicken, a pint of BBQ beans and a pint of collard greens. Barb’s brunette hair, thick and frizzy, was piled on her head in a haphazard do. She wore thick glasses and was pleasant, though somewhat vacant, and the semi-dazed “why am I here?” expression looked like her default face. Wally was a male match for Barb with his dark messy hair, beard, and a growly look. “I’m the pitmaster. I don’t need to make no stinkin’ conversation.”
The phone rings. It’s on the counter where the register sits by the front door. Barb calls out. “It’s for you.”
I catch his eye movement, a furtive, ducking look. “Who is it?”
Barb shrugs. Classic. Wally looks like he might take a flyer out the back door. His eyes shift for a millisecond to me. He decides. “Tell them I’ll call back,” he says to Barb, his tone a tad bombastic, like a scared small man. Wally goes back to deep-frying garlic corn on the cob and dipping up cheesy potatoes and baby back rib racks for a take-out order phoned in before we arrived. He mutters to the food. “The question is, why are they calling me here?”
Two guys come in. Barb: “You here for a pickup?”
“Yeah. Mike.” They look like golfers. The one who spoke, Mike, slides me a look. Lascivious bastard. Men can’t resist women who eat barbecue. If he knew I drink scotch, too, often at the same time I’m eating grilled meat, he would have swooned right there.
By the way, if you’re ever in Ponte Vedra, stop by the joint. The cue’s damn good.
Every room needs a touch of red — even the Great Outdoors.
I arrived at the beach this morning in time to see a grand dog parade, from stylish black Standard Poodles, to Golden Doodles, Labs, a dancing Jack Russell, lovely spaniels, spunky Heinz 57s, whippets, French bull dogs, and others I couldn’t begin to identify — including ubiquitous itsy bitsy fancy fluffy white dogs. Marvelous.
There must be a lot of snakes and alligators on this picturesque boardwalk if Sawgrass felt the need for a sign.
Well, I haven’t seen any snakes yet . . . but you can bet I’ll be on the lookout!
Screened porch, bird sounds, light noise of construction, every now and then a child’s voice. The sun is at an angle where the shadow of my moving hand nearly obscures my words. Probably time for a late afternoon walk. I walked to the beach this morning. Love being close enough to do that. I’m not at all tired from this morning’s walk — quite the contrary. Full to the gills and brimming with energy. Physical energy, not so much a focused mental energy.
Buck saw Dr. Peterson today plus had radiation session number six. That leaves nine to go. So far, not bad. I hope the minimal side effects don’t increase. Can’t wait ’til he’s done and safe (cured) out the other side. I know once he’s finished on October 31 he would be glad to never see Mayo Clinic again. Me too, for that matter. Except for this small deal of them keeping us alive and high-steppin’. I hope we get the house sold quickly and can feel comfortable moving to the mountains next spring.
Next spring. Wow. What an incredible gift that would be — to see the mountain sunrise and sunsets, go to the farmer’s markets and just sit on a deck and/or porch and talk a blue streak.
Buck and I have been in Ponte Vedra on Florida’s east coast, just outside of Jacksonville, for two weeks. That’s two down and one week to go for our radiation vacation at Mayo Clinic.
We’re staying in a quiet condo neighborhood in the huge Sawgrass development. The condo has a screened porch right on a lesser-used portion of one of the golf courses, and blessedly no golfers in sight, only birds and the myriad, arcane parade of specialized equipment designed to keep the golf course in pristine condition in the event a bandy-legged old coot (my term for golfers) should happen along.
The weather has been ethereally lovely in the way of October in Florida. Our quarters are roughly a mile and a half from the Atlantic Ocean. I know this because my feet tell me so. Early each morning, I make the glorious walk to greet the sun rising there.
It has been a joy to see the incredible variety of shore birds and nice folk being walked by their dogs. We are so glad to be eight miles from the clinic — close enough to make our once or twice daily trip there, and far enough away from the campus to escape the feeling that one is in a pervasive illness bubble. We both breathe easier here, with our beloved longleaf pines just outside the back door, mingling with palmettos and palms, doves and squirrels everywhere.
Buck’s prognosis continues to be for a complete recovery. This last week of treatment is shaping up to be a bit rough, because the radiation side effects have just begun to kick in, with reddened skin, dry mouth, and sore throat, but it is only five days. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. Saturday morning we’ll drive home. No more targeted poisoning to get well.
Note: These pictures were from last Sunday. I wasn’t sure I could sustain blogging, and was directing all my energies toward the events of each day. I think I’ll be able to catch up this weekend, and share some thoughts and pictures from my walks. Hope all is well in your worlds.
The big man in the “club car” truck moves in lazy circles over the golf green, his head down as if considering something vast. I think he is checking the condition of the greens after yesterday’s storm. It is 68 degrees this morning, at least 8 degrees cooler than this time yesterday. Also, darker each day. Reversion to regular time doesn’t happen until November 2. I apparently have a “wake at first light” brain, and these dark mornings I am waking up later and later.
The big man stops near a sand trap. I swear, the way he is so still, head slightly bent, he looks like he is praying. It’s a good place to pray: the low green man-made hills, clusters of native oaks and longleaf pines, a meandering lake, the morning songs of birds just beginning, and dark turning to light. A perfect place for morning prayers. Either that or he was fiddling around with his cell phone. I prefer the idea of prayer.
This condo rental has turned into a fantastic restful retreat. I love coming out to the screened porch each morning to write, drink coffee, and greet the morning. Something wondrous about being in the presence of dark turning to light. So often in our world, we are seeing light turning to darkness in so many places, even our own country.
I feel more rested this morning than I have in recent memory. Just cut up a carton of strawberries: dark, sweet and delicious. We won’t have so much time to laze around this morning, but we’ll have to hit the shower by 9:30. Buck has a dermatologist appoint at 11, then “True Beam” at 12:45, and then we’re done for the day — looking forward to some exploration and a long walk — maybe some weight lifting, too.
Ah, here comes the weed eater. The care and feeding of a golf course is never ending. Hilarious. The weed eater guy took max thirty seconds to walk over and cut some poor little piece of green that stuck its head up a fraction of an inch too high, got back in his cart and left.
Guy in “club car” just went by wearing a wind breaker. I feel cool enough for a wrap, too.
There are days when I ‘m that leaf, swept along in the swirls and eddies of a spring-fed stream. Some weeks, the leaf is my boat. I peer over the edge, use binoculars to focus on each new shore; discover new worlds; rediscover familiar ones. All sense of time is lost. It’s time to anchor awhile and reflect.
I have learned why many writers grow beards if they can, leave their hair long and wild or short and haphazardly chopped; why they’re often thin and pale, and talk out loud to themselves while brushing their teeth or mutter beyond the bathroom door. And something else is at play. Did you ever see one of those millennium countdown clocks that were popular the year before the 20th changed to the 21st? We were living part-time in Rice Cove in Canton, North Carolina then. One of those damnably mesmerizing clocks was in our tiny local post office there. Buck acts like a man with an atomic clock imprinted on the insides of his eyelids. And not just with his manuscript. There are friends to see, karma to serve.
And so, we set sail in the old black town car, a cruising bath tub, from one end of Florida to nearly the other. I have brothers and a sister in the middle of the state I would like to see — need to see — but this was not that trip.
First stop was Gainesville, one night flying low. We brought a hotel picnic for our friends: big ole’ shrimp from Joe Patti’s Seafood. We poached and peeled them Saturday night before leaving Sunday morning, the 10th. Buck made a fiery dipping sauce, me a fresh Cole slaw with pineapple slivers for a surprise of sweet, and they went into the cooler with store-bought potato salad and goat cheese. A canvas bag was stuffed with crackers, Brazil nuts, almonds, oregano to sprinkle on the goat cheese, and our staples of peanut butter, dried fruit and trail mix bars. The venue was strangely perfect for distraction-free talk, which was just the medicine. It was a standard Residence Inn style room, so there was a sofa, coffee table and pull-up chairs.
Next stop was a mini-retreat for two in a motel at the base of the Charlotte Harbor bridge in Punta Gorda. The weather was coolish, windy and gray. Perfect. Buck picked up a book I brought in my other canvas bag, the one stuffed with food for the mind, and I haven’t gotten it back since. It was Sol Stein’s classic, Stein on Writing.
Wednesday, we drove another seventy miles south, to Naples, to see one of two remaining high school chums of Buck’s, and his wife (surely one of nature’s life force spark plugs). Each morning, I left their villa early to walk Old Naples, remarkable manicured real estate, down Park Shore Boulevard across the bridge separating Venetian Bay from Inner Doctor’s Bay, then right on Gulf Shore Boulevard, past Park Shore Marina, all the way to the end, where a walking path links to the Gulf or back across the bayou and to Crayton Road, which is the one I chose. Breakfast and a hot ping-pong match with friends awaited. Yes. Ping-pong. First time in more than forty years. Astonishing fun. Lots of laughing, jumping, stooping, and heavy breathing. Puts you in the moment and keeps you there.
Laconic joggers crossed the bridge, and couples walked their (mostly tiny, mostly white) leashed dogs along the wide sidewalks, poo bags discretely at the ready. Almost every person I encountered looked me in the eye, smiled and said “Good Morning.” I met a couple with their sweet-faced rescue dog, Bliss. They are best-selling authors and psychologists, Dr. Basha and Dr. Jeffrey Kaplan. We walked and talked together and parted with exchanges of email addresses and hugs. Delightful people. I hope to see them again.
Someone said of this core of downtown Naples: “Nobody works.” Not true, of course, since it takes a subtle army of gardeners, mechanics, restaurateurs and other service workers to keep up this Garden of Eden, like some exotic aquarium, for all the folks here who are Somebody or were Somebody in real life. The grass here is always green. And if it isn’t, it is swiftly removed and replaced with fresh sod, new palms and flowers — whatever it takes to sustain the aura of wealth and serenity.
I know. I talk like a peasant. And why not? I am one, and proud to be. It’s beautiful, and I thoroughly enjoyed these walks and the interesting, nice people I met along the way. It is pretty, but insular, with its own form of genteel regimentation. I might chafe at the hidden fence. Might.
There was no fence, hidden or otherwise, separating these birds from their morning fishing. Buck made the same walking circuit with me later that day and the next. We saw these beauties on the Seagate side of Venetian Bayou.
The walks and scenery were stimulating. I had a case of cabin fever in the pine woods and didn’t even know it. It was a gift to be blasted out of my comfortable study. Best of all was the company of our good friends and their mellow Weimaraner, Maggie Moo. I needed a good dog fix in the worst way, and I got a joyful one. Nothing like an under-the-chin puppy kiss.
Roy and Bette spoiled us with delicious food, (including lobster tails they caught while diving in Key West, tossed with garlic, tomatoes, basil, Brie, and pasta — whoa), and most of all inspired us with their good natures, love for each other, and zest for life.
We planned to return straight home from Naples Saturday morning, a long but do-able drive. An email changed our trajectory, and we ricocheted from Naples, hugged Lake Okeechobee’s shoreline for a ways, then shot up the east coast on I-95 to rendezvous with friends aboard their Nordic Tug, True North, at Cocoa Village Marina.
That’s Tom Conrad, captain of True North. He and Patsy are friends from Pensacola who have not permitted a challenging illness to keep them from their dream of living on their trawler. They are veteran cruisers of The Great Loop. Even now, Tom makes a 5:00 a.m. weather report much relied upon by other boaters.
We joined Tom and Patsy for a visit on board, and then walked a few blocks to Cafe Margaux for dinner. Our server, Andy, was a wise-eyed raconteur, from Kentucky via many years in New Orleans until he was up-ended by Hurricane Katrina. After dinner, we returned to the boat for pie and more talk.
We returned to True North Sunday morning to find the galley smelling like a high-end bistro at brunch time. Patsy had “whipped up” a homemade mushroom and Gruyere quiche and a fresh fruit salad for us. My first coffee of the day was there, on the water with sunlight streaming through the windows, in the presence of my lovin’ man and our good friends.
It was nearly one o’clock when we left Tom and Patsy for home Sunday afternoon. We made it as far as Tallahassee, when fatigue, blowing rain, and darkness caused us to stop overnight. The bridge over Escambia Bay leading us home Monday morning was a bright ribbon over lovely, familiar waters. Neither of us would trade anything for the touchstone of being with Roy and Bette, Tom and Patsy, and Neal and Elaine, but home is home and we’re happy to be back in our own bed. Buck is in his cave, furiously editing. He says Sol Stein has caused him a lot of trouble. High praise. As for me, I needed some fresh Florida scenery and culture to confirm words written for my character Grace’s own road trip to south Florida.
I wasn’t online while we were gone, except to check weather, driving directions and occasionally, e-mail. It will be a pleasure to catch up with you all and see what you’ve been up to.
Vintage somewhere around 1988. This kitty cat came with the cabin Buck and I rented near the Nantahala Outdoor Center in North Carolina. We were there for whitewater rafting, hiking, and escape from our work responsibilities. He reminded us of someone we knew, so we called him Theodore. This ginger cat was the most efficient con artist I have ever seen. He loved us insistently and unconditionally until check-out morning when he lapped up the last of the milk in its pretty blue bowl, then heartlessly turned his fluffy tail on us and walked to the next cabin to become the most-adored of the new family just checking in. Theodore never looked back.
I went in search of one old photo yesterday, up the stairs, across the bridge that bisects one second story air space from another, and lost myself for several hours in a tumbled down haystack of memories. By the time I came back downstairs, I had forgotten why I went up there in the first place. I went upstairs wearing jogging shorts and a tank top. I came back down wrapped in a cloak of memoir, diaphanous layers on my head, thick woven bits of complex tapestry on my feet. My subconscious is smarter than the conscious me. I should let go of the steering wheel and follow it around more often. Journeys through memory are mysterious, and never straightforward.
At this point Kublai Khan interrupted him or imagined interrupting him, or Marco Polo imagined himself interrupted, with a question such as: “You advance always with your head turned back?” or “Is what you see always behind you?” or rather, “Does your journey take place only in the past?”
All this so that Marco Polo could explain or imagine explaining or be imagined explaining or succeed finally in explaining to himself that what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler’s past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
~from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino