Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Mighty Mississip'

Mississippi River
West Memphis, Arkansas

I've seen the Mississippi River in Minnesota many a time - one of my favorite ways to get away for a bit when I was in college was to take a walk along its banks.

The power of the river there is clear to see.  Not just in the way it has cut its way through the rock to create its channel, but in the rapid flow of the current.  It flows along urgently, as if there is somewhere it needs to get to, and soon.

Here, the river is wide, and deceptively lazy.  I arrived just before sunset, and entertained myself for quite some time just watching the sky and the barge traffic on the river.

The campground, the Tom Sawyer RV Park, is a jewel in the rough.  It's right on the river flats - the bath houses are trailers on wheels, so they can pick 'em up and move 'em on out when the water rises, as I'm sure it does most every spring.  It could probably use a little whitewash here and there, but that's part of the charm.  It feels as if, if you sat on the banks long enough, you could wave to Huck Finn and Jim as they rafted on down the river.  (At least, you could if it was summer - it's a might bit chilly out there this morning...)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Escatapwa Hollow

Escatapwa River, Alabama
Escatapwa Hollow Campground
Wilmer, Alabama

Solitude, sweet solitude.

For the first time since leaving the Blue Ridge Parkway, I had a section of a campground to myself. Between the weather which turned rainy and cold just as I arrived, and the time of year, those who enjoy kayaking down the river had other plans for the night.

The rain started shortly after I arrived, but the 30 minutes I had before it began was sweet.  The river is shallow and flowed quietly past my vantage point.  I watched the leaves float by and listened to the silence around me.  I could hear the traffic on the road not too far away, but the noise was muted by the trees.  I felt something inside loosen, allowing me to breathe deeply; to notice my breath.

All this, plus a hot shower, for $15.  Gotta love the off season.

P.S.  Love the names of the rivers and some of the towns around here - I couldn't make them up if I tried.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Big Lagoon

Big Lagoon State Park
Pensacola, Florida

Here is more of the arid side of Florida.  Thorny and spiky, the beauty of the desert rather than the beauty of the tropics.

I loved my hike on the 3½ mile sand trail through the park.  I lingered for a long while on the boardwalk near the sign that warned against swimming because there were alligators about – but didn’t see one, much to my disappointment. 

Here is barrier life – it thrives in the harsh conditions of heat, wind and hurricanes, but can’t take the pounding of human shoes.  The storms hit here first, and the islands absorb much of the ocean’s fury, protecting the mainland, leaving it relatively unscathed.

As I walked, my mind turned to my own storm buffers, fragile but strong.  To the faith that I once compared to a dandelion; scrappy and hard to get rid of.  To the people who love me anyways – despite knowing all too well about my thorns and spikes.  And I gave thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

St. Andrew's State Park
Panama City, Florida

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two years ago today, I had a 42 people and a dog coming for dinner tomorrow; 20 or so of them were staying in the house.  Family was coming in right and left, we were sharing lots of hugs, kids and adults alike were wired and tired.  All was ready for the feast to be prepared the next day; life was good.

Today, I am sitting alone at a bar near the beach - no, I'm not sitting and drinking, lonely; internet access can be hard to come by at the state parks and it's free here.  I just had me a wonderful order of fries, which I haven't had since leaving home three months ago.  It's sunny and seventy, and I'm still feeling like I've dropped into the middle of that other woman's life.  Life is good.

An attitude of gratitude is easy to come by today.

Thank you for the friends and family who follow along with my travels via this blog.  (And for those who don't follow, I know they love me anyhow!)  It is good to know I don't travel alone.

Thank you for all who have been so gracious and welcoming when I called with very little notice to say, "I'm nearby, do you have some time to see me?"  The answer has always been, "Yes!"

Thank you for the beautiful places I've seen so far on this sabbatical of mine; it's been all I could have dreamed.

Thank you for the kindnesses I've received from family, friends and strangers alike; from all the help I got moving this spring, to Sharon letting me and Joe stay with her all summer, to the helpful mechanic in Apalachicola yesterday, who gave me the two fuses I needed to get my cigarette lighter (and thus, GPS) working again, and wouldn't let me pay him.

Thank you for the people who had the wisdom to set aside beautiful places for all to share - to leave them mostly natural and unspoiled for us to come and see.

Thank you for the chance to take this sabbatical; to stop and recharge my batteries.  Slowly but surely, it's working.

Thank you for beautiful weather, for children who play innocently and happily in the sun.
Thank you for the cold and rainy days, those are needed, too, in this life.

Thank you.  Amen.

Someone Else's Life

St. George's State Park
St. George Island, Florida

I woke up this morning in the middle of some other woman's life.

Monday morning, just after the 20th of the month, I am at work, making sure the BDI Feeds came in and loaded properly.  I am waiting on the mobility feed to hit my in-box.  People depend on me to get the work done right, and to get it done on time.

This other woman, she woke up with nothing heavier on her mind than what time would be best to take the five mile gravel trail through the Sensitive Nature Area of the park to see the beach on the east end of the island.

She made sure she had air in the tires of her bike, an extra water bottle, her camera, her sunscreen - and took off.

I like her life better than mine, just sayin'.

Yup, I think it's finally hitting me that I'm not just on vacation from work.  I certainly don't regret the time I spent there.  I think I and the company got good value from one another for most of the time I worked for them, but for good or ill, that's behind me now.

I'm trying to learn to live in the moment - to not dwell on the uncertainties of this future into which I've launched myself - but to trust that I will land safely, and to enjoy the flight in-between.

Some days, it's easier than others.  Today is one of the easy days.

Stop.  Breathe.  Relax.


Saturday, November 19, 2011


Atlantic Ocean
St. Augustine, Florida

If you had asked me before I packed up and left home if I had any particular attachment to my shoes, I'd have said no.

After all, growing up, I generally had two pair of shoes - one for everyday, and one for good.

True, I had some 20-30 pairs, but that was for all seasons, and I do like to make a nominal effort to match the style of my feet to what I'm wearing, after all.

After 12 weeks in the camper van, the truth comes out.  I miss my shoes.

There is room for exactly four pair of shoes in the closet here, and I need all I have with me.  In those slots, I have:
  • a pair of sandals, (OK, I cheat and shove a pair of flip-flops for the shower in with the sandals),  the sandals are perfect for walking on the sand
  • a pair of running shoes, for everyday walking around in town and riding my bike
  • a pair of black dress shoes, gotta be able to look semi-professional
  • a pair of workout shoes; the twists and turns of my karate workout will tear the bottoms off of anything but wrestling shoes in less than a month
  • and two weights of hiking shoes.  A heavier pair with really good grips that's water resistant but not waterproof, and a pair of lightweight waterproof ones; I bought those after the second of my treks in the rain.
I know; that's six, not four - I cheat.  The pair of shoes I'm wearing on any given day don't have a slot waiting for them, and the workout shoes live in one of my two drawers.  Picky, picky...

This collection has been more than adequate to keep me properly shod as I traipse around the country.  Or so my practical nature tells my shoe-loving inner two year-old.

The two year-old is not convinced.  But what about the red clogs that are so fun to wear when the weather is gray?  The blue strap sandals?  The comfy bedroom slippers? 

As with most small children, she is not impressed when I tell her the shoes are waiting at home; a treat for when I move back out of the camper van.  She wants them NOW...

Some days, I can be hard to live with.  Just ask me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Atlantic Ocean
Anastasia State Park
St. Augustine, Florida

Sunsets... Always beautiful...  God Is.

At the risk of repeating myself, it awes me when I get a chance to stop and notice the sheer quantity of beauty that God manages to pack into a single sunset.

From fiery yellows and oranges to the palest pinks and blues. 

All in the same sky, all cycled through in a quick 30 or so minutes, from bright daylight to darkness.

It amazes me even more when I manage to look beyond my particular spot in time and space, and realize again that the sun is always rising, the sun is always setting.  Every minute of every day, somewhere in the world, this profligate display of beauty is on show.

"Be still, and know that I am God."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos
St. Augustine, Florida

The Spaniards got to this part of the country before the British.  I'd say they got here first, but as one of the plaques within the fort told me, the Native Americans of this region had built a healthy economy, trading with others as far away as present day Ohio, before this guy named Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean and threw a monkey wrench into the works.

The fort, built of stone made from compressed shells (coquina), is the oldest masonry and only existing 17th century structure still standing in the U.S.  It gave me a fascinating glimpse into what life was like when.

It looks much as it did when it was first completed back in 1687.  It traded hands six times during the colonial era, but always through treaties.  Its defenses were never broken.  The walls are several feet thick; the interior rooms are dank and cool.  It never served as a permanent home - the soldiers posted here lived in town, and stayed only for their duty shifts. 

Yet, in 1702, the entire town of some 1200 people, plus 300 soldiers, were besieged here by the English for two months, until the Spanish navy arrived, trapping the English forces in the bay.  It had to be the most unpleasant two months of those people's lives.  Just the challenge of keeping the sanitary facilities in usable condition would have made life unpleasant.  There would have been little for the children to do; once the fear from the invasion wore off, as it would have within the first few weeks, keeping them from climbing the walls had to have been a major challenge for their parents.

Downtown St. Augustine has some of the oldest buildings in America.  The main corridor is for pedestrians only, and is lined with charming shops, B&Bs and eateries.  It was here that I found my latest pizza fix, at Pizzalleys!  It is the favorite place of one of the park hosts - and is a far cut above your average chain.

As an added bonus, the town is an easy bike ride from the Anastasia State Park, where I've been hunkering down for most of the week.  The weather's been beautiful, the ocean is about a half mile from the campground, there's internet access available at a pavilion within the park - what more could one ask?

Well, maybe the ability to relax as completely as this guy.  I'm learning, but have a long way to go to reach his attitude of complete relaxation and ease.  I'm willing to work on it, though....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home Sweet Home

2003 RoadTrek 190 Popular

This post is for those who want to see my new living quarters - I've had several requests...

Did you ever get to make blanket forts when you were a kid?  We did.  We'd unmake all the beds, claiming tables, chairs - anything with a space under it for our temporary homes.  We'd carefully drape the blankets over the furniture, grab our favorite toys, and crawl inside for a wonderful afternoon of make-believe.

My daughter tagged it for me - I've moved into a blanket fort!

Closet, Toilet
Unlike the forts of my childhood days, however, the camper van has all the comforts of home.  It has a closet and a toilet.  (behind the mirror in the picture to the right.)  It has a shower - I haven't used it yet, because the space is a little cramped - but if/when the day comes I need it, I'll be very glad it's there.  Yes, it's in the picture - see the track on the ceiling?  The shower curtain comes out of the toilet cubby and creates an enclosure in the aisle.  The shower head mounts nearby; the water drains into the floor - so you get to shower and clean the floor all at once. Quit laughing.

The closet is about 18" wide and a bit under 2' deep - but does go floor to ceiling - it's amazing what you can cram into a space that size, as long as you don't mind a few wrinkles.  No dry-clean clothes allowed...

Kitchen, Bed
On the other side of the aisle, I have a small but well-equipped kitchen.  There's a two-burner stove, fridge, sink, microwave and about 18 square inches of counter space.  The latte machine and television are in the cabinet to the rear of the picture, behind the microwave.  (All the essentials...)

The bed is good-sized; I keep it made up as a single mattress, which is basically a short queen-sized bed.  There is an option to make two twins with a center aisle, but I haven't tried it that way because  I like to sprawl.  I have a camping air mattress to add a little support in the center of the space, which is where I sleep. 

Much to my chagrin, the sides of the bed have become my dumping grounds - that's where I keep everything that doesn't have another home.   I don't like clutter - but where else to keep the jackets that won't fit into the closet, the books (that's another story) and the extra blankets?  If I pared down just a bit more, I could find places to tuck them away, but...  what if I need it????  Besides, it's not a good blanket fort without some treasures scattered about!

The van fits into a standard parking spot, so I can stop in to visit busier areas when it suits me.  (OK, parking spot plus an extra three feet or so, since I have the bike on the back.)  It's easy to hook up and the mileage isn't TOO bad (13-15 mpg) for a home on wheels. 

I can see where I will be ready to climb out of my fort into a real home by the time I'm done with my sabbatical, but for now, it's perfect.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Highlands Hammock

Now, where was that path?
Highlands Hammock State Park

For me, Florida is turning out to be a mixed bag.  Parts of it do not appeal to me, but then, there are the gems...

Turning north from Ft. Myers (I decided it would be prudent of me to avoid the Miami area completely...), I took the back roads to the interior of the state.  I'd found a state park in the middle of the swamplands, and thought I'd see if I could see some alligators.

I didn't see any, though I was told me they were there.  What I did find was a forest landscape out of time, and some mosquitoes that the Minnesota cousins would be proud to claim as their own. 

I hope it doesn't learn how to crawl...
I take back everything I said about wanting to get off the beaten path.  Not in this place.  The boardwalk was much appreciated - I definitely didn't want to bother any of those who live in the swampy morass beneath my feet.  (Isn't this the ideal habitat for water moccasins???)  I was also glad I wasn't on the installation crew.

The campgrounds are at the front of the park; the nature trails a short bike ride and an entire world away.

Definitely not Kansas...
Once you get off the main road just a short distance, the sounds of the outside world get swallowed in the peaceful hush of the forest.  My footsteps sounded harshly loud as I walked the path; I stopped often as I walked, to let their echoes die so I could listen to the quiet.

And, though I wasn't expecting it to, the quiet worked its magic on my soul.  I'd started the walk in a restless mood.  Now that I'm past the first month of recovery from burnout, I'm not sure what I'm doing on this trip.  My allotted time for travel is going quickly; shouldn't I be gathering an idea of what I want to do when it's over?  I currently have no clue and some days it bothers me.  As I walked and stopped and listened, all that didn't seem so important for a while.  What was important was the beauty around me; creeping into my soul and quieting my doubts. 

Stop.  Relax.  Breathe.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Apropo of Nothings

Cruising, Ft Myers Beach, FL
Ft. Myers Beach

I love it when the birds obligingly pose for the camera!

If women have to wear tops on the beach, some men should have to, too.

Skin that's been around on this earth for over 60 years is not attractive if it's been subjected to tanning for too many of those years.  There's wrinkles, and then there's wrinkles.

Looking for Breakfast, Ft Myers Beach, FL
I got to skip the time change this time.  I'm going to bed and getting up at the same time I did last week, but now I'm getting up way early in the morning, and I get to feel virtuous about it.

I've decided I really don't like going to restaurants alone.  I feel like they're all looking at me like I'm either eccentric or weird.  Carry out or cook in - that's me this trip.

It's about time to get pizza - I managed to miss my monthly fix this last month.  That's one of the problems with being on the road - how do you know where the GOOD pizza places are?

On my way to my current campground, I stopped at one about a mile down the road.  The office was closed (at 3:30 on Saturday?), and the guard shack was empty, so I found a lady in the sales office nearby.  (They also sell park models at the place.)  I asked about staying, she told me to look for the guard.  Then she stopped, looked at me more closely and said, "This is an adult-only park, you know."  When I assured her I was on my own, she added, "For people over 55 only".  It's been a long time since I was too young to get into a place!  Laughing, I headed on down the road.

I can't picture myself living in a retirement community in Florida when I get older.  Especially in the middle of the state.  You get all the storms, but none of the water vistas.  Nope, don't see it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Florida Drivers

Ft. Myer's Beach, Florida
I have a new least-favorite state to drive in.

It used to be New Jersey.   The drivers there are cut-throat, and take no prisoners.  If they're unhappy with you, they let you know immediately, with a honk and a not-so-friendly wave.  With a truck and out-of-state plates they will allow you room to merge, but only if you punch it.  No hesitation allowed.

The new one is Florida.  I think about 80% of the Florida drivers were transplanted from the upper east coast.  The other 20% are what I used to call 'hat drivers' (because most of those who drive this way are old men, wearing hats). They mosey along, plenty of time, no hurry - in the left lane - until they need to exit, at which time they cross to the right without warning to make their turn.  I'd thought hat drivers were mostly benign, until I got down here.

I was driving in the center lane of the freeway, keeping up with traffic, when one of them cut me off, almost taking my front bumper with him.  He then proceeded to flip me off, for driving where he wanted to be???.  The guy had to be at least 75 years old.  And, yes, he was wearing a hat.

Fortunately for my nerves, just past Tampa as you're coming south on 75, there's a sign pointing to the Gulf Beaches.  The most aggressive drivers exited there, leaving the rest of us to heave a huge sigh of relief and continue our journeys in relative peace.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ever Surprising

Crooked River, Georgia
Crooked River State Park

When I climbed into the camper van two months ago, I'd not been away from home for more than a week in 20-odd years.  I knew I wanted to see more of this country of ours; I didn't know if I'd get bored with it.

Just when I begin to think it might maybe be a possibility, I turn another corner, to see something beautiful - unlike all the other beautiful places I've see so far on this trip.
Georgia Trees

Crooked River was one such place - when I picked it out, it was a handy stopping point between here and there.  No mountains or oceans, my expectations of the park were low.

Then, I pulled in to find a wide river, marshy in the middle.  Tall pine trees, with the biggest pine cones I've ever seen spread carelessly about the ground, and with an undergrowth like none I'd ever seen.  Not birch or the other northern deciduous trees, but some sort of palm tree - I didn't try wading in for a close look; they looked like they could cut like they mean it if you brush up against them wrong.

The campground was in two parts; one more open with a view of the river; the other part back in the trees.

Sunset, Crooked River, Georgia
I picked the open part, I wasn't sure why.  I'm usually more of a back-in-the-trees kind of gal.  While I was eating dinner, I looked out the window, and knew why I'd chosen the spot I had.

Sunset.  God Is.  Amen.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Relax, Breathe

Hunting Island State Park
South Carolina

With staying on the road and all, I haven't given this underachieving goal of mine the attention it deserves.   It takes quite a bit of time each day to figure out where I'm going, and then drive to get there.

Before I left, I had some ideas of how a perfect day on sabbatical looked.  Yesterday came close.

The high was around 70; my campsite was right next to the beach.

I woke with the dawn; was able to watch the sky lighten from my bed.

Atlantic Ocean
Once I got up, I took myself down to the beach, and went for a nice long walk while the tide was still out.  (When it's in, there's only a narrow strip of sand along the edge of the beach to walk, and it's littered with fallen trees.  When it's out, you have a good 30 yards of packed sand to wander along.)  Came back, did some stretching to loosen up from the last several days of driving, and enjoyed me some lunch.

After lunch, I got out my thus-far neglected art supplies, and went back down to the beach to draw a picture of one of the fallen trees.

Finishing that, I found a handy tree to lean against, and spent some time just watching the tide roll in.  (humming, "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay", to set the mood properly.  The location's wrong, but the words are otherwise perfect.)

Getting hungry, I went back to the camper, talked to my son for a while (phone reception was good, but like most of the state campgrounds, Internet was unavailable), fixed me some dinner, then ate it while watching the sky darken as the sun went down.

I spent the balance of the evening enjoying a trash novel under the light of my new task light.    

Ahhhh.  Life is Good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Santee State Park, South Carolina
Some dates are just too fun.  Today ranks right up there for the year with 9-10-11, and just behind 11-11-11!   Just ask me.

I realized there is a flaw in my plan the other day.  I've been heading south, thinking to escape the cold, but it's not the cold that bothers me about winter.  (At least, it doesn't bother me if it's cold outside as long as I am warm and dry.)

It's the dark.  Without my fireplace, comforting candles and bright lights, I'm afraid I'm not going to like the next few months very well.

And since I can't drive far enough south to outrun winter's darkness, I'm going to have to grit my teeth and deal.  I did take one positive step this weekend - I bought a task lamp for the camper.  The lights in the van work for reading or watching TV, but are not quite bright enough for me to work on art or other crafts.  The room is certainly cozy enough; perhaps it'll be easier than I fear...  I can only hope, because right now, winter's looking like it'll make this trip feel like it's lasting FOREVER - and not in a good way.