TRAVEL

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

Hiking Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park

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.

Notes from a Condo Monday

Buck and I are home now, but these musings are from my morning notebook on Monday, October 14 at Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra near Jacksonville, Florida:

Drone of an airplane, distant traffic sounds, four white egrets feeding on the pristine golf course, a squirrel ascends a nearby pine tree several times, each trip retrieving a small cone. I see one car crossing a road in the distance. A man shouts, once, “Oh,” as though in a declaratory stretch. Two heavy CAT machines are parked in a bed of pine needles just off the golf cart path. A breeze enters through the fine mesh screen.

Uh oh. It’s Monday here in paradise. Three guys just came roaring up on a motorized utility cart. Two of them are saddling up on the CAT machines. If I’m lucky, they’ll take them and go to work in another area. I hear them speaking Spanish to one another, the “beep beep” backing up sound, and there goes the Bobcat 227 followed by the bright orange utility truck/cart. The bigger CAT is idling. I see the driver banging on something with his fist, as though a gear is frozen. There goes #2, and now I hear #3 running, beeping and moving past our screened porch and out of sight. It’s the big one, basso profundo, with a shovel on the front.

Yep. Definitely Monday. Just now a guy in shorts, orange t-shirt and carrying a ladder walked by on the golf cart path. “Mornin’,” he says. Sounds like he’s cleaning gutters or sawing or something in the condo next door. Back and forth. Glad I have on workout clothes. Clearly not a day for décolletage on the porch.

Have to give it to the guy. He’s taken to going around the long way to get to the condo he’s working on. Still a little noise, but less disturbing.  Oops. Spoke too soon. He’s back. But at least he’s a quiet walker.

Late breakfast on the porch yesterday with Buck — very relaxing as always. Later, an expedition to Publix for the week’s groceries, and in the late afternoon a roughly three mile walk to the beach. Dogs on the beach are a welcome sight.

Love the sign on boardwalk before we crossed street to beach club area:  WARNING: SNAKES AND ALIGATORS HAVE BEEN SEEN HERE. I saw a thin, frightened-looking woman with scraggly reddish gray long hair clutching a thin, frightened-looking spaniel with scraggly, reddish gray long hair in her arms, both with eyes wide and, I’m sure, pounding hearts. We saw an old man and his old dog, testament to the canard that people and their dogs begin to look like one another. The dog was an ancient white bull dog, stocky and slow-moving with that adorable Winston Churchill mug. I heard his owner speak a word or two. His accent was German, or maybe Austrian. I immediately dubbed the dog “Otto.” The man wore brown clogs. You could see his heels through his thin brown socks.

When Bernhard (could be, why not?) and Otto walked down damp, sandy wood steps onto the beach, a dainty white miniature Poodle raised her ears, strained at her leash and began to bark at Otto. I thought: Fifi loves Otto! Fifi loves Otto!

Otto never looked at her, as though his master was the only object in his consciousness. But I swear, I could hear the deep tympani of his heart beat a little faster. “Fifi, my Fifi.”

Another worker, less polite, shows up. Instead of walking around the palmetto stand, he cuts through behind them within inches of our screened porch. Then the hammering starts. Just like so many “subs” we have known. The framers are a breed apart, their screw you and the horse you rode in on attitude legendary.

An older guy wearing an expensive-looking charcoal colored bicyclist shirts and shorts, his wavy silver hair well-coifed, walks by on the golf path. I thought at first he was using the park to walk or jog, but he stops next door to speak to the workers. No further hammering (yet), lots of one-sided talking. Something about the way he lifts his left foot as he walks makes me think he is annoyed, either at something in particular or as a general life attitude. His face looks a little sour, cold.

Even with noises and intrusions that we’re not accustomed to, it’s becoming clear to me that writing is enlivened by the checking out a wide swath of humanity in their habitat as they go about doing whatever it is they do. Brilliant deduction, huh? Sometimes I have “aha” moments, but more often they are the “well, duh” variety.

Yesterday, for example, I saw a fake-friendly guy in a yellow polo and tan Bermuda shorts in the Sawgrass Beach Club parking lot. (Definitely a sight I wouldn’t normally see in the pine woods of home.) Took me seeing him twice — once on the way to the beach as we walked on the interloper’s (non-member and dog access) boardwalk over to the beach, and then again on the way out when I heard his “Have a wonderful evening” greetings to members leaving the parking lot and watched his dead cop eyes on everyone exiting the non-members boardwalk, making sure we all moved along. Bouncer. This guy was the muscle, main job to keep the riffraff out of the club and away from its members.

Back to my perch on the porch. It’s Monday everywhere this morning. Now a guy is running a gasoline-powered weed-eater out on the golf green. I see two guys through the binoculars, one with a beige ball cap and a long curly strawberry blond ponytail, sporting a beard and a prominent beer gut under his tee shirt. I haven’t seen a single bandy-legged old coot golfer yet, but I have seen a mind-boggling variety of specialty equipment out there clipping, mowing, and primping the course.

Rude guy and silver hair have moved nearly within earshot now. He’s a finger jabber. Big discussion about the roof and exterior of the condo next door, rotted wood on deck, etc. Silver hair is either an old owner who desperately wants to sell or a new owner who bought “as is” and is eager to put his shiny imprimatur on this down at heel 1984-vintage villa.

I leave my eavesdropping on the porch and go inside to hit the shower and prepare for our daily drive to the clinic. I met a woman there yesterday whose husband is being treated for pancreatic cancer. They are staying in a communal home with other patients, inexpensive but no privacy, much less a screened porch overlooking a golf course.

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BBQ, Golfers, Women and Whisky

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.

Touch of Red

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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.

 

Alligators May Be Present

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There must be a lot of snakes and alligators on this picturesque boardwalk if Sawgrass felt the need for a sign.

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Well, I haven’t seen any snakes yet . . . but you can bet I’ll be on the lookout!

P1000264This fellow had his eye on the fishing line a young boy had cast from the boardwalk. The boy’s dad was nearby. Even so, I felt my busybody gene itching.

 

Dreaming the Future

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.

 

Random Spontaneous Gorgeous on a Sunday Stroll in Ponte Vedra, Florida

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Dark Into Light

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.

 

Road Trip to Naples and Cocoa

2013 March 20 Leaf in Stream

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Conrad's True North

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.

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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.

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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.

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Scene from Cocoa Village Marina, Cocoa, Florida, March 17, 2013

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.