Matagorda Bay Nature Park

beach sunrise through clouds

I sang while walking Zelda yesterday morning.

Yep, singing in public. Loudly, too. Except it wasn’t really public. We were on a completely deserted beach, ocean pounding away, with the sun peeking out from behind clouds, with that sort of celestial rays of light thing happening. Singing felt totally appropriate. I should probably learn either a few more songs or the actual lyrics of “Joy to the World” if I intend to continue singing while walking the dog, though, because my singing involved a fair amount of “something, something, something,” lyrics.

When I first got to this campground, on Friday, I’d been driving in the rain for a while and I was feeling… well, tired of rain. After having lived in Florida and California for most of the past 25 years, I sort of forgot that in some places rain just goes on and on and on. Not that I would have expected Texas to be one of those places, but hey, live and learn.

And the campground is very much one of the rows of RVs’ places. Nice spaces, with plenty of room between sites, concrete picnic tables at every site, and smooth large driveways, but what I can see out of my windows–front, back, both sides–is another camper. It’s not cozy. Combine that with the rain and I was less than enthusiastic.

But this is absolutely another location, location, location place. Sure, it’s a (very nice) parking lot, but it borders the southern end of the Colorado River and miles and miles of true ocean beach. Sitting in the camper is not so interesting, but walking is amazing.

There’s an incredibly long jetty made of metal grating that goes out over the water. At the end, you can feel the spray, hear the crashing waves, and look down at the water, probably at least ten feet below. It’s exhilarating in the way the ocean can be, like you’re breathing pure freedom. (Zelda, however, hated it, so I won’t be going on it again. I’m not sure whether it was the feel of the metal under her paws or the distance to the ground that she could see below her, but she was walking very, very slowly.)

The beach has lots of shells, so there’s some fun beachcombing activity, but best of all, when I asked the campground host about letting dogs off leash, she shrugged, and said, “Sure, no one cares.” Yay! Zelda had no interest in chasing sticks or running around madly, which didn’t surprise me although it made me a little sad, but she’s enjoyed the freedom to roam and I’ve enjoyed watching her.

Funnily enough, I’ve been more worried about traffic on the beach than other dogs. Cars and trucks drive on the beach here! It’s so strange to me–I have literally never been to a beach where anyone other than a ranger or lifeguard was allowed in a vehicle on the sand. Seeing people drive onto the beach with their pickup trucks and then set up for the day with chairs and blankets and fishing poles has been novel. Yesterday, one truck got really, truly stuck, however, so I’m not sure I’m going to be driving Serenity on the beach anytime soon.

Lots of people are fishing. I haven’t chatted with anyone who’s caught anything, but apparently steelhead trout, whiting, and redfish are all possibilities. And, of course, there are loads of birds. Lots of terns. The campground host gave me a nifty brochure of local birds and there are several different types of terns. I could maybe differentiate between them if I had binoculars, but I think figuring out the difference between a tern and a gull is probably sufficient for me. At least until I get binoculars or a telephoto lens for my phone.

The nature center is nice, too. It’s small, very focused on this specific area, but some fun displays for kids. Lots of hands-on stuff.

It continues to rain, though. This morning I haven’t even walked Zelda, because the rain has been so steady. But I turned the heater on in the van and I’m trying to pretend that I’m in a cozy nest, instead of feeling like I’m camping in the rain. I have/am discovering, though, the dilemma of accumulating wet things when you’re camping in the rain. There’s no way for anything to get dry, short of me finding a laundromat. And everything is starting to feel damp. I need some sunshine!

Of course, tomorrow’s weather report says sun, but I leave here tomorrow. And the campground I’m headed to, while an island, does not apparently have good beaches. So this might be my last sandy day for a while. I like sand, but wet sand is really not my favorite thing. And I feel like I’m starting to whine, so I’ll stop. Overall, though, I would come back to this campground, but I’m not actually planning on doing so. Next winter, maybe?

Surprised by beauty

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I woke up this morning and thought, okay, it’s time to move. It’s my 6th day here, making this just about my longest stay in a state park. I’ve visited the little beach around the corner a few times every day, and I’ve walked along the road toward the front of the park every morning. I was getting tired of it. Yesterday was cold and grey and I turned back when I started to feel raindrops, so I was decidedly unenthusiastic about doing the same walk one more time.

An hour later, I was in love with Galveston again.

It’s sunny.

And it’s so beautiful.

This morning instead of walking all the way toward the front of the park, we turned off on a road that we’d been on once before. But after we hit our normal walk length, the point where I would usually decide it was time to turn around, we kept going. I found a trail that led into the park and we took it and walked out into the grasses.

It was a half mile loop, so nothing too long, but it included a stand to climb up, so you could look out over the expanse and a bridge over one of the shallow inlets. I feel like inlet is the wrong word, but I don’t think it was a river. This area of the park (the bay side) is the coastal wetlands, so I think the water ebbs and flows through all of the land, and the shallower areas stay wet. But maybe it was a river. It was water. With lots of white birds stalking around and floating in it.

I didn’t take any pictures that remotely do it justice—the sun was too bright, the birds too far away. Plus, of course, photos can’t capture the air, the smells, the sounds. But the picture at the top is the closest I could come. Pretty sure those are snowy egrets. Absolutely sure that they were beautiful. On the other side of the bridge, there were dozens of birds, but they all turned into dark spots against the rising sun. They were beautiful, too.

Right now I’m sitting in Serenity with the screen door open. B is on the floor, in the sunny patch by the door. A little while ago, a starling was sitting on the picnic table squawking at him. Starlings definitely squawk. There’s a little tree—maybe even a tall shrub—outside my window, and a bird that I’m going to guess is a common yellowthroat (why, yes, I did download a bird ID app, why do you ask?) is flitting back and forth around it. Not building a nest, but it’s got a branch that it keeps revisiting. And I am pretty sure that a hawk of some sort, probably red-tailed, just glided by.

In a lot of ways, I’m still getting used to living in Serenity. I’m still finding ways to make life easier, things to change. I bought $20 of tupperware a few weeks ago and threw out all the random pieces of tupperware I had, so that now my tupperware all stacks. It felt so wasteful and it sounds so trivial, but wow, what a lovely difference to not have leftover dishes falling on my head when I open the cupboard. On the same extravagant day, I bought liquid soap and threw away my bar soap and its holder. Bar soap is just not worth the effort; it gets too messy. I’ve finally figured out where it’s best to keep my toothbrush, at least for now. (Inside a cup, in the medicine cabinet.) I think I’m even finally getting the hang of washing dishes in a single sink while using the least possible amount of water.

But one of the trickiest things to figure out is how long to spend in any one place. Traveling too fast is so disruptive that I get no writing done. Traveling too slow and the van starts to feel like a trap. But I think I may have mixed up traveling too slow with staying in the wrong places. Two weeks in a campground where my view is other people’s sewer lines and our morning walks are along rows of trailers may be very, very different from two weeks in a place where six days in I can still be surprised by beauty.

Galveston Island State Park

Possibly all I need to say about Galveston Island State Park is that yesterday I went online to figure out when I could get another reservation, preferably for the beach side campsites. (I’m currently on the bay side.) March 5-10th. So I’m going to wander around Texas for a couple of weeks and then come back here. This will not be the first park that I’ve returned to, but it’s the first one that I’ve returned to that didn’t have relatives living nearby.

The park has vast expanses of blackened land, presumably recovering from a controlled burn, with wild grasses growing and not much else. It’s flat and muddy and dark. And by some standard, the weather has been terrible. I haven’t seen a sunrise since I got here because it’s been so foggy. But the fog isn’t cold, it just has a hint of ocean chill and it smells like ocean. It’s lovely. Zelda and I have gotten muddy and sandy and wet and salty. (B, not so much, because he does the finicky dog thing of, “What? You want me to walk there? On THAT? No, thank you.”) And I love it.

I could live without the tornado warnings, though. Today has been pretty much a non-stop stream of the national weather service letting me know that I’m going to die soon. Any minute now! It’s actually really impressive to be watching the ocean while a thunderstorm is going on — the waves are great, but the rumbles of thunder and lightning make them all the better. But, of course, I am hoping to avoid any actual tornados. I did unplug Serenity and move from the campsite to a parking lot, out of some notion of being ready to move should it be necessary, but I’m not sure how I would know that it was actually necessary short of seeing a forming tornado.

Back to the park: there are birds I’ve never seen before, tall and short and in-between. One was a reddish egret, which I wouldn’t know, except that I found a sign telling me so. Two yesterday were tall and pink and mysterious. I am fairly sure–after abandoning all hope of conserving my internet data to research the question–that they were not flamingos, but roseate spoonbills. If you had told me six months ago that I was going to be so interested in birds that I would be looking for an app to help me identify them, I would have looked at you sidewise, but there you go. One never knows what travel will offer.

Lunch yesterday was diced apple, celery, red onion, chopped dates, chopped pecans, finely chopped fresh cilantro, and a tablespoon of mayo, mixed up and rolled in turkey. And then wrapped in a gluten-free tortilla because the turkey wasn’t thick enough to roll properly. The tortilla was not good, but the relish-turkey combo was delicious.

And I mention it partially because I want to remember it for some future day when I need food inspiration but also because there’s a correlation for me between making weird foods & happiness, but I’m not sure which way it flows. Was I happy because I was making up a recipe or was I making up a recipe because I was happy? It’s possible that it’s one of those circular things, where feeling cheerful made me feel creative which inspired me to create something weird that was tasty and delicious which then made me happy to eat and so on.

I was also very happy with the words created yesterday. They were maybe not the greatest words ever written, but they were actual forward movement in Grace, not just revising and tweaking and being generally dissatisfied with the shape of Grace. (The book, not the character.) And since I’m hoping for some more of those today, I’d best get to it.

Happy Pan-Universal Be Who You Are Day!

Sam Houston Jones State Park, LA

swamp sunrise

Yesterday was the first day in a long while where I wrote no words for no reason. I wasn’t traveling, I wasn’t busy with other things, I had plenty of time to write… I just didn’t. I didn’t have the imagination. I stared at my files and no words showed up.

I went to bed feeling bleak and annoyed with myself and woke up feeling miserably sick. So I’m guessing that’s why there were no words yesterday and it might mean no words today, either. I gave Zelda the shortest walk she’s had in a while, then came back and crawled back under the covers.

But I’m leaving this park tomorrow, and I promised myself I’d blog about every new place I stay, so… Sam Houston Jones State Park. I have a nice tucked-away spot with a view of forest out of one window, but the park itself feels much bigger and more urban than most of the places I’ve stayed recently.

Bigger is accurate, I think, but the urban is just that it’s near a highway. Instead of birds and bugs and strange animals, there’s a lot of traffic noise. Well, and also there are a lot of picnic tables and a commensurate amount of litter. And maybe a lot of traffic? This morning, when I was trying to go back to sleep, I was looking out the wrong window–not the forested window–and I watched a long string of cars passing by, probably at least a dozen of them. For a Thursday morning in midwinter, that’s a lot of cars to be driving past a campground in a state park.

My first afternoon here, I watched two big cats — house cats, not wild, but I’d guess feral — stalking through the forest out my window. They feel like the definition of the place: feral, not wild. Example: this morning’s walk, admittedly short, included an encounter with a half-dressed guy staggering along the trail. Not staggering in the “I’m an injured hiker” sort of way, but staggering in the “drunk guy, sleeping it off in the woods” sort of way. Hmm, so maybe that adds to the urban feel, too? I didn’t cut my walk short because of him, but it definitely lowers my enthusiasm for random strolls through deserted trails in the semi-dark. On the other hand, swamp sunrise, quite pretty. And I saw an armadillo trundling through the woods yesterday and armadillos are always cool.

I’m hoping my current state of misery is a gluten-reaction — I didn’t read a label a few days ago and it contained some modified food starch, so it could be — but of course it feels like I’ve got the flu. Blah. It’s quite sad how desperately I wish I was back in my house, in my comfortable bed, with my freezer full of homemade chicken stock and my electric tea kettle on the counter. And my fenced backyard, so the dogs could go out without me needing to drag myself out with them. If wishes were horses, I’d have a full stable today.

But tomorrow, Texas.

Tickfaw State Park, Louisiana

Cypress swamp

This is the mist about half an hour later (and lighter) than when I decided, nope, not getting on that path.

I woke up early this morning, maybe because I was hearing a weird noise—like a far-distant telephone dial, the old-fashioned rotary kind—but probably just because I went to bed really early last night. It was 5AM or so and I spent the next half hour trying to track down the noise: moving around the van, opening windows to see if it was louder outside, turning off circuits from the circuit breaker, running the water, going outside and turning the water off… every new attempt punctuated by five minutes or so of trying to go back to sleep.

Finally I gave up and got up. The first thing I do every morning is walk Zelda but it was still full dark outside, so instead I made myself coffee and breakfast (honey Greek yogurt with blueberries and granola, yum.) Zelda is generally not patient if I try to do much before her walk—she knows how the morning is supposed to go—but it was early enough and dark enough that she opened her eyes and watched me but didn’t bother to start moving until I started getting dressed.

When we started walking, it was a little after six. Sunrise was at six-forty, so it was still dark, but getting lighter. I walked a short way down the road, then turned back and got my flashlight, that’s how dark it was. We wandered along the road, down a short path to the deserted nature center—closed today, alas, or I would be headed back there—through the parking lot, down another road, and right to the edge of a boardwalk path into the park.

And there I stopped.

I’m in Tickfaw State Park in Lousiana. I got here yesterday afternoon, with time to do a bunch of housebound stuff (vanbound?), but not enough time to explore the park in daylight. So there I was, approximately 6:20 AM, about to head into the park in semi-darkness. Except…

It was a grey and foggy morning. Mist was everywhere and it was doing that thing where even though it’s not raining, the mist condenses on the tree leaves and then drips, so it sounded like there were tiny random footsteps happening all around me. They weren’t footsteps, of course, they were just drops of water hitting the ground. I’m a rational person, I know that’s what that sound was. Not footsteps, just water drops.

But there were birds, too, loads of them, making loads of noise.

And to the right of the boardwalk, in the woods, there was a rustling. And then a sound like a coughing bark. Not a bark, not a cough, but something in between. It’s not a sound that a squirrel makes, not one of their chitters or squeaks. It’s a bigger sound than that. But it’s not a rumble or a growl, either.

I told myself that it was perfectly safe. I didn’t know what was making that sound, but I was going to get on the boardwalk, not walk into the woods.

Except these weren’t exactly woods. I’m in a cypress swamp. The trees are probably beautiful in summer, but it’s the middle of winter, so right now they’re trunks of mostly bare gray branches, scattered dead leaves hanging from them. Occasional scrub pines provide a bit of color, but the ground is dark and muddy, covered with leaves or swampy water. For whatever reason, it reminds me of the landscape from Stranger Things.

I heard the sound again. Does Louisiana have bears? Probably. No reason why they wouldn’t have bears, plus the trash receptacles are bear-proof and why would you have bear-proof trash cans if you didn’t have bears? But, middle of winter, bears ought to be asleep. Hibernating, right? And there’s no way that noise was big enough to be a bear.

Unless it was a small bear.

Zelda was tugging at the leash. She was quite eager to go walk along that boardwalk and sniff interesting smells.

I was not so sure.

And then, from the left side, I heard a howl. A real, true, actual howl. Like a wolf howling at the moon howl. Like a werewolf howl.

I was sure it was a coyote, equally sure it was far away. And I was totally positive that the little footstep sounds I heard all around me were just water drips from the trees created by the mist, and whatever the thing coughing at me from the trees to the right was (probably a raccoon, right?), it was definitely not a monster from a shadow realm going to eat us both alive.

But I was not getting on that boardwalk, just not.

So Zelda and I walked back along the road and deeper into the park. I saw an owl fly across the road, and then fly from tree to tree until it disappeared into the swamp. I saw two snowy white egrets lift into the air, so beautiful and so ungainly. An entire flock of some much smaller bird flew so close overhead that I literally heard their wings beating.

The noise here is just incredible. Alexa does a forest sounds meditation that I’ve always thought was unrealistic because it’s such steady noise, but this is the forest that meditation belongs to, because the birds and the bugs are a constant background harmony, even now, sitting in Serenity on the computer.

And the park basically belongs right now to me and the birds. The campground has spots for thirty RVs; I believe there might be two other campers here. It is peaceful, serene, beautiful… and also isolated and honestly, seriously spooky.

In a mostly fun way.

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

the van with the ocean behind her

The view is impressive when there are no cars passing by.

I’m not much of a fan of van pictures—I love Serenity, but I’m not enough of a van worshipper to find her particularly photogenic—but this photo so perfectly summed up this park for me that I couldn’t resist.

I am one of two campers on an empty line of grass facing the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a busy road that you can’t really see between me and the water, with cars going by every few minutes, and ugly electric lines overhead, and despite the descriptions in the campground’s online info, it’s definitely not beachfront, because there’s no beach there, just ocean. Lots of ocean.

But this morning I watched the sun start to rise over the water from Serenity’s window, with Zelda snuggled up next to me. Of course she was snuggled because she was trying to tell me that it was time to get moving. When I eventually obliged, we had a lovely walk along the road and water. The water is so much quieter than it was on Dauphin Island, just lapping against the concrete, and beautifully still in places. Still a ton of birds, including a pelican that flew really close overhead, and lots of little darting birds. I should really find a bird app and try to learn what some of these birds are. I’m spending a lot of time watching them.

The bugs here are also quite impressive, although much less appealing. Last night I was sitting in Serenity with the windows open, watching the mosquitoes land on the screen next to me. It was seriously creepy. In a space maybe two feet square, there were probably fifteen mosquitoes clinging to the netting. Walking the dogs this morning, I felt like I was in an ocean of gnats, far too many of which then came inside with me. I’ve been swatting at them every couple of minutes, driving Z bonkers. She does not understand what I’m doing but she does not think it is good. Fortunately, I’m managing to reduce the number, one squashed bug at a time. If they were small enough to get in through the screens, I would be very sad. Well, and probably changing my mind about staying here, despite the incredible ocean view.

Yesterday I stopped at a really nice grocery store, Rouses Market, and wound up with a thoroughly impractically stocked fridge. For dinner, I had celery with crawfish dip, because how could I resist crawfish dip? (Followed by mixed greens, topped with pear, pecan,  & a very delicious blue cheese.) Tonight I will be having cajun-stuffed mushrooms and asparagus. I also have olives, marinated mushrooms, two more cheeses—a goat Gouda and a Scottish cheddar—and gluten-free crackers. Apparently I intend to eat nothing but appetizers and salads for the next couple days.

I also did all my laundry. This campground has four washers, for over 200 campsites. On a Wednesday afternoon in midwinter, people were having to wait their turns to get to the washers. I can’t imagine what it’s like in high season. Fortunately, all of my clothes and sheets are now clean, so I don’t have to worry about it. Or they were clean. I had one night of lovely clean sheets and this morning Z came back from our walk, hopped up on the bed, and shook, getting sand everywhere. There is no winning the keeping-clean game in a camper with dogs, but so it goes.

By the time I’d gotten everything packed up yesterday, checked out of the last campground, headed into Mississippi, hit traffic delays, did my grocery shopping and laundry, walked the dogs, and settled into my new campsite, it was late afternoon. I spent a little while doing a jigsaw puzzle and watching the sunset, then fed the dogs and ate some dinner. Then and only then, did I settle down to try to write my 1000 words.

I knew it was going to go badly. I was tired and so un-inclined to do the work. I didn’t remotely have the energy to even think about what was supposed to happen next in Grace. But two of my writing group friends and I are writing short stories together—writing motivation!—and this week’s assignment, decided on Tuesday, was to write a “romance short story.”  (Last week’s assignment was a horror short story and that was fun: I’ve never even contemplated writing horror, but I think I got it right.) So yeah, yesterday—sitting down to write with no motivation, knowing that it wasn’t going to go well, turned into 1600 words of romantic short story that I think is really fun. I’m definitely working on Grace today—that’s my big goal for the today—but I think I’m going to try to finish this little story first.

January 2017

Sunrise on Dauphin Island

Sunrise on Dauphin Island

A month ago, I wanted to write an end-of-2016 post: a reflection back on my year, calling out the high points, and maybe acknowledging a couple of the lows, too. I started it, then scrapped the whole idea. The year was too long. It included too much. I would have had to write for days and even then, I’d miss things. I decided, though, that in 2017, I’d write a post at the end of every month, reflecting back on the high points, on the moments I wanted to remember. I even put it into my calendar.

The alarm went off a few minutes ago: Write a best of the month post now. Okay, self, following orders: The best of the month is right now, right here.

I like that in a month. 🙂 I like that in a life, actually, to have the very best moment be the moment that you’re in.

I did have a lot of other nice moments in January, all of which can be summed up as “spent time with friends and family, mostly eating.” I’ve blogged about a lot of that already–sushi with R, new foods with my brother–but interesting pizza with C, grilled pork chops with J, and then E & A, & dinner with my writer’s group (where the food was utterly forgettable but the companions were wonderful) all fall into that category, too. All of the rest of January has fallen under the shadow of the Audubon Bird Sanctuary, though.

Today is my fifth day here and every day I’ve roamed through more of the sanctuary, exploring new and different trails. The birds are incredible. It reminds me of the aviaries in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, birds everywhere, flitting back and forth across the path in front of me, sitting in trees, standing or floating in the water, lined up on the rocks, swooping across the sky…

And the noises! Dozens of different sounds, tweets and chirps and trills and taps. Honestly, it feels like living inside a video game. Some of their calls sound like words to me — there’s one that says, “Secrets, Se-crets,” and another that says, “Here! Here, here, here!”

I could see the Disney connection and the video game as a sad commentary on my life. Why do the real sounds of nature make me think of unreal things? But yesterday I found the front entrance to the sanctuary and it turns out that this is recognized as one of the top four locations in the entire United States for bird viewing. So yes, the number of birds here is sort of unreal, if spectacular. And this isn’t even the season for them! Their peaks are during spring and fall migrations, not mid-winter.

I’ve mostly abandoned my attempts to photograph them, though. Yesterday, I was on the beach at sunrise, trying to take a photo of one of the birds lifting off from the water. The birds were dark against the rising sun, so graceful, so magical, and there were so many of them. The sound of the waves was like the heartbeat of the world, punctuated by the cries of the birds. It was still, barely a breeze, and cold enough that I was bundled up, wearing my scarf and gloves and coat, but not so cold that I was uncomfortable. And Zelda was bouncing around like a puppy.

But I couldn’t get a bird in a photo at all — they were too far away to be anything more than dark spots — and Zelda’s tugging at her leash kept bumping my phone so my photos were blurry, anyway. Fortunately, I realized I was feeling frustrated and annoyed, and that trying to save the memory was getting in the way of enjoying the sunrise and appreciating being on the beach with my dog. Not a good plan, so I stopped trying. I did take a few shots, today, though —  more in the “lift the phone, click, see what you get later” mode, while I kept walking — which is where the top image comes from. My new photography plan is to not put any effort into getting the perfect shot, just take a bunch and hope to get lucky.

Unrelated (except in that I want to remember this) I made a gluten-free meatloaf using finely-chopped sauteed mushrooms instead of bread crumbs, but otherwise following a typical meatloaf recipe (egg, mustard, salt, herbs, onion, garlic) and it was delicious. I ate it once with roasted cauliflower and once with mashed white sweet potatoes, and will definitely be making it again.

I also made rice noodles, mixed with green onion, cilantro, mushroom, chopped-up hard-boiled egg, lime juice, and a little hot sauce, and it was not bad for a meal using the dregs of the cupboard. I meant to stop at a grocery store on my way here last Friday and I didn’t get around to it. I haven’t left the campground since, so it’s a good thing I’m headed out tomorrow. The freezer is empty and the protein sources are getting… oh, wait, I’ve got canned chicken and canned fish. Eh, I’m good for a few more days. But I’m still heading out tomorrow. Alabama has been spectacular, but I am looking forward to discovering Mississippi, as more than just a drive-through state.

Unforgettable Alabama

Yesterday, while I was driving, I was trying to count the number of states I’ve visited in my life. You’d think that would be easy. It’s basically a yes, no question, after all. Have I been to California? Yes, I have. Have I been to Alaska? No, I haven’t. Nothing complicated about that, right?

But there are states I’m uncertain about. Like, for example, Indiana. Have I been to Indiana? Hmm… I’d definitely driven through it. And after much thought, I started to remember my visits to Indiana. I picked blueberries there with Michelle, her son and R; I saw friends in Bloomington once and I think ate lunch with them; I picked up my brother at college there, I think, on a road trip from Chicago to PA; and maybe, maybe I went on a business trip there once. But I’m not sure about the business trip and without that, I might never have spent the night in Indiana.

And there’s Missouri: once, when I was visiting Michelle in Kentucky, we drove into Missouri to look at fossils. I’m quite sure that afternoon is my only experience of Missouri. Does that count?

Then there’s New Hampshire. I’ve definitely been through it, multiple times on the way to other places. This summer, I got out of the van and tried to get propane in New Hampshire. That counts, doesn’t it? Or Iowa — I distinctly remember thinking that the McDonald’s bathroom in Iowa was the cleanest fast food restaurant bathroom I had ever seen and that the employees were cumulatively the blondest fast food workers I’d ever seen, but I don’t think I did much in Iowa apart from the McDonald’s stop.

And then there’s Delaware. Driven through it, definitely. Gotten out of the car… um, maybe? Ohio, same deal. Mississippi, ditto.

Kansas, I remember vividly. I was on a road trip with my mom, visiting my sister in Nebraska. I was driving, my mom napping in the passenger seat next to me, and when we drove into Kansas I woke her up to say, “Um, Kansas? Is that really on the way to Nebraska?” I’d made a wrong turn about two hours earlier and never realized. Ouch. But  the rest stop where we turned around is the sum total of my experience of Kansas. Does that count?

And if it does, then we get to the airport states: Colorado and Minnesota. It’s hard for me to believe that I haven’t been to Colorado, because I could almost describe the shops in the Denver airport, I’ve spent so much time there. (Long spokes with long moving sidewalks, weird center circle, tiny tucked away shops, good bookstore, nice wine bar, confusing the first few times — very important to get your bearings before you start walking, lest you wind up at the wrong end of the spokes!). But I’ve never set foot in the state outside the airport. I’m less familiar with the Minneapolis airport, but I’ve definitely had a layover or two or three there.

At the end of all that uncertainty, I wound up with three lists. Yes, no, and maybe.

On my yes-list: the entire east coast, except for New Hampshire and Delaware, the west coast, the southwest, the south, and a big weird chunk of the middle.

On my no-list: Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Michigan, and Alaska.

On my maybe-list: Indiana, Delaware, New Hampshire, Colorado, Minnesota, Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri.

Except–and we finally get to the point of this post!–Alabama has now securely moved to my yes-list. And it will never, ever be an Indiana where I have to struggle to remember if and whether I’ve ever visited, because I won’t forget it. Ever.

I’m staying on Dauphin Island, at the Dauphin Island Campground. This morning, I walked Zelda through the Audubon bird sanctuary and down to the beach. It’s cold! Forty-some degrees this morning, so okay, not cold to northerners, but quite cold to me. While we were on the beach, I saw a flash of black in the water, then another, then realized I was watching porpoises feeding. I have about twenty pictures of ocean, some of which show a tiny glimpse of black, enough to prove that there was a black-finned creature under a vast grey expanse of ocean — but instead… the sunrise. It was magical.

Dauphin Island, Alabama sunrise

The campground… isn’t a state park. I would love to understand why the independent campgrounds seem to have so much more of a problem with litter. The first thing I did when I stepped out onto my campsite was pick up some receipts, a bottle cap, and a candy wrapper and throw them into the trash.

But location, location, location. Steps away from Serenity’s door is a path into the bird sanctuary that leads to the beach where Z and I were absolutely alone — apart from the birds and porpoises and whatever fish they were mutually eating — this morning.

Paradise, in other words.

Blackwater River State Park

I was walking Z this morning on a boardwalk over black, swampy water, surrounded by tall scrub pine and cedar trees, and the thought occurred to me that this is a place that should be mosquito heaven. The fact that the mosquito population isn’t madly flourishing makes me a little uneasy, in fact, wondering, well, why not? Is the ground absolutely permeated with pesticide? I’m hoping that it’s actually the plethora of birds keeping the mosquito population down.

During the same walk, I was thinking that what I needed to post to represent my current location was not a photo but an audio file, because the birds were a delightful musical cacophony. For most of my life, my interpretations of bird sounds were pretty much the ones I read in books. Like a book will tell you that a pigeon coos, so when I heard the sound of pigeons, I automatically called it a coo. But when I heard the owls back in December in Wildwood (and now several times since–I recognize it now!), it didn’t sound like a “hoot” at all to me. A “whoa-whoa-whoooa,” maybe, but I guess I heard that W sound more than a pure H. Anyway, one of my recent morning walk entertainments is deciding what the birds are saying, and the birds on this morning’s walk were saying a lot. I should try to find out what kind of birds live in this park, because I suspect the tat-tat-tat-ta noises were woodpeckers, but there were at least four or five other types of birds chatting away, too.

So Blackwater River State Park — the campsites are big, gravel lots, with plenty of space between neighbors, but the trees between them are sparser, so it feels more populated than my tucked away little corner at Grayton. There are only about 30 campsites, and the sites are definitely farther away from one another, so it’s not literally more crowded, it’s just that from my windows, I see trucks and campers, instead of trees and plant life. That said, it’s still vastly nicer than lots of campgrounds. I passed one on my way here that was all neat little rows of expensive big RVs and I was so, so glad that I wasn’t stopping there. I’m sure it was a nice place, but it’s not the kind of camping experience that feeds my soul.

Lying in bed last night, I was looking out my window at the tall, tall scrub pine trees — I’m pretty bad at estimating sizes, but fifty feet high maybe? — and the stars in the dark night sky behind them. Zelda was curled up next to me, and it was nice and cold, so I was snuggled under my blankets. I was thinking how incredibly big Florida really is — I’ve been collecting state park stamps in my state park passport, picked up at Lake Louisa, and I’ve got eight, plus two parks that I went to before I got the stamp. So I’ve been to ten different Florida state parks. Only 138 to go! One hundred and thirty-eight left!! And if it took me four months to go to 10 parks, then it’ll take me another four and a half years or so to go to all of them. Four and a half years, just to explore Florida properly. Except that tomorrow I’m headed to Alabama and next week to Mississippi and yeah, more Florida will have to wait. But as I was thinking about how big Florida is, and then how big the United States is, and then how big the world is, I was still looking at the stars and I realized, no, we’re actually incredibly tiny. It was both comforting and somehow… joyous? I don’t know, it made me feel very happy. So I cuddled Z and went back to sleep.

Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach sunriseBeautiful beyond words.

I used my grill twice, once for a hamburger that I ate with baked white sweet potatoes, and the second time for bacon. Bacon on a grill was… fiery. That feels like the wrong word, but I can’t find a better one. I had to throw some away after it turned into charcoal, and while I didn’t burn myself, I honestly don’t know how I managed not to burn myself. Seriously, the flames were leaping high. So that was an interesting experiment, and I will not be repeating it. I guess bacon is just not a food I get to eat while I live in a camper. But if yesterday was my last bacon, at least it was delicious: I mixed it in with scrambled eggs with cilantro, rice, and hot sauce, and it was very yum.

I met some fellow Travato owners and had a very pleasant hour or so chatting with them and seeing their camper. They’ve got the other model, the G, and they’re about two years ahead of me in traveling. It was so fun to hear their adventures — their favorite ghost town in Arizona, the restaurant parking lot where they spent the night in Malibu, the tram parking lot with the view of the mountains, the Walmarts & the beaches. They love their Travato for the flexibility, for the ability to just stay anywhere, and they’re very forthright about asking if they can park for the night. When they got here last night, the campground was full, but the ranger let them stay in the overflow lot — they were right on the water this morning, with a view that must have been amazing.

The writing is not going well, much to my frustration, and I’m starting to strongly suspect that I’ve caught a cold. But it is wonderful to be on the road again and going places.

Today is six months since I started this journey, an anniversary I very nearly missed until I was about to post, and blinking at the calendar wondering what was significant about January 25th to me. I meant to write about the highs and lows of my first six months when this day rolled around, but… well, I wasn’t thinking about it. And I actually feel like I’m kind of too busy living in one of the highs right now to write about the lows. I don’t even have words to express how beautiful this campground is, how perfect the weather, and how content and serenely happy I am to be here. I’m moving on today, though — the next campground is beckoning to me! — and that makes me serenely happy and also sort of bubbly with adventure excitement. Life is good. I guess that’s pretty my summary of my first six months on the road, too: life is good!