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!

Twelve Years Old

zelda photoZelda went on another food strike this weekend. In the saga of Z-food over the past three months, there have been no clear winners, except that anything is good for two or three days, some things are good for two or three weeks, and everything, in the end, is not interesting. She’s not apparently sick—not throwing up or having obvious digestive trouble—she’s just not in the mood to eat.

This, of course, makes me crazy.

When my son was picky about food, I let it go entirely. My philosophy was, “Eat what you like, kid, my responsibility is to provide good food, your responsibility is to listen to your body.” Did I have to grit my teeth when he didn’t bother to bring a lunch to school? Yep. But I still didn’t say anything (much!) and I definitely didn’t get into a power struggle about it with him.

With Z, I have lost the power struggle before it’s begun. I will feed her whatever she wants to eat. Except that I keep trying variants of healthy food, of course. The oldest dog in England is a 26-year-old Jack Russell terrier that eats fish fingers and other people food. Apparently when he turned 18, he got picky and his owners decided he was old enough that he could have whatever he wanted. Not on the principle of “make your own healthy choices, dog,” but on the principle of “you’re going to die any time now, let’s make your last days happy.” Eight years ago. I’m not quite ready to do that. Zelda’s only twelve. If she will eat healthy food, she should have plenty of good years left.

In fact, she’s not quite twelve — tomorrow is her birthday! I’d bake her a cake if I thought she’d eat it.

A dozen years ago (tomorrow), I got a phone call saying Woody, Z’s mom, seemed to be going into labor and asking if I could stay with her because her owner had to work. The answer was yes, of course. I pulled R out of school for the day so he could be there with me. That turned out to be unnecessary: Woody didn’t start having her puppies until late afternoon. Z was the last one born, sometime around 6:30 PM.

She was not a lovely puppy. She was mottled pink and black, minimal fur, pink rims around her eyes, a red nose where Woody had been chewing while trying to deliver her. She was the biggest of the puppies and her birth was more of a struggle than the others. I’d post a picture, but I have, in fact, no pictures of newborn Z, because I didn’t think she was the puppy we were (eventually) taking home. I’ve got several pictures of the other girl puppy because we wanted a girl and with one cute girl puppy and one not-cute girl puppy, the choice seemed obvious to me.

It was not so obvious to R. Within the very near future—not that day but fairly soon—he said that we needed to take Z instead. He was worried that no one would ever love her, because she was so very ugly. I was surprised, but the puppy was going to be his dog, so it was his decision, of course.

Ha. She was never his dog. Maybe for the first fifteen minutes after we brought her home for good, but after that, she’s been my dog, heart and soul. And I’ve been her person, the very same way. I’m sad about B, the thought of losing him makes me cry, but when it is Z’s turn, I will be devastated.

And the fact that she’s growing older is always in the back of my mind. She’s losing her hearing pretty obviously and family members have commented on how much she’s slowing down. She was a pretty typical Jack Russell when it came to energy level: visitors didn’t usually see her sleep because she was always ready to play when there were people around and she could spend hours chasing balls and swimming. Not so much anymore. She still likes long walks, but she used to have no upper limit on how far she’d go and now she does.

This weekend someone asked why I was going to Galveston and I admitted a truth that I only realized recently: I’m headed to Galveston because a long way back, before I had Serenity, before I’d even decided to buy Serenity, I read an article about the best dog beaches in the country and Galveston was on the list. When Z was a puppy in Santa Cruz, we spent tons of time on the beach and she loved it. Her happiest day of our trip so far was probably the day we spent on the beach in Gloucester, MA. So yeah, I’m taking my dog to the beach. In Texas. It would have been an excellent birthday present, but I’ll have to deliver it a little bit late.

Happy Birthday, Zelda!

Roadtrippers

I’m having so much fun playing with Roadtrippers.com. I haven’t really planned out my previous adventures, except in terms of which family member or friend I was headed to visit next, with stays at Thousand Trails campgrounds or state parks between visits and errands. But I decided I needed to map out my next few weeks of adventure while I had plentiful internet access, so I spent a big chunk of the past few days reading links off roadtrippers and being alternately wistful about the things that just don’t make sense to do with two dogs in tow and excited about the ones that do. In other words, no Mardi Gras, even though I’ll probably be in the right area around the right time. But Dauphin Island might work out and it looks lovely.

I say “might” because I’m not making reservations. Not yet. Serenity is in for service again today and I’m… well, not doubtful, exactly. But I lack faith. I’m not really thrilled with the fact that I’ve gotten so comfortable at the RV dealer’s service facility that I bring my own coffee cup along to help myself to their (really quite decent) coffee rather than making my own coffee on service days, and that the vast multitude of people who work there are starting to become familiar to me. There are three women who work behind the service counter and I have a favorite, the one whose line I prefer to get in. (Short version: the cheerful, helpful one, of course.) That’s not a good sign. But fingers crossed, today might be the day I’m done for a while. This morning I noticed a latch sticking and I just closed my eyes to it. I’ll live with a sticky latch. If it does break, I’ll figure out how to fix it myself.

Serenity did get a nice upgrade this week. My dad and an old family friend installed a shower curtain rail for me in the bathroom. I’m waiting for clips to actually hang the curtain, so I can’t say for sure what it’s going to be like yet, and I’m going to need to get a tie of some sort to keep it bunched in the corner when not in use, but I’m very optimistic that this will make showering in the van seem like less of a project. Previously, every shower required snapping the shower curtain along the ceiling and walls to protect the closet and drawers, and it was kind of a PITA. In the last two months, I haven’t showered in the van once — I’ve learned a lot about campground bathrooms, and never ever forget to bring my flip-flops to wear while I shower anymore! — but it’ll be nice if showering in the van feels easier now.

But back to Roadtrippers. You set a starting point for your trip and pick a destination, and select what you’re interested in discovering along the way. Roadtrippers has data on hotels, restaurants, points of interest, campgrounds, all sorts of places. And links to their sites, of course, so when I find a campground or state park that I like, I can find out more about it by following links. It currently doesn’t have enough reviews — I wish they and TripAdvisor could join forces because Roadtrippers’ mapping software is way more useful than TripAdvisor, but TripAdvisor wins for quantity of reviews — but roadtrippers is very fun to play with and explore. When I’m on real internet, of course, not cell data!

Oscar Scherer State Park

I was near Sarasota this weekend, mostly so I could see R, with a side dollop of managing some paperwork with him. Honestly, if the paperwork hadn’t existed, I would still probably have gone to Sarasota because one breakfast was not nearly enough after not having seen him for six months.

Got there on Friday and took him out to an all-you-can-eat sushi place, which was remarkably good, considering how unlikely it is that all-you-can-eat sushi can survive economically. It seems so impractical, especially in a college town.

Afterwards, I drove to the campground and got settled. I think it was my very first arrival after dark — a thing I had been cautioned against doing, even before getting Serenity. (Or the first such arrival at an unfamiliar place where I would want to connect to water and electric, anyway.) It was sort of thrilling, doing a slow drive through the dark wilderness to the campsite and getting myself situated, but of course it was fine. No problems at all.

I’m developing a different relationship with darkness after months of living with a camper. Unfamiliar dark has always been sort of scary, potentially threatening. What villains might lurk in the night? But now I’m out so often after dark, walking dogs around campgrounds and appreciating the night skies, that I’m really starting to take darkness for granted and even enjoy it.

On Saturday, I mostly hung out at the campground. R came over for a while and we worked on the paperwork that needed to get done and then took a walk together. He’s playing Pokemon Go and I really might have to give it a try, although somehow our entire month’s supply of data for our shared phone lines is gone and if that’s all Pokemon Go… Data has become such a precious commodity in my life.

I really liked the park. They’re using controlled burns and it made for such interesting and diverse vegetation and scenery. In the campground, I was surrounded by trees, plenty of barrier between sites to feel like there was a sense of privacy. But right outside the campground, the landscape was blackened, charred tree trunks sticking up out of ashy ground. And then walking around, there were lots of areas of different heights of plants.

On Sunday morning, I went for a long walk with Z and got a little lost. I didn’t mind feeling lost, mostly because the park wasn’t big enough to stay lost for long, so even when I wasn’t sure where I was, I knew I’d find something familiar eventually. But also because it was such an incredibly beautiful morning. I took my first ever panorama photo because I was so awed.  If I’ve managed to display it properly on the site, that little dot of light in the top left corner is the moon, with the sun rising on the right.

Oscar Scherer State Park at sunrise

Oscar Scherer State Park at sunrise

We ran into one person, also walking a dog, and she pointed out a nest containing baby eagles to us. Their little heads were bobbing up, tiny dots against the horizon. I could have stayed lost for much longer and still enjoyed it.

But it was my last day, so I had to head out. I met up with R for brunch/lunch and then made the long drive back to Sanford. Today the van is at the dealer, getting her fan repaired. Tomorrow it’s back to Mount Dora for an oil change, I hope.

And since I have internet at the moment — not on my data plan! — I’m going to spend a good chunk of the day playing with roadtrippers.com and mapping out a route to Galveston. And also, of course, doing some real writing, not just blogging. The story I’m working on right now — which I totally should not be working on, of course — contained these lines yesterday:

She dashed behind me and I looked up to see a rat charging at us.

Not just a rat, though. A big rat. A rat out of nightmares. The kind of rat that you might invoke in a scary story designed to keep children up at night, with glittering red eyes and a hairless tail lashing the air behind it, clawed feet and teeth dripping with poisoned saliva. It leaped at us, flying through the air as if propelled by demons.

I incinerated it, of course.

Without hesitation.

And with none of that fancy drama some elemental talents throw into their work, with pointing hands and mystic gestures, lines of fire extending from their eyes or balls of flame shooting out of their fingers.

No, I just set it on fire. All of it, inside and out.

Yep, having fun writing. Not writing anything I ought to be writing. So it goes!

Re-posting

Someday I will actually have my site working again. Today might even be the day. Why not think positive, right?

Reposting from Thursday, to see if this works:

Highs and Lows

It’s been a weird week. I started this post by saying that it had been a rough week, but then I thought back and realized that my week has had some really lovely things in it to counterbalance the roughness and perhaps I should focus on those.

B’s test results showed that his heart is enlarged and he is in the early stages of congestive heart failure. Before the vet appointment, I did my best to not dwell on the possibilities, to not prepare myself for bad news, which is totally unlike me. Turns out, hearing bad news is actually not any harder if you haven’t spent two weeks focusing on preparing for the bad news and in fact, might be easier. And in the long run, I’m no worse off now for not having spent two weeks dreading what I would hear and then hearing it.

But I’m still sad, of course. Everyone with a dog knows that our time with them is not going to be long enough, could never be long enough, but that doesn’t make it easier to find out that the time is going to be measured in months, not years. On the other hand, I now have heard a couple stories from people whose dogs did live years, so I’m not going to think too bleakly. We’re living one day at a time and today, B is a happy, cheerful, entertaining companion who is not suffering at all, just has a good excuse for his extreme laziness.

It was still a low to have gotten that news. But the high that balanced it was my nephew, seeing me, saying immediately, “I’m sorry,” and giving me a hug. Twenty-one years old and such a sweetheart, so kind. And my brother checking in three times during the long day of waiting for news, knowing I was worried and worrying with me. And my son, getting to hear his voice on the phone, when he told me how sorry he was, and and all the friends who called and texted and commented on Facebook and sent messages. I never felt alone in my sadness. I felt lucky to have so many people who were sad for and with me.

Of course, now I’m all tearful again, but that’s okay.

Another low–and high–was helping my dad help my sister move. I’ll skip the details on the low part, it’s not entirely my story and probably more personal than appropriate for semi-public consumption, but I feel/felt a remarkable amount of anger and frustration around the circumstances. I managed not to say anything totally unforgivable, (in my opinion, anyway) but I sure thought some unforgivable things. And you know how it goes with anger: when you’re furious, you wind up carrying it around with you, ruminating on it, brain going in circles of nastiness. It’s been tough to let go of those hostile feelings and it’s really darkened my days to be feeling them.

But within that, I got to spend some really nice time with my dad and stepmom, who are both such terrific and wonderful people. I feel incredibly lucky to have them in my life. My stepmom should probably be nominated for sainthood. My dad is so, so fortunate to have found her. And on two evenings this week, I got to escape to spend time with friends — the kind of friends who once upon a time, several years ago, were acquaintances with a single common interest, but who have become people I hope to have in my life forever, truly for the rest of my days.

For a long time in adulthood, it seemed impossible to make real friends — people through work drifted away when the work was done, people through school (either the kids or my own) never became more than friendly acquaintances, neighbors always stayed casual. And maybe that was all me, but it felt like it was part of adulthood, too, that everyone was having the same problem. But there are people in my life now who are like… ha, like characters in a Maeve Binchy novel. Unexpected friends. And I got to spend time with them this week, which really helped balance out the stress of the other stuff that I was going through.

Tomorrow it’s back to the vet, then this weekend I’m headed to Sarasota for a couple of days, which will include taking care of forms and financial aid paperwork. Next week, it’s back to central Florida to do some final van stuff, I hope–an oil change, tire rotation, and finally getting the fan fixed. And then… then!… finally adventures begin!