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.