Friends, Near & Far

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I have discovered a major downside to my new carefree lifestyle.  A dear friend back in Virginia has been dealing with a husband who has been fighting a major illness, and I can’t be there to help her.  Another friend’s husband is undergoing surgery for cancer soon.  And I can’t be there to support her.

I can call them.  Write emails and texts.  Be available with open ears and heart.  But I cannot drive my little house back up north until the potential for ice and snow is past.  I cannot be there, at least not during the cold winter months.

Then I have to wonder what would happen if my son or another family member–all of whom live in northern climes–has some kind of emergency?  I suppose I would find a kennel for Dawny, park my rig somewhere safe, and take a flight to go help.  It would be very hard being away from Dawny and our little house, though.  And expensive.

This is a challenge faced by anyone who moves away from family and friends, not just someone who has swapped the stability of a long-time home for the fluidity of life on the road.  And even if we stay put, friends move, family members move.  Children grow up and move on with their own lives.  Sometimes those we love the most are the furthest out of reach.  And they live next door.

I have no answers to any of this right now.  I can only hope that if and when something happens that requires me to travel, that it waits until warmer weather.  And if it doesn’t wait, then I will deal with that when I must.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for new friends I am making here in my winter campground.  Tonight my house door locked by itself when I went outside briefly for something (the gremlins are back!!).  My keys, my purse, my phone, my doggie–everything was inside.  Heavy rains started coming through, and the Friday jam session was underway.

My best dog-walking friend (she has a sweet little puffball of a doggie) got drenched with me as we sought help and made calls to Roadside Assistance.  Before they came, she found a fellow camper who works for an RV shop and possesses a magic key ring full of master keys.  Wallah!  Success!  Access!

It sure is nice to have people watching out for you.  Near and far.  And when we are too far from each other to be of immediate help, it is not all that uncommon to find another gem of a friend nearby.  We just need to look.  To be open.  To be grateful.

(Picture is of a Trumpet Lily transplanted to the edge of the swamp behind the campground by my friend’s husband a few years ago.  My friend and her dog welcome newcomers and help new doggies and their people get comfortable and acclimated.  Dawny and I love our walks with them!)

Jammin’

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Where can you enjoy musicians ranging from age 9 to 92 playing and singing, laughing and sharing for close to three hours without break?  In an RV park, that’s where!

Who knew?  I sure didn’t, until I lucked out by selecting this park to spend my Winter.  Apparently this part of Florida has attracted a good number of retired, vacationing, and budding (such as the 9 year-old) musicians over the past couple of decades.  Songbirds from Canada on down migrate here and skip around several RV parks in the area to jam with friends, old and new.

As opposed to a show, a jam is very fluid and relaxed.  Probably a dozen or so musicians form the core of this group, with other participants coming and going over the weeks.  Many of them spring out of the audience for just a song or two, then take their seat back out with the spectators.  When it is someone’s turn to lead their piece, they simply call out the key (“A as in Canada!”), and everyone somehow figures out how to play along.

Most of the music is Country and Bluegrass, with powerful strands of Blues and Gospel woven in.  Heck, last week we were treated to a yodeler!  Some of the pieces are too old or obscure for me to have heard them before.  It’s kind of neat how an old piece of music, when heard for the very first time, can be as fresh and powerful as the day it was created.

Probably four or five decades separated the 9 year old performer from his next eldest peer.  He played and sang one song with the group and then, before heading off to bed, soloed an instrumental in Spanish-guitar finger-pickin’ style.  One fine lady exclaimed as he was leaving that it was her fellow musicians’ highest calling to encourage young talent like that.

Then there was the gentleman who seemed to be the leader of the loosely knit group.  Oh my, oh my oh.  He was a wonderfully talented banjo player, with great vocals to match.  The levity of the evening settled briefly back to earth as he played “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” in memory of his friend, whose ashes he had taken to the Florida National Cemetery just that afternoon.  His banjo had belonged to that friend, who had purchased it 80 years ago.  I suppose there might have been a few dry eyes in the house afterwards… but not many.

Last week the Grand Dame of this local music scene graced the gathering.  At 92 years of age, she was the most beautiful woman in the room.  Elegantly dressed, silver hair perfectly coifed, she stepped up lightly to lead a couple of songs, playing the mandolin for one.  The respect and love she shared with the group resounded with each note she played.

I must report that, despite the extraordinary entertainment these jam sessions have provided, they have not inspired me to play my guitar.  I finally took it out of it’s case a couple of weeks ago, but I have only played it once so far.  I wasn’t as awful as I remembered.  But it also didn’t feel natural, right, inspired.  I will continue to fiddle with making my own music in the privacy of my own little house, but on the greater stage, I know my role.  I am a gifted audience member, delighted and grateful to bask in the beauty and magic created by others!

Dawny on Honeymoon…

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Dawny and I visited Honeymoon Island yesterday, and she got her first real taste of the sea.  There is a section of the beach there that is dog-friendly, so we took a little road trip to check it out.  We have explored other coastal and beach areas, but most have been dog-unfriendly (with the notable exception of Cedar Key), so this was a real treat to be able to take a nice long walk in the sand.  Dawny had no inclination to play in the water, like I saw some dogs doing, but she did enjoy the new smells and sights.  And, trooper that she is, all that sand mushing up between her toes didn’t ruffle a feather (should she have had a feather to ruffle).

FullSizeRender-199Honeymoon Island is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico just north of Clearwater, Florida.  It got its name in the 1940’s when a developer built a bunch of thatched huts and marketed them to vacationing honeymooners.  Unfortunately–not unlike at least a few of the marriages that were celebrated there–the place fell into disrepair.  Fortunately, Florida turned the island into a state park that anyone can enjoy, including road-doggies and their people.  The people-only beach looks really nice and the parking lot is huge, so quite a few sun worshippers can be accommodated.

FullSizeRender-201A few trails wander through the island’s interior, domain of elegant waterfowl, intrepid raccoons, and thankfully-shy rattlesnakes.  That’s where we saw this lovely bird standing stock still in the tall grass.  I am not an expert at bird identification, but I have a pretty good guess at what it is, thanks to Google.  Anyone else want to guess?  (Apologies for the imperfect picture, but it’s the best I could do with what I have.)

FullSizeRender-209Speaking of beautiful creatures, Dawny got to see yet another new critter:  dolphins!  Actually, I saw them swimming out in the Gulf and tried to point them out to her, but I suspect her eyes aren’t what they used to be (don’t tell her that).  As luck would have it, we found one for her to examine back at the parking area. She wasn’t impressed.  In fact, between the manatees I introduced her to on Christmas day and this dolphin, I think she is starting to doubt my veracity.  I’ll have to work on that.