Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Camping In The Ocala National Forest

In the mid-2000's I camped in the Ocala National Forest a few times. I had not camped for years, not since Illinois and my trips down to the Shawnee. One of my younger daughter's friends had moved to the Melbourne area of Florida from Ft. Lauderdale and when she went to visit--about three years in a row, it seems during the 2000's--I'd drive her up there and continue on by myself and go camping.

The place I liked to camp the most was Hopkins Prairie. Oh, there are springs and more interesting areas in the forest, but Hopkins Prairie was a good fit for me--it was off a dirt road, not many people went there, it was semi-primative. It consisted of flat land with a scattering of pines and shallow lakes and lowlands that flooded part of the year. A lot of scrub and palmetto and big flat skies. I had a good time there.

What I liked best was, after living in the concrete and controlled nature of South Florida for so long, it was nice to be out in the woods. To be away from a population center. That alone made me happy. Another factor was that I was all by myself. No wife, kids, neighbors, pets, students, South Florida drivers, tourists and so on. Just me, my tent, my car, my bologna and mustard sandwiches, sardines and crackers, beer, sodas, waters, my camp fire and my whiskey. Alone in the woods, day and night.

One of the times I went, Hopkins Prairie was closed due to flooding and I had to find a new place.

I looked on the map and drove around--again, avoiding the popular places, the springs and creeks that held only developed campgrounds with flushing toilets and showers and running water and trailers and motor homes and families--until I cam across Farles Lake. Farles was a lot like Hopkins, only a little dustier and--to me--not as nice.

Alone, I would hike and search for firewood. I'd write in my journal and think and listen to the wind in the trees. Tend my fire. Walk in circles. Not say a word for the whole day or even more. Fight the ticks and flies and other bugs. Look for wildlife. Roam the woods and my mind. I'd stay up late, get up early.

I did meet some other people.

I wasn't totally alone, as there were always other semi-primative campers or even hikers who came through the woods, or locals just wandering around the area for a short visit.

I met a guy who said he was hiking the Florida Trail. He'd hiked the Appalachian Trail and was camping out in the woods for free. I saw him a few times and offered him some bananas, apples, a half jug of water. Maybe I've written about him before, but I half envied him, living day-to-day with only the concerns of the most basics of life: food, shelter, the trail and weather. But, really, what did I know of his situation.

I met a couple from Canada who were the campground hosts. Met a family down from Maryland--though the guy was Dutch or something--who had a hound dog with them, the dog getting loose and lost and howling in the woods most of the night. I had people walk right into my campsite--a drunk man and his girlfriend who kept going on about the Rainbow Gathering and hippies and such. A guy who sat at my table and discussed car parts and what they cost. Stuff like that.

I was there--the last time I was there--just before a big cold front came down. It was hot when I went to bed and the next morning it was clear, crispy-cold, wind blowing and getting colder. Nice. But a freeze coming . . . I struck camp and drove to the coast and stayed at the Whale Watch Motel in Flaglar.

My tent was leaky and one trip I got no sleep. Well, I slept some. The first night it rained and my tent leaked enough that I went to my car to try and sleep and got very little. The next night I stayed up and drank too much whiskey. Finally I fell asleep in my tent. I slept so deep that I dreamt/thought I was back in my bedroom in Fort Lauderdale and when I woke suddenly in the middle of the night--in my tent, in total blackness, drunk and dead-tired--I had no idea where I was or why and it scared the crap out of me. It took minutes for me to place myself and piece together what I was doing and where and why and it was disturbing enough to me that I could not get back to sleep. I think that was at Farles . . . Ah. But overall, Hopkins Prairie was good to me. Ocala National Forest was good.

And then I went no more. The forest was far enough away--north of Orlando--that making the trip was bothersome if I had no excuse. So, I quit going.

And, really, I haven't been camping since.

I need to go.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Best Friends

I've always had friends. Sometimes too many, sometimes not enough. Best friends are creatures of another stripe, I think. These are the people you confide in and who confess to you, the one's who share their lives but also are con-conspirators in the mundane-profound-absurd game of life.

I suppose because I moved around so much as a kid that I make friends easily and also have little trouble finding good, often best, friends. However, I do not have a best friends or even good friends from childhood and my best friends have shifted over the years, even in periods of adulthood. My oldest friends date back to high school, middle school, but of those I'm not really in touch with any of them (except perhaps one) other than through once a decade phone calls or sightings or casual social media sites.

So, I will indulge myself here in going through the years (and places) and try to recall who my best friends were. certainly not all my friends, but who stands out in memory.

Sioux Falls: There was Myron, who lived down the street in our Hilltop neighborhood. But about the only thing I can recall of him was that we fought a lot. There were the Bosslers, but I can't really single one of them out as a best friend. When we moved to the second house, I don't recall any specific friends. This was when I was 1 to 5 years old. I guess my brothers and sister were maybe my best friends.

Vancouver: Jeff was my first best friend, when I started first grade. But by the second year there in Washington, Joey Hanes became my best pal. He lived down the street. He was originally from Albuquerque. It was at Joey's place that I had my first sleepover and we both were in love with the same girl in second grade: Kathy McKay. Joey and I were close friends and I even wrote to him for a while after we moved to Tennessee when I was 10 or 11.

Jonesborough: We rented a house almost outside of town for about a year before moving to Johnson City (where we also lived just outside of town). In Jonesborough--which was small and country and quite the culture shock for me and about everyone else in the family--I had a few friends. There was one kid who lived down the road (and it was a road we lived on, not a street) but I can't even recall his name anymore. He was a little mischievous. I made friends with Rocky, who lived a few houses down. Rocky had a younger brother named Stoney (I kid you not). Rocky was, essentially, a nerd who got picked on in school (he would actually brush his teeth after lunch in the boys room) and I stood up for him a few times and we became friends, in some ways, by default. I guess he was my best pal for that brief time until we moved to Johnson City and I went to Cherokee Elementary--a county school.

Johnson City: I had a number of good friends. In the neighborhood, which was only a smattering of houses outside of the town set among woods and pastures and tobacco fields, I knew Kurt and hung out with Kent. Kent and I were close but I think he was one year ahead of me in school and did not go to Cherokee and we eventually became less close. No, I'd have to say Curt Wadawick was my best friend in Johnson City. We went to school together. He was an odd guy in many ways--again, nerdy, in today's parlance--and I'd go to his house for sleepovers now and then or to just hang out. he used to bring whole green peppers for lunch at school and eat them raw with salt. His family made big piles of scrambled eggs for breakfast and ate the eggs with grape jelly on top. He had a creek running in front of his house that we dammed up with rocks. We played a lot of Stratego. I believe our friendship waned or ended when I started 7th grade in the city at East High. I was only in that school for about three or four months, where I had a friend named Dana. But, we moved again, this time to Iowa--Des Moines (though we bought a house in the suburb of Urbandale).

Urbandale: In Iowa my first best friend was Bob, who lived on the same block as I did on 65th Street. He was a close friend until about the last year of high school when we had a bit of a falling out. I lost touch with him but we are now nominal Facebook friends now. My other best friend, who I met in high school not junior high, was Kevin. he was in the class just above my own but we became very close pals. I've lost touch with him, though I did talk to him on the phone maybe five to ten years ago. He lives in Kansas now. I had lost of there friends, good solid close friends, in Des Moines/Urbandale. Friends from school, from work, other places. There was Larry--who is the one friend I still see now and then, who I text or call when I'm back in Des Moines, though I haven't seen him in about two years now. There was Bill and Jim and Randy and Dave. There was Craig and Jim and another Jim and Mark. Keith and Scott. And many many others . . . Good friends all, though my senior year I pretty much dropped off the map with my school chums and though I saw and hung out with most of them in the years after school, when I was essentially living in Iowa City, I've lost touch with most of them in the long years since.

Iowa City: My closest friends all went to Iowa State, in Ames. I don't know why. Their loss. I took a year off before entering college and went to Iowa, in Iowa City (hooray for me). In Iowa City I knew a couple of guys (Keith, Scott) from Urbandale but I made a whole new set of friends. And of that group I'd easily say Matt, Brock and Mike were my best friends. Oh, like most college people, I had a ton of close pals and relationships, some fleeting, some longer, but those three were my core . . . You may have noticed that I've mentioned no female friends. I had a few girls, women as friends but not best friends, but in college I had more female friendships for sure (and I'm not talking about romantic relationships). But Matt and Brock I lived with most often and we went to Alaska and back together in 1983. we stayed good friends, living together post-college in Florida and Seattle. Though even them I lost touch with for the most part. Mike I went to Los Angeles with and we stayed friends but also lost touch and I've only recently seen him again--in Chicago--within the last year.

Santa Fe: Joel was my best friend. I stayed with him. But I had a set of friends outside of his circle, guys mainly who worked at The Forge at the Inn of The Governors downtown. John, Alex, Haley (female!), Vince. Good guys I felt very comfortable with and spent a lot of time with.

Los Angeles: Mike, from Iowa City, was my best friend. But there was Bob and Brenda, Jeff Wages and others.

Grayton Beach: In the Florida panhandle Matt was there and then Brock came up from Key West. But I made very close friends and then best friends with Tommy and Doug. I lived off and on there for about four years. (I also lived off and on in Iowa City and Des Moines in these years.) So later there was Brad as best friend, then later still Mike and Jimmy.

Seattle: Matt and Brock.

New York: Jimmy

Champaign: In Illinois, I lived with the woman who would become and still is my wife. She is my best friend, was my best friend. But I worked concrete construction and Kurt Strube was my best friend. There were other pals: Doug, Mike, Margaret--Brock came to Champaign. We lived in Champaign then went to Montana and then came back to Champaign. But that pretty well sums up the people in town. I was still close to Matt and Brock and Mike (from L.A.) all the while and would see them now and then.

Missoula: Oh, a number of people from our years in Montana. John, Bruce, Corey, Jeff (?) (man, I can't think of his name and he was one of my closest friends from the U of Montana even though we had a falling out down the line and I haven't heard from him in decades). And there was Bill Brown. Bill Brown ended up being one of my closest friends--he was a good ten years older than me--for all these years until his death in Jacksonville, FL two and a half years ago. John was a close friend. I and friends from work as well as classes and other spots in town.

Ft. Lauderdale: Well. I had a wife and two kids and we lived in Fort Lauderdale for not quite twenty years. Many many friends, close friends, too many to name. Best friends? Bill, Billy, another Bill, Mike, Silvio. Francis. Francis,actually, I met in Mexico and he's from Montreal. I met him right after becoming friends with Bill Brown, in Montana, in early 1990. We've been friends since with Francis coming to visit and stay with my family in Champaign and Ft. Lauderdale and us going to see him a couple of times. Bill Brown moved to Florida and I'd see him every now and then--more so the last years before his death--anyway, this brings us to today.

Today: These days my beast friends are Mike (from Miami, Gulfport, New Orleans), Bill (from Hollywood, FL) and Francis (Montreal). None of them live where I live now. Bill Brown is also one of my best friends (Jacksonville), but he is gone. I'm still in touch and trying to get back in closer touch with a few of my old best friends, but the main core is now Francis Charest in Quebec, Mike Plummer in New Orleans, Bill Murphy in Hollywood, and I should say Billy Theil, my neighbor from across the street on SW 18 St. in Ft. Lauderdale.

That's it.