Fleeing

 

 


Dear friends at the condo complex almost shouted with panic when I told them I was staying until the end of my rental lease, March 31, Easter Saturday. They left days before to void traffic and mayhem. Maybe apocalyptic herds of Easter bunnies ready to throw imperfect colored eggs at their cars? Heading home for a snowbird is a bit nerve wracking.  It  requires precise timing and careful strategy to dodge lingering snow and ice storms.
I love my three months in St. Augustine. I go to lectures, festivals, and spend time with wonderful friends. Classes in writing, art, and history keep my mind alive. The pace is exhilarating. I will be going back next year. But what I miss is quiet, the kind of stillness I have in my North Country.
When I drove over The Bridge of Lions and passed the statues of the Spanish conquistadors that welcome visits from the north to St. Augustine, I knew I was leaving a place with all the accouterments of modern civilization. I had unlimited internet and cable at the condo. I could listen to every little nuance in the political drama of our country all day long. The ancient city had the best schools, restaurants, and beach. It was proclaimed a top vacation destination and one of the best places for Christmas lights. It was growing and growing and so was its constant rumble and roar of progress.
I decided to travel only 117 miles to a place in Georgia just in case the predictors of horrible traffic were correct. By chance I made a reservation in a little town called Darien off Route 95. After finally getting everything into my van, I started my journey.

For the sake for expediecy, I had skipped my morning coffee. I stopped at one Starbucks and the line was way too long. At a second one, 10 miles away I realized I was an ancient oddity, the only person there not looking at a screen.

I arrived in Darien, the part of the town with fast food, motels, and gas stations. I was restless, so after I settle into the hotel I drove and then walked. Near the village away from Route 95 and the noise of the modern world, I found the remains of the Butler Rice Plantation that had dikes and canals built by 19th Century engineers from Holland.  I marveled at an old tree growing majestically on a coquina shell wall.  I discovered an old building that once sold supplies to ships that sailed the ocean. And I found artistic grace in a line of fishing boats in the harbor. I found peace. I’m getting closer to home.

Come away from the din,

Come away to the quiet fields,

over which the great sky stretches,

and where, between us and the stars,

there lies but silences;

and there, in the stillness

let us listen to the voice

that is speaking to us.

Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927)

Leaving

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On a whim I took an adult education class at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. About eight weeks ago, I started this blog.
I am a snowbird. When my world up north turns grey, black, and brown I head south. But now that I hear that the snow is melting and spring in North Country is ready to burst forward, I am ready to go home.
I have been busy for a few weeks getting ready for the transition. The list is long.
(1) Packing
(2) Making sure my taxes are done and bills are paid.
(3 ) Cleaning my rental condo.
(4 ) Getting the oil changed in my van.
(5)  Making reservations for next year.
(6)  Buying Florida souvenirs for my family.
(7)  Saying ‘good bye” to short term winter acquaintances who have become just as valued as lifelong friends.
(8)  Wandering around St. Augustine one more time, wishing there was a way to put it in a box and take it out during the cold, rainy days up north.
(9)  Noticing birds. A scarlet tangier in a tree near my condo. A hawk perched on a fence downtown and wondering if he, too, will be leaving this ancient city to go north. Watching, for over a hour, a morning dove seeking shelter from the ocean winds on my balcony.
(10)  Wondering if the dose of culture and learning infused into me during this one quarter of a year has made me a different person.
(11)  Worrying about losing what I have become. I have wanted to be writer since I was a little girl. I would sit in front of the family typewriter eager to tap the keys and create wonderful stories. But I hadn’t lived enough, hadn’t seen enough. Now I have. I am no longer afraid of a blank page. I just jump in, and rely on my instincts to know what works and what doesn’t. And then I revise, revise, revise. I am going to write. I am going to continue this blog. I have to. I think I now have the courage.
(12)  Stop worrying!!!!!
I need to be out of my condo at 10:00 am on Saturday. Home is 1300 miles away. I am a traveler once again. A stranger with no titles, no name. No expectations, no  plan. Just a woman finding peace in being.

“Can You Hear My Voice this Time?”

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Sometimes traveling is not about tickets and long flights. Sometimes a significant journey is unplanned and brief. On March 14, I came out of an adult education class at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida and saw a large circle of college students under the campus gazebo. Because I didn’t want to intrude, I stood and watched from about fifty feet away. I listened to the speakers talk about the loss of seventeen lives in Parkland, Florida and the need  for people to reach out to each other with kindness. I moved into the circle and was handed a candle.  As a flame went from one person to another, a young stranger shared the energy of the light with me. The group walked silently around the perimeter of the college, coming back full circle to the gazebo. A group of students sang a song with the line “Can you hear my voice this time?”.

The moment brought up feelings and memories. I had first come to St. Augustine in 1965 when I was 16 year old. I remember the impact the Slave Market in middle of the Old City had made on me. It was proof that the terrible things taught in my history classes really happened. It was not until decades later that I learned about the four teenagers who were arrested for sitting at the lunch counter at Woolworths in St. Augustine in 1964 as part of a Civil Rights protest. “Can you hear my voice this time?”

I remember the protests against the Viet Nam War and the voices raised since then concerning all sorts of causes.  “We, The People” thankfully live in a country where we can speak out. As I walked silently with the students, I thought of the hope of all Americans for a good life. I am no longer a young student, I’ve seen a lot of history. Our voices have become louder and stronger with the advance of technology.  Unfortunately, what has not kept pace is our ability to listen, understand, and find common ground.  The circle goes round and round. “Can you hear my voice this time?”

Call Out to My Readers-How do you stay organized at the airport?

Airline confirmation, boarding passes, luggage ticket. Put the car and house keys in a safe place, keep ID and/or passport safe but handy, toiletries in clear quart bag. Need a snack? Be sure to put  debit card back in  wallet. Take off  shoes and jacket and put them in the bin. Can’t see the boarding pass. Blood pressure going up. Found it under one shoe. Hurry, hurry. Keep moving. Gather jacket. Kindle back in the purse. Many parts. Don’t leave anything behind. Cell phone? One more time, boarding pass, where are you? Yes! Second one in jacket pocket? Sure hope so!

Airline travel can be stressful. Readers, do you have any advice about how you get through the boarding process? A special purse or pouch? I have a really nice LL Bean travel blazer with hidden zipped inner pockets for my passport. It is made out of no wrinkle fabric which always looked great even after I sat on it for hours on the airplane. Unfortunately, the blazer is stating to look a little dated. Do you have any input on travel jackets or vests? I will post a link in the next few days about a travel scarf with a zippered pocket. I am going to buy one and check it out. I know many of you are creative and hope you will share your problem solving ideas.

WARNING! Stay Contained!

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I have known my friend, Emma, for over 40 years. She’s one of the most organized people I know. Emma keeps a neat, tastefully decorated home; entertains with gourmet meals; and maintains optimum efficiency with lists neatly written in steno notebooks.

My small rented one bedroom condo was Emma’s last stop during her two week trip around Florida. She spent two days with me, sleeping on the sofa in the living room and living out of her suitcase. As she was packing the night before she was to fly home, Emma realized she could not find her license. It was her only form of ID since she chose not to bring her passport on this trip. We looked everywhere, unpacking and then repacking all her stuff. We looked under furniture and all the couch cushions. We then tried to call the airlines and the airport. We finally spoke to someone at The TSA who suggested she come in early and talk to one of the agents.

The next morning we both woke up tired, neither one of us got much sleep. We both spent the night wondering if Emma would make it home. We got her things into my minivan and started the forty mile trip to the airport. As I drove, Emma startled me with a sudden burst of laughter. She held a little box in her hand, one of those new security devices that prevents someone from stealing the information off a credit card. In this box Emma found her license. She had changed her routine, taken her license out of her wallet and put it in different location in her purse.

It is so important when traveling to have a routine of consistent placement of stuff.  It’s very tempting to randomly empty a suitcase after a long day of traveling. But since you don’t have the categorized spaces like you have at home, it is very easy to misplace things or, worse still, lose things that are left behind.

When I went car camping for 70 days in 2001, I had to force myself to be consistent.  Even when I was dead tired I knew I had to stay contained.  My scissors were always returned to the glove compartment and any medications were put away in the “important things” tote.  Everything had its place.  I could hear my mother’s advice, words that my sisters and I sometimes found annoying.  “Wherever you put it, there it is!”

Right now I’m training myself to always put my car keys away in the same side pocket in my bag. I hate digging around and searching for them in the dark recesses of my purse. I really need some extensive behavior modification, maybe something involving electric shock treatment.  Old habits die hard but good traveling habits make everything go smoothly.

Hints for Women Travelers-#5 Speak and Listen as Much as You Can

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Too many times through the course of history women were silenced. Too many times over the centuries their mobility and freedom were stifled by the notion that females needed an escort whenever they left their homes. Because of the spirited evolution of our gender, these limitations are gone. We now have more power over our lives, our choices, and our destinies.

I believe everyone is a teacher. I believe in the kindness of strangers. I believe in the innate goodness of people. And as I have become a seasoned traveler, I finally have the confidence to talk to strangers, an endeavor that has brought me much joy. It may be just a “hi” in passing or a “nice day, isn’t it?”.  I smile a lot, so many times I get smiles back.  I use humor during some encounters because nothing is better than sharing a laugh with someone.

Talking to people is an art coming from the heart and made effective by intuition and  careful awareness of the other person.  Yes, I have come across people who don’t wish to be bothered.  I don’t impose myself on them. I’m careful to engage people who have time to talk….people waiting in line, shop owners, other travelers, etc.  I think I succeed because I am a  person who genuinely likes people.

I think women have a advantage in connecting with people when traveling. Because of societal labels, fair or unfair, we are still perceived as a less threating gender.  I find that I can comfortably initiate conversations with all groups; women, men and children.

Society is fractured right now.  We label people who are different than us and then we join a tribe that believes the same things we do.  We then become an exclusive group that diminishes the value of others. I feel strongly that we need to stop putting people in broad categories and start talking to and really listening to as many different people as we can. Our world needs to release itself from being so judgmental and distrusting. We can learn from each other and in the process make this planet a lot more peaceful place.

Michael Crichton in his book Travels wrote about how venturing out into the world creates a level playing field. Away home, no one knows our profession, educational level, or how much money we have in the bank. It is our character and attitude that distinguishes us. It is our spirit, our openness to new experiences, and our acceptance of others that defines us. As Thoreau once said, “Being is the great explainer.”

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