Cardinal

 

I’ve traveled over 1200 miles in the last few days….making the trek from Kansas to Florida.  When I left Kansas, heavy downpour greeted me at 4:00 in the morning.  While I  feel like I’m a great driver, the windshield wipers didn’t keep the rain cleared off very well and the headlights played off of each of the raindrops that created a bright shimmery highway.  Thank goodness, I was on a four lane highway and the few people who were out that time of the morning were going in the same direction as I was and not coming at me.

Travel went well until the Tennessee/ Mississippi line.  By this time I had gone over 600 miles and been on the road for close to 12 hours.  Heavy rain found me and a ton of other people were trying to get to our own destinations.  My plan had been to drive until about 8:00 pm but that didn’t happen.  Even though it was daylight out and I was on a four lane highway, it was hard to see the people in front of me…especially those who didn’t see it proper to turn any lights on (Really?).  I searched the radio stations hoping to find a weather report, hoping to get an idea of exactly what I was in the middle of.  I finally came to an exit to New Albany, I took it. I took the right one, lodging was scattered on both sides of the highway.

When I pulled into the Best Western to inquire about a room, the front desk clerk informed me that we were in the middle of a tornado watch.  The county to the west was in a tornado warning.  That would explain the heavy winds that accompanied the heavy rain.   I was glad to find out that in my infinite wisdom at some point, I had signed up for the rewards program.  I also used my “teacher” status to get me more of a discount.  Brittany, the front desk clerk proceeded to tell me where the “shelter” was should the need occur.

A good night sleep was gratefully appreciated.  I was also thankful that the call to the laundry room shelter didn’t occur. Ha.  I was back on the road by 6:00 am..new time.. 5:00 am old time.  Time sprang forward overnight…a little Twilight Zone thought enters my mind as I type that….I could run and play with that thought, but will try to stay focused.

I arrived in the gulf area, my destination, a little after lunch.  As I entered the area 40 miles northwest of Panama City, I began to see the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.  Sadness started to set in at the sight of what I had only seen pictures…reality was much worse in person.

My sister has a vacation condo in Mexico Beach, the small coastal town that took the brunt of Hurricane Michael’s fury, my destination for my spring break week. I chose my location “with an eye of an artist” but also with an eye of compassion and connection. I have visited and been a part of the Mexico Beach life and local families many times.  While my sister has kept me updated as to everything going on and I had seen videos and numerous photos, one cannot even describe adequately what I saw in both Panama City and Mexico Beach. Lives were changed forever.

I had made arrangements to stay in Apalachicola, Florida for the week, so decided I would let all that I saw sink in, and go find my home for the week. It was about 40 miles further east of Mexico Beach.

My sister’s condo is still standing but received extensive damage. Crews began work after the 90 wait period and have been working steady since. June or July…the condo should be back up and open again.  (There was a holding period where no-one could start reconstruction.  FEMA and utility services were worked on during that time.)

Apalachicola skirted the hurricane on the most part…there is evidence of some wind damage, but is still mostly as it always has been.  Apalachicola is a fun little place with small unique shops, places to eat and relax and enjoy.  It’s nested in a port area where shrimp boats can be seen coming and going. After checking into the place I rented (a room in a historical building where 3 other people are in the rooms sharing the hallways and a kitchen) I walked down to the port. As I soaked in the 73 degree weather, (thinking about the 33 degrees I left in Kansas) I was so glad to be there.

I came upon a bookstore that was liquidating their used book inventory.  There were several books I wouldn’t have minded having, but chose two.  The photo on this page comes from one of the books I purchased The Song of the Cardinal by Gene Stratton Porter.  It was first printed in 1903.  The book wasn’t in the greatest shape, but I was drawn to it.  I now know why.

Live music was playing in several of the places. I did chuckle when I saw  a chalkboard sign outside of one of the places playing music that said “Same shit, different chalkboard”.  Coming out of the place was a young man who let me know that they didn’t serve beer on the sidewalk.  I laughed and told him I would need to go in then I guess.  I walked in and there were a handful of people there.  I found a place at the bar and sat down and ordered a drink (I’m not much of a drinker, so was thinking I would be safe to just order a beer, but settled on a Hard Ice Tea) LOL. Not sure why I felt the need to just write that, but I’ll leave it…I think it actually fits into all that this piece of writing is leading to…chosing my location.

The young lady behind the bar was friendly and held small conversations with me.  Karaoke was beginning, so I asked the man sitting next to me if he was going to sing.  He laughed and said, “You wouldn’t want me to.”  We talked and I soon found out that the man’s name was Joe and his hometown was in New Jersey.  We exchanged hometown stories and it turns out he had been to Kansas before doing some work within 50 miles of where I live.  The conversation continued….but the following question came out of the blue and still now that I think about it, has me shaking my head.  He asked me, “What’s your freak on?”  Ok, now…what the heck does that mean?  What was he asking me?  I wasn’t sure exactly, so I asked.  Being 60, I no longer feel like I have to bluff my way through not knowing something, that others make you think you should know.  He turned my question on me and asked me what I thought it meant. I responded after encouraging him once more to give me his definition. I said, well, two things…one a sexual connotation and the other a life connotation.  He said with a grin, “Let’s go with the sexual definition.”  I laughed and politely said, “I don’t have those conversations with someone I just met.”  We then had a conversation to the affect of …noone here knows you, you won’t ever see me or them again after this week, so you can do whatever you want, dance on the bar, if you want.

I went with the second definition…but the second one took me by surprise. Maybe it was the tea by that point….what is my freak on?  What really excites me?  What makes me energized and getting up in the morning? I had just traveled 1200 miles thinking about such things as that…you know…purpose in tomorrow, purpose of this trip, purpose in my career…etc.

As I sat there and stumbled around with my words, I realized my only response was….”Living life’s moments.”  Joe kept prodding, “What moments, in particular?”  He then said….”You traveled all this way looking for something, what are you looking for?”

Great question, Joe.  I know my reasons on the surface for coming here were varied, 1) Leave cold weather back in Kansas. 2) See if there was anything I could do for anyone in Mexico Beach 3) Put my feet in some sand and listen to the birds.

I do know that I’m on a “spiritual/soul” journey.  I felt a call to come here.  I may not know exactly what that is yet, but I “chose my location with the eye of an artist.”

So.. I am going to close this, grab my camera, my journal and I am off for the day.  My destination is Mexico Beach.  I am off to live life’s moments…to see what God has called me here to see and do.  I leave this morning with an excitement deep within that is full of anticipation and a knowing that this journey is not my own.  That, my friends, is my “freak – on.”  What’s yours?