After seven weeks (and nearly 5,000 miles) on the road, the days are melting together, marked primarily by sunrises and sunsets. I am realizing that the trappings of our very busy earlier lives are peeling away, and the metronome is recalibrating. If not for the calendar built into my laptop, I wouldn’t know that we arrived here one week ago, Monday, February 16.
First, the weather data: we are in the panhandle of Florida and the temperatures have run mostly in the mid-40s at night and the low 60s during the day under partly sunny to mostly sunny skies. We had one day of heavy rain. The outliers to this pattern include today, which is 70; and last Wednesday, the coldest night that the regulars recall, when the temperature dipped to a low of 30. The chief concern at that time was for the safety of the green beans and the strawberry crops, both of which are ready for harvest. Reports are that both survived the “winter”.
The daily weather reports give the temperature, wind direction, wind speed (in knots) and height of surf. This makes it clear that the economic engine is based on the abundance of the seas – fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. The nearby town of Apalachicola produced 6.6 million pounds of oysters in 1981, making it the “oyster capital” of the country. The devastating hurricanes on the 1990s covered the oyster beds in sand and the industry is still recovering and from our personal experience, we can say that the oysters here are amazingly tasty, as Peter demonstrates here!
We have fallen in love with Apalachicola, a town of 2,200. It sits with its face on the eponymous body of water. It has a long history as a trading port, first in cotton, then fishing. The highest point in town is home to the oldest houses, including the home of Dr. John Gorrie, a physician who in the 1840s invented a machine to make ice to treat his patients suffering from yellow fever and malaria. The invention was the forerunner to modern refrigeration and air conditioning. There is a cluster of churches that tell much about the history of the town – First United Methodist, AME, Episcopal, Baptist (there are 4 in town), Roman Catholic, Assembly of God, Mormon, and 4 non-denomination Christian churches. Peter has found a solid community in his AA group which meets across the street from the public library where I hang out a couple of days a week, jumping onto their Wi-Fi.
Saturday, we dropped in on the annual African-American History festival in town and caught the afternoon performance by a duo from Georgia whose mix of blues and soul got the body moving. This was followed by a fashion show featuring a local artist who creates women’s clothing out of traditional African batik. An exhibit in the gathering hall featured a timeline of the town’s well-known African-American educators and civic leaders, including the current mayor, son of civil rights activists from the 1960s, who is the first African-American to be elected mayor.
There is a great used bookstore in town and a new bakery, named “Wake and Bake” that produces a respectable French bread and blueberry muffins that are sensational. I’m writing this from the coin laundry on Highway 98 where the washer costs $1.75 and the driers cost $1.00 for 10 minutes.
Our campsite, one of 60, is located on the barrier island of St. George Island, an eight-mile long spit of completely undeveloped beauty bordered by the Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola Bay, and connected to the mainland with a 4-mile long bridge. The maximum speed limit on the two-lane road through the park is 25mph, and the occasional road signs warn, “sand will not support your vehicle”. The wind has sculpted the sand, the dunes, and pines trees into silhouettes that make you believe that at any moment they would all begin moving. The bird watching is spectacular here and from my limited knowledge, I can identify a few of what we have seen, including cardinals, a red-headed woodpecker, a bald eagle, an osprey, mockingbirds and what Peter calls, “lots of little grey and brown birds”.
Last night, we sat around our fire under the sliver of the waxing moon and a spectacular night sky, and a huge raccoon climbed onto our picnic table. As he jumped down, he brushed Peter’s leg and lumbered off into the woods. Perhaps he just wanted to remind us who really lives here and that we are, in fact, just visitors.