From Estero, FL, the paradox of these times

These days, a trip to the Publix Supermarket in Estero, Florida is a surreal experience with understocked shelves and the haphazard displays of the kinds of frozen pizzas that people don’t want to buy.   As I attempt to find words to describe this, my memory takes me back to my days as an English major at the University of Connecticut. One of my last semesters, under the guidance of my academic advisor, Professor Blanchard, I took a nineteenth century British literature survey course.  There, I regularly walked the Hogwarts-like hallways of the University’s bricks and mortar library, encountering Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, P. B. Shelley, Mary Shelley, John Keats, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Lewis Carroll.

Theirs was the century when the modern novel was framed, the time when women developed a strong literary voice and the spiritual insights of poets like Tennyson, fed souls. This century belonged to Queen Victoria and also chronicled the human experience of urban overcrowding, the emptying of the rural towns; the rise of great wealth and, concurrently, of crushing poverty; and the rapid spread of contagious diseases like diphtheria, measles and whooping cough.  Great literature provides expression for the human condition in ways that are timeless.

All of which brings me back to the shopping aisles at Publix. I remembered Dickens’ opening lines from A Tale of Two Cities, which are nothing less than prescient: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, …”. We are living here, I realized, at the intersection of paradox as the impact of COVID-19 continues to manifest in our lives: best and worst; wisdom and foolishness; belief and incredulity.

The idea that a virus, which knows no political or national or ethnic boundaries, has brought this country to its knees in a matter of months is incredulous.  As I write this 25% of the nation is under shelter-in-place, 81 million of us, confined to home in an effort to prevent what continues to unfold simultaneously in other parts of the world.  The staggering death toll in Italy alone defies my comprehension.  Instead, I move into the “new normal”, washing my hands after unpacking the groceries, and pulling out a Lysol wipe to clean down the countertop where the bag sat. Then, I throw both wipe and bag out.

I don’t have to understand the supply chain mechanics that narrates the shortage of paper towels, I just know that when Peter found one lone Bounty supersized roll left on the empty shelves, he brought it home and I figured out where to store it in our tiny house. This morning, we texted our neighbors and asked if they needed anything at the store since Peter has determined that the best time to snag fresh vegetables is before 9:00am.  Another neighbor who works in the Ranger Station just dropped by with some first class mail for us, bringing it when her shift ended.  Another neighbor stopped by to return his costume (I have temporary guardianship of the Koreshan costume closet) and we talked about his decision to venture north to Pennsylvania in a few days, skipping through truck stops hoping for a place to park for the night and shower in the morning.  Peter just completed his first-ever FaceTime call on our “new” iPhones, wishing a happy birthday to his best friend hundreds of miles north.  It is the details that connect us to each other, to our humanness and vulnerability, that become most important.

Josh and Leslie walking into the Hillsborough County Courthouse where they were married an hour before the 5:00 pandemic-induced closure.

Yesterday, we drove home from Tampa after celebrating my son’s marriage.  The young couple was supposed to be married in New York City on March 20 but that all changed as our collective lives were re-directed.  On March 12, they wisely decided to pull the plug on New York and we all cancelled our flights and hotels and theater tickets.  Their plans were shifted to being married in the Hillsborough County Court House in Tampa on March 20.  That was much easier since we are a bit over two hours away and no plane travel was required.  Then, at 2:30 on March 17, my son called to say he just learned that the Courthouse was closing that same afternoon, March 17, at 5:00pm for an undetermined amount of time.  They were rushing over to the Courthouse to get married right away.  They made it in time, a joyful testimony to the indomitable power of love, even in these uncertain times.  Friday night was a gleeful and light-filled and deliriously happy evening as we celebrated with them, the bride’s mother, and their kids.  The nine of us are now all officially blended as step-siblings, and parents and step-grandparents, to one another.  It was the best of times.

Peter in his costume re-enacting Dr. Cyrus Teed in casual summer wear.

At the same time, we are uncertain about our time here at Koreshan State Park.  All of the events were cancelled officially on March 13 which meant an abrupt end to the Women’s History Month events that I’d been planning.  Two of the three special tours, with re-enactors, did happen for which I was grateful since the actors had put so much time into their characters.  Peter did reprise his role at Koreshan founder, Dr. Teed, which was also gratifying.  My biggest disappointment was having to cancel the two special evening events, but considering that our keynote speaker, author Adam Morris, was coming from California, it all made complete sense confirmed by the subsequent decision by the governor of California to close the entire state down the following week.

Here I am in my period costume for the two Women’s History Month tours that did come off.

With the state parks all over Florida closing, our plan for April, which included three weeks at two of our other favorite parks, is off the table.  We are not sure how long we can stay here in the park and are awaiting word from management. We do have some volunteer tasks to complete around our respective programs and that might justify our continued residency for a little bit longer.  For example, since Peter’s cooking program suffered the same abrupt end following a very successful early season, he is planning to clean up the kitchen and Cafe areas, creating some recipe cards for next season, and generally tidying things up.

For me, there are still day visitors in the park, even though all regular park tours are cancelled and the buildings are closed.  That means an opportunity for us as roving docents.  We can proceed with greeting people and answering their questions, all while keeping social distancing in mind.  There is also some administrative work to be done in closing down and wrapping up the Women’s History Month program for the season. It’s a time of great uncertainty.

My sister sent this powerful list of six questions that is keeping us grounded.

My birthday sampler!

What we do know is that the Quarantine Questions that my youngest sister sent us is filled with great wisdom.  I post it here for all of you to consider in these days.  There is so much for which Peter and I are grateful including the blessings of good health and for all of you, friends and family, who continue to sustain us.  Last week was my birthday and we took a little road trip down the Gulf coast to the town of Everglades City.  There, we found a tiny local museum and chatted with the director about Florida in the nineteenth century, Koreshan State Park, and books and resources to consider reading.  It was an example, as Peter said, of what we love about this life – fluid, free, and unpredictable

On the way home we drove through the lovely town of Naples, along the Gulf.   A little over forty years ago, I had pushed a stroller along these same streets with my son, then a baby, as we came to visit with his snowbird grandparents.  That same year, my youngest sister came to visit after her graduation from college. Now, we are the grandparents and my son, now married, lives in Tampa. It would all have seemed improbable in 1978.

On the way out of town, we stopped by Whole Foods for a couple of essential foodstuffs. While there, Peter treated me to a sampling of tasty little birthday treats – key lime pie and little canolis.  Of course, chocolate ganache was included.  In addition to feeding the soul these days with meditation, Tennyson, and prayer, it is essential to keep the body well nourished with one of the basic food groups – chocolate, at least on my birthday.

And now, we wait, staying present and repeating the prayer of belief and faith that all will be well.  May you all be cocooned in grace during these days that are both the best of times and the worst of times.

Peter and Liz continue their time at Koreshan State Park for a bit more time, living in the comfort of their Airstream as the latest chapter of their pilgrimage writes itself.











First time camphosts in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

Our pet flamingos love our beautiful campsite here at Shawme Crowell State Forest in Sandwich, MA.

As many of you know, our life on the road has been largely unscripted. We tend to get an idea, do some research, talk to other full-timers, try something new, evaluate it, determine what we have learned and what we might want to do with the information, and then move on.


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Estero, Florida in the rear-view mirror.

This is Bonita Beach and our piece of heaven in Florida.

One of the most mysterious effects of being in one place for a long time is how time folds in on itself and neatly puts itself away.  We’ve been in Estero, Florida for nearly five months and in that time, Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, we witnessed what south-Florida calls the seasons – winter (temperatures in the high 40s);  spring (temperatures in the mid-70s); and currently, summer (temperatures in the mid-80s).  We pulled together a wedding reception for two of our fellow volunteers here at the park, complete with a cake and champagne toasts.  We made a quick trip to the deep and frigid north for a wonderful family weekend, we celebrated a reunion dinner with Triangle X friends who winter here in Florida, met up with people we met on the road in Ann Arbor, and enjoyed a reunion with our first Airstream friends who met in the panhandle of Florida in 2015.  We continue to delight in the company of our Koreshan State Park fellow volunteers following our official fourth anniversary living full time on the road.

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Two snowbirds roost in south Florida.

This is our campsite, decorated with Christmas lights and pots of chrysanthemums.  We are facing east and the morning light is lovely.

Returning to Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida on November 2 felt like a homecoming.  There was much that has changed since we left the park in April (more on that later) but somehow time compresses itself in the familiar and it seems like merely weeks since we were last here.

First, news about where we are living.  Our new site this year in the Volunteer Village is our favorite of all three years here.  We are up against the fence which means we are closest to the very busy Tamiami Trail but the huge advantage is we have a really lovely “front yard”, a place to securely store our bicycles and no neighbors on our front door side.  Plus, we are removed from the center of the very busy Village, the bathhouse, and the Rec Hall.  The morning sun streams in the kitchen windows and the afternoon sun hits the back of T2, keeping things much cooler than last year when we faced straight into the afternoon sun.  We are next door to some friends from last year who are easy to be around.  It’s all good.

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Spring cleaning before heading north.

The tools from the spring cleaning tool belt. All that is missing is the baking soda, already in the frig.

Each year, in springtime, I commit to a comprehensive T2 cleaning.  It’s usually spread over a few days with Day 1 always starting with the triannual refrigerator defrosting.  Perhaps it’s because it is my least favorite cleaning task and I know that once starting it, I have committed to  the no-turning-back process.  The best part is the ritual that ends with putting the fresh new box of  baking soda in place and writing the date on the duct tape patch on the inside the refrigerator door.

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Celebrating my birthday with the women of Koreshan in Florida.

In-costume at Koreshan State Park during Women’s History Month with my favorite baker.

I’m writing this blog on my birthday and I have been given the most exquisite of gifts: a morning of solitude in T2, our sanctuary.  I’ve been reading poetry and found two snippets from poems that fit my reflection today.  Stanley Kunitz, at the age of 79 mused, “Maybe it’s time for me to practice growing old. The way I look at it, I’m passing through a phase…” while Billy Collins, at the age of 70, whimsically observed, “One bright morning in a restaurant in Chicago as I waited for my eggs and toast, I opened the Tribune only to discover that I was the same age as Cheerios”. Continue reading