Our eastbound drive from Utah to Florida covered a couple of thousand miles across eight states. We arrived on November 20 and are now comfortably settled into the Volunteer Village at Koreshan State Park in Estero, Florida in the warm company of friends we met here last year and of the new volunteers who have come for part of the season.
Before writing about our winter home, there are a few highlights since my last post which I want to mention. First, we stopped for two nights in Albuquerque (as planned) and researched the possibility of a workkamper position at the American RV Park. This is a large and very well run park convenient to US 40. They are currently looking to hire for the fall/winter of 2018, they prefer couples and want a three month commitment. My preference was for one of the jobs in the office but experience with the reservation system is required and I don’t have it. Other options are grounds and maintenance, and hospitality (which includes bathroom and cabin cleaning). While it would be great to be in Albuquerque in October for the Balloon Festival, the fit just didn’t seem right for us at this time so we will pass. We are still in the process of deciding whether workkamping is for us.
We hopped across the eight hundred miles of Texas in four nights staying one night at a commercial park near Lubbock; two nights at Fort Griffin State Historic Park, and one night on a return visit to Tyler State Park, all of which were picked for their access to our travel route through the northern part of Texas on US 180.
We crossed the Mississippi River on November 10, officially returning to “the east”, and stopped near Vicksburg, Mississippi so Peter could visit the Civil War Battlefield there. Our two nights near there at Grand Gulf Military State Park were delightfully quiet during the off season and we walked about half a mile to the shores of the Big Muddy. We noticed a newly installed marker indicating the all-time record flood stage of 57.5 feet in 2011, devastating the lowlands. Walking these roads, its not hard to image the deluge.
The highlight of our time in western Mississippi was a visit to Lorman and the Old Country Store. Why? Because of the legendary fried chicken created by Mr. Davis, the proprietor. When thinking of this restaurant, picture an old country store circa 1930 and take away the kitshcy nick-nacks, the freshly scrubbed-for-the-tourists cabinets, add in the creaky and uneven floors and you’ll have the idea. The fried chicken was like nothing we’d every had. It was tender and moist and very richly flavored and so lightly coated in whatever his secret recipe is that it literally fell off the bone when you took a bite. The pork chops were high on Peter’s list along with the side dishes (it’s all served buffet style) of okra and collard greens.
Passing through the attractive little town of Port Gibson (which General Ulysses S. Grant reportedly decided to spare because “it was too pretty to burn”), we noticed about six churches right along Highway 61, including one with a gold-colored sculpture of a hand pointing up to heaven that sat atop the steeple of the First Presbyterian Church.
We stopped and the caretaker was just leaving but stopped to tell us the history. The original sculpture was carved in wood by a local named Daniel Foley in 1860. It was replaced by a ten foot high hand of metal in 1901 which was refurbished in 1989 and again just this summer at a cost of $40,000. The website Roadside America, has some great photos. We thanked the caretaker who invited us to come join the congregation on Sunday, reflecting the gracious hospitality for which this part of the south is known.
The other unusual place we visited in the town was a ruins called Windsor Plantation. This eery skeleton, which resembled the Parthenon, was a former plantation that was burned to the ground by a cigar ash from a careless house guest in 1890. It was originally built by Smith Coffee Daniell II, a millionaire cotton grower who owned thousands of acres and hundreds of slaves. He had barely moved into what was called the biggest plantation in Mississippi, when he died from a mosquito bite. The date was April 12, 1861, which also happened to be the first day of the Civil War. The ghost-like ruins felt haunted by the spirits of more than just a house fire.
We crossed into Florida and slowed our pace to catch up and get in some much needed rest for Peter. We spent three nights in Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs and right along the Suwannee River. The campground here is really lovely and our site was nestled in among palmettos and long leaf pine and was cool and private. The visitor’s center honors the memory of American composer Stephen Foster, who wrote “Old Folks at Home,” the song that made the Suwannee River famous. It is worth noting, in the way of full disclosure, that Foster was from Pittsburg and never even saw the Suwannee River but tourist-minded Florida figured there was an opportunity here and ran with it. The Florida Folk Festival happens here every year in May and it looks very interesting. Check it out here.
After next visiting my son and our two beautiful granddaughters in Tampa, we arrived in Estero. Living on the road feeds the soul and keeps us light and facile and settling into one place for the winter months feeds the soul in other ways. There is an easy comfort in knowing our way around a familiar town. We had a list of things we knew we needed to do, from renewing our membership at the Lee County Library, to reacquainting ourselves with the local Publix, the Whole Foods in nearby Naples, and the Fresh Market in Bonita Springs. We visited the church we found last year and attended a Christmas concert actually recognizing some of the fellow congregants. And we knew the things we wanted to do before the guest season cranks up in January and our docent jobs have us very busy.
There was a visit to Lover’s Key State Park, a beach located on a barrier island we had managed to miss last year. We spent a lovely afternoon walking the pristine white sands of Big Carlos Pass along the Gulf. We also spent a day touring the Audubon Sanctuary at Corkscrew Swamp which we had wanted to visit last year but ran out of time. The Sanctuary was pummeled by Hurricane Irma and part of the boardwalk into the deepest part of the Swamp was still being repaired when we visited but we did see about half of the sanctuary and a portion of some of the prized old growth Bald Cypress. Now the entire 2.5 miles boardwalk is open once more so it is possible to visit the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.
Koreshan State Park had a little damage from the Hurricane and lost dozens of trees. The Art Hall, where I worked most of last winter, is closed for the final touches of repair and should be opening this weekend. Peter is volunteering this year in the outdoor Cafe where he hopes to be part of the team re-creating the famous original Koreshan recipes for breads on a vintage cast iron wood stove. In addition, he will continue to do his docent work at the Planetary Court, where the women who managed the day to day activities of the historic Settlement lived.
There is a lot going on at the park this year, including the first annual Holiday Bazaar which drew over 3,000 people on a spectacular Sunday just after Thanksgiving. It was fun helping to decorate the park with holiday-themed details. We love the feeling of the park and are looking forward to greeting visitors and helping share the exciting history of Koreshan for four months this time around.
In the spirit of Christmas, in addition to decorating the outside of T2, we have added a few indoor touches as well. I’ve added my favorite Kringle Candles redolent with the scent of pine, which I love. We have cut some long leaf pine boughs and added an Advent wreath whose lighted candles are especially beautiful. We look forward to Christmas in under ten days, visiting my son and his family for a few days before Christmas and then returning to Estero on Christmas Day for a holiday dinner with our fellow nomads here in the Volunteer Village. Until next time, Peter and I hope that your holidays are joyful and peaceful and full of love.Peter and Liz settle into Koreshan State Park in their Airstream, volunteering as docents and tour guides and (hopefully) cooking at the Cast Iron Cafe over the winter season of 2017-2018.