Seven months have passed since we began our tiny travel journey, and so has a new year. We’re still quite amazed by how much territory we have covered, and how much we have not. There is so much to see and do in this big world, and we can only do so much at any given time. Travel, like relationships, is often a combination of chemistry and timing, and includes loving and letting go, hoping perhaps that whatever struck us the first (or second or third) time around, or whatever we may have missed, will come back ’round and cross our paths again, everyone with renewed perspective.
We felt that in parts of New England, the Adirondacks, and Virginia. There are places in Kentucky and Delaware that we’d enjoy exploring, as well as the abundance of islands along the shores of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Wisconsin and Minnesota. It would be nice to have a little more hang time in Savannah, too. Alas, maybe someday, or maybe not.
We also are dreaming lots about our future. California has been our eye-on-the-prize destination, but recently we’ve been woozy for the desert. This family had good times living there before the fateful Recession played a role in our path. Even then, that was the urban desert, and we are thinking more about the Sonoran Desert, Tucson to be exact, camping among the saguaro and night creatures, under the stars that burst so over its vastness. Austin, Encinitas, the Red Woods, the Olympic Peninsula, Idaho. Spain and its convivial nature and tapas crawls. Australian open-mindedness, Nordic open-mindedness and other places that choose peace over fear, buns over guns, pot over not, equality over quantity and topless sunbathing. Thankfully, we can dream and stream with Rick Steves.
But that was the past and will be the future, and sometimes it’s difficult to settle our minds on the present, which is in Florida at the Tampa East RV Resort. Currently, we reside in an area that is part farm land, part suburb east of Tampa near family, off of a couple of slightly rumbling highways in a snowbird resort filled with French-Canadians playing shuffleboard and pétanque. We are quite literally among the very few here who are not bilingual — that is to say not bilingual in English and French-Canadian Québécois. It feels a bit strange to reside in a campground that is almost a mini-country unto itself. Even the bulletin board notices are all in French. It has grown on us.
The Fermentation Process.
This RV resort is a large one encompassing three areas, many of which are a hodgepodge of regular campers like us, most of whom are snowbirds, with large or small RVs; snowbirds that have stationary RVs with add-on lanais; a few cabin/moblie home-type structures with or without add-on lanais; and some fixed-income folks who call this place home year round. All of the areas include the main amenities, like pool and laundry and bathhouse, and each area offers something unique, like a game room, gym, playground or shuffleboard and pétanque.
The middle section of the campground, which seems to serve more year-rounders, sits underneath a remnant swath of giant live oaks and Spanish moss, as well as behind the ever-present low buzz of the Driscoll fruit plant. That area of the campground tends to have a heavier feel, and the pool is not nearly as lively as ours. It is also a littler greener — the pool that is, not the landscape. There is an effervescence on our side of the campground, whereas the middle part seems to evoke a slower pace. The other end of the campground — the third area — is where the big rigs play, the Class As. Shiny, beaming, humming, sitting on flat pads surrounded by more manicured landscape. These RVers often have a bit more money to spend and like their luxuries, and they like to travel, too. We don’t know too much about that part of the resort yet, although we saw their pool and it is quite appealing. We might get to know it soon.
There are picnic tables, but there are no firerings. No fires or fire-making things allowed, which thwart some of our cooking options, but we make do. In our camping area, there is a very warm pool and even warmer jacuzzi between the pétanque and shuffleboard courts, all wrapped by white iron fence, protected by giant, gorgeous umbrellas fitted with pretty low-light lanterns. Every morning we hear the shuffleboard courts being cleared of their leaves with a gas blower for the early games, then later the clashing of pucks that sound like castanets. At night we hear the clanging of the pétanque boules and laughter among the mostly-men who play under the lights. Swimming and hot-topic hot tubbing happen mid-afternoon and/or late night for almost everyone and the conversations happen entirely in various forms of Québécois. In the evening, the game room is occupied by card and billiard players, and there are two bookshelves — one full of books in English and one full of books in French — for borrowing and lending. And the event room is filled with music and dancing (more like music and clapping).
Swimming and hot tub has been pure heaven, especially under the stars.
This is definitely not like camping up north.
But, like, come on? Is this really camping? I believe we are “wintering.” A verb.
We are in the suburbs. The suburbs are very convenient. It is very easy to get here.
We have become the suburbs. Sort of.
The other day, a giant gentleman whose form took that of Hell’s Angels Member-meets-Andrew Zimmern, heavily tattooed, smoking a deliciously smelly cigar and listening to music through headphones, commented in French to us as Luna swam like a fish that “she must not be afraid of the water.” I thought he said that she must like the water, to which I replied, “Oui.” He said it again. I said, “Oui.” His French-Canadian friend, as large in form and personality as the first gentleman, interpreting for all of us, told him that we don’t understand, at which point the first French-Canadian man said, “Ooooh! You’re English! Well, I am fortunate to have been brought up bilingual, blahblahblah…” He was a very nice man. Recently retired, he received his pension and bought a place in this French-Canadian-laden and inspired RV resort, where he and his French-Canadian amis “can stay for six months minus one day,” per Canadian requirements for maintaining Canadian health insurance coverage, which covers all Canadian citizens. All of the traveling Canadians we have met along the way follow suit: Travel six months, then check in back home. Nice.
The neighbor to our south, also a French-Canadian, is a solo traveler in a Class B RV. He has a bike, he has friends, he does not wear a shirt when it is warm. In the evenings, he drinks Coors Lite from an aluminum wine-drinking vessel with stem and listens to French folk music. Otherwise, he watches a little TV, works on his laptop, reads and doesn’t say much at all. Sometimes we wonder if he’s lonely, or rather enjoys his aloneness. Perhaps he’d like one of Luna’s homemade mini-cupcakes with sprinkles, or maybe he has a gluten allergy. I’ll try to figure out how to ask him in French.
The neighbors to our north are permanent residents, perhaps multi-generational and quite likely on a fixed income in a camper not much longer than our twenty-six feet version. They thoroughly enjoy three TVs in their little space, and cigarettes. The camper’s outside is adorned with beautiful, healthy potted plants, even on the hookup, and, from what we can see inside, not one nook or cranny lacks a tchotchke out of order. They still keep Christmas decorations, and we like their ambient lighting. We wonder about the little boy inside who is Luna’s age and inhales secondhand smoke in such a small space. The vibe is otherwise good and of contentedness.
French-Canadians in the Tampa farm-suburbs. Who knew?
We think about our neighbors. And we wonder about our new French-Canadian-American community. And we are a bit surprised that we have stayed so long in the region.
So this is where we are, practicing the slowest of slow travels, waiting patiently, dreaming hopefully and, well, fermenting. And we are doing it for a month — all of January to be exact — because it is what we need to do for now. Business is calling. Scot — both business owner and employee — needs some regular work weeks in one location for some business development, Luna needs some more cousin time and slow travel works better for the budget. As it turns out, if you play by snowbird rules and can commit to a month or more at a time, there are significant discounts, which work in our favor. We’re playing along. And anyway, this gives me time to monitor all that I have steeping and stewing in jars and containers, continue in spiritual practice, write more fluidly and immerse myself in the Grand Servitude of Family.
At first, this scene was not exactly what we wanted or envisioned. Our vision of Florida was a whole lot of paradise sitting on a beach on the Atlantic. We did not anticipate even being near Tampa until the Christmas or New Year holidays. Inevitably and with purpose, we dove into Florida by Thanksgiving, boondocking with very generous and gracious family, until New Year’s Day. It turned out to be a good and necessary incubation period for us, and we have been able to spend quality time with those we hardly see and won’t see for quite a while.
But frankly (Who is Frank anyway?), we had a difficult time fitting into Florida. The cost of camping on the east side of Florida was more than we allot in our budget, even if we were able to stay for a month; many were age-restricted campgrounds; and — the biggest factor of all — the holidays impacted long term stays. We’d been researching forever, beginning somewhere up north. Spontaneity doesn’t work always, especially in a land where snowbirds are favored and the camping season is busy all year round.
And besides, this is where we must be. Dharma reminds us of this. We understand. Sometimes its role can be frustrating, so we learn to work with it, nurturing relationship with it. Long term stays allow for continued practice of yoga and meditation, enabling proper fermentation of said dharma.
C’est bon aussi.
It’s not Florida’s fault: Florida goes along at its own pace and just assumes that you can merge with it if you must or so desire, like jumping Double Dutch. The problem is that it’s not our pace. Our pace is slow and low and minimal. Florida’s pace is fast, determined and caters to convenience, verified by its many groceries, pharmacies and box stores, and intricate web of highways and tollways. Charles Kuralt once said, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything.” I believe this also refers to Florida.
We would like to see more of Tampa, but we feel blocked by the expressways, wanting to go through our destination, not to it. I can see Ybor City from the elevated tollway, but how do we get down there? We would like to experience fresh, local food, but it is difficult to find, despite Florida’s abundant farm culture. We are in search of various forms of old Florida, but we don’t know where they are. All of the beaches are over an hour away from our location. It’s a big commitment getting from the suburbs to a destination around here. So many people, so many cars and so many long highways. It’s exhausting to consider.
But one gets what one needs and gets where one needs to go as quickly and easily as possible in Florida, because there are twenty million people whom Florida must serve. School, work, industry, tourism. It is a state on the move, always active, almost always warm, hardly slowing down, unlike those in winter hibernation in the north. It goes because it can and it must. It is progress, it is modern life.
Florida is modern life.
Arcade Fire made an album called The Suburbs. Band member and lyricist Win Butler, who sprang from the Texas suburbs, said that the album “is neither a love letter to, nor an indictment of, the suburbs – it’s a letter from the suburbs.” There is no indictment here and not necessarily so much love. It is simply a letter from our location: We the square pegs, Florida the round hole. And so we sit quietly in our camper, “wintering” at the French-Canadian-American RV Resort, watching, listening, trying to maintain our slow-travel/free-livin’ way of life in a place and space that is always bustling, the odd trio out in a state with heavily pronounced demographics. We are fermenting, waiting to see what happens.
Biology and Alchemy.
The first groups of people, records of whom were kept as early as the sixteenth century, include the Apalachee of the Panhandle, the Timucua of northern and central Florida, the Ais on the Atlantic, the Tocobaga around Tampa Bay, the Calusa in the southwest and the Tequesta in the southeast. The Seminole, perhaps the most famous in Florida, evolved from the remnants of other tribes, particularly the Creek Indians (Muscogee) from Georgia.
Florida was the first place visited by Europeans in the continental U.S., according to Florida’s Wikipedia page. (We have heard this in so many other parts of the country. Texting or Twitter would have been helpful when Europeans landed in the “New World” for time stamp purposes.) The well known Juan Ponce de León was among them, naming Florida “La Florida” for “flowery land,” as was Hernando de Soto. The Spanish brought with them Christianity, cattle, horses, sheep, el español and more. The Spanish and French established settlements off and on in Florida — Pensacola, St. Augustine and eventually throughout Florida. St. Augustine on Florida’s east side was a Spanish colony in 1565 and was maintained as such by converting local tribes to Christianity. But, as we learned in Savannah, Spain dealt with continued English invasions from the north (and from the French in the west) until forts could be built to fend off attacks. Spain was also sympathetic to enslaved peoples seeking freedom in Florida, which the Spanish Crown granted them. The first settlement of freed Africans and African-Americans in the U.S. was founded just north of St. Augustine. (Wikipedia)
Britain captured Havana, Cuba, during the Seven Years’ War, but Spain wanted Cuba and traded Florida to Britain to have it. Most of the Spanish population and many Native peoples went with the Spanish to Cuba. Britain then connected St. Augustine to Georgia and divided Florida into British East Florida and British West Florida. Early Floridian settlers included soldiers who fought during the French and Indian war, encouraged by government land grants. With the influx of English, Georgians and folks from South Carolina; the establishment of roads; and cash crops like sugar cane, indigo and fruit, the new Florida boomed under British rule.
However, Spain regained both Floridas after England’s defeat in the American Revolution. But Spain’s non-presence was an issue for the U.S.: Freed slaves continued to find safety in Florida and American and Indian tensions continued to rise. Often, Native tribes and freed slaves helped each other. Furthermore, more English settlers and migrants — the Florida Crackers — began encroaching on northern Florida via the backwoods of Georgia and South Carolina. Spain never really regained order in Florida: American settlers ignored them, James Madison claimed it as part of the Louisiana Purchase and the U.S. continued to march into Spanish territory after continued Seminole raids in Georgia. Andrew Jackson helped the effort by campaigning against the Seminole in the First Seminole War in 1816, which enabled the U.S. to take East Florida. As a result, Spain gave up all efforts and ceded both East and West Florida to the U.S. The merging of the two Floridas happened on March 30, 1822, becoming the Florida Territory. (Wikipedia)
Then the Indian Removal Act was passed in 1830 due to increased aggression between Seminole and settlers. Many Seminole left with the promise of land west of the Mississippi, but many remained in the Everglades. Those who stayed endured the repercussions from the U.S. Army, leading to the Second Seminole War in 1835 and the removal of over three thousand Seminole and eight hundred Black Seminole (freed slaves allied with the Seminole) to Indian Territory.
In 1845, Florida joined the nation and was admitted as a slave state. European settlers slowly began pouring into Florida.
By 1855, the Third Seminole War — the last of the Florida Wars — forced the removal of as many of the remaining Seminole as possible. As many Seminole as possible remained in the Everglades.
Then cotton came to Florida, and, as southern stories go, more labor was needed. Florida cotton farmers bought slaves for sale from white settlers. By 1860, the population of Florida was one hundred forty thousand people, almost half of whom were slaves. And so Florida joined the secessionist movement and was the founding member of the Confederacy. And, after the war, white legislators regained power and saw to it that most people of African descent and poor whites were disenfranchised through a new constitution and statutes. At the time and through the mid-twentieth century, Florida had the smallest population of any state. For a long time, half of that population was African-American. (Wikipedia)
But then the boll weevil killed cotton crops, lynchings and racial violence increased, and so forty thousand black folks left in the Great Migration seeking a better life. Like most slave states — and likely most states in the country — racial disenfranchisement persisted until the Civil Rights Movement brought awareness and change.
Change generally was pretty slow in Florida, despite its overlapping of so many people over many years. Farming used to be Florida’s main economic source, including cattle, sugarcane, citrus, tomatoes and strawberries. There are still many pockets of farms all across Florida, particularly strawberry fields near our resort, but it is the warmth and the tourists that pay Florida’s bills now. The Great Migration may have sent many folks north, but the Rust Belt sent many folks back.
And it ain’t slow anymore.
It began with the Florida land boom in 1920. After a couple of hurricanes and the Great Depression stalled Florida’s growth, it regained strength as Americans readied for World War II.
Then came air conditioning.
And no personal income tax.
Then snowbirds came.
The estimated population of Florida in 2015 was over twenty million people (yes, 20,271,272), the third most populous state in the nation. It is one of the fastest-growing states in the U.S. The largest metropolitan area in Florida is Miami with almost six million people. It is the largest metro area in the southeast. Next is the Tampa Bay Area, generally where we are located, with almost three million people. Orlando and Jacksonville have populations of just under two million and just over one million respectively. (Wikipedia)
Once the population of Florida consisted mostly of people of African descent. Now that population is predominantly “white and white Hispanics,” coming in at seventy-eight percent of the population as of 2013. “Non-Hispanic whites” make up fifty-six percent of the population. “Hispanics or Latinos” constitute twenty-three percent, and “black” people constitute under twenty percent. All other census “race” identifications are less than five percent respectively. (Wikipedia)
More from Wikipedia includes Florida having the highest percentage of people over sixty-five — a whopping seventeen percent.
Most of Florida’s population was born in another state.
Seventy-five percent of the population lived within ten miles of the Florida coastline in 2012.
Most Floridians’ ancestors come from somewhere else — Germany, Ireland, Scotland, England, Italy, Poland, France; Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia; Africa, West Indies, Caribbean, Haiti, Jamaica. Very few identify as having “American” ancestry. (Wikipedia)
English is the language most commonly spoken in Florida. However, Spanish comes in at twenty percent, then French Creole. All of them have touches of drawls depending on their region or origin — Southern accents in northern Florida, Northeastern accents on the east coast and Midwestern accents in the west.
Fifty-seven percent of Florida’s children under one year old belonged to minority groups in 2011.
Just over five percent of the population consists of illegal immigrants.
Famously, Florida is an important voting state. Democrats consist mostly of snowbirding white liberals and “both racial minorities” in South Florida and Miami. Republicans tend to be those in the suburbs and in rural communities. (Wikipedia)
Tourism is the state’s largest source of income and agriculture is second. Unfortunately, agriculture is a sore spot for the Everglades as it pollutes the water. Florida happens to be mostly downhill, and then flat: The highest point in the state is Britton Hill, which is three hundred forty-five feet above sea level, which is also the lowest highpoint in the nation.
Florida is called the “Sunshine State,” but mostly we think it’s just the warm and humid state, and often partly cloudy, and very unpredictable: Florida ranks first in tornadoes, near the top in hurricanes and tops for lightening strikes in Central Florida.
The flora and fauna are too numerous to mention, but the bear population is on the rise, the panther is on the decline and fire ants really do have quite a painful sting. It is impossible to imagine how manatees reproduce considering their snail-like pace.
Furthermore, keeping up with current events, Florida prohibits open carry of handguns, but has a considerable crime rate. It established a state minimum wage that is higher than the federal rate — $8.05 for non-tipped positions ($5.03 for tipped) as of 2015. Florida has one of the highest rates of uninsured people, second only to Texas. “Florida is a low per capita energy user,” and, to my surprise, is not the leading user of plastic water bottles: Lots of recycling happens here, but there is a lot of litter. Florida has four cities in the top twenty with the most credit card debt, and over two million Floridians live in poverty. One poll says that most people believe that this is the best place to live. There are virtually no earthquakes in Florida because it is not on a tectonic plate. However, there are lots of sinkholes and caves. (Wikipedia)
Clearly, there is a lot going on in Florida, even when it’s resting. it’s always in motion somehow. Fermentation. People have come and gone for ages, wanting pieces and parts of it, and the sun and water. We travelers fit in there somewhere. So where do we go from here?
In Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs,” the lyrics discuss boredom. I hadn’t felt boredom in a long time. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was actually bored. But it happened here in the suburbs a few times since our arrival around Thanksgiving. Luna began using the words, “I’m bored,” which I believe is good for her to experience, especially as an unschooled kid. It forces her — for the most part — to figure out what brings her joy for herself and how to solve problems on her own terms. That’s a slightly different kind of bored. For me, boredom really mimicked restlessness and I spent some time examining that. What is boredom really? Isn’t it simply a symptom of not being where we want to be? For me, yes. Agitation, angst, excitement, anticipation. We have been eager to continue our travels as we see fit. It didn’t happen here in Florida how we imagined it, until we decided to stay put and regroup, working with our purpose, not forcing or resisting. Yoga, meditation, baking and writing help. Swimming and walking with the family does, too.
As a result, our time in the suburbs and the French-Canadian-American RV Resort has been fruitful, tangy and pungent. With the support and supplies of family, we caught up on some rig and vehicle maintenance that was a long overdue: Scot now knows how to deal with axles and wheel drums and awning mold. We finally had our jacket zippers fixed by a lovely seamstress and her husband after many failed attempts at finding one in the North and East. We had two lovely holidays in our little camper and with good folks. Work is more fluid for Scot. Writing for me is still what comes lastly, but it comes nonetheless on the weekends and with vigor and focus.
Luna is reading and writing and continues to love math and swimming. She also is a great helper with laundry and grocery shopping, and she has learned all the steps for making fried eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches and making and baking cupcakes. Next will be how to boil water and what to do with it. For her, this will entail making noodles and sticky rice. She understands Papa’s work. She is in charge of the stabilizers on the camper, and she is learning how to control the tongue jack. She engages with folks in conversation. Snuggles are ever-present, as well as openness and truth and questions and discussion. She has a penchant for accents in speech, and, thank God, she likes musicals and Sammy Haggar. Her personal musical playlist includes songs from CCR, Gorillaz, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Band of Skulls, Yumi Zouma, ZZ Top, Veruca Salt and Ben Howard. She also likes Bossa Nova, Afro-Cubano and French songs, and Gary Clark, Jr and so on and so forth. We adore learning about her through music.
We have revisited our budget and travel plans and have general ideas where we will be by April. We are not sure how it will all unfold. We love traveling and want to see more, and we are unsure if our California dreamin’ will be all that we imagine, but we definitely have aspirations — visiting spiritual places, eating avocados, swimming, the San Diego Zoo, unschoolers, the Mexican Border, WordCampers and more. We are learning more about what we really want from community, tiny living, travel and for life. We dream big. We still use little, but our lives are rich and full.
I gave our nice older solo neighbor one of Luna’s mini-cupcakes with Nutella, no sprinkles. His name is André. His English is about as good as my French — rumbly and grasping, but moving forward nonetheless. It is assumed in this RV resort that one speaks French. As it turns out, most of these folks are from Québec and speak French almost exclusively, and their English is pretty good, but not the most important thing in their lives, something I love about Canadians from Québec. During walks and scooter rides and at the pool, all engagements begin with “Bon jour” and end with “Bon nuit.” I am elated that my practice in French speaking and that our need for international cultural immersion is happening much sooner than later. Luna and Scot roll with it. We are all thoroughly enjoying the late night swim with the French-speaking folks. Luna says it is one of her favorite things. It is very fulfilling, and we will probably miss this place when we’re gone.
We think that even the dogs speak French.
Not everyone likes fermented food. Change can be long and difficult to witness and endure. Sometimes it stinks. Waiting for change can be like watching paint dry, or for foods to alter chemically, or for us to change alchemically. Many times, folks need to know and need to feel safe and sure. But the glory of chemistry and timing is experiencing what the elements can do and how it reacts with the soul, really and truly. The suburbs were a place we could have never imagined ourselves: They seem easy from the outside, but they are not. Here our family lives and thrives, catapulting themselves through life at various rates. It is not our velocity. However, the French-Canadians have sought their own form of fermentation in the farm-suburbs of Florida and they do it living small and enthusiastically — with purpose. Much like we do. Not much of a coincidence, but quite ironic.
We embrace our time here in the farm-suburbs of Florida as the rest of it goes whizzing by us. We will continue to search for local food and we will find more beaches as fast as we can. The present presents itself at every moment. There is no past and there is no future. There is only now. We make it count and remember.
Who knew? The suburbs. Not boring, but revealing, whispering all of the time, “Pay attention. Stinking, steaming life is always happening, whether you see it or not, whether you like it or not. And there is always something interesting under the surface. It may not be what you expected, but it will always be helpful.”
Sticking to life untethered. Only time will tell. C’est la vie.