About fruit tramps, work campers, and a book

In 1971 (or maybe it was 1972) i found myself in central Florida camping at Buck Lake in Ocala National Forest. I was by myself, no car, just a back pack, sleeping bag, and a small tent. I had been dropped off there by some people with whom I hitched a ride from New York City.

Back then, Buck Lake was a primitive campground with no restrictions, only one road in or out and no amenities except a hand pump for drinking water. Now it is a group campground with a boat ramp, vault toilet, six picnic tables and a group campfire ring – and that same old hand pump for drinking water – requiring a reservation for a minimum of two nights at $50 a night! I imagine all these improvements did a good job of keeping away any tramps, hoboes and wanderers like me.

Close to my little place in this paradise were camped a married man and woman and their long-time friend. The couple lived out of a van and their friend lived out of a car. They worked picking fruit. They referred to themselves as “fruit tramps.”

For the two months or so that i lived on Buck Lake, I don’t recall ever seeing anyone else camping there. It was just me, a blue tick coon hound puppy (who i named Buck) that i adopted from a veterinarian in Leesburg, and my work camping friends.

As odd as i may have seemed to my camping neighbors, they often looked out and cared for me – giving me lifts into town for supplies and warning me about things such as coral snakes, and scorpions (one of which i found under my sleeping bag one morning) and the alligator that would lie quietly in the evening just a bit off shore from where my tent was pitched. They said the gator was looking for an opportunity to catch and eat Buck.

Over the next few years i had many experiences meeting folks like these. Experiences that no doubt explain my desire to live simply and modestly. Roam place to place. Quietly. Slowly. Thoughtfully.

Yet as profound as these experiences were for me, all the special memories they engendered were wrested from my thoughts and hidden for a very long time. But now, after having lived several lifetimes that clearly didn’t belong to me, i am finding something old that was lost along the way.

And i’m finding it in the stories by a new generation of wanderers, work campers, and rubber tramps – the poets, scribes, and technicians of the road. A writer whose travel log i read has written a book called Confessions of a Work Camper – Tales from the Woods. I really enjoyed reading it. There’s something for everyone in it. And some good opportunities to see ourselves in these delightful little stories. The author describes her book in this way, “Follow the adventures of a campground worker as she chronicles the delights and disasters of working with the public away from all the conveniences of modern life: electricity, running water, internet access, or phone service. Join her on the top of a mountain, as far from civilization as she’s ever lived, in this collection of creative non-fiction essays.”