This morning, while walking back from our daily trip to the coffee shop, Matilda disappeared. That’s the way it looked to me. If you ask Matilda, she may say that it was me who disappeared.

Like so many times before, i had let Matilda off leash in a large empty lot behind a large shopping center. With little vehicle traffic in the area and a lot of room to get some exercise, Matilda enjoys the opportunity to stretch her legs a bit and investigate new scents there.

This time she caught the scent of a squirrel and she took off as if she was late for a steak dinner. And it wasn’t but a few moments before i lost sight of her.

Fortunately, we have been practicing with a whistle and clicker as an indicator that Matilda was about to get a treat and her response to the whistle or the clicker usually resulted in her running over to me to get it. It wouldn’t be long, i thought to myself. She’ll hear the whistle and she’ll come running. And everything would be fine.

Until today, all that practice clicking and whistling had paid off. This time, nothing. No Matilda. I didn’t see her head pop up to figure out where i was like she had done in the past. She was gone.

I diligently searched the tall brush as i walked in the direction i last saw her headed. And i whistled and clicked, and whistled again and again. Still nothing. My whistling stirred all the dogs in the residential area north of the lot we were in and i listened for Matilda’s bark from among the many. Still nothing.

At this point i made the decision to walk back to the house without her and get the car to expand my search. I thought to myself that being in the car would help me find her and that i could respond faster if someone should find her and call me.

With a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, i drove back to where i last saw her – delaying only to turn off the new (and unfamiliar) “do not disturb” feature on my phone that prevented phone and text notifications while i was driving. And it was a good thing i did. After fumbling with the phone trying to determine how and if i had properly set the phone to receive calls while driving, one came in.

The call was from a young woman named Victoria. She introduced herself and said that she had found Matilda and that she would hold on to her until i could get there.

She was at the Starbucks where Matilda and i were earlier – about a quarter mile or so from where we lost each other. Matilda had found her way back, crossing a wide street and the very large parking area of this very large shopping center to the tiny corner of the complex where the coffee shop sat.

I was already imagining a life without Matilda when Victoria called.

Thank you, Victoria. Matilda is a magical dog. And you did a wonderful and blessed thing by bringing us back together.

A new friend

I lost someone in my life twenty eight years ago. When he died i hardly knew him. We worked together but we weren’t friends then. That would be unlikely, if not impossible, because i was his supervisor. 

Regardless, i liked him and enjoyed his company and his occasional bit of helpful advice. Soon after i got the supervisor’s job he came into the office, looked down at my desk and said, “Ya know, a clean organized desk is a sign of mental illness.” 

I don’t remember how i responded or even if i responded. But i did think to myself that in my case, he could very well be right! I am not unfamiliar with obsessive compulsive behavior. 

“Not much of a memorable encounter,” you’re probably saying. But given all that has passed and all i’ve learned, those brief encounters have stayed with me.

It wasn’t until after he died did he become my friend. It wasn’t until then that i learned so much about him. About his easiness, simplicity, honesty, wisdom, and life. All learned from and through his family who hold him in their heart and then shared him with me.

On this day, twenty eight years after that shitty day in September, I honor my friend and his family.

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.” 

Some thoughts on food

Though i may not yet have found a diet that works for me, i am getting there.

Dog food intrigues me. Matilda does very well on a steady diet of it. It seems to provide her body everything it needs to live. 

Through experimentation with meal replacement products i was hoping for a single source of source of nutrition that would provide all my sustenance needs – just as Matilda’s food provides all her needs. And food preparation would be a snap! I never enjoyed cooking.

Though the meal replacement products i have experimented with appear to be well thought out efforts to provide a well-balanced diet, the one-size-fits-all products that may be necessary to insure sales and profitability weren’t working for me. Diabetes and other health issues are the reasons. My body did not react well to some of the ingredients in these blends of foods.

With a year long preparation underway for a life of travel and living off the grid, i thought that this would be a good opportunity for moving towards a diet that works for me and would be consistent with my life on the road.

So here’s a couple of ways i’m doing this…

  • I don’t keep anything in the house that I shouldn’t eat.
  • I make it difficult to get to a store to buy the food i shouldn’t eat.

Both of these rules are not easy to follow. Each requires a certain amount of will power to be successful but by far a lot less than the will power i need to avoid a cinnamon bun sitting in the refrigerator.