2021-2022, November 9 – November 23

Events like to pile up on a person. The computer I had ordered broke free of it’s holding pen in Hong Kong earlier than expected. Kurt and I watched it scan in at Korea, then Alaska, then Kentucky and all too fast a front stoop in Florida. In about 48 hours it made its way to its destination and we were still 500 miles out… with a slight inconvenience of needing two tire changes on the camper from unexpected an uneven wear. (Suspiciously the same two tires we had problems with last year…. Hmmm).

Florida or Freddie 2 Bug Screens 0

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There’s a reason we went down into the Florida Peninsula and it’s because I have family there. My Aunt welcomed us into her home not knowing what chaos we brought. (Yes, all of us, cat and dog). My dog. What perfect pandemonium this hot furry 80 pounds of black and white genetic conflict has caused. Folks, ten years later and that cute puppy is still destruction.
Day one: complete mutiny in the screened patio. I was attempting to get Billy Ghost happy by bringing him out where he could see a squirrel. At the same time a sweet vacated little mop of dog bounces up to the screen from out of a bush and I have to hold onto Freddie with everything I have, she’s a bucking bronco and I’m just taking the ride. Billy Ghost flies into the screen wall, up the wall, a puff of raging orange needles dashes past and up another screened wall. Mop dog bounds around the perimeter, panting in eagerness to meet new friends. Aunt Rocky peels Billy Ghost off the screen. Freddie wants to do murder. Billy wants a safe place. Mop dog’s owner tries to apologize and my Aunt yells succinctly “get your dog!” ending our circus.
Day Two.
Freddie desires the squirrel in the yard, the one with the big grey twitchy tail teasing her sensibilities. She gets caught in the patio and is ushered back inside, maybe more than once. Someone shuts the sliding door to a sliver. Billy Ghost comes out of hiding, finally, and decides to use the box (location: near the sliding door). Freddie, no bark, slams through the sliver of an opening, thunder and lightning, then rips on through the screen wall, the Kool-aid man incarnate. Billy bolts out of his box to a dark corner and peaks out in suspicion at all of us. I herd Freddie inside, unsuccessful with her squirrel hunt. Later, Kurt spies the neighbor walking by this house holding his mop dog.
There was a prelude to the bedlam back in Assateague. Sometimes we sleep with the camper door open, Freddie ruined that joy on one particular night. Kurt was laying awake and heard Freddie pop through the screen sometime after midnight. Then it was a tense few minutes calling for her in the brush hoping she’d come to us before… more chaos.

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Kurt and I left Billy Ghost in my Aunt’s care. Sneaky, sneaky this was what we were up to this entire time, bringing Billy to meet my Aunt. I was continuing the Okesson tradition of gifting a cat to another Okesson. A nearly extinct tradition with my Father and Uncle gone from us. When I extracted Billy from his California digs I had no idea what his personality would be (let alone if he would live) and it is that of a homebody, not so much a traveling cat. Now he will keep my Aunt company and give her the gift of feline love. Every purr and head boop will be like a small long distance hug to a favorite person.

Goodbye Billy Ghost Flufferbutt… next we meet I’ll be a stranger.

Everglades

Surrounding the sprawling urban subdivisions, primordial swamps. Flat. Humid. Plants growing on plants, trees consuming trees, animals in carnivorous life cycles. Florida is a massive plot of land of teeth and tediously straight roads. As much as we both agreed we wanted to leave Florida, we also wanted to see the Everglades, sure not much would lure us back down this peninsula.

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From the campground it was a day’s drive to Key West and back. It was… something. The drive down was interesting, but not as pretty as I held in my imagination. I felt the fragile connection to the continent, skipping across narrow coral built islands connected by one chain of bridges. One way in by land, one way out. Blue skies, deeper blue waters, big puffy clouds fat with moisture. Herds of emerald green iguanas the size of dogs along the side of the road. And at the end too many people, doing all the same things people do everywhere. They congregate in the locations they are told and take their selfies, then move on to the next item. I wanted to see the cats at the Hemingway house, but by the time we found it I’d had enough of the tourist scene. I was trying to photograph an interesting tree with roots that curled around, narrow buttresses four foot tall. I waited for a bicycle couple to take their selfie and move on. The woman did, but the man stood there. And stood there. And then balanced his phone on top of his hand. Looked around. Stood there. Looked at his phone. Stood there. Finally I shouted “EXCUSE ME.” And he moved on, but didn’t acknowledge me.

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The following day we explored Everglades National Park. The Everglades spread vast and primeval. Wet. Lush. Cut by few roads. I wanted at least this to be untouched. Not even this. Florida is a disrupted water filter. US 41 is being rehabbed for better water flow through the Everglades. There are areas where the water is being pumped in in big gushes. Florida is a land of many mistakes. Devastatingly happy invasives like pythons and iguanas. Blocked water flow from civilization’s zest for building. The main road follows a canal and all along are small outfits setup to get tourists on airboats, this of course isn’t happening within the National Park, just all around it. The government was here also leaving their scars. It was a nuclear missel silo location from the Cold War.

The Big Cypress National Preserve was a long mostly straight drive through an adjoining area to the Everglades National Park. Here I got too up close and personal with an alligator than I ever imagined possible. I walked up to a cement culvert lip to admire the water reflections. Kurt saddled up next to me and pointed out the huge alligator just under my nose. I could’ve leaned over the edge and touched it. I decided it was dead because its eyes looked milky and sunken, Kurt pointed out its nostrils were flaring. I’m baffled people want to live in a place trying to shake you off like a fleas◾️

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Taryn Okesson: Visual Artist