My time at David and Patty's was great. It was really good to catch up with them, spend time together, and just relax. I did my best to not let those same feelings I had at Scott's come back to take over my attitude. The first thing I did was take a shower and wash my clothes. I had a clean set I had been saving especially for this situation, kept safely in a plastic bag, away from dirt and dampness. I offered to help around the house, did some dishes here and there, helped replace a section of screening in their back porch, even offered to do some yard work (which we never actually got around to. I feel pretty bad about that). These things helped to avoid the negativity I'd felt previously. David and I reconnected with a couple of old friends, and I even got to attend a post-Thanksgiving party with his wife's coworkers where we had a huge potluck feast. We spent a great few days together before they had to leave town for a while.
I hooked up the DragonWagon, and was on my way to find a decent place to stay. While I was at David's I'd looked up the closest McDonald's and Burger Kings to his house so I could have a wifi connection nearby. It was only 3 or 4 miles away, so it was a nice little walk, though a little brisk as the temperature had been dropping. I made it to the Burger King in time for some breakfast. I parked the wagon outside, chaining it to the bike rack, and went straight into the bathroom for some quick business. I went up to the counter afterwards, to order my breakfast. "Is that yours out there?" asked the woman behind the counter before I could say anything, gesturing to the DragonWagon in view through the window. Crap. My first thought was something along the lines of, "we don't serve your kind here." I confessed apprehensively that it was. "Here," she said pulling out a plastic bag and a cup from behind the counter, "some lady asked me to give this to you when you came out." Inside the bag was a banana, a honey bun, and a couple of other breakfast foods, and the cup was a hot coffee. I asked her who the lady was, but she said she didn't know, she had just dropped off the bag and left. "Did you still want to order anything?" I thought about it for a second, since I was still really surprised by this token of kindness from some mystery woman. I decided, since I don't drink coffee regardless of how much I try, that I would order a large drink. "Oh, is that it? Here, you can have it." She handed me the cup and refused my cash. I thanked her humbly for her unexpected generosity, stacked on the generosity I'd already received. Humbled. I sat down to enjoy my first Honey Bun, and drew.
I found a little patch of thick woods behind a Winn Dixie in the same plaza as the Burger King, and parked the wagon amongst the trees. It was almost midday, so it was warming up outside with the sun. I looked around for signs of other "residents" in the woods, not wanting to intrude on any possible neighbors. I locked up the DragonWagon, still packed in case I needed to find a different place, and went exploring. There were a couple of patches where some people had evidently stayed, empty liquor and beer bottles, random trash centralized near a tree or two, an old decrepit mattress deteriorated through time and weather. It didn't look like anyone had been around for a long time. I went in a little farther, and saw something through the trees. I walked towards it. As I got closer I realized it was a tent, and a big one at that. It wasn't store bought, but constructed of mismatched tarps, sheets, and other things. I kept my distance, not wanting to startle anyone residing in there. It was just past the opposite tree line of the woods I had chosen, in a more open area between my woods and the next. This had clearly been here a long while. I decided not to go straight for it, but rather walk around it. I found what looked like a bike trail leading to it, parallel with the tree line. Whoever lived here had their pathway well worn in, well established. My curiosity begged me to inch closer, get a good look at the camp. From what I could see it was split into three different areas, the large tent, an area with what looked like empty crates, and a pile of random junk (possibly treasures accrued over time). I stood at the bike trail for a couple of minutes, still keeping my distance. It didn't look like anyone was around, so I could just go in for a quick look around. "How would you feel if someone were walking up on the DragonWagon right now? What if you had your camp set up and hoped no one would find it? That no one would get curious enough to intrude upon it?" I remembered the note that was left on my tent just a few days prior, "DO NOT STAY THERE. LEAVE TODAY." It had left me with a horrible feeling of intrusion. I decided, for the sake of karma if nothing else, to leave this encampment alone. Keeping my same distance, I circled back around the way I came, and headed back to my own spot.
After setting up camp, I went back to the Burger King for some lunch/dinner and to draw for a while. I got in contact with one my friends I had reconnected with while in town. When she found out I was about to camp for the night, she told me it was too cold for that, and that I should come and stay with her. She even offered to pick me up since it was already dark out. This meant I couldn't take the DragonWagon, so I decided to risk leaving it in the woods, hoping my unintrusive karma would pay off. I grabbed my bag of clothes, my laptop bag, and my sketchbook.
Sabrina welcomed me with open arms. I stayed with her and her friend, Ashley, whom I'd met a couple of times, years back. They had three kids between the two of them, two 8 year olds and a 2 year old. We had a blast. I played games with the kids, helped Sabrina cut down a massive tree branch (with an axe, at least 20 feet up the tree), we played manhunt in the dark, we climbed on top roof at night and stargazed (where I saw my first shooting star ever, then my second, then my third), we built a firepit, and, what turned out to be best of all for me, I drew pictures for the kids.
When the kids had seen me drawing in my sketchbook they begged to see the entire book. One of them even told me I was "the second best drawer I've ever seen ever." One thing that bugs me a bit, though, is when people start trying to guess what my drawings are from. Since I don't ever really draw anything that already exists in a show or cartoon, it's a bit of a shot to the pride when people say, "that looks just like 'so-and-so' from 'such-and-such'. I try to keep it original, but sometimes it takes a kid or two to remind me just how hard it is to be completely new and different. Soon they were asking me if I was able to draw certain things. Ayden, one of the 8 year olds, pulled out a book of dragons and would point out his favorite ones, and asked me if I would be able to draw one of them. "Is this your favorite one?" I asked him when he chose the one he wanted me to draw. "No, but I think this is the hardest one to draw. I just wanna see if you can do it." I guess the kid was testing my skills.
After almost a week with Sabrina and her family, I was ready to spend some time alone in the woods again. I'm not used to spending so much time continuously around kids, so it was an exhausting rollercoaster of emotions with them. Plus, it was time to check on the DragonWagon, and make sure my bad premonitions weren't made reality. Upon my return, I found, to my relief, that my camp remained untouched, and seemingly undiscovered. Although, a branch did fall on it. Luckily it didn't damage anything. Okay, that's cool. I can live with that.
My family was going to spend Christmas in Philly at my sister's, so Papi convinced me to go. He would pick me up, we would stuff the DragonWagon in the back of his SUV, and we would drive the 18 hours up together. We spent a wonderful Christmas, all together. The kids got a ridiculous amount of toys, one of which was a couple of remote controlled helicopters. Ryan and I got busy setting up the two helicopters, since the kids really wanted to fly them. The one I was working on was ready to fly, so I took them outside to try it out. Ashton, who was 4 years old, asked if he could fly it first since it was his present. Being the idiot that I am as far as kids go, I saw absolutely no problem with this. Ash took the controller, I turned on the helicopter, and off it went! It flew straight up into the sky! It flew up, up, up... Right into the tree. Shit. It got stuck on a branch some fifty feet up the damn tree. Ash turns to me with the worst look on his face I'd ever seen. I was at a loss... I tried mashing the controls with the hope having it nudge itself free, but the damn thing was lodged in tight. Ryan came out to see the catastrophe that was unfolding, as did the rest of the family. Cool, I'm that uncle, the one who can't be trusted with kids, because he will allow Christmas to be ruined. Good job. We tried throwing things at it, but it was too high up and nothing got close. I tried climbing the tree but got to about 8 feet away from it before everyone's paranoia, and the negativity of a nosey neighbor, convinced me it was not worth it. Papi ended up putting together a makeshift 40 ft "stick" (out of a 12 ft ladder, some gutters off the side of the house, some PVC pipe, and a radio antena off his car, held together by some rope and masking tape). We struggled with it for close to an hour on a six foot ladder, trying to get it down. All in all, it took us about three hours to get the stupid thing down. I'm sure I won't be living this one down any time soon. Maybe we've just made a new Christmas tradition...
The drive back to Ocala was a long one, with lots of stopped traffic. All the extra time gave way for a lot of much needed conversation with Mum. My conversations with her have been the deepest, most connective ones I ever have, especially lately. We would go for walks on trails near their house before I started my journey, and had some of the most meaningful conversations I can remember. The ones in the car were no different. After all, I'd been pouring out more internal thought in these blog posts than I ever do in person. I don't excel in one on one conversation, so this blog has been a very surprising outlet for me. I never thought of writing as something that would help me deal with what's happening around me.
When we were back in Ocala, we pulled up to the back of the Winn Dixie, out of common sight, and close to the wooded area I'd stayed at a few days prior. It was time to unload the DragonWagon in all of its pieces. There seemed to be so much more than before as we pulled it all out of the car. I had left some stuff behind, gained a few new things from Christmas presents, so it wasn't exactly as it was before. It was already dark out, and it was getting late. We'd been in the car for two days, several hours driven before arriving there, and my parents still had a couple of hours to drive home. I did my best to get everything put together so they wouldn't have to wait around. I could tell they were feeling weird about not being able to help. I was rushing so they could go, but I didn't want them to feel like I was shooing them away. Finally, when I was about halfway done putting it all away, Mum said they should go. I agreed that it would be best if they did so they could get home at a decent hour. They were reluctant. I could tell they didn't want to leave me here. How do you assure your parents that you'll be okay, even though things don't look so great from their perspective? They drove off, and I finished packing it all up. I snuck into the woods again, and set up my tent in the moonlight.
*If you get a chance, please read Mum's blog. It broke my heart to read it from her point of view.*
After spending a couple of days in the woods, I went back to Sabrina's place for New Years. We made a fire in the firepit I'd helped her build, I helped around the house with lights and fans, set up some shelves in her kids' closet, and did my best to help out with dishes and such. Over the few days I stayed with them we went rock climbing and even got a canoe trip down the river where we saw some monkeys. Quite the little adventure. I drew a couple more drawings for the kids, all by request, and one that Ayden actually wanted to color himself.
I left her place after a few days to go back to the woods. I found a different patch of woods that was a little farther down the road, away from the neighbor I'd found in the back of the previous one. I didn't want any curious folk stumbling on my camp, so I'd decided not to press my luck in the same location. I've now spent 7 days in the woods, bouncing between my tent, the local McDonald's and Publix. The first day, while I was checking in online at the McD's, there was a teenage looking kid who lingered around the table next to mine after his family had gotten up to go. I noticed him out of the corner of my eye, but hadn't thought anything of it. I was too engrossed in my conversation online with a friend on Facebook. After a couple of minutes he said, "so, are you just doing this for fun?" I looked up to see he was talking to me. I explained it in a few words, then his mother walked up. "He's says he's keeping a blog, mom." They explained they had seen me a few weeks back when I pulled up to the Burger King, the morning the mystery lady had bought me breakfast. She said they were looking at my wagon back then, really curious about what I was doing. They seemed really happy they ran into me again, and seemed excited to read up about what I was doing. They left in a bit of a hurry since they had someone waiting for them in the car, so I didn't manage to get their names. Thanks for your interest, if you're reading this. It's always nice to have people intrigued about what I'm doing. They seemed like a very nice family.
I've found I prefer being on the move, rather than staying in one location over time. Why am I staying here, then? I'm sticking around to attend the Rainbow Family Gathering in the Ocala National Forest at the start of February. After talking to a few more people about it, and looking it up on the internet, I think it will be a great experience for me at this point in my life. I'm looking for new experiences and to meet new people, so this seems like a great opportunity for that. From what I've heard, it's a gathering where people camp out together, work on a barter system, help each other out, and pray for the betterment of the world. The peace, love, and prayer are a little too on the hippy side for me, but I'm willing to try something new. Plus, with everyone camping out, it should make me feel right at home, make me blend in easier. Who knows what I'll learn, see, do, or come out of it with. I'm looking forward to the experience. Until then, I'll be working on new drawings...