After leaving Big Lagoon's campground near Pensacola, we decided to stick to minor roads awhile and head for the west shore of the peninsula. I'm so glad we did as it gave us a little taste of Alabama, something we wouldn't have had if we'd been whizzing by on the big highway. We were amazed at the dramatic change in landscape with that of Florida. On the stretch that we drove through we saw lots of farmland, fields with horses grazing, pecan trees and even some satsuma orange bushes (they're sorta like mandarins) which we were told only grow in this particular county. There were the odd palm trees here and there, but these were definitely not as predominant as in its neighboring state.
I had scouted a health food store in a small coastal town called Fairhope as we needed to pick up a few things. A couple of wrong turns actually took us right by a local produce stand. Perfection in action once again! ;-) We bought a few veggies and a 5 lb bag of local unshelled pecans. Oh my goodness! These are THE best pecans we've ever had! The shells aren't red and rock hard like those we find in Canada and the nuts are sweet and almost milky. They've turned out to be an awesome road snack. Yummo!
Shepard State Park, Gautier, Mississippi
Shortly after crossing into Mississippi, we stopped at Shepard State Park in Gautier. It's a fairly small campground but offers some nice private sites hidden among lots of trees. We actually discovered that a woman and her four kids has made it their permanent home, living in a large tent rigged up with tarps. A testimonial to the growing economic crisis.
In spite of the fact that train tracks run right through the park (there always seems to be somethin'; guess there's no such thing as an ideal campground, eh?), we decided to stay for two or three days to give a chance for the rain clouds to pass over. Before the rain began, we managed to explore a few (although a bit wet) trails by the marshes.
Our Chocolate Feat
We’d been hauling a chocolate mixture from the Sweet Gratitude book ever since leaving Quebec and I was getting tired of shifting the small Tupperware from one part of the cooler to another. Plus, it was New Year's Eve and called for a special treat! And so Don and I did the near impossible: we made chocolate truffles while camping! lol
We had to do this delicate operation in two steps. I started by whipping up the Brazil Nut Cream filling (also from Sweet Gratitude) one afternoon. Although I find that they're usually pretty good when it comes to measurements, I had to add a LOT more sweetener than the recipe called for so as to counterbalance the bitterness of the cacao. I then placed the mixture in the cooler (right on top of the ice) in order for it to firm up. The next day, we completed the truffles assembly inside the tent as it was cool and rainy out. It actually went pretty smooth considering our make shift kitchen. ;-) The furries were staying close by, watching my every move with great interest. Kylo LOVES that the 'table/counter' is at his level! hehe
First thing I did was shape the Brazil Nut Cream into small balls (actually 'blobs' would be more accurate! lol) My little ice cream scoop was packed away in one of the bins, so I resorted to just using a regular metal spoon. Not very pretty or uniform, but I was sure the result would be just as decadent.
Once that was done, I warmed up the choccie mixture bain-marie style; one bowl over a second one filled with hot water. With this method you have to be careful to stir constantly so as not to cook the chocolate. If I'd been at home, I would have normally removed the bowl containing the liquefied chocolate from over the hot water for the same reason, but since it was still not very warm inside the tent, I left it on to avoid the mixture seizing up too quickly.
Next, I dipped the Brazil Nut 'blobs' into it.
I then did my best to remove the excess choccie (not always successfully) and delicately transferred the truffles onto a flat surface.
Lastly, I sprinkled some Brazil nuts I'd ground up in the Magic Bullet on each one.
Tada! The perfect treat to begin the new year on a sweet and yummy note!Furry Tales
These Brazil Nut Ganache Truffles were sooooooo good! I highly recommend trying them, especially if you have the luxury of working in a 'real' kitchie. ;-)
All the moving around and temporary homes have definitely been harder on Puss than Kylo who's always up for an adventure. Being her feline self, she’s super sensitive to the surrounding energies and responds accordingly. She has her days when she’s staying away from us, too caught in her freaked out bubble, but thankfully these are few. I'd say that for the most part she's doing amazingly well, given the circumstances, especially since she doesn't get to go out much, unlike Kyky.
The time spent at Jaimee and Travis’s in Tallahassee was particularly good for Puss, as she finally had a chance to roam around and do some exploring after being confined to the tent and the car for a few weeks. We could feel her more relaxed than she’s been in a while.
Have you guys seen or read The Golden Compass? In it, each human is accompanied by an animal spirit/guide which they call a 'daemon'. Since we share our lives with furry friends of our own, we resonated with that concept a lot. While Kylo has more of a natural bond with Don, Puss is most definitely my ‘daemon’. For about a month and a half however, she and I weren't connecting in the usual way; she preferred to cuddle with Don instead of me. We'd experienced something like that before, but never so consistently. I suspected that perhaps I'd become ‘the bad gal’ in her eyes as I’m the one who usually picks her up when it’s time to go. It was strange and at times painful to observe her being so distant with me, as we’ve been close for years, but there was nothing I could do about it.
Then something seemingly magical happened at Shepard State Park; she started behaving just like her ‘old self’ again! She suddenly began to do the things that she'd normally do and that I'd almost come to take for granted: rushing over as soon as I call her name, sleeping right against my body at night, laying on my chest when she notices that I’m (finally!) awake, and jumping on my lap whenever I’m sitting. What a radical shift! I'm still not totally sure what happened there, but she's been 'back' ever since. Yay!
Sharing a piece of melon with me.
Give me a paw with my blogging. ;-)
Give me a paw with my blogging. ;-)
The last couple of times that we've moved, she hasn't whispered a miaow the entire way. Whereas I used to let her free to roam around the car (although I do put on her little leash in case she somehow escapes at a stop), I've begun to put her in her little pet taxi. At first, it was only to make things simpler when we had only a short way to go. Once on location, we place her on the picnic table while we set up the tent. We've been noticing though that she actually really likes it! It seems to provide her a protected space in which she feels comfortable while being able to be outside with us. It's soooooo nice to see that she has somehow found her sea paws in our new gypsie lifestyle. Yippee!
"What about Kyky?" you ask? Well, he continues to be lovin' it all; so many exciting new places to discover and sniff!
He did have a bit of a traumatic experience while we stayed at Shepard Park though. On New Year's Eve we could hear lots of firecrackers in the distance. Unlike Puss, who soundly slept through it all, Kylo was so terrified by them (he could detect many more frequencies than we could!) that he huddled in a corner of the tent, breathing hard and shaking. I cuddled against his quivering body, stroking and massaging him while singing lullabies. Poor sweetie! We’d never seen him so scared! We don’t really do fireworks on New Year’s Eve in Canada (or perhaps we lived too far in the boonies to hear them! lol) so it was all so very new for him. The next day though, all traces of the night's trauma were forgotten.
There he is, sleeping on the job, no doubt catching up on the precious zzz time he missed the previous night. ;-)
Fontainebleau State Park, Mandeville, Louisiana
We continued our journey westward along the 90 in order to see a little of the Gulf coast, then hopped back on highway 10 past Biloxi, since the going was slow and we don't like setting up the tent in the dark.
We stopped at Fontainebleau State Park, about 30 miles north west of New Orleans. The 2,800 acres on which the park is situated were originally part of a plantation and sugar mill, the remnants of which can still be seen on the park grounds. The campground itself was really crowded and had neither much space between sites nor much tree coverage. Ouch. Definitely far from the rustic parks we prefer, but it was getting late and we felt that we didn't have much of a choice at that point. We spent the first night tucked between RVs with a fair bit of background noise, including two campers having a music war; soft rock radio vs country! lol
As we sometimes lose track of time, we hadn't realized that the next day was Sunday which meant that most people needed to head back to work after the long weekend. And so we ended up with the campground virtually to ourselves. Ahhhhhh, that's much better! Fontainebleau Park turned out not to be such a bad spot after all; it has wi-fi which allowed me to catch up on my blogging and other net related stuff. It's also located on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain and offers a short but lovely nature trail.
I love LOVE tree tunnels!
We saw massive live oaks, some had branches that reached all the way to the ground!
The trail took us to a boardwalk among the wetlands of Lake Pontchartrain; a major hanging spot for birds. We could see what must have been hundreds of moorhens calmly floating by and sparrows zooming around. If you look closely you can actually notice that a couple of them have sneaked into the following pic.
Lake Pontchartrain is absolutely ginormous yet they've managed to build a causeway that takes you all the way to the other shore. No small feat!
A little sandy beach on the lakeshore.
On the morning that we were getting ready to move on I met a really nice woman named Angel in the shower building. As soon as I walked in, she greeted me and we started talking. "Weren't you staying at Big Lagoon Park and have a large dog?" she asked. Yep, that's us! As it turns out, she and her husband were camped right behind us at Big Lagoon and were now again just a few sites away. During our chat, I found out that they live in San Antonio and that they've camped at many of the Texas State Parks. When I told Angel we were headed in that direction, she went to fetch a bunch of Texas information she had in her RV and gave them to me, along with helpful tips and pointers. How kind! She also strongly recommended that we stay at Sam Houston Jones State Park, which we did.
Sam Houston Jones State Park, Lake Charles, Louisiana
On our way out of Louisiana, we stopped to spend a few days at Sam Houston Jones State Park located north of Lake Charles. Tree-filled lagoons and a mixed pine and hardwood forest combine to create a unique natural environment. It was easy to see why Angel recommended it to us. We were assigned a camping site right beside a pond that we soon found out had several resident ducks and a couple of cranes.
As we were setting up, one of the ducks must have decided it was time to move on to a different location as they all lined up in the water (yep, just like in the saying! lol) and headed towards the shore. They then started crossing the road as if they owned it. One truck had a hard time getting them to move so he could pass as they didn't seem to impressed with his horn. lol
On the evening that we arrived at Sam Houston Park, we were blessed by the stunning sight of the sun setting on one of the park's lagoons.
We may have managed to leave the rain behind in Mississippi but certainly not the cold. The temperature hovered in the mid 30s and 40s in the daytime and went below freezing at night. We were told that they haven't seen such cold in close to 70 years! It didn't feel too bad when the sun was out but as soon as he went hiding, "Brrrrrrr!" is all I can say! Good thing we had our electric heater. Don had also covered the tent with a tarp which prevented the wind from sneaking in and helped retain the heat longer.
But weather aside we really got to walk to our heart's content while at Sam Houston Park. We went for two long hikes; one day we walked the Cypress Tupelo Trail followed by the Riverwalk Trail, and the Old Stagecoach Trail and Longleaf Pine Trail the next. It felt so good to have this time to reconnect with Nature in such a way, especially since we were getting ready to spend a few days in a big city.
Along the banks of the Calcasieu River we saw strange little tree stumps (roots maybe?) sticking in the air.
If you look real real closely, you'll see a white heron perched up in one of the branches.
The White Noise Meditation
As smoothly as this US journey has been going, it is also providing us with plenty of opportunities to do what we like to call 'The Work'. It's constantly challenging us to go beyond so many of our boundaries and push the envelope of our comfort zones. If you've been hanging my blog a while, then perhaps you already know that for years Don and I lived a mostly contemplative lifestyle on a secluded mountaintop in British Columbia. We hadn't chosen to 'go internal' and to not interact with people much, it's just what happened. Likewise, the movement outward began just a little over 3 years ago without any conscious decision of our own. (Gosh, has it really been that long!?!) I started this blog shortly afterward, then a few months later our forum, Raw Freedom Community was born. From then on our involvement with the outside world has gradually increased. Anyhoo, all this to say that being surrounded by people still feels very new and as such, circumstances considered almost 'normal' to some probably hit us harder than they do most people.
One example is in regards to sound/noise in general. We've discovered that no matter how remote in Nature you may be, it's virtually impossible to completely get away from the sound of highway traffic these days. While it's increasingly becoming an issue in Canada, it seems to be even more predominant here in the US. We've encountered prevalent 'noise pollution' in many forms during our stay at several state parks; the most common being cars and trains in the distance, but also airplane traffic like at Hanna Park and Big Lagoon where naval air bases were nearby.
The strangest juxtaposition of natural beauty and noise pollution was without question at Sam Houston Park. We had our first dose of it when we were setting up the tent as there was a big dozer working just across from our site. They had recently demolished a building (thank goodness we weren't around for that!) and were now picking up the debris. As they had stopped soon after our arrival I didn't take much notice of it, too busy getting everything sorted out. But the next morning, when we woke up at dawn to the monstrous sounds of dangerously close engines and squeaking metal, I turned over to Don and declared: "Let's get out of here; this is NOT gonna work!" We found out that they were actually just about finished so we decided to hang in there.
During the first night we kept hearing a loud droning sound which we assumed was a nearby RV's generator. Except that it continued even after all of our neighbors had flown the campground (likely for the same reason we were gonna leave). Eventually we were able to identify the culprit: some sort of oil refinery by Lake Charles. The second night was worse; it no longer sounded like a generator but more like the longest train in the history of human kind! lol It just went on and on for hours! I mean, it was baaaaaaaaad! It was the kind of situation that was so horrid you just had to shrug and laugh about it.
As with everything that Life presents to us, we are taking this noise challenge as a meditation. We trust that whatever happens from moment to moment is perfectly designed for our growth - as though Life is pointing great big arrows to those areas that still need some work. Seen from that angle, any resistance to 'What Is' - besides being a complete waste of energy - is like not showing up at school. Since the beginning of our travels, with 'so many balls in the air' as we like to call it, I haven't always been able to meet Life's challenges calmly and objectively. But kinda like Puss, I guess maybe I'm doing pretty darn good under the circumstances. ;-)
'Nuff said for now! How about we take a breather before I get started with our Texas adventures? Hee hah!
Oh, and remember to check out our updated Sunny Raw Kitchen Tour Itinerary here!