Almost A ‘Snowbird’

‘Snowbird’ (snou-burd); An old person who migrates to Florida for the cold winter months – (being a native Floridian; this is the kindest definition).


Florida in February…

Milson Inc.

“Back in the day”….I drove a semi hauling produce to the Northeast and Midwest – spent most of the seventies pretty much living in the truck; it was easy.  I had my bed, my picture window (windshield), and stuff going on all around me. I had all that I needed.  As the crops moved northward – so did I. Florida Tomatoes; South Georgia watermelons;  Carolina cucumbers; Ohio radishes; Wisconsin cucumbers – then back again the following year..  Following, loading, hauling, and returning.


I suppose what I’m getting at is that I’m pretty comfortable sleeping on a river bank or somewhere down a highway – it’s not a big deal…


Fargo, Ga – after dropping out of the Carolina mountains, we stopped in a pretty much abandoned park along highway 441, at the top of the Suwannee river.  I love to hear the trains too, they are a part of my family and seemingly a part of everywhere I want to sleep – trains and/or owls…..

As a boy I was privy to a ‘railroad conversation; a story between two Uncles on how the rails could ‘sing’ long before a train would actually arrive.  Over the years and many railroads later; I had never experienced it. In Fargo this night, sleeping practically beside the railroad tracks and through the long silence stretches of that southern Georgia night, I slept.  Better yet, I learned exactly what my Uncles were talking about..  zzzzz….

Many miles away the faded horn of a train rippled through the silence of the night – it was nearing; closer and closer..  The nearby rails hummed then hit a higher octave as the train got really near – then they whined, almost to a ring as the train thundered pass.  A railroad man could easily describe the vibrations as ‘singing.’  The rails sang before the train arrived and faded as the train distanced into the night, anyway – I’ve heard the rails ‘sing.’

There were at least six trains that night, two were freight – the rest because of their speed I felt were passenger; a busy North to South night – all pretty neat in its own subconscious way.

Such is the mental compost of this nomadic ‘snowbird.’

I laugh too when I tell folks that since having an RV I can now make the same 12-hour trip that I once made in a car – in two or three days…. “Life at 60.

Top of the Suwannee to you….


A ‘why-not’ stop at the local cemetery in Newberry, Fl – to visit a few of those from my Mom’s past – the Hilliard clan, mostly railroad folks.  I guess it was a migration of folks that in some way we can all associate with; the one we know.  In the 1800’s her folks were part of settling Waycross, Ga and Hilliard, Fla laying track southward and migrating even further into to the untamed territory of Florida..


Lakeland, Fl

Those of the railroad within the Hilliard family were track-laying crew ‘Captains,’ conductors and firemen of the Atlantic Coast Line railroad – it was a family thing of that era.

66 fm train

In 1966 (that’s Kristi my sister) I rode free with my Uncles from SW Florida to Atlanta, 24-hours on the train, neat stuff.  In the 1970’s my Uncles retired..


but onward down the road to Hub-cap hill..


A stop in the wide open mid-Florida pines to visit a schoolmate of years past and walk his place.  FMHS70, Danny’s doing well and was mighty proud of his fresh new shop.

I would be too – Awesome, I know what its like to not have a garage – I didn’t have one for thirty years, now I have a couple.  It does a man good to go piddle in his own garage…. a fine place to be..

Dan’s done well; his old-friend Jim had stopped by too – a three down chopper survivor and POW of the Vietnam era; great guy and Sa-lute!  Thank’s Jim, job well done..  We had a great burger and a beer nearby at Willards – before moving on down the road…  good stuff, thanks Dan, and Jim

Dunnellon, Fl – and a coffee-stop with Cousin Butch and Ollie – I kidded Butch that I had seen enough Hilliard tombstones and wanted to see a live ‘one,’ visits with cousins are always special – and Butch, (Uncles Lester’s son) was always a character.

Moving south towards our goal of Arcadia, Pioneer Park in Zolfo Springs came as a surprise. Running early, I had hoped to just pull in and ‘waste a day’ and night near the boat ramp of the Peace river – simply looking for some of that ‘ramp’ entertainment.

The park had turned more commercial than on my last visit.. There was a large flock of snowbirds (northern RV’ers) on the hill out in the open and well, that just just doesn’t fit my migration pattern yet.  As I pulled away to leave the park I found a ranger and learned that I could park anywhere along the water that I wanted.

Not needing hookups for a night we found a neat place by the water and ‘spread out.’…

It was a relaxing evening by the water; really close bird and gator watching from a chair with a beverage… and I never thought that Zolfo Springs had anything to offer.

Super bowl Sunday, Beef O Brady’s Arcadia, Fl.  Because of the anthem protests I hadn’t watched the NFL all 2017 season, so I was ready to watch A game.  Had a fine time too – and for me, because Kim didn’t feel up to watching it (stayed in the RV) – everything was ‘half-price!’

It was fun falling off my bar-stool with the chicken-wing and beer crowd of Arcadia (I sprang to my feet“dilly-dilly!”)  Can’t lean too far back or forward on one of those things…. but I fit in…. didn’t really matter which way the game went and on this night – The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots…

Fisheating Creek – Palmdale, Fla

A week tucked into one little corner of the world; just close enough to my hometown of Ft Myers to feel the same weather – far enough away not to hear the sounds of my memories drowned in today’s reality (but a train’s ok, go figure).

As Al, Ava, Kim and I sat in our quiet corner of the park another couple began backing their camper into the site beside us – “Why?” do they have to stop here?, “Why can’t they go to the other quiet area of the park?” leave us in peace… these were all quiet little tones creeping through each of our minds and thoughts – a natural inclination I hope.

We maintained ‘polite’ and watched the ‘circus’ of another parking (much like the activity at the boat-ramp).  In reality there is little choice to who parks near or beside you in a campground.. it’s just a part of it.

Well doggone if it didn’t turn out to be a couple more friends from “back in the day” – we hadn’t seen Bill and Betty in 37 years!

Kim took the picture which by chance neared an older image of 1981….

So it was “all good” and we spent the day watching the local Owl while laughing about all the snarly tidbits that we had shared as these ‘strangers’ pulled in beside us.  Fun, plus it sure was good to catch up on some lost years while visiting with folks that make up the fabric of many memories from years past.  Maybe it’s a test of sorts…

On the second day Bill and Betty moved on to Disney-world with their Grand-kids. Then with a little coffee Ava  got into the breakfast groove.  We had several mornings to refine a ‘camp-mix’ breakfast thing; I think we came up with something….

While Ava ran some errands Kim and Otis watched the shade move.


and Al and I went up the creek….

with a paddle.  The area was hit hard during the 2017 Hurricane IRMA, but the campground has returned and seems to be in great working order.  The creek itself is unchanged and remains a fine place for a short canoe or kayak trip. This year the water was a little low, the water was condensed and there were some healthy gators lining its shores…

When I was young the lack of gators became a concern – so hunting was very limited if any.  With that protection the gators have made a comeback and in some places you might try some real ‘gator tail,’ if properly cooked its some good eating….

another fine week had passed. Great to visit with Al and Ava and other friends from the past – great to be able to share such amicable visits with long time friends

Somewhere in the morning I trimmed my whiskers; then ‘Locke’ and Patsy came through, really special effort – it all made our trip almost complete. There’s a few more yet I’d like to see yet….

It brings to mind a story that a neighbor told me of my late Dad.  On a trip back to his hometown in Georgia, Dad went to visit a boyhood friend that he hadn’t seen in many, many, years – unannounced. He found his friend, I’m sure Dad called him by name and could imagine them coming face to face.  Two men in their eighties looked long and hard into each other faces when my Dad’s friend finally asked “should I know you?” Dad mentioned who he was; and through those same eyes their friendship from long past returned – once boys, now old men – and they cried. (true story)

Now I don’t look to hug and cry, but I know probably like my father had learned – that we only have a few cherished opportunities to visit people and places of our past…do it. (a.k.a. ‘little circles’)

Mulberry Fl


a few hours with Kim’s sister Barb – and Duane

Wekiwa Springs State Park –

Three days and two nights at Wekiwa Springs, near Apopka and an old family favorite Kelly Park.  This Park being so close to civilization has scared me away, but it was the path of our next destination and we had the time.

It was also a good opportunity to size-up things for a return trip to paddle that stretch of rock springs run.


Lake Harney – 151 acres of wetland.

This is something that my father left on his passing, my sisters and I share interest in it and we needed to make a yearly visit to clear some paths.

It actually has some perks; its a great place to stop and put your ‘feet-up’ while enjoying some of the finest inland marsh along Lake Harney and the St Johns river.  Native wildlife is abundant, it is eagle habitat, and there are many other critters moving about – it’s native, like real Floridians remember!

Our critter Otis came with us, he did awesome. It was questionable whether he would make the trip – as he did two years ago.  I told Kim before we left that if he ‘took off,’ I was only going to go look for him a limited time; Otis must’ve overheard us because he did excellent and stayed close…

We almost left here a day early, but after a trip down to the Jolly Gator bar and restaurant we decided to stay another night – best decision yet!


A change of beverage, a peaceful scene


– and a small fire.

Thus began one of the better nights of sky-watching that Kim and I could remember enjoying together –

It was the best way to end this fledgling ‘snowbird’ lap of Florida.



Just another part of the journey; Life at 60 (mph)




Woodrow ‘Lee’ Coleman 1953 – 2017



 Lee Coleman;  1953 – 2017

50 Hilliards

It has to start with the Hiram Hilliard clan from the Winston/Kathleen area (Lakeland) of Fl. This was a railroad family, Lee’s mom and my own were two of eight – a family full of character; lots of good food, hard love and heartfelt laughs; kinda like M&M’s, hard on the outside but really soft and good on the inside.

The families met almost every year for at least one holiday – when packs of kids would run through our grandparents home continually slamming the screen door (drove Hiram nuts) while shattering all the peace and quiet they had been so enjoying.  For us; they are the most wonderful memories in the best of a families time.

Being an air-force brat Lee’s family traveled alot – we envied them for their travels, so when they did make the reunions – running through the orange groves while tricking other cousins into connecting with a nearby electric fence was more than a lot of fun for our bunch.

Through the years Lee and I lost close contact, yet having many things in common and parents to keep us informed; we kept up with each others whereabouts.

Unfortunately through the years; funerals of those wonderful Aunts and Uncles added up; Lee was always there

In the year 2000 Lee visited with wife Sandy and his immediate family, we had so much in common.  We spent a few days catching up on the years, his extended family, and then out of kindness he left me a really nice leather jacket – he cared.  After that and from time to time, Lee would surprise me with a call, “happy birthday Tom” – I loved it.


Facebook arrived providing an easier avenue for us to reconnect even visit with Lee several times over the past ten years; he shared his life with me.  While visiting,  we walked a mile or so to the beach at Jupiter stopping at the local thrift-store along the way.  Lee shared stories of that extended family (other children) increasing the admiration that I hold for Sandy. We joked about the past while skipping through the many interests and traits that we shared.

Lee worked with aircraft interiors and he was good at it – I suppose some of that hard shell of the Hilliards and Colemans had made him really good at what he did; quality control.  On one visit I rode along to Miami to inspect some aircraft seats for a customer – he was really tough on those guys finding things that I would have never spotted.  Lee was direct and “picky” for others to meet expectations, great for his employer.

We were tough on our kids too.  Our fathers were are part of the ‘tough-love’ generation; instilling within us not to be “cry baby’s,” observe before speaking, do as told – without question, and to be diligent workers – for we would have to work our entire life.  We were expected to exceed.

Well, we did the best we could with those; as grandparents we learned that ‘tough-love’ was easier to receive than to give; grandchildren easily became the soft-spot in our lives.

Lee came home early from his 6-month “project” in Texas, with cancer.  There’s no easier way to say it – no way around it.  Over the past year we communicated through text and private messages; his battle was real.  Lee; a “dreadful disease that I wouldn’t wish on anyone” (5/10/2017)

Lee lost that battle a month after turning 64, – he took it like a man.

One day I’m going to cry me a river, and its going to flow like the Mississippi.  A lifelong buddy and cousin, Lee Coleman; will be a large part of that current. 

Tough-love sucks.

The gathering was simple, and where Lee and I had once sat discussing family and extended family.  His family mingled, they were remarkable.


Above are some of the original Hilliard links, Lees immediate family had multiple links – and it was really great to meet those that we hadn’t before – family from afar.


I understand why Lee was so proud of each…..

I didn’t take alot of pictures; I think I was somewhat in a daze with how fast the past year had come – and gone, taking that special cousin.

If your wondering where Lee went afterward; well, I think that he rode home with each of us.



He, Kim, and I took a lackadaisical ride up A1A, stopping along the way to watch some guy put-in for a day of fishing with his spaniel

stopped to loot a thrift store or two


and even returned to the Castillo de San Marcos fort in St Augustine…….

60 St Augistine

I think Lee’s presence reminded me that it’s not only years that pass along the way – make time for those of your past. In Savannah we stopped and visited with a friend I hadn’t seen in 42 years, great visit – it helped.

Lees presence made it home with me too, where I took him straight to the garage to see Dad’s old pickup


and even though it was a Ford I think there was common ground to be found;

Last May Lee also told me “I’m going to fix up a van to travel… would love to see the lake house.



Yep, I think that its the worst part of growing up.

What’s going on Tom?

In recent conversation a good friend asked ” hey Tom, Whats been going on? Haven’t noticed any posts of late”….. got me to thinkin.

Absolutely true, I really haven’t posted here in a trip around the sun, no excuses.  I like to tell folks (when they ask) that I’ve kinda slowed my paddlin pace to “stop and feel the bottom” a while. Maybe I’ve been a little lazy; but about the same time simply trying to figure out just what rhythm life at 60  holds for these two little portholes.  Just feeling the bottom…….

In summarizing the past year or so;

Gray came through on his way to Charleston, SC for a friends wedding in May of 2016. Always good to see the young man that he has become; even if for a short while. Short visits tug at ones emotions but life calls and I understand – I did it too.  The world is ‘out there’ – beyond the vicinity of our little cove at Lake Cherokee.

Of course our world grows when Mom drops by with a peanut-butter cake for her ‘little’ buddy.

Our little universe grew again on the 4th of July 2016 when the Coates and Carrs came for the holiday’s.  There is not a better picture of that particular trip that sums it up better than the one above; a total ‘thumbs-up!’ holiday (thanks Mark/Freda).

Once again, Mom (GGma) came to visit her precious GK’s families – and to see those kid’s fly!!  Mom has always been an inspiration for each of us; she supplies the warmth that carries us.

The Albino Skunk Festival happens twice a year – a simple yet fascinating conglomeration of evolving bands emitting some fine music in a children friendly atmosphere.  What once started as a small Bluegrass festival has continued to nurture budding musicians towards finding their unique foothold among American tunes.  The Lil Smokies Band (from Montana) above is an example of the simplicity found – Billy Strings and the Dustbowl Revival are just a couple of the many favorites.  My sister Kristi and Bob also came to share a festival day and night with us…..

Then to Delaware for a month or so, why? stuff to do. Combined visit time for 2016 was 4 months! – just the right dose of North and South. 🙂 .

Christmas 2016; kids and coins.  It was a special time and nice ride to Colorado….1st night stop from SC was OK City – 6 degrees when we woke up.


Then two easy days to Albuquerque to pick up Gray/Licia . Uphill to PS – Joe/Judy’s and the Carr’s Cul-de-sac den – sure enjoyed the polar Christmas with the Carr’s.

Ending 2016 with a New Years visit at Scott/Patti’s in Kansas. Patti (aka “Scooter”) already had one foot-up (ankle injury) so we helped her with the other one…


Scott supported our efforts – “feet-up”

In February 2017 – we made a return R-U-V trip to Fisheating creek for a creekside visit with Al, Ava, and ole buddy “Hobbs.”

A ride to the Lake Harney property and a @77 mile Topside of the Suwannee Paddle in March; business trip.


Melissa and the boys stopped by the Skunk farm for a day amongst the Spring festivities in April….

Delaware and a @64-mile Pokomoke river Chesapeake Bay paddle in May

Where Kids Fly

The Coates  returned for some paddle time – and some great July 4 fireworks; twice the bang from the boat.

The great American eclipse of August 2017 was pretty neat too – sitting in the middle of the lake – day became night-like, and then returned to daylight once again…. Swallows came out, incandescent to fluorescent, and then back to normal.  Cool….

Also in August Nora Steur came from Cincinnati for a week with her friends –

At the same time we were blessed to have Mike and Beth come for the weekend. Hurting because you have laughed so hard is nothing new when these are around, it can happen. This visit was no different – thanks you two, we needed that….

Somewhere in here Gray ‘manned-up’ and bought a home for his family in Hawaii. I’m kidding when I say that because Gray (he’s a ‘do-er’) and Licia have set an awesome path pretty much on their own in managing their lives for a family in this world.  Kim and I are very proud of each one of our children and the adults they have become.


In September, Mom slowed just long enough to celebrate her 89th birthday – it would be difficult to adequately convey what she has meant to her entire family, she has set the example for us in so many ways. Love you Mom, thanks

Fall 2017 brought another Fall Skunk Festival, had a great time. There’s a thing where all the folks can/will holler “FES-TI-VALL!!” whenever the enthusiasm strikes them (really good band, vibes, or just to get it out!) anyway, it works pretty well….

So this little guy (Abe) wandered by with his family and just couldn’t make those “FES-TI-VALL” words work right – but he could look straight up into the sky and yell something that sounded like “CHI–HEN-BOES!!” so whenever he and I crossed paths during the festival… it was “CHICKEN-BONES!!” to the sky…

Life is good, and festivals can be fun too.


Hurricane Irma ripped through Florida and Al and Ava were spared major damage – they came to the foothills for a week in October. A warm spell delayed the leaves from making the fall color on time, but we had a great time with sunset cruises, College football, and just hanging around at the dock – even had a few of those hearty gut hurting laughs – they sure help (thanks Ava).


Well that’s whats been going on and sorry for the abbreviated version – but just maybe this exercise will help me get back into making some notes about a very ordinary life surrounded by some pretty extraordinary people…


thank you for your interest

Otis Takes An R-U-V Vacation

Otis takes a  ride.


Yeah, I know – a cat.  This past fall ‘Otis’ wandered up  and after spending the $ to have him ‘fixed;’ we’re giving him every opportunity to ‘fit-in,’ so far he has passed all his exams.  Anyway, –


a cat wandered up…. other than that it’s been a quiet winter in the foothills of South Carolina.  More often than not it was comfortable weather, the frigid weather held back until the first part of January – then we got a dash of it!


Within it all I have nothing to complain about – i didn’t have to pull out my ‘jong-johns,’ the pipes didn’t freeze, and nothing broke.  Another month, another set of bills – seasons’ pass, and another sunset hits the mountains; ‘Life’ is good.

In this rotation is February – a time to trade any sense of ‘cabin-fever’ for another snowbird ‘loop’ through Florida – my homestate.  It’s ironic growing up hating tourists because of their impact on our little town, and now having an “R-U-V!” But at at this time also (life at 60 ) it fits, so well, why not?


btw; one of the GK’s (James) calls our RV an R-‘U’-V, James is a pretty smart guy, so with this our ‘Little Bessie‘ is now considered a first class “R-U-V!”.

1602 - Plains Ga

On last year’s ‘loop’ I wanted to ride the backroads of W Georgia to Florida; long story short – it didn’t happen (‘fluid’ decisions). We stay off of the interstates as much as possible; this year in the direction of South Georgia and Plains, Ga – home of Former President Jimmy Carter.  I always liked this guy – still do, he’s a good man.  So we spent the day ‘lolly-gagging’ around the town stores and finding out first-hand just how much he is thought of as ‘a friend’ and neighbor.  He has a lot of friends.


The old brick elementary school he attended has been preserved by the National Park System, really nice – and a place where the halls can easily remind one of where real ‘friendships’ begin.  The above picture was on the wall – I liked the character and took a picture of it.


Sometime in the night Otis came out of his nest, looked around – then curled up and went back to sleep. Kims done a good job training him..  His eating/cat activities were normal with no messes.  When morning came we continued southward on Ga Highway 19  into Florida with a stop at Fanning Springs.

The Suwannee river at Fanning Springs

The Suwannee river at Fanning Springs

Fanning Springs is a clear spring along the Suwannee River that I’ve paddled through several times – and it was a good time to show Kim where’d I been the past several years.



I was really hoping for Kim to see some Manatees, and surprisingly we found 6 or seven ‘lazing-around’ just below the clear spring waters in the thin February sunshine.


Next stop along the way was to see an old friend, Dan Goddard (FMHS 70).  I’m a ‘drop-in’ kinda guy, and Dan is always good with it.  A schoolmate, we chatted as we walked through his back-yard (‘bone-yard‘) of old-cars and rusty projects – I’m into that stuff too; just don’t have a pace to put it – so I enjoy others stuff.  Old-friends are good; and after a mmmmeaty burger and a beer at nearby Willards with Dan – Kim and I were off to Rainbow Springs.


We had five days and four nights at Rainbow Springs State Park waiting. Long enough to get comfortable, and a good place to get Kim in a kayak – on the water.  The North Carolina Carr’s gave us a tandem-kayak for use at the lake, and when Kim said she would get out in it; I threw it on the trailer (along with my solo) and took them both with us.


The Rainbow river


If I ever have another home; along the Rainbow river would be the place.


The place worked well for getting her introduced to a kayak, and I think she liked the clear water.  The Rainbow Springs ‘head’ is about a mile upstream, an easy paddle so we worked our way up river – then with our ‘feet-up,’ completed a very mellow hour-long trip back to the campground ramp.


I was wondering if I could get her back in (kinda hoping not so I could solo) but I blew it when I mentioned there was beverage at the other end.  The following day we paddled (lightly) with the current a few hours down the Rainbow river to the Withlacoochee.  A little further from there was the Blue Gator tiki bar – and next door was a shuttle (at our convenience) back to the Park.


– it is true, at the end of the Rainbow – was a cold little cup of gold.


Oh yeah, and Otis – he figured right in to this park-life stuff.


After a week at Rainbow, we hit the bacroads once again – down the road stopping to visit a cousin, Ellen (Lakeland/Kathleen is family land, Mom’s side).


Ellen’s got a neat little place off Scrotum rd (Socrum rd) with just the right amount of livestock – and a little gator in her pond.  Julie, her daughter is the only female gator-trapper for the area and drops one off on occasion. Good to see Ellen and her other daughter Ginger whom was enjoying a birthday.


To “Creek Week”


Fisheating Creek


and some paddlin time…


The goal for the past year was this ‘week at the Creek’ – with friends.


Al and Ava (FMHS 71) came in for a few days, and ‘pitched’ in – right beside us.


It was a time to enjoy what a place and folks have in common…..


(now Ava, was that mouse really that big??)



and there was plenty of ez time within the weekday peace to take a paddle….


gator watch


maybe even reflect,


or share a laugh


Life can be, a tire swing – if you let it.


Kim paddled the waters too


even got some gator watchin time in


Of course there were a few other stories floating around the camp too…


another good thing about old friends


It was a simple time, with the best of friends


Kim and I remained through the weekend, as the crowds came – weekend at the creek changed, it was like a festival without the band.


Full of people and their activities – all the canoes and kayaks were rented out, the campsites were full – even had a ‘Joe Dirt’ wedding taking place. I was impressed how the staff kept up with everything.  We just rode the bikes around and watched it all in amusement, kinda like hanging around a boat ramp – cheap entertainment.

Sunday was the best though; we watched as the crowds departed…..


Monday the peace and tranquility of the creek was back; later that day we headed North


Otis’s first ride in the RUV was a positive; he operated at the same pace as everyone else and fit in just fine.


 “….can’t we all just get along?”


link; Tom Haynie