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In celebration of National Poetry Month, please enjoy the following poem, written about five years ago. I have included some photos of the garden today, which is planted with herbs and a few tomatoes.

Joy's herb garden, painted pot courtesy of Children's Advocate Award Luncheon 2010

Spinach Salad

by Joy Godsey

This tiny garden —

a raised bed — was once

the sandbox of a child.

Long bereft of plastic

shovels, toy trucks

and cars, its mitered

two by fours now

corral a winter

Favorite watering can framed by incredible spring blooming vine

harvest of greens. Tough

sturdy collards line

up beside a row

of ruffled spinach destined

for a salad plate

dressed with firm

white mushrooms,

boiled eggs crumbled,

toasted almonds

and a piquant

sauce that

the child

will refuse

to eat.

Overview of Joy's garden with Sally's tomatoes front and center

During a recent visit to Mexico Beach – a tiny gem situated alongside some of the most beautiful and benign waters in the Gulf of Mexico – a friend showed up brandishing a shiny new metal detector. One of my many secret desires is to own a metal detector, so I pushed myself leapt out of the Adirondack chair in which I had faithfully lounged for the past hour or so. “What’s that?” I inquired, wide-eyed and sidling up close to the object of desire.

My friend, a serene and gracious person, was unperturbed by my eagerness. With a beautiful smile, she explained it was her new metal detector and unselfishly handed over the device. With wide sweeps and satisfying beeps I quickly detected 3 bottle caps, a wine bottle foil, and a nail buried in the sand. Quickly bored contented with my findings, I handed the detector back to my friend, who strolled along the beach in search of fresh treasures.

Tiny treasures

Tiny treasures

Later that evening, after my friend departed for higher-yielding territories, our friend and hostess Weepy joined my partner and me on the deck for cocktails. Weepy had a story to tell. It seems that earlier that day she observed a tourist cutting sea oats on the beach. “He must have been semi-gay – carefully cutting each plume and arranging then admiring the bouquet held in his fist,” said Weepy. (Note, the semi-gay comment was not meant to disparage, but merely describe the plunderer’s methodology.)

Weepy was incensed. Having lived beachfront for many years and survived plenty of storms, she knows just how important the berms of sea oats are to her property and her community. My mind wandered as she continued to rant about the miscreant who dared defy Florida state law and risk a $500 fine for a vase full of sea oats.

I began to imagine Weepy as a super hero – defender of dunes,  sister to sea oats, avenger of blight – racing down the beach in tall white boots stenciled with sea oats and a bright green cape billowing in her wake! As I created this vision, I began to realize that the lovely sea oats that grace the beach are indeed treasures worthy of our protection. Moreover, people like Weepy, who care enough to defy interlopers and defend the ecological balance, are also treasures to be commended and emulated.

View from Gull Haven

View from Gull Haven

As I idled through the next few days, I discovered many other treasures on the Forgotten Coast. Among them are an Osprey flying close by clutching a fish in her talons, early morning deer tracks in the sand, the soft Gulf waters warming me as I cast my fly rod into the swell, thousands of frolicking mullet fish that have never taken my fly, millions of sea shells, and some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets the planet offers.

Day is done

Day is done

If you are interesting in visiting this area, I recommend Weepy’s Gull Haven. For more information, please leave a comment.

What does Van Morrison, Kilgore Trout, Peter Fonda and the waitress from the Lighthouse Cafe in Wewahitchka, Florida have in common? Hint: each are referenced in this story as having something to do with honey. And honey, dear reader, is today’s blog topic…

A raging Memorial Day thunderstorm had chased my traveling companion and me into a local cafe in the small Florida panhandle town of Wewahitchka – noted for its Tupelo honey, Dead Lakes and legendary girl’s softball team, the Gators. We dashed from the truck into the cafe and, instructed to sit anywhere, selected a small table near the enormous window that spanned the front of the restaurant. Apparently the plate glass window had replaced large overhead doors of what was formally a gas station and automobile repair shop.

The Dead Lakes in Wewa

The Dead Lakes in Wewa

Our waitress approached. Her friendly smile showed several teeth were missing. “Whatcha’ll gonna have, honey?”

We placed our orders for fried shrimp baskets with sides of cheese grits and slaw, then sat back and watched the torrent. We were in no hurry to go back out into the rain so were unperturbed when the service was a little slow. Each time the waitress passed our table with someone else’s order, she would stop by and say, “Yours’ll be out in just a few minutes, honey.” When she appeared to be in a rush, she would shorten the endearment to an expeditious: hon.

We had one single purpose for our visit to Wewahitchka on this Memorial Day and that was honey. We were in town to purchase our annual supply of Tupelo honey –– made from the nectar of the white Tupelo tree that grows only alongside the Apalachicola and Chipola Rivers and collected by L.L. Lanier and Son –– a third generation bee keeping family.

Lanier & Son bee hives

Lanier & Son bee hives

For those who haven’t partaken of this sweet treat, Tupelo honey is celebrated as some of the finest honey in the universe. Ostensibly Van Morrison agrees and sums it up in the lyrics to the title track on his 1971 album, Tupelo Honey: “She’s as sweet as Tupelo honey / Just like honey from the bee.”

Evidently, this honey is so seriously good, a film entitled Ulee’s Gold was produced starring Peter Fonda in the role as bee keeper –– a character patterned after old L.L. Lanier himself. During a 1997 interview, Fonda reminisced, “I found a lot [of my character] in my father. He kept a couple of hives and I can see him hop-footing it across the lawn, thinking he had a bee up his pant leg.”

In the Florida panhandle from April to May, the moment the bees begin working the blooms of the Tupelo trees, bee keepers strip the hives of all their stored honey. When Tupelo production is over, the hives are harvested before it can be mixed with additional honey sources to ensure the product can be certifed Tupelo honey. Good white Tupelo, raw, unheated and unmixed with other honey will never granulate. This kind of honest-to-goodness honey is as close to the impenetrable swamps of the wild rivers of northwestern Florida as a human can get.

River swamp with cedar and tupelo trees

River swamp with cedar and tupelo trees

So here we were in Wewa (as it is known by the locals) on a stormy Monday in search of genuine unadulterated Tupelo honey. We knew where to go, we’ve been here many times before. We turned off County Road 71 onto Lake Grove Road and drove until we saw the open gates at L.L. Lanier & Sons’ establishment.

I steered my truck along a sandy drive, dodging puddles deep enough to swallow up the lazy wet hound that ambled from the junk-strewn yard.  I stopped next to the side door of a decrepit house where various-sized jars of Tupelo honey were displayed on an upturned 55-gallon wooden barrel. An old cedar board hand-carved with the word “honey” lay half-buried, along with a collection of broken toys and rusted tools, beside the porch.

I stepped out of the truck to inspect the jars and an elderly woman appeared from the house. I could hear the indistinct sounds from a television in a nearby room. “Kin I hep ya?” she asked.

L.L Lanier's offerings

L.L Lanier's offerings

“I’d like a case of the eight-ounce jars,” I replied. Then, “I wish I had some of those biscuits from the Lighthouse Cafe to go along with this good honey. But anything is good with this honey spread on it.”

The old woman looked puzzled for a moment then came back, “Me? I don’t like honey. I like syrup, but not honey. That’ll be fifty-four dollars.”

I hastily pulled the cash from my wallet and handed it to the woman who thanked me, then stepped barefooted into the house. I loaded the honey into the back seat of the truck and backed out of the yard, pleased that I had scored another year’s supply of Tupelo honey and a few jars to share with friends and family as well.

I know I’ll return again to Wewa to buy up next year’s honey stock… just like Kilgore Trout wrote in his last known poem:

When the tupelo

Goes poop-a-lo

I’ll come back to youp-a-lo.

Being a hat collector, I cannot explain why I waited so long to purchase a Tilley hat.  My hat collection includes a red fez, a jester’s hat complete with little bells, a black bowler, a Stetson and other cowboy hats, straw hats, Filson hats, a squirrel fur hat, a really weird hat made from human hair (no, not a wig), watch caps, a Greek fisherman’s hat, a white “dixie cup” sailor’s cap, hats with ear-warming flaps (these are particularly unflattering), wool, cotton and velvet berets, fedoras, and straw hats.

 

Paper Hat

Paper Hat

 

Also on my shelves are a Salvation Army hat, a German trenker hat with feather, numerous caps suitable for speeding along a country lane in a sports car, Confederate Infantry officer’s hat, a hat for one of Santa’s elves and one for Santa himself, Peter Pan’s hat with a long pheasant feather, two Sombreros,  an official Boy Scouts campaign hat, a WWII women’s Garrison cap, rain hats with floppy brims, a Musketeer hat with a fluffy white feather, a tall white chef’s hat, and countless ball caps – some with logos, some without. Oh yes, and now a Tilley hat.

 

About two weeks before I bought the Tilley, I was shopping in a trendy consignment shop and spotted a saucy little straw Fedora with a blue straw hat band woven right into the crown. The hat had no label, in fact nothing inside except sweat stains. I picked it up and tried it on and lo and behold, it fit. Finding hats – especially vintage hats – in my size, which is six and seven-eighths or sometimes seven, is rare. Let’s just say that one size does NOT fit all. I paid the clerk eight bucks, put the hat on my head and sashayed out the door.

 

I had convinced myself that the straw hat I purchased would be my last. After all, my collection was not as important to me as it once was. I had moved on and hats were, well, passe. Then on Saturday, as I was shopping for .410 shotgun shells at Mark’s Outdoors (having used the last one on the big copperhead in the front yard), I saw it: the Tilley hat collection. Being a hat pundit, I was already familiar with the brand. I knew these hats were built to last a lifetime. I also had a vague sense that Tilleys were somewhat nerdish and being somewhat nerdish myself, I was drawn to the display.

 

I selected a Tilley hat from the rack. It was light creme color with a not-too-wide brim, which I hoped would not rest mid-ear. Before placing the hat on my head, I looked inside the hat to determine front and back. A large label sewn into the hat’s crown described the hat.

 

The Label

The Label

THE FINEST IN ALL THE WORLD

INSURED AGAINST LOSS, GUARANTEED FOR LIFE

(REPLACED FREE IF IT EVER WEARS OUT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The label went on to describe other virtues of this seemingly miraculous hat – features like UV protection, water repellent, wind cord, et cetera. Then I saw a small brochure tucked under the label. It was the hat’s Owner’s Manual and included the warning to remove before fitting hat. The four-page manual was tremendously informative, providing important details such as “which is the front” and revealing the secret of the secret pocket where one might stow emergency cash or a fishing license. As if this altogether was not enough to convince me to buy, a small sticker on the hat indicated it was a size seven!  

 

I located a mirror in a deserted part of the store and tried on the Tilley. “Not bad, rather handsome,” I lied to myself. (Although I love hats I do not love how they look on my head.) Then, I turned up both sides of the brim using the brass snaps, which “develop a sought-after permanent patina when exposed to salt air”, and swore I would never wear the hat in that fashion unless I was touring overseas.

 

I cannot recall the exact price I paid for my Tilley. It was several times more than the $8 purchase price of the pre-owned straw Fedora and appreciably less than the Panama hats I recently came across online, which go for up to $25,000. I know. $25,000! So, I paid the clerk a reasonable sum, put the hat on my head and sauntered out the door.

 

The Airflow Tilley Hat

The Airflow Tilley Hat

 

After the shopping trek, I arrived home along the beautiful shore of the Black Warrior River and did what any self-respecting nerd would do: with indelible ink, I wrote my name, telephone number and date on the label inside my new Tilley hat. I tucked my fishing license into the secret pocket, put the hat on my head, adjusted the wind cord, grabbed my fly rod and went fishing.

 

Now, here’s the part where I explain how my Tilley hat became holy. That day, wearing my new hat and fishing from my kayak, I caught so many bream I stopped counting AND two large-mouth bass, each in the two-to-three-pound range. Yes, that’s right, two bass in one outing – a feat never before accomplished by this bush league yet unapologetic fly fisher.

Largemouth Bass

Largemouth Bass

Inasmuch as I believe that God and spirits dwell in rivers, I also believe in my Tilley hat to be the finest fishing hat I’ve ever owned. And though I may never become a master fly fisher, I will always have a deep appreciation for the magic that lives in the art of the fly and just below the surface of water. Oh yes, and also in my new fishing hat.

 

 

 

 

Fall and spring particularly inspire the dilettantish poet in me. To pay tribute to the season of birth, death and rebirth and in honor of my daughter, Rachel, who is the reigning World Champion Easter Egg Hunter, I present the following shape poem that I appropriately entitled “Egg”.

 

Second 

to none, except 

perhaps the chicken 

(and even that’s debatable) 

it is nature’s perfect food. Fried,

coddled, scrambled or poached atop 

toast, bagel or McMuffin, I urge you 

to breakfast today. Lest I have it on my 

face, I’ll remind you of omelette, quiche,

frittata, custard and souffle.Try them hard-

boiled or soft, dropped, shirred or deviled.

Taste them raw in a smoothie or nog. And

to prevent them from being kept in only 

one basket, I’ll be a good one and 

mention egg roll, chocolate

egg and, of course,

caviar.

 

 

If there’s only one attribute to ascribe to the Great Blue Heron, perhaps it is perseverance. I’ve watched solitary herons stand in shallow water  for long stretches of time as if turned to stone – waiting, watching for the next small vertebrate to flow within reach. Then, the strike! In a heartbeat a fish is caught and gulped down the heron’s long sinewy throat. The process is repeated many times until the sated heron folds her neck into an S, spreads her wings, lifts her feet from the river’s edge and with an emphatic squawk and extended legs trailing, sets sail for her roost in the highest boughs of a longleaf pine.

One of Aubudon's favorite subjects

One of Audubon's favorite subjects

The heron is an accomplished fisher and hunter. When small fry and other aquatic life are not at hand, the heron stalks mice, insects, snakes and other terrestrials for its sustenance. During breeding season, this is especially beneficial as both heron parents must consume up to four times as much food as normal when building nests, mating and feeding their young chicks. In fact, in all things, the heron excels. And why shouldn’t she? With ancestry dating back to dinosaurs, herons have had plenty of time to hone their skills.

I admire the dogged heron’s stick-to-it-iveness. She has learned the best methods for nest building, mating (herons are monogamous), rearing her young and of course, fishing. The heron doesn’t lay around in the nest and thus be late for choice fishing time. She does not need to decide which type tackle she’ll use on any particular excursion… fly rod or spinning reel, light weight or heavy, live bait or plastics? The fact of the matter is that the heron has no use for thousands of dollars worth of boats, rods, tackle, bait, etc. She knows ONE WAY to catch fish, she’s done it THAT WAY for a lifetime and it’s KISS.

Ah, the simple heron – paragon of determination. Had I followed her example of single-mindedness, I might have actually excelled at doing one thing very well. As a business woman, I could have been blue-chip. I could have stood out as a prize-winning writer, an exemplary parent, an exceptional artist, a blue-ribbon gardener, a fantastic lover, a television chef, and without a doubt a splendiferous bass master. 

With extraordinary conceit, I have considered myself a Renaissance woman. I am an idle poet. I’ve written three unfinished novels; owned, operated and abandoned two successful businesses; embarked upon innumerable careers including used car sales, cabinet-maker, artist, insurance clerk, special events maven, and charity fund-raiser. I am a half-fast boat skipper, have single-parented one adultescent, lost and gained hundreds of pounds, and of course, own all the fishing tackle Bass World has to sell.

My latest project, which has recently been supplanted by the writing of this blog, is hand-painting renderings of fishing fly patterns. I am beginning to believe if not for my unending impatience (aka Adult ADHD) to move on to the next big thing,  by now I could have  reached the apogee of achievement. Or at least been able to retire with  my sweetie and a comfortable little nest egg.

As my mother (G-d rest her soul) admonished: be happy with what you have. The heron is.  And today, I am too.