Refuge in Winter

Yesterday was not the day I anticipated—it was so much more–always is, no matter the day. Anticipation is never present and always future, sometimes tinged with memory. In these days of living life without Cooper, the memories are abundant, like driving to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge to purchase our annual pass.

Often, our February trek coincided with the fairly recent but also annual event, the Wildlife Heritage and Outdoors Festival. The luxury of living so close to the Gulf of Mexico, less than a thirty minute drive, has never been taken for granted. It is a beauty still wild.

KMHuberImage; Gulf of Mexico, FL; St. Mark's Wildlife RefugeLow humidity, low 50s in a slow breeze, warm by any Nordic standards, it is a winter’s day in Florida. The crisp air is a refuge in itself, an annual visitor to a subtropical climate.

Not a wisp of cloud can be found in the blue sea that is the sky, yet in the shade of a towering Ponderosa pine, it’s not uncomfortable for me to wear two hoodies—a fleece from Seattle over basic black cotton from Florida—cushy winter vests are popular, too. Gloves of any kind are welcome.

Hot Tamale, a favorite musical group of mine, braves the briskness of February to entertain festival goers, breaking only for the turkey calling contest. For all afternoon, the music of Hot Tamale wafts through and around outdoor grills of sausages with grilled onions, down the single lane of exhibits and over the heads of children not always running with twigs in hands.

I marvel that Craig, Hot Tamale’s guitar player, manages to keep his guitar in tune, song after song, as he and Adrian sing us through Motown, Jefferson Airplane, Brooks & Dunn, and my all-time favorites, Hot Tamale originals. For two hours, I immerse myself in this winter’s day’s music, a refuge medley.

The shade from the Ponderosa pine broadens as the sun moves closer to 3 o’clock. It is time to begin the drive KmHuberImage; St. Mark's, Florida Gulf of Mexico between the festival site and the shores of the Gulf. Memories of past trips are quickly displaced by every image that is. It happens every time in this place primeval. The refuge diminishes all human presence for it is raw with life.

As I drive, Cooper is with me as much as he is not: heart-centered is a term I remember someone giving me. I liked it so much I wanted to discover its meaning on my own. And in that moment, I do: it is joy absorbing physical absence, fleeting but nonetheless felt.

I park the car, and the tide of memory rolls in: I am taking a photograph of the lighthouse, believing it to be a view I did not have. Cooper is content to remain in the car; perhaps, he knew it was just another picture of a lighthouse with trees. Cooper was tired is what I remember as the image of our last trip to the refuge fades.

The sun is now lower than three in the sky but not yet four as I walk down a path Cooper and I never did walk. It is a shortcut to the path he and I always walked, a new way to the path’s end where we always rested.  I realize path’s end has been my destination the entire day.

For a moment, I am awash in memory again: I am missing Cooper’s curiosity, his constant enthusiasm for the present, no matter where we were. No matter where we were…the realization of what that means jolts me.  I had been clinging to the memory of Cooper’s curiosity rather than rediscovering my own, as he had shown me time after time.

Just as Cooper found joy and enthusiasm in recognizing and rediscovering the scents of the refuge, I started taking photographs of the point, the palm tree, the “island” that is only another point of land, all images I seem to record every February’s  first trip to the refuge in winter.

They are the same and not the same, as Cooper is heart-centered, new and familiar with the scent of life ongoing.

KMHuberImage; St. Mark's Wildlife Refuge; Florida; Gulf of Mexico

26 thoughts on “Refuge in Winter

  1. Karen,
    thank you so much for your kind words about Hot Tamale. I must say it is a high compliment in my book to be compared to the smell of grilling sausages. It was very touching to read about Cooper, and Cooper’s constant enthusiasm for the present moment. If only we could be more like that.


    1. Oh, thanks so much for dropping by, Craig. Although I know all animals and nature are always present, Cooper was able to show me in a way I have never “practiced.” It is taking some time to be on my own with my own practice. Looking forward to more moments with Hot Tamale. Thanks so much for the songs.



  2. As half of the Tamale, thank you Karen for making us the background music for your post.

    Cooper is so familiar to me through your posts that I can’t read about him with dry eyes. There’s nothing like a good dog.


  3. Thank you again for such a thoughtful post – and for sharing your journey with us. It is amazing how much in life can be a journey of re-discovery – of seeing the old with new eyes and understanding it in new ways. There is always something new to learn, to see, even in the familiar. And to me that underscores much of the true richness of the human journey, studded though it often is with sadness as well as joy.

    On a mundane note – I can’t get over how much that first photo looks EXACTLY like parts of New Zealand, even down to the foliage and colour.


    1. As for the photo, I remember having a similar reaction to a New Zealand photo of yours, which reminded me of Wyoming. I will add that both Wyoming and Florida were once inland seas, of which Florida remains a sea-level (and below) peninsula while over-a-mile-high Wyoming is Yellowstone as much as it is a high plains desert. Now, I know of a Florida-New Zealand resemblance as well. Amazing and as you say, the new that is familiar, all a part of one’s journey, sometimes reflective and other times, radiant.

      Thanks, Matthew!


  4. Hi Karen! I’m so glad that you are rediscovering your own curiosity, although I’m sure it’s not the same. But I love your optimistic spirit and the joy you have living in the present, enjoying a beautiful day out amongst fabulous music and food. Yes, there is so much that life gives us to enjoy! 🙂


  5. Hi, Karen I agree with the others, Hot Tamale sounds like something I would really enjoy and I could almost smell the sausages grilling. : ) I think it’s wonderful how you pay tribute to Cooper’s memory by honoring the lessons he taught you during your time together. They are so very wise, our animal companions, we are blessed to share our lives with them and thank you for sharing your memories and lessons from, Cooper, with all of us.


    1. Thanks, Stephanie. Cooper’s curiosity is such a gift, and I do my best to take it into each day. As you say, he was so wise. Always appreciate your thoughtful comments.


  6. Some beautiful, evocative images, Karen, and lovely writing. Sometimes just before falling asleep, I’ll see an island with palm trees and remember walking there, along the shore, with a sense of absolute peace. We carry such moments always.


    1. “We carry such moments always”; what a beautiful line, Beth. And you are so right, we do. Thanks for the kind words about my writing. I really do take these same pictures every year, it seems, and I always find something different in them.


  7. A beautiful elegy to the moment, Karen. I like the sound of Hot Tamale too although I don’t know them – Jefferson Airplane takes me back awhile! You are lucky to have that place nearby.


    1. Thank you, Diana. Hot Tamale has a wonderful arrangement of “Somebody to Love,” which is a Jefferson Airplane favorite of mine. They are a local duo and do so much for the community as well. They are one of the many treasures we have in north FL, and as you say, I am fortunate to live here.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.