Florida, 1973, Ocala National Forest…
Our vehicle had broken down, our funds were exhausted, and we had nowhere to go. My husband Jim and I backpacked down a dirt road surrounded by woods and arrived at Four Lake’s primitive campground. The night was dark and frightening with my overactive imagination conjuring up lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) peering through the thicket, ready to have us for dinner.
The heavens opened with a punishing downpour replete with finger lightning and howling wind. Jim grabbed my hand and we dove under a concrete picnic table for shelter. Soaking wet and shivering, we rolled out our sleeping bags in the pitch darkness and eventually fell asleep.
I greeted the morning with a shrill scream as my eyes opened to the sight of hundreds of spider webs hanging on the underside of the table and benches. Weird-looking beetles and bionic cockroaches scurried as I thrashed about, desperate to get out of my sleeping bag.
Still screaming, I rolled out from under the table. Once on my feet, I ran around in circles, lunatic-style, while swatting real or imagined bugs from every inch of my body. Later, when I regained my composure, we took a closer look at some of the spiders we’d slept in such close proximity with and discovered black-bodied arachnids with the ruby-red hourglass trademarks of the black widow. I was shaken to the core.
Later that day, we hitchhiked into town, bought a pup tent, and proceeded to live in the Ocala National Forest for the next ten months. We bathed in the lake, ate lots of peanut butter, hitchhiked everywhere, and picked oranges for a meager living.
Oddly enough, the thought never occurred to me that we could, theoretically, be labeled “homeless.” We had taken the situation we were dealt and did the best we could with it. Life wasn’t always easy in the woods, but the resilience of youth, coupled with hope for a brighter future, kept us going. It was an adventure I’ll never forget. Ever.
I often draw on personal experiences for inspiration when I’m plotting my next novel or novella. Also, I listen to other people’s stories of triumph, tragedy and adventure, and incorporate tidbits of their lives into my characters. And so it was when I wrote my latest book, Christmas at Dumpster Corral. The main character, Noel Dupree, finds herself in an unfortunate predicament but does her best to rise to the challenge. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.