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Kindred Spirits by Lea Daley
Many elements in “Kindred Spirits” are rooted in fact. Grayton Beach State Park is a real —and wonderful—place. The sugar sands, the pristine shoreline, the sparkling Gulf waters, are unparalleled. But should you wish to enjoy its charms, make reservations well in advance; the park is so popular, it rarely has a cabin available for spur of the moment visits.
Likewise, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Alabama are real. Every LGBTQ person in the United States owes a debt of gratitude to founders Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin, Jr. Over four decades ago, they established the SPLC to fight for social justice and the organization has had extraordinary success in mounting legal challenges against hate groups. The museum, a more recent project, includes educational materials about the LGBTQ struggle for acceptance and equality.
On a road trip to the Gulf Coast in 2006, I decided to detour through Montgomery and visit the museum. Like my protagonist, I’d made a memorial donation to the Wall of Tolerance there and I wanted to view the display in person. I was traveling with my partner, Gale, her eighty-seven year old mother, Pauline, and our ten-pound Poodle-Shih Tzu mix. Our drive from Missouri to Alabama was draining for such an elderly woman—and too confining for a frisky young dog. When we arrived at the museum, Gale and Pauline decided to exercise Tanner in a nearby parking lot, while stretching their own legs. I left them and crossed the street, stopping in a serene courtyard outside the museum. Designed by Maya Lin, the architect of the famed Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., that space alone was worth the drive. After a long, reflective interlude, I made my way indoors to view the Wall of Tolerance.
As I indicated in the story, the room that houses the memorial was calm and dark. And the tribute itself was magical, wholly unexpected in its beauty and emotional power. I was only able to walk away from that sacred place because I feared further inconveniencing my traveling companions.
But the instant I stepped outside, harsh reality disrupted my reverent mood. Across the street, Gale and her mother were in frenetic motion, inexplicably jumping around our van, shrieking. As I hurriedly closed the gap, I realized they were both shaking out beach towels, blankets, and floor mats. Between sharp snaps and yelps, they managed to explain that our dog had wandered off the pavement and into a patch of grass. Where he’d stepped in a mound of fire ants—vicious creatures that are foreign to those of us from the Midwest.
According to Google, fire ants are an unwelcome and accidental import from Argentina; decades ago they stowed away on ships transporting agricultural materials. Upon docking in Mobile, Alabama, they found conditions compatible with their evil purposes. Since then, fire ants have established colonies throughout the southern and western US. Adaptable and difficult to eradicate, they’ve become an extraordinarily expensive nuisance. And their attacks are fearsome. They first bite victims to gain a purchase, then sting to inject a toxin. Small animals like Tanner can die if overrun by fire ants.
Under assault by them, he had panicked, then bolted back into our open vehicle, howling piteously. There he shook off a zillion insects, who naturally scurried into every protective nook and cranny. We combed the critters from Tanner’s fur first, attempting to limit the damage, then Gale shoved a whole Benadryl tablet down his throat to forestall the prospect of a life threatening allergic reaction. Over the next half hour, we policed our car, chasing fire ants from remote crevices, peering into every shadowed part of the vehicle, gingerly flicking them off the upholstery. Trying, with limited success, to avoid wounds of our own.
We had no assurance that we’d completely divested ourselves of the intruders when we finally piled into the van again. Jumpy, itchy, and twitchy, we were more eager than ever to reach the tranquility of the Gulf beaches. That unexpected drama had thoroughly high-jacked my peaceful state of mind. Still, the sense of awe and gratitude I felt while standing before the Wall of Tolerance lingered with me.
And looking out over the ocean that evening, our trip seemed a microcosm of all that I value: Embracing the journey through life. Making time for detours. Pausing for the sublime. And never, ever allowing adversity alter my course.
Don’t forget to check out the next stop on the tour, featuring Melissa Grace.
The Blog Tour Schedule
- June 15 – Jove Belle (Right here!)
- June 16 – Anastasia Vitsky
- June 17 – A.L. Brooks (blogging at Jae’s site)
- June 18 – Elaine Burnes
- June 19 – Lea Daley (blogging at Jove’s site)
- June 20 – Melissa Grace
- June 21 – Hazel Yeats (blogging at Jae’s site)
- June 22 – Kathy Brodland (blogging at Jove’s site)
- June 23 – Cori Kane
- June 24 – Chris Zett
- June 25 – Jae