Okay, after my trip to Kentucky and Montreal, I’m back in Florida, working as a camp host at Fort De Soto (a county park), in Tierra Verde, Florida. It’s really gorgeous here, but hot as blazes. I was warned about the Florida summers, so I knew what to expect. What I didn’t expect is the fact that I wouldn’t be able to stand the sun after my shifts, Thursday through Sunday. They’re only 5 hours long, but sheesh! By the end, I’m a wringing wet mess. . .
To start at the beginning, I got back on a Tuesday evening and went to the storage area to pick up my RV. It was, as I expected, hot, having been closed up for over a month. And I had a dead plant — no surprise — but the kitty litter worked like a charm to keep the moisture to a minimum and keep the odors down. Thanks to my Montreal friend for that tip!
The biggest problem was that my house batteries were dead — dead as doornails — and I couldn’t even get my generator started with help from my car battery. So I just hopped in, hooked up my car, and headed for Fort De Soto for an overnight with no reservations.
When I got to De Soto, with a relatively easy travel period, I stopped in the parking lot to see if I could get my house batteries charged with my car (duh!). That was a bad idea, and I feel ridiculous for even trying it. I was using jumper cables to try to charge something that I wasn’t going to ‘start,’ so it didn’t work.
I decided to just head to an available site for the night to hook up to electric. I found a pull-through site, which worked out very well because I didn’t have to unhook my car. I plugged the RV in, but skipped hooking up the water since I knew I wouldn’t be there for more than one night; as a camp host, a site was already reserved for me, but I didn’t know which one it was yet. . . I don’t even remember that night because I was thoroughly worn out. I set my alarm for 7am to meet with the volunteer coordinator.
When I woke up the next morning, my batteries were fully charged, so I felt ready for anything. I went out to check out the site I was in and noticed a couple of night heron nests above me. I tried to get some shots of them in their nests, with less-than-acceptable results (gotta have willing subjects, I’ve found). I had gotten up early thinking I needed to be at the office by 8am, so I headed out to meet my new supervisor. Unfortunately, the volunteer coordinator was nowhere to be found, and the office didn’t open until 9am. I went back to my temporary site and finally met up with a couple of camp hosts who came by in their golf cart. I introduced myself, and they told me which site I was supposed to be in (they had a list) and said they’d get the site ready for me.
As I’m preparing to move, I noticed just how much the herons did not like me under their nests, as they had left ‘gifts’ for me on the hood of my RV — an assortment of excrement! I moved to my new site and it began to rain — pour, actually — so I hoped I wouldn’t have to tackle the heron poop by hand (odd phrasing, that). Truth be told, I wasn’t going to anyway. I’ll be here for four months, and I’m sure it’ll rain enough in that time to get rid of whatever the herons can dish out.
I finally went to the camp office after waiting unsuccessfully for the volunteer coordinator to meet me at my site, and the rangers there called him on the radio to meet me at the office. Finally, I was official, with shirts, badge, and . . . a golf cart!
My permanent site is on the water — score! It’s just a short walk from my RV to the ‘beach’ on Mullet Key Bayou, and it’s awesome here. I wouldn’t start work until the next morning, so I went back to my RV to start unpacking my car. I had raided my storage facility while I was in Kentucky, and now I had to find places to put things — including my large keyboard (with stand), an amplifier for my guitar, and lots more kitchen things. Technically, I should get rid of some things to fit the new ones in, but I can’t seem to figure out what to get rid of. I need it all! So I am now officially — in appearance, at least — a hoarder. . .
First day on the job
I arrived bright and early — 7:45 — for my first day of work. I went with two other camp hosts to see what I was supposed to do. I already had an idea what my duties were, but the hosts I went with were very thorough — good people to train a newbie! The work is relatively straightforward, and everyone on the shift gets a list of sites they need to clean in their 5-hour shift. The duties include cleaning the grill, sweeping the picnic table, picking up trash, checking that electric and water are turned off, raking the site, and basically picking up anything left behind, such as left-over firewood.
After observing for one site, I was on my own. Now, I should point out that everyone familiar with Florida summers has warned me about them: extremely hot and humid, to the point of being dangerous. Combine that with working outside and not being in the habit of drinking a lot of water, and I am a disaster waiting to happen. I learned a lot that first day, but by the end of it, I looked like a chimney sweep, ringing wet and covered from head to toe in dirt and dust. I walked into the camp office at the end of my shift, and one of the rangers asked, “What’d you get hit by?” I answered “grills” and he just shook his head. I hate cleaning grills. . .
After the first day
The second day was somewhat better, but I was still beat — and filthy! The other camp hosts told me it would take a couple of weeks to get used to the routine, so I was hoping for the best. On their advice I started bringing a cooler with me, in which I put a couple of ice packs, a couple of bottles of water, an apple or banana, and salted almonds. This seemed to work out better, but I was still completely wiped out at the end of my shift. Hmmm. . . maybe eating is the answer. I don’t eat breakfast normally, but I tried taking a bowl of granola mixed with yogurt and fruit with me. By the time I got around to eating it, though, it was like concrete and I couldn’t finish it. So I tried taking a fried egg sandwich with me, which worked out better but it was a hassle frying up an egg before I left in the morning. So. . . I’m still trying to come up with the perfect portable breakfast. Suggestions are welcome!
As I mentioned, I hate cleaning grills, particularly in the tent section, where they’re apparently used as fire pits as well as for cooking — I even found marshmallow remnants on one of them! They’re often covered in baked barbeque sauce and full of coals, with some having spilled out onto the ground in front of the grill. And sometimes they’re still smoking, which makes them somewhat hazardous to clean. I had a bad grill day one Sunday (which is a very busy day for camp hosts as the weekenders leave to get back to work on Monday). On that day, I ended up having two or three grills with live coals, and my coal bucket was getting full — and heavy! I scooped the coals into the bucket and heaved it into the back of the cart, finished the site and went to the next one. On the way, I noticed that the bucket was smoking, which meant I had a fire starting, apparently. I stopped at the next site on my list and looked into the bucket to see what was going on: one of the pieces of wood in the bucket had caught fire from the hot coals. Since I already had a pile of very dry palm fronds in the back of the cart, I grabbed the bucket and lifted it out of the cart, setting it on the ground. When I started cleaning, I saw that this site also had a full grill, also with live coals. I grabbed the bucket to get it to a coal bin to dump, but it was too hot for my — rubber-palmed — gloves. I didn’t have time for it to burn itself out, so I got my water bottle out of my cooler and put the fire out with it. By the end of this day, I was filthy — again — and completely wiped out. One of the other camp hosts noticed how dirty I kept getting and he asked what I was doing to get so covered in dirt. I told him it was just from cleaning grills, and he suggested I stand to the side of the grills to clean them rather than in front of them. What a novel idea! I’ve been cleaner after my shift ever since — not clean, but cleaner.
There are days where we’ve had up to 40 sites apiece to clean, which is probably statistically impossible, but I give it my best shot. Fortunately, the other camp hosts have been really good about checking on me to see where I am, and taking some of my sites when I get behind. Rushing, I’ve noticed, rarely works out well. On one day, I was pulling a piece of fishing line out of the dirt, but it was resisting. I was, as usual, in a hurry so I yanked it out of the dirt and it flew out and wrapped around my neck. There I stood, with fishing wire around my neck, a weight hanging down from it in front of me and, when I checked, a hook hanging behind me (not, thank heaven, in my eye — my mother’s worst nightmare).
Such is the life of a camp host. If this wasn’t such a beautiful place, I might think I’d gotten myself in over my head. But I’ll be here until the end of October, when I move north (of here) for the winter. In the meantime, I’ll keep y’all posted on the goings-on. . . It is time for my nap — until next week!