I’ve packed up, I have said my goodbyes to my family, and I have tidied up the loose ends of projects I’ve been working on, both of my Roadtrek and on other vehicles. I mowed my sister’s grass for the last time this year. No more pushing a lawnmower and wondering if the mailman has come. No more mail service. I’m on the road.
This is the sixth spring I’ve watched the orange blossoms and azaleas come out in northcentral Florida, and hit the road on my annual circumnavigation of the continent. I follow the good weather as it moves north, visiting the mountains or the oceanside as our whims dictate.
But it wasn’t always like this. I spent fifty summers in northcentral Florida, and as I approached retirement age I just knew there was a better way. I knew because I watched the sandhill cranes. Northcentral Florida is where the sandhill cranes spend the winter. You can see them if you go down to Payne’s Prairie, a giant drained lakebed south of Gainesville. They’re magnificent birds, four feet tall and gray with a red cap on their head, and a rattling, penetrating call. They don’t have an inside voice – I remember one in a display at a shopping mall, and you could hear it from one end of the mall to the other.
Every spring, as the weather improved and the trees and flowers would come out, right about this time of year, a few sandhill cranes would sense the change in the weather and get restless, circling high overhead, calling to the others, until they would all form up and fly away north. They head up the Mississippi flyway, some out over the plains, some up to the Great Lakes, some out west, some all the way to Alaska. I have seen them in the upper peninsula of Michigan, along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, all over the place. But back then I would watch them disappear out of sight, their calls tapering off to nothing. And then I would turn around and head back to the classroom or office or wherever I was going to be stuck for the summer, promising myself that one day, I too would spread my wings and fly away on a warm spring wind, out across a vast and mysterious continent.
And now I’m flying. Six years and counting. It’s spring again, and it’s time to move on out. Fly away while you still can, because one of these springs you won’t be able to.