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A Winner in Indiana; Dinners with Lawyers? New Gear! Troll? Trail Work; A Jazzy Night Out

In my last post, I mentioned the creepy-crawlies that I wanted to “take out” with my grandfather’s Winchester Model 94 .30-.30, and that My Lovely Bride convinced me that shooting them would be considered gauche by our neighbors. Well, it’s a good thing I took her advice for a change, because when the pest control expert arrived, he identified the creatures as Oleander caterpillars (Syntomeida epilais), non-toxic and never known to have attacked and killed a human being. This was reassuring, so we granted the caterpillars a reprieve, and are hoping to see their metamorphosis from caterpillar to pupa to moth. Congratulations to Dale Hilliard of La Otto, Indiana, a Navy shipmate of mine aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61), who correctly identified these caterpillars, and who (with His Lovely Bride Becky) will be taken out to dinner when we visit Indiana next summer. I had no idea that a retired Navy Operations Specialist Master Chief Petty Officer (OSCM) who spent most of his life at sea could be so knowledgeable about bugs

Life is a learning experience, that’s for sure. For example, I never would have thought that I could actually enjoy the company of lawyers, but sure enough, it’s happened twice this month. (Maybe I should buy a Powerball ticket…) Our dinner out at Belle Meade CC with our good friends Joseph and Elizabeth (who live on the aptly-named street “Inner Circle”) was great fun, and I even got some good legal advice from Joseph which may be very useful in estate planning. (Unfortunately I forgot my camera that evening.) The second dinner was with Suzanne’s Lovely Mom Ruthie and our friend Gail, a Public Defender. She also gave me some legal advice that I hope I never have to use, unless I decide to stick up a 7-11 to increase my financial net worth. 

Suzanne is getting Really Serious about next year’s planned pilgrimage on the Camino Santiago in Spain. She even ordered new boots and backpack so she can start training properly for our epic trek. Here she is trying on her brand new, right-outta-the-box Osprey Aura (is that an appropriate name or what?) while camping out in our RV last weekend. Her backpack looks small, but she hasn’t loaded it up yet, and it should carry everything she needs for 5 weeks of hiking on the Camino. (No, she did not go to sleep in her new Aura, but she admits to being tempted to do so…)

Ms Drill Sergeant got me up way too early for a hike in Ocala National Forest to test out her new gear. The forest floor here is sometimes very wet, and parts of the trail are built on a boardwalk, which also helps keep you out of the way of the alligators and venomous snakes (water moccasins, rattlesnakes and copperheads) that populate the area.


We hiked from the Salt Spring Recreation Area, and got in a respectable 5 miler to confirm that Suzanne’s new boots and pack fit properly. She decided not to strike out cross-country through the swamp (a procedure known as “bushwhacking”) due to the dense undergrowth. You can only see 25 yards or so, and trying to hike through this stuff is ill-advised, to say the least.

As soon as we returned home, I had to prep for some volunteer work doing trail maintenance with the Florida Trail Association (FTA), not far from where we had been hiking. When I reminded My Lovely Bride of this, she responded, “Ah, the Troll returns to the Forest!” I was not nearly as amused by her humor as was she… but then she wasn’t amused when I mentioned that there would probably be naturists on the trip… Smack! “Oh, sorry, my dear, I meant naturalists!”

Common sense told me not to mention either of these comments to my new FTA friends, a very nice group of folks whose average age (excluding the Two Old Guys, John at 77 -shown here repairing the DR trail mower- and Der Blogmeister at 67) was about 22. Matt, the team leader on the far left, had recently run the Ocala Traverse – 66 miles from one end of the Ocala National Forest to the other, in 14 hours… Ooh Rah!!! The youngest of our group asked when I had retired from the Navy; when I said, “1994”, she said, “Gee, that was before I was born.” Sigh… 

It’s amazing how quickly plants grow here in Florida. The trail section we were clearing had been worked a couple of years ago, but already it had overgrown in many places and even the painted blazes on the trees had faded away. Here is the crew in a rough section. Our job was to clear the trail a consistent 4 feet wide and 8 feet high. 

The DR trail mower leads the way down the center of the trail and then the brush mower operators using enormous weed-whacker-like tools with heavy-duty rotating razor blades the size of pie plates clear the sides of the trail. Then the infantry moves in, lopping and sawing overhead branches and cleaning up the debris (which means picking it all up and throwing it well off the trail). It’s heavy work but very rewarding. Here is Yours Truly armed for battle with the brush and vines that insist on overrunning the Florida Trail. And where did I get my brush mower training, you ask? Well, a 22-year old slip of a girl who knew a lot more than I about trail maintenance was kind enough to show me the ropes. 

I have to briefly describe our dinner on Monday night… in a past blog I mentioned that I am not a kale or quinoa fan. Imagine my surprise when our meal (vegetarian, of course) included kale. The meal was delicious, and the kale was actually quite good, but I have warned My Lovely Bride that she is not to put it on the menu more than once every sunspot cycle. If you’d like to join me and other FTA members on a hike or trail maintenance project, please let me know, or contact FTA directly at You can also make a charitable donation on their website if you’re not into brush mowing. (Maybe if you send a big check I can have chicken on our next trail project!)  Seriously, this dedicated group of young people (Ashley, Shane and Abby were from the Youth Conservation Corps) and one other Old Guy (John is also a Villager, by the way) were delightful people and extremely hard workers. If I worked with these folks regularly, I might become a real woodsy person! I regretted having to leave early for my next event…

… which was the Jazz Lovers Club Christmas Party. Here is our group; it’s bring your own dinner and adult beverage affair. Did you know that sushi actually goes quite well with Zinfandel and Pinot Noir? The Hancocks even brought a bottle of 100 point Pinot Noir… even better than my bottle of Manischewitz Concord Grape. (From left to right, Bob, Judy, Bill, Gayle, John, Sue, Suzanne, Moi.)

The music at these events is first class, and both times that we’ve attended, it’s been a full house. The band was superb, and the vocalist was not only a fabulous singer, but also quite easy on the eyes…


Here are our good Navy friends Bill and Gayle Hancock, seen dancing cheek-to-cheek. Bill learned his dance steps as a Naval Academy midshipman, which is perhaps why Gayle wears steel-toed pumps. Other Jazz Club friends Bob and Judy are in the background trying to stay out of Bill’s way. 

Even Der Blogmeister and His Lovely Bride got onto the dance floor, and successfully completed a couple of circuits without any collisions or bruised toes. 

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