Three years ago I became ill and had what you could call a “near death experience.” I am grateful to have come through it with a new sense of joy, forgiveness and gratitude. Moving to Florida seemed like a good idea then to reconnect with my family for a while. The intent was noble, but I soon found myself trapped in a humid land of palm trees, alligators and giant insects.
Let’s start with the bugs. The Florida ‘huntsman spider’ is the size of my hand. Yes, my entire hand, including outstretched fingers. Even my cats ran from them they were so big. (I will never complain about a Minnesota wood tick ever again) There was a huge insect in my apartment walkway that looked like a rhinoceros. And yes, it was called “a rhinoceros beetle. So clever, those Floridians. Everyday I saw some new insect I had never seen before. It was extraordinary.
Then there was the heat. The heat melted my car key one summer. Not to liquid, but enough to make it very soft so when I tried to unlock my car, the key broke off in the door. I still can’t get it out.
It wasn’t all bad down there. The beach was wonderful. I got to swim with sea turtles and stingrays and spent one memorable afternoon saving stranded moon jellies from the sand. (Yes, the crazy pagan was putting these sublime creatures back in the water where they belonged, much to the dismay of all the surrounding tourists) And, of course, it was wonderful to spend time with my family. I also made some wonderful new friends down there.
Even so, the call to return to Minnesota was powerful. I’d see pelicans flying in formation over the surf and wish they were Canada geese. I’d see palm trees outlined against a brilliant sunset and wish they were pine trees laden with snow. Coming home was easy — getting here was another matter entirely.
The economy is horrific in Brevard County, so finding steady work to fund the move back was difficult. If I had sewing skills I could’ve easily found work repairing Confederate flags – they were everywhere down there. Thanks to some very kind and generous friends, however, the trip was funded. I loaded up a UHaul, my car and my two cats and off we went.
I came in to Minnesota off of Interstate 94. I saw the St. Croix River and started crying. For three years I waited to see that view again. I spent the next few days playing in the snow and getting acclimated to the north. I took a long walk through downtown Stillwater and looked at the Lift Bridge like a tourist.
There have been some changes in my beloved Stillwater while I was gone. Some shops are gone or re-located. Some friends have moved and buildings that were new when I left are now occupied and an accepted part of the landscape. And what the heck happened to Lumberjack Days?
One thing remains constant, though, and that’s the wonderful sense of community, of belonging to someplace special. Stillwater continues to be the enchanting, historical, magical place I remembered. The people who live here are the same wonderful, joyful, community-driven folks proud of this town and proud to live here.
Stillwater is special. And what privilege and joy it is to call this place home once again. My broom is firmly placed on Minnesota soil. And it’s never leaving ever again.
Shirley De La Torre, a.k.a. the good witch of North Hill, was an occasional contributor to the Gazette prior to her move to Florida.