On May 8, 2007, a fire was started by lightning on an island in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. It was nothing unusual; summer lightning storms do this kind of thing every year, but sometimes with unwanted and unforeseen consequences. This fire was stubborn and soon crossed over into Florida, where it expanded at an alarming rate, combining with other fires. It became huge and eventually burned more than 500,000 acres, blanketing North Florida with smoke and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes. White Springs was threatened by the fire and, for the first time in its history, the Florida Folk Festival was canceled!

The Folk Festival was later re-scheduled for November, but the festival staff still had a big, expensive problem to cope with. Hundreds of Folk Festival T-shirts had been printed in advance, and since they are collectables they are always printed with the date. The date on the T-shirts would of course be wrong for the re-scheduled November Folk Festival, so the shirts were going to be a big financial loss … until somebody saw them as an opportunity to create a bigger demand for them than they ever had in their original condition. They sent the t-shirts back to the printer, and in large red letters on a diagonal line, overprinted the shirts with one word … “BUGABOOED”! It was a total sellout! Everybody wanted one! All because of one person’s way of looking at a disaster and being able to see an opportunity to make it better.

Now we are faced with another, much bigger potential disaster. Just like the Bugaboo fire, the Coronavirus started a long ways off and didn’t seem to be much of a threat to most of us. Now it is spreading like wildfire and even the doubters are beginning to wonder. And there are cancellations everywhere, including our own Wild Azalea Festival! The Folk Festival may even have to be rescheduled, even though Memorial Day is still two months away. All around us, jobs and lives are being disrupted and, even worse, before it’s over some jobs and some lives will be lost. This is certainly no time for silly optimism, yet we must search. Where can we possibly see any good opportunity in all this mess with all this self-imposed quarantine and “social distancing”?

Every day of our “social distancing,” Merri and I are seeking to find something positive. We can’t go to our frequent, normal meetings and social gatherings, so Merri has started a colorful interpretive stitch meditation series about social distancing and the Coronavirus. She is creating one small fabric patch each day until the end of the pandemic. The feedback on Facebook and Instagram had been very positive and this project has inspired others to similar efforts. Merri hopes the duration will be short and will not lead to her running out of thread or ideas, but she will see it through, no matter how long it takes.

For my “social distancing,” in place of my many meetings and occasional trips and social gatherings, I am instead exploring new bike trails suitable for recreational bike riders. This exploration will be a series of mini-adventures that I might not have otherwise pursued, which I will write about and publish with the hopes of encouraging folks to bicycle and enjoy the beautiful outdoors right in our back yard. I plan to do this every day until the end of the pandemic. I hope that it will be a short series, but I’m going to see it through no matter what.

All of you are probably spending more time at home, and more time in touch with far flung friends and family, just checking in. Not a bad thing, not a sad thing, but an opportunity to show we care. Perhaps, when this is all over, before we go back to being “normal,” we will pause for a moment and remember the positive lessons of this difficult time when we realized for one brief moment, more than ever, that we really are all in this together. This realization could cause us to come out of this experience more whole and more fully healed than we have been in a long time. One can only hope. Stay safe and look for an opportunity to cope and help. It’s out there!

Hamilton County Food and Nutritional Services is offering free “Grab and Go” meals for children up to 18 years old at the White Springs Public Library March 17-20, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Walk up or Drive up.

These are trying and difficult times. Stay safe and let me hear from you. I am thankful that we can depend on each other, and I hope that we can continue to feel proud of who we are and where we’re headed, and that we all appreciate how White Springs and its surrounding region is a very special place, to be honored and protected. As always, I look forward to seeing you out and about, enjoying your community and your life in White Springs.

Walter McKenzie

386-303-1394

lifeinwhitesprings@gmail.com

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