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In my first column for the Cedar Key Beacon I wrote that I fell in love with this island within 15 minutes of arriving here last year on a birthday trip. I know you're supposed to be happy when you're on vacation. But, it was more than a vacation glow. The longer I stayed-and the more often I returned-the more I felt as if I had come home.
That statement seems crazy because I was born and raised in New York City. But, what I was experiencing was a very different kind of homecoming. It was a return to the heart.
It felt-and still feels-as if I belong here. I feel safe walking my dog, Gizmo, at night. My outlook on life is optimistic. I feel content and I smile a lot. It is certainly more than the natural beauty that puts the constant grin on my face. Island residents know how much beauty surrounds them: the Gulf waters, the back bayous, the heritage trees. And the sunsets. Ah, the sunsets. Does living surrounded by such beauty to bring out the best in most people? I think it could.
During a walk to Dock Street on that first visit, my friend and I stopped to take a look at the scenery. A couple in a truck turned the corner where we were standing and must have thought we were looking for something in particular because the truck stopped and they asked if they could help. We were just taking in the scenery, we explained, but afterward we laughed when we both said how friendly the natives were.
That was before I noticed that drivers and pedestrians waving to one another. The first few times I was waved at, I automatically responded in kind. Although I felt a little silly waving at strangers, they had waved at me and it would be rude not to wave back. It wasn't long before I started waving first.
I believe what exists here is rare. It's the Florida-no, it's really the America-people long for. While life became complicated and more rushed elsewhere, islanders have held on to something that others might envy. I think it's the sense of community, which is, after all, caring for your fellow human, that permeates the island. Other communities may value golf courses and shopping malls, this island community values something much more valuable. I call it humanity.
What one of my favorite authors, Jon Katz, has written about his farm community in upstate New York and it reminds me of Cedar Key.
I love my life in the country because I can look at beautiful things...while I drive.
Because people still trust one another, and rarely lock their doors. Or use lawyers tosettledisputes.And know each other.
Because people find work that doesn’t bring them to offices, or put them under corporate t h u m b s . Because people make things and grow things. Because individuals, from artiststo farmers, can live the lives of individuals, with some dignity and control over their lives.
I couldn't have described my experience in Cedar Key any better. But, now I must leave, taking everything I experienced, learned and loved with me, along with the deepest hope that I will find a way to return permanently.