Ocala_Bel (13) Something magical happens to me when I am in Ocala.  Even though the population of the city is close to 100K it still feels like a small town.  Often when I come here, the weather is wonderful, an incredible respite from cold and snow.  This time I seem to have hit the coldest possible weather, with predictions for the low 20’s tonight and even colder temperatures possible in the next couple of days, with highs in the 40’s. I am leaving on Wednesday from Tampa, and the temperatures predicted for Thursday are back in the 70’s.  Ah well.  I am not really here for a vacation, I am here for my friend.

Ocala_Bel (17)In the five days that I have here, I hoped to be some help to my friend who has been dealing with some health issues. So I am here, driving her to the grocery store, taking her to the parade, where she did a great job walking from the side street parking to the main drag in Ocala.  Yesterday I took her for a drive through the gorgeous back roads along 225A, the secret pathway through miles and miles of horse farms with homes almost as big as the incredible stables, with driveway gatehouses that could house a homeless family or two.

Ocala_Bel (29) But back to that ‘thing’ that happens here in Ocala.  The Ocala parade consisted of almost three hours of floats full of kids involved in every possible activity available, with gymnasts, and dancers, and singers, high school and middle school bands, and so many “miss whatever’s” they needed a dozen cars to carry them all. Ocala calls itself the horse capital of the south, and there was no lack of fabulous horses and horsemanship exhibited in the parade.  Small town stuff at it’s best.

Somehow, here in this town, I find myself slowing to a crawl.  I listen to birds and watch the light play on the leaves.  I watch the skies change from gray to sunny back to gray and sit on the porch watching the rain. Ocala really isn’t a destination, there isn’t much here for a traveler passing through, there is bad traffic down on “200”, there is crime and racism, and grinding poverty amidst huge wealth.  Just a few minutes north of Ocala is Anthony, a bucolic land of open space and huge oak trees where John Travolta and his wife have built their home and life.  John drops into the local Publix now and then and Bel sees him at the meat counter. And everywhere, the trees.  Huge live oaks dripping with moss, and spindly elms so thick you can’t walk, and everything in between.  I love the trees in this part of Florida.

Ocala_parade (7) Today a neighbor of Bel’s invited us to a Christmas Chorale at her church on the “other side of town”.   Another neighbor stopped by yesterday with a small new space heater, worried about her in the cold.

I thought maybe while I was here I could write about Silver Springs with all the Christmas lights, or possibly go out to Juniper Springs in the Ocala National Forest and write about the Technicolor turquoise waters, trying to find adjectives to describe them.  Instead I am lying low, listening to Bel talk about her life, watching the 3 TV stations available, going to church, watching the birds, and playing with the cats.