Early in my career, somewhere between my mid-20s and mid-30s, I found myself living for a few magical years in a rustic hand-hewn log cabin on the western shore of Lake George in the Ocala National Forest.
City kids in the sticks
My friend and business partner Anni and I looked forward to the challenge of living out in the “sticks”, and had no illusions about how different this was going to prove to be from our upbringing as suburban kids in sub-tropical Florida. As outdoors gals who had been raised on the fringes of what later grew to be large suburban centers, we were used to the heat, the bugs, the critters, the climate and how to prepare for the vagaries of severe tropical weather, and cope with the aftermath.
Anni, a Coconut Grove Florida native, had grown up around Biscayne Bay, water skiing, SCUBA diving, sailing, and enjoying lengthy Spring Cruises around the eastern Caribbean on her parent’s antique 50 foot wooden Hatteras yacht, the Sailor’s Hat. Anni’s parents owned and operated a large building materials yard in Miami, which meant Anni had grown up steeped in supporting architects and builders of virtually anything, from cabinets to government office complexes. This, combined with a natural affinity for fixing things and handling tools, would come in handy for managing a rural homestead!
I too had been raised on the east coast of the state, rambling in the woods bordering the Indian River, hanging out at the pier on Cocoa Beach with the surfers, fishing in the bays and estuaries, and riding horses out in West Cocoa. An athlete and outdoors brat from the get-go, I was more comfortable in the woods than in any city or town, and to me being on the water, climbing trees and riding a horse for miles out in the scrub were nirvana.
I grew up swimming in old limestone pits and rivers teeming with alligators, catching (harmless) snakes, “tailing” armadillos, shooing possums, building tree forts, firing small arms and being stung and bit repeatedly by wasps, hornets, yellow-jackets, fire ants, bees, scorpions and of course the ever-present mosquitoes. I would say I was tough, tanned and fairly fearless, while learning to respect the dangers that Florida’s swamps, wetlands, woods and waterways could dish up.
Ocala had been my home for some years following my parent’s divorce. After high school and a stint in the U.S. Army, I moved to Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to attend art school. After graduating, I landed a full-time freelance gig at the same audio-visual company in Coral Gables where Anni was Senior Producer. We’d been working there for a year or so when a recession hit, which spelled “laid off” for freelancers like Anni and myself.
We were dismayed by the singular lack of opportunity Miami’s squeezed economy offered. After Anni was laid off, we went from bitch sessions to seriously planning how we might shoestring a small corporate communications business in Ocala, a rapidly growing community with low crime, where I had family and connections and where we might parlay our skills as graphic designers/photographers, writers and producers into a profit.
A lot of logistical planning went into moving up-state, securing an office space in the downtown Historic District, renting a house in town, and buying and setting up all the equipment we would need for our boutique business. We also needed to quickly market the business, join the important business organizations and network like mad to secure paying clients!
It was almost the first year anniversary of our business when we got the call from our friend K, which led us to the magical experience of living in an old log cabin, in the Ocala National Forest, on the shores of beautiful Lake George.