Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Still haven't found what I'm looking for

Spring Break meets the Tao of Poo.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Thursday afternoon, I jogged through the shoreline sand to catch up with two college students who had walked ahead while I shot video of them. They were in flip-flops, board shorts, T-shirts and sunglasses. I was inappropriately clothed for the beach, and my dress shoes weren’t helping me get traction in the sand.

The bright red shirt and black slacks earned me some dubious glances from the sunbathers. So did, I’m sure, the sight of a gray-bearded guy with a funny hat shooting video in the middle of Spring Break.

My companions for the afternoon were students from the Campus Crusade for Christ, who were strolling on the beach in hopes of sensing a person in the crowd who might be open to having a spiritual conversation. “Divine appointments,” they call them.

I’d been having these sorts of conversations on a daily basis lately, as one story has led me to the next. A talk about paddle boarding directs me to a local surfer/pastor/comic book artist, which leads me to the Christian Surfers Association. A story about free pancakes for spring breakers provided by a Christian group is across the street from the annual Campus Crusade rally, where the students gently turn the questions on me.

“Do you mind me asking …” the question begins. It’s how I have started any number of interviews, and the young woman asking me uses the technique well. No, I don’t mind you asking. I will do my best to answer.

Even a visit to Zen Garden Market turns into a talk about the healthy body/mind/spirit connection. A belly dance teacher stops short of bringing enlightenment into the equation, but it hangs unspoken in the air. Later, I stop in at a Goodwill store and walk out with a book called “Zen Environment.” Maybe I’m just impressionable.

Someone early in the week said I was soon going to be pegged as that guy who only writes about Christians. I thought that was funny because a friend still kids me about all the wiccans, pagans, palm readers, numerologists and Goths I wrote about back in the day.

“Found any witches to report on lately?” he says.

No, but I’m looking. If I find them among my divine appointments, I hope they don’t mind me asking.


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Springtime adventure: 'Find the cool'

PANAMA CITY BEACH — I realized what I had been missing this week.
It wasn’t Friday morning, as I kneeled in the sand and watched surfers catching waves near the jetties at St. Andrews State Park, although that was part of it. The sun was warm, the wind fresh and crisp. The laughter and good spirit among the surfers was a tonic for the soul.

And it wasn’t Thursday evening as I shot video of women in a belly dance class at the City Arts Cooperative in downtown Panama City, although that was part of it too. The women were, without fail, gracious and tolerant of the stranger in their midst. As they practiced footwork and veil choreography, they showed a sisterly bond with one another that made mistakes a welcome part of the learning experience.

It wasn’t even when I toured the Zen Garden, admiring the blooming desert roses and the tiny goldfish schooling in a lotus pond, though that was definitely part of it as well. The sea breeze in the trees, the trickle of water down a manmade waterfall, the soft conversations floating through the hallways all combined for a peaceful state of mind.

What I had been missing, and what I recognized this week, came upon the spur of a moment when I decided to try something outside my experience. Not a big thing, just a small thing. A token that illustrated for me how insular my world had become in recent years.

I asked for, and drank, a shot glass filled with the pulpy green squeezings of wheatgrass.

Right? Not a life-changing trauma. Not an earth-shattering revelation. Just a tiny swig or two of springtime condensed into a thick, vibrantly green liquid. Sweet and charged with life.

Work has kept me indoors in recent years. Changes have thrust me back into the sunshine. (A coworker joked that he couldn’t imagine seeing me with a tan. It could happen.) And I have a directive to seek out the places, people and events of local interest. “Find the cool,” I was told.

I invite you to come with me. Suggest some subjects. Discover what we’ve been missing. You’ll find our videos, stories and photos at in the “Get Local” and “Outdoors” pages, and presented in print.

It’s springtime, the world is waking up. Let’s see what it has for us.


This was my Undercurrents column for the News Herald on Sunday, March 6.


Work responsibilities have changed again, and I'm doing more writing/videography. Here are a few of the things occupying my time in recent weeks:

Group offers free 'life changing' pancakes for Spring Breakers

Finns Island Style Grub: fresh, homemade and consistent

Mr. Surf's offers free skateboard street course Fridays

From earth to spirit: Zen Garden feeds body and soul

Drawing on faith: Local pastor, artist, surfer remains a seeker

Independent spirit: New theatre brings indie films to light

Early catch: First cobia of season reeled in a pier

Paddle board basics: A surf sport for all ages

Which just goes to show, I suppose, that the more things change, the more they stay the same.