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I am somewhere between deep asleep, and barely awake. Nestled into impossibly soft sheets, thoughts thick, I vaguely register that I’m not at home. Oh, right….I remember, smug. I am on a tiny, selfish 2 day vacay. Wait, what woke me? What time is it?

“Caw!!! Caw cawwww!” My eyes snap open, but I soften with whimsy. I am staring up at the most beautiful crystal chandelier suspended from an ornately patterned soft blue and white ceiling. “Caw!” I stiffen at the sound.

I try and ignore the crow greeting the morning and snuggle back into my cloud. I almost drift back to sleep when it starts again, there’s two now cackling back and forth. I hunker down. Damn it, it’s barely daylight, yet there is no ignoring the crescendo of wildlife now in full morning song. Time passes strangely, “How long have I been awake?” I whisper, suddenly irate. Desperately, I rip the sheets to the left and stumble to the gorgeous French doors leading to my own private deck. Flinging them open I screech, “Really!?”

Five. There are five little bird heads that turn to look at me with mild amusement. Feathers unruffled, not one of them moves.  We stare at each other for a few tics. I am one with nature… The awkward one who wandered into the wrong circle and is now getting death stares from beady little eyes. I need to assert myself otherwise they just might attack, I think, sleepy and delusional. I’m the human here. I get close enough to grab them and start batting my arms. “Shoo!” I plead. “I wanna sleeeeep!”

They take flight like lazy fat black flies at a Midwestern picnic, just barely.   Scattering at five different points amongst the rooftop and trees, one continues to give me a piece of his mind. Not entirely confident he won’t come back and peck my eyes out, I steal back into my room to sink back into sleep.
“Never more,” I say softly.

When I wake again, it’s from a blissfully deep sleep. I don’t know or care what time it is, and I know exactly what roused me. Strains of Beethoven are floating up through the floorboards. I cocoon into a light sweater and tiptoe downstairs.

The house is massive, every detail charming. Room after room exquisite and completely unique. Fresh flowers, deer hide pillows, paintings wallpapering walls, antiques and kitsch intermingled amongst endless nooks, inviting you to gather or relax on a whim.  Every single inch is elegant and well cared for, the place radiates welcome. It feels like home. I notice there is no latch on the wooden screen door I press open, heading down to the boat house. But then, why would there be?

I walk barefoot, warm thick grass under my feet. Flies dive bomb, zinging by with a tiny shrill song. Birds twitter and flit, fat bumblebees hum, and I’m breathing fresh air like I can taste it. Everything is shaded under a canopy of massive trees hung with thick spanish moss. Slats of sunshine flicker through branches as a breeze breaks. Peaceful, I think I may never leave here. Suspended up high on the deck scouting for gators in the pond below, I notice an ant not noticing me, abruptly marching across the wood with purpose. It motivates me to get moving myself. We’re going horseback riding.

I feel like I am 10 years old again, riding in a golf cart down sandy dirt roads to the pasture. Two smiling dogs are running behind us, tongues flapping. “They prefer to run,”  my friend laughs with a shrug. We pull up to the picturesque stable and out trots a little black orphaned calf hungry for food and attention. We coo and squeal, petting her velvet nose and knuckling her between her floppy donkey ears. The old sweetheart of a ranch hand walks up and hands me her bottle with a toothless grin. She sucks it down like a frat boy bonging beer and I laugh. I’m in love.

Four chestnut horses are saddled up waiting for us. I claim mine and put the bridle on her myself, wrapping my arm over her ears to drop her head and guiding the bit in her mouth with my other hand. It’s probably been 17 years since I’d done that with my own pony in my own backyard. Everything is flooding back, the intermingled smell of horse, hay and leather grounding me to the present and resurrecting my past all at once.  I swing up onto the saddle with ease, feeling pretty bad ass. I’m glad I wore boots.

We saunter off to tour the ranch, the familiar sway of my horse lulling me into bliss as we venture off the path. It’s hard to tell if we’re getting a backstage pass or not. The trail comes and goes, the four of us ducking under low hanging branches, horses maneuvering around decaying logs. My chivalrous friend pulls a magnolia off of a tree and hands it to me smiling, answering my unasked question of what the intoxicating smell is hanging in the air. I pull up my horse to pause and pluck fat blackberries off a bush,  popping them in my mouth.

Does it get better than this? My mind wanders. Later I know there will be cold beer, food on the grill, everyone with nowhere to be gathered around the ten seater wood table in the kitchen, kicking back beers and taking turns on the soap box telling stories. I smile, totally marinating in my vacation.

The low sun is making everything glow golden, the day having crept by without anyone noticing. We round the corner and startle a herd of cattle. Thick grey Brahma bulls bully little black cows and calves across acres and acres of grass and palm trees, bellowing deep moos to each other back and forth.

Antsy, I know we’re close to finishing the ride, and I’m excited to go fast, like a little kid. The path widening in front of us, I trot up to get approval from the owner. He laughs and gives us the nod. Smiles wide, my friends and I urge our horses into a canter and tear across the field. The horses know exactly where they’re going. My riding skills rusty I try and sink my weight into the saddle and go. The rhythmic thump of hooves is exhilarating. This is freedom. Laughing, thrilled and alive; we ride back to towards the barn, right into the sunset.