Earlier this month I spent a week with other gay men who Asheville-area denizen Chase Robinson invites each May to split the rent of a beach house on Florida’s St. George Island. The house we rented is called “Abajem.”
[For a slide show of this fabulous beach house, click on this link.]
I did the same thing last May. Again this year, approximately half of the dozen lucky vacationers at Abajem hale from Atlanta, and the other half live in North Carolina, mostly in or near Asheville. Almost all of us are connected with a 25-year -old organization called Gay Spirit Visions.
Photos of this year’s bevy of beachcombing boys:
Some group photos:
[Some of the photos in this blogpost are ones I took, some of them are Randall’s, some of them are Wayne’s, and some of them – including the stunner at the top of the blogpost – are Neil’s.]
Some similarities of the 2015 trip to Abajem to the 2014 trip:
- As we did last year as soon as we arrived, some of us immediately rearranged the furniture to make room for an altar, and gradually adorned the common rooms of the house with bits and bobs of faerie festoonery:
- Again this year, fellow-renter Randall and I – with others joining us at times – got up early each day to catch a week’s worth of sunrises, each of them suitably breathtaking:
(Trotting down our boardwalk to the beach with my morning cup of tea was especially exciting for me as my beloved tree-canopied Atlanta neighborhood permanently obscures the rising sun, regardless of the fact that most days I’m out of bed before the sun appears.)
A few more sunrise photos (all of these taken by Wayne):
- The sunrise-welcoming sessions were followed on several days by long walks and talks with Randall. These daily hikes afforded not only some badly needed exercise, but were convenient opportunities for us to discuss our reactions to how we each felt the week was going, and for yammering about various and sundry topics of mutual personal concerns (relationships, careers, spiritual interests, etc.).
- Most of us gathered each morning at the same time for a 24-minute collective silent meditation. (Why 24 minutes? Because that’s 1/60th of a day, a fact mentioned at our first meditation session by Tom, who among other things happens to be a practicing Buddhist – and who, I was thrilled to learn, owns a cabin less than 30 miles from the cabin I co-own with some friends in North Georgia.)
- Lunch was a daily fend-for-yourself affair, some of us going into Apalachicola for restaurant food on some days, other days many of us opting for making sandwiches with the plentiful ingredients John thoughtfully brought with him from Asheville.
- Dinner most evenings was prepared and served by a different two-man team:
These dinners were amazingly tasty and served on a table festooned differently every evening – usually with objects found (mostly by Bradley, as I recall) in or around the house:
Of course, every meal served included dessert. Here’s Andrew, bearing one of those desserts towards the eagerly-awaiting diners:
On one of our final nights together, a non-cooking-inclined co-conspirator treated everyone to a glorious meal at a fancy restaurant in Appalach:
- One of the best things about the week was the glorious lack (apart from the communal dinners and the optional morning meditation sessions) of any sort of official schedule. This provided ample opportunity throughout the week to hang out in or near the waves – or to take as many naps as one felt like taking. Throughout the week various individuals proposed and/or announced and coordinated a variety of ad hoc group activities. These ranged from riding bikes to playing tennis to paddling around in the ocean in rented kayaks to kite flying to foot massages to playing cards to watching movies.
At one point we all convened at the swimming pool to fool around with remote-control model battleships:
Then there was a brief re-enactment of a famous scene from an Alfred Hitchcock movie:
(And of course, some of what happened in Abajem will stay in Abajem….)
- As we did last year, Randall and I were able briefly visit with our friends Royce and Martha, who have lived on St. George for 30 years and who went with Randall and me and several others to France last October.
Differences this year from last year’s experience:
- A slightly different cast o’ characters converges on Abajem each year. Seven of us (Cal, Chase, Frank, John, Ralph, Randall, and Roger) were also there in 2014; we were joined this year by one returnee (Tom) from previous visits; and by four “island virgins” (Andrew, Bradford, Neil, and Wayne). I really enjoyed getting to know the new folks, but of course I also missed hanging out at the beach again with the four 2014 Abajem MIAs (Craig, Jim, Kevin, and Greg).
- This year I drove down to (and back from) St. George with Randall instead of carpooling with Roger, Frank, and Randall, as I did in 2014. This year I also roomed with Randall; last year I roomed with Ralph.
- This year our host and sometime Master of Ceremonies Chase did not spend considerable time and effort constructing for the group a gigantic labyrinth on the beach. (The grooves in the sand that are a part of the labyrinth apparently interfere with the turtle egg-laying season that begins each May.) So I was glad that I had the chance, last year, of walking Chase’s beach labyrinth the final year he constructed one.
- Jim’s aforementioned absence this year left the group without a seasoned crochet teacher, although John, who Jim taught to crochet last year at Abajem, impressively carried on the scarf-making tradition throughout the week this year without Jim’s assistance, and I remember seeing Bradford crocheting as well. (I still have the pathetic object I crocheted at Abajem last year. I’m not sure what, exactly, it is (a hat? a bowl?), but I’m inordinately proud of the dang thing and it’s on display in my study as the official souvenir of my first Abajem experience. It’s now perched atop the book that Randall gifted each of us (a novel set in the Appalachicola area), and next to one the dozen paper cranes Andrew made this year:
- There seemed to be less frequenting of Abajem’s hot tub this year compared to last – although maybe that’s merely the impression I got because I never went down there this year to get in it, as I did a few times last year.
- Afternoon tea was served on three of our days on the island this year. This was one of my own contributions to the general bonhomie, and the three teas did seem to go over pretty well. Luckily, I enjoyed the able assistance of Andrew and Bradford in assembling the three sets of tea table comestibles. (After I’d gratifyingly introduced the assembled tea-drinkers to my favorite brew (Typhoo) at the first of the three teas, we then switched to an equally sublime jasmine tea that Andrew had brought with him to the island.) Understand that these three afternoon affairs were not quite “High” teas, but sort of “Medium Teas” instead. Whatever they were, they were fun to do, and the team efforts resulted in a variety of sweets and savories for each afternoon’s tea table.
- “Wizards,” a card game whose deck includes Wizards and Jesters, seems to be the official board game of this particular gaggle of people. Several games of Wizard were played at Abajem this year, and I played every hand, but for some reason we played fewer games this year than last.
- There was more video watching this year than last. Not only did some of us watch a movie almost every night (Moonrise Kingdom, 9 to 5, Sordid Lives), but many of us watched several really fascinating segments of a video presentation about the Enneagram.
- As I did last year, I took with me to tide me over during the non-socializing parts of the vacation a carefully-selected half-dozen books. But this year I actually got around to opening one of those books and reading a few chapters. Since it proved to be an excellent book (a biography of Montaigne, one of my philosopher heroes), I was both happy with my book-reading choice and also pleased that the little reading I got around to doing didn’t strike me as frustratingly infrequent. (I’m accustomed to a heavy daily dose of book reading.)
- This year, almost as an afterthought, I packed with my luggage one of my calligraphy pens, thinking I might spend a few non-socializing interludes practicing this hobby of mine (instead of reading). Instead, I used the pen to make some quickie place cards for our first collective home-made dinner (which, as we did last year, Ralph and I prepared for our small army of eaters). Later on in the week, Bradford produced some pieces of bark he’d collected for the tablescape he was planning for that evening, and I ended up “calligraphying” on those as well.
My comparison of this year’s experience at Abajem to last year’s – or, for that matter, anything else I might write about them – fails to capture the magic of the experience of hanging out for an entire week with these good-hearted, good-natured, sensitive, intelligent, creative, witty, and affectionate gay men. Certainly the fondness I felt for each of them individually and collectively was strong and continuous. I can also report that, in addition to my relishing the “tub o’ love” factor operating throughout the week in our little corner of paradise, I derinitely laughed out loud more often during this single week in May than I have since the last time I spent a week at Abajem.
Add to the effortless, harmonious camaraderie and to deliciously huge chunks of pure relaxation an entire week’s worth of perfect weather – not to mention the the fact that – despite where I choose to live: the only land-locked large city in the entire United States – I got to be around, for an entire week, a great expanse of sky and water, and you’ve got a recipe for a perfect vacation.
Which, for me, it certainly was. Thanks, guys!