Saturday morning I woke up and to my surprise it was freezing! To everyone else not so much, but to a Florida girl like me it was was! I got out of bed, put on a couple layers of clothes, and the jackets I had with me and walked over to the common area of the Hostel. They already had a fire going, and the kitchen was busy with fellow hostelers making breakfast and pouring freshly brewed coffee. I made myself some oatmeal and a cup of black coffee and took it to a seat around the fire where there were a few others sitting around and talking. Being as cold as I was I pretty much stayed in this general vicinity and socialized all morning. Throughout the later morning i said good byes to some of the people I had met before, and around 1 pm we had tea time with Tom.
Tom Dennard is the founder of the hostel and was such an incredible, and inspiring man. I was so blessed to have been able to spend this time with him. Tom came and gathered anyone who wanted to join him for a tour of the hostel and tea time in his tree house. He sat down on the ground with all of us sitting in a circle as he told us the history of the hostel and how it started.
Tom fell in love with hostels while backpacking in Europe after college, and decided to do whatever it took to build one of his own. Through many obstacles and hardships during the construction and beginning years of the hostel he stayed true to himself and his dream of the hostel. Now the hostel has been in commission for 40 years, and was the first hostel on the east coast anywhere south of Washington D.C. His hopes for the hostel were never in making any money, he has worked a regular job all these years to provide for himself and his family, and to this day the hostel brings in only enough to sustain itself. He wanted the hostel to be a refuge for travelers from around the world to stay, make new friends, and sleep with a roof over their head. Environmental conservation is a major priority to him, and he does whatever he can to keep the forest as clean, natural, and undisturbed as he can. They use a grey water system, composting toilets, nothing is thrown away there, any trash brought in by guests must also be brought with them when they leave, and they are working on solar powered electricity.
Tom took us on a tour through the trails on the property while telling us stories about all the people that helped him start the hostel and make it what it is today and he educated us about a lot of the plants around the property and their significance in nature. The walk ended at Tom's tree house where he had us take off our shoes and step inside. It was a beautiful room with windows for walls, a low coffee table, a couch, and a desk where he writes. We each grabbed a cushion and sat around the table with a few people on the couch and he served us peppermint tea. He was such a sweet, smart, and humble man filled with so much joy and knowledge he wanted to share with everyone he came into contact with. He had each person in the room say something to benefit the rest of the group, and had something insightful to say between each person. I really enjoyed the concept of only speaking if what you are going to say will uplift or benefit the people you are talking to. So often I think people speak for such selfish reasons. Whether it is to complain, to vent, get something off your chest, or for the attention or for the sake of making yourself look good. I realized that a lot of the time we open our mouths it is only to benefit ourselves. Having done this with Tom and the group made me want to do it every day, around anyone. It is a great habit to get into. I cant say that I have been successful all the time, but I am working on it.
After tea we went outside and put our shoes back on and huddled up as Tom gave us a few last words, and made us hug every person in the group before anyone could leave. It was a very positive and uplifting experience. I only got to spend a couple of hours with Tom, but I will never forget the impact that his love and joy made on me.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty low key. Guests from the previous night were leaving and new ones were coming in. I did some reading in the library and some exploring in the forest. That evening we gathered in the dining room for dinner again, there were new faces and familiar faces and we went through the same routine as the night before. The new group was very different from the previous one. The night before the group was louder, more enthusiastic, all playing games and getting to know everyone and the group the second night was a little more low key, still friendly, and people were talking and getting to know eachother, but in a different way. We gathered around the fire again, but this time in a much smaller group. There was a couple that came from Gainesville whose names were Carey and Casey and they were really cool, Carey had been to the hostel quite a few times, and it was Casey's first time, they were very nice and a lot of fun to be around.
Later that night some of the friends I had from the first day left the fire to go out to the floating dock on the lake. After we had realized how long they had been gone the rest of us went to see what they were doing and they were all still on the dock having an awesome time so we decided to make it a party! They brought the canoes out to get us, 2 additional people per canoe at a time, until we were all at the dock. They pulled up in the canoe and would announce, "You're canuber has arrived!" and eventually there were about 10 of us on the floating dock! Everyone out there were people from the previous night with the exception of Carey and Casey. Somebody dropped a waterproof keychain light into the net in the water in the middle of the dock and we watched the glow and tried to see all the fish that swam above it through all our talking and laughing, and one of the guys, Nunzio (nickname), lit incense that we stuck in the pots that had plants in them on all the corners of the hexagon shaped dock. There was talk of a potential canoe race that got pretty heated, but ended up not actually happening. Eventually we were all exhausted and decided to head back to our respective tree houses and other designated sleeping areas.
I am glad I was there for both days and nights. They were both so different and so wonderful, they really made it such a great experience for me. So many different types of people I got to meet and the time to relax and spend a few days in the woods was so refreshing. The hostel really made me want to be more conscientious of the way I live and the way I view other people. I need to keep in mind that simple is best a lot of the time, and try to focus more on what I need and less of what I want. It reminded me how much I love nature and being outdoors, and it opened my eyes a little bit more to the importance of conserving it. I met so many people with so many different stories, all with such different lives, it reminded me not to judge people because we are all human beings, we are all experiencing different things, and to try to uplift and love eachother because you never know who needs it and how much it can affect someone.