"Nokomis” is the Ojibwe word for “grandmother” and also the name of the grandmother character in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, but in these parts it’s a smallish town along the west coast whose exit off I-75 you’ve probably passed a thousand times. I certainly have. Each time I drive by the green interstate sign for Nokomis, I think that someday I’ll explore the town. So when a friend from yoga class told me about the drum circle held on Nokomis Beach every Wednesday and Saturday, I decided that moment had arrived.
“What exactly is a drum circle?” I asked her as we rolled up our mats at the end of class.
“It’s what hippies do for fun,” she said, lumping herself into that category. “Just wear something flowy and you’ll be fine.”
But when I called up another decidedly less hippie-like friend to invite him to go to Nokomis with me, he was hesitant.
“Do we need a drum?” he asked.
“No?” I said, trying to sound more confident than I felt. “Anyway, just wear something flowy and you’ll be fine.”
In the end we both wore jeans and sweatshirts, because, well, neither of us is what I’d consider the typical drum circle type. By the time we pulled into the parking lot at Nokomis Beach, the sun was a half-hour from setting and already the drums had gathered. My friend pulled a beach towel from the trunk of his car and headed us for a spot at the very edge of the circle.
“You don’t want to sit up front?” I asked.
He shook his head uncertainly. “I’m not sure we really belong.”
As we settled in to watch, I saw what he meant. The hippies my yoga friend had referred to were indeed there, tapping out beats on their bongos or dancing barefoot in the sand, looking as if they’d just rolled off the Grateful Dead tour. Many were dressed in loose pants and tie-dye, and the women wore silver bells around their ankles that jangled as they moved. Someone had lit sticks of incense, and the smell of patchouli wafted over the beach. One of the drummers, I noticed, had on a cartoon version of a wolf skin headdress.
“Do you think he’s being ironic?” I asked my friend.
“There’s not a drop of irony here,” my friend replied.
He was right. Everyone seemed to be taking his or her job very seriously. The drummers tapped out a beat with serious focus. The dancers stamped and twirled with serious energy. And the onlookers clapped and swayed with serious participation. Still, it wasn’t quite the hippie enclave I’d anticipated. The crowd was, in truth, mixed. There were conservative types, too, in slacks and windbreakers, also pounding away with focus. One couple—older, dressed as if they’d just come from the country club—moved tentatively to the edge of the circle and began to shimmy with the beat. They had good rhythm, and the other dancers made way for them, smiling, folding them into the circle. To my surprise, my own shoulders began to twitch and I found myself smiling, clapping and leaning forward. You might be tempted to think—as I did—that a drum circle is no place for squares. (Translated: It’s no place for me.) Yet the crowd at Nokomis Beach represented every layer of Gulfshore society, all blended neatly together.
It would be easy to dismiss Nokomis as just another town around here and not worth a visit. But that would be a mistake. The Nokomis Beach drum circle is worth driving for, not just to witness the spectacle (although it’s something to see) but for the sense of community that it creates. The best parts of Southwest Florida—the sea, the setting sun, the wide stretch of beach—can work magic in bringing people together. All it takes are a few drums.
IF YOU GO
The Nokomis Beach drum circle is held twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting about an hour before sunset. There’s free parking at the foot of the Albee Road bridge, but not a lot of it. You’ll want to come early to find a spot. Flowy attire is not required to participate in the drum circle, nor is a drum. Instead, bring an open mind and a willingness to connect. It’s hard not to be moved, both bodily and spiritually.
Before you make the drive home, you’ll want to stop for dinner. Cafe Evergreen is an excellent choice. This Nokomis healthy eating spot emphasizes organic and local ingredients, and it feels just right after the drum circle vibe. Don’t miss the homemade water kefir concoctions, including a nonalcoholic mojito that’s both delicious and good for you. 801 Tamiami Trail S., (941) 412-4334