A strange reflection. Too much of the Brothers Grimm in my childhood? I don’t know. In any event:

There was something about Ave Maria that I really liked the first few times I visited the place, starting three years ago. In many ways, Ave is still a work in progress. It’s a little enclave amidst the wilderness of Southwest Florida. Ninety minutes from Miami, almost an hour from Naples and Fort Myers, its early neighbors were the people of Immokalee in the farmers markets and casinos. Other than that, just the local bear and panther population.

Visiting Ave felt, I think now, something like I imagine some Austrian or Swiss castle three centuries ago. You arrive after a great distance at the edge of a settlement, a sleepy little village. Making your way past the mostly quiet and dimly lit alleys of the village proper, you navigate the narrow path to the castle grounds on the center hill.

Within, you find great company. Faces you’ll come to know and love over a night together, rocked by the storm that began raging outside the walls. It’s a castle with a thousand rooms and one, yet it feels small and accessible in its own way. You feel comfortable with it, with its unknowns. There are some rooms and spaces you don’t enter. The time you share with your new companions will be yours forever; the candor and camaraderie of strangers creating friendships that will endure, even if you’ll never see each other again.

You leave this place the next morning, making your way delicately past the still slumbering village and back onto whatever path it was that led you there. In time you wonder whether any of it ever really happened, and whether that place existed. Maybe it was an enchanted place.

Enchantment’s distinctive allure. Ave has some of that allure for me.