Friday, August 8, 2008
To "dree your own weird" means to make your own way in the world, to create your own fate, or sort it out for yourself. As a phrase describing what we have to eventually let our children do, I like it.
We had dinner at the Dolphin Den, because it's locally famous and Hank wanted to see if it lived up to its reputation. We were early enough to beat the line, so we went on in. Even at 5:30, the place was lively. By the time we left, the line was out in the parking lot. I digress.
The seafood was really good, as was the cornbread. We had crab dip and potato skins as appetizers, and the potato skins were the ones made from real potatoes and other stuff on-site, not frozen. The only disappointing thing was Sarah's lasagna, and she said it was what she deserved for ordering lasagna at a seafood restaurant. I shared my scallops with her, and Hank shared his seafood casserole, so it worked out okay. Trey had softshell crabs which he loved. I appreciate adventurousness in an eater.
My only issue with the Dolphin Den is the dumb name. Dolphins do not have dens or anything resembling them. Dolphins just swim around and eat fish wherever they happen to be. Porpoises without purposes, as it were. Dolphin'Den indeed! It made me think of someone's basement recreation room with a large, stuffed fish over the mantle. (Obviously a large, stuffed seagoing mammal would be in bad taste.)
After dinner, the kids went down to Buxton to play putt-putt, and Hank and I stocked up on Dews and Pop Tarts. A citronella candle kept the mosquitoes at bay on the back deck, and we watched night settle over the sound. Do we really have to go back on Saturday?
Thursday, August 7, 2008
That done, I went to the Top Dog Café for lunch, taking along my current book. Top Dog is very beach – weathered wood and no air conditioning. I sat in front of a fan and drank diet Coke, reading Alberto Manguel on the subject of libraries. Dining alone also gave me the opportunity to watch families at other tables. Mom at table next to me: “I started to read a book once, but I lost it.” Dad: “Yeah, and now we have two copies, because you bought another one.” “Does it count as two if we can’t find one?”
Next on my agenda was the Big Wave Grocery, just to see what it’s like. The one thing you can’t do in Rodanthe is buy a week’s groceries. Staying here means that you either 1.) bring the groceries with you (requires a big cooler and a fast trip), 2.) stop in Nags Head and buy them on the way down (requires a big cooler or the confidence that your house will be ready for you), or 3.) drive down to Food Lion in Avon after you settle in. Mac & Maggies, known to us as the Texaco station (because that’s what it was, eight years ago), has some stuff for emergencies – milk, bread, Mountain Dew – but you couldn’t live for a week on Mac & Maggies unless you like bologna and Rainbow white bread.
Big Waves is not comprehensive either, but it's higher-rent non-comprehensive. They have Boar's Head meats, for example. They also have a huge range of micro-brewry beers, some wines, and many shelves of interesting salsas, sauces, etc. Since I am the Queen of Condiments, I was enchanted. But groceries of the weeklong variety are still an issue. Tonight somebody's going to have to go to Avon or we're gonna be eating bologna for breakfast. It's better than Spam, I guess.
My final stop was the bead gallery Hank and I found on Sunday. I wanted to make a beach watchband, plus I'd seen some cool beads I'd like to take home and play with. The shop was jumping, although I soon came to realize that most of the activity centered around the bravest father I have ever seen. He was sitting at the beading table directing the activities of four little girls who looked to be about eight. One was his daughter, and the other three were her friends. All of them were making bracelets for their mothers, which was sweet.
Trouble is, none of them had a clue about the length of the average bracelet, or perhaps the arm size of the average mother. I suppose they could all have had King Kong-sized mothers, but it would be odd that ALL of them have large moms. The bead shop employee helping them had to continually shorten the bead strings, to the girls' collective dismay. One child had about 14 inches of beads that she liked and was loath to part with any of them. The dad and the bead shop person should get medals for tact and discretion. I bet, even as I type this, that they're still working down there.
He and Alex met because both of them work for the Newport News Pilots baseball team in the summers. They're both huge baseball fans (don't talk nasty about the Yankees to Alex), and both have sports management degrees that they're actually using in baseball. Alex will move to Richmond this fall to work for the Diamondbacks. Anyway, on Monday night, the Pilots had a little ceremony during the 7th inning stretch, to honor Alex and Mitchell and all their hard work for the past three years. They had them come out to the pitcher's mound, and the manager made a little speech about them and said he'd made a slide show of their tenure with the team.
The slide show was one slide, and it was "Will You Marry Me?" on a poster. Alex gasped and turned around to find Mitchell on his knees, holding a baseball he had cut in half, with an engagement ring nestled inside. The whole team applauded, then made an arch of baseball bats for them to walk under back to the stands. How sweet is that?
*Little Alex was Sarah and Suz's suitemate their sophomore year, then housemate for the last two years. She's "Little Alex," because Jeff's housemate is "Big Alex." He's not all that big, but Little Alex is five feet tall, and that's with heels on.
We're having a better day, I think, but the central issue is problems between Suzanne and Trey, and there aren't enough people here to diffuse the tension. Sigh. Chip and Hank have gone up to Pea Island for a while. Sarah, Suz, and Trey are on the local beach. I'm getting ready to run some errands. People have to dree their own weirds sometimes, even if it's not comfortable or convienient for everybody else.
Last night, after a "family discussion" that helped clear the air some, we had our annual shrimp boil. Sarah went to the fishmarket for the shrimp, and got steamed herself, because the guy in front of her in line pretty much bought a dozen of everything. She had to wait while the fishmonger bagged up shrimp, scallops, crab, softshell crab, clams, and tuna steaks for one person, who insisted on inspecting everything. When her turn came, she bought a couple pounds of shrimp, had them bagged up, and was out of there in jig time.
Which is why she didn't notice that one of the shrimp still had its head on. I didn't notice this either, insofar as I just opened the bag and dropped all of them into boiling beer and Old Bay. Sarah found the shrimp with a head as we were eating dinner, and she proceeded to terrorize Suz with it. At one point, she was making it talk, waggling its antennae like a puppet. Then she ate it. Afterward, Chip had to stop her from digging the shrimp head out of the bucket of peels and putting it in Suz's toothbrush cup, antennae and eyeballs peering out. I admit, it would have been funny, but we have to draw the line somewhere.
While Trey and I watched Mythbusters -- and, to be honest, several other things -- Chip, Hank, Sarah and Suzanne played Surfopoly. I went to bed after eleven and they were still at it. Hank said this morning that he finally won because everyone else gave up and went to bed. That's why I hate Monopoly and all of its spinoffs. Rumor has it that someone finished a game once, but no proof exists, since everybody involved died of boredom. Kathy and I used to play with our cousins, Will and Rob, and those games only lasted until somebody clobbered somebody else and our parents separated us. The only thing that makes it bearable in even a small measure is watching Suzanne find inventive ways to cheat. (Last night, she was sneaking property out of the "unsold" pile when no one was looking. Sarah caught her and made her turn in property she actually owned, which created a little lesson in justice and risk.)
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Sarah and Suzanne, though, played in the ocean the entire day. They stayed after the rest of us gave it up, only coming in when they were completely exhausted. Now we're all mellow and baked, in better humors, debating cooking shrimp or going out again. A little Tylenol helps, too.
Here's the third controversial thing: what made the beach bearable today was that we moved off of the surfing beach, which is up inside Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, and down to the beach near the houses. It was more crowded down there, but had the advantage of fewer flies. The reason for the fewer flies is that Rodanthe/Waves/Salvo send trucks around every night with mosquito and fly mist. They do this from May to September, because if they didn't, the mosquitoes would carry everyone off, and the flies would eat the bits the mosquitoes didn't.
Normally, I hate things like this. I have always objected to the use of chemicals and the total-kill approach, on the grounds that we don't know what we're doing to the ecosystem or ourselves with all these poisons. BUT biting flies are a scourge on the earth, and I would cheerfully spray them with DDT, I think, if it would kill them all off. They're practically unkillable by normal means -- I knocked one senseless, crushed it with my fingers, and then buried it in the sand, only to see it come struggling out into the sunlight a couple of minutes later. Bring on the bug spray!
So, while Rodanthe has a go-cart track, it doesn't have much else, and that's what we love about it. We can drive two miles north and hike a quarter-mile over the dunes to the beach and not see another human all day. We realize this isn't everyone's cup of tea.
The second ballot in our packet was a much more urgent one about closing beach access to vehicles. One of the things people can still do here, if they have four-wheel-drive and nerves of steel, is drive on the beach. The feds, however, have really restricted access in 2008, because of the turtle nesting areas, which have expanded, and the birds. Limiting the number of areas in which people can drive has the locals screaming, particularly since the feds are threatening to close the Hatteras beaches to ALL vehicular access.
We are the wrong people to ask about driving rights, because we have never driven on the beach. Towing is expensive, and we don't know what we're doing. The latter will, in 90 percent of the cases, lead to the former. Fishermen, though, like to drive up to their spot. Carrying water and a chair across the dunes is not a problem. Carrying four ocean-worthy fishing poles, a cooler, chairs, and a tackle box, takes a lot more effort. So we see their point.
But the turtles and the birds matter to us more than people lumbering along the tide line in Ford Expeditions. Besides, the Oregon Inlet fishing area will stay open, as will the one south of Buxton. The survey asked if we'd still come to the beach if we couldn't drive on it, and I think about the turtle nests and the sweet little plovers, whose speckled eggs lie in the sand itself. Heck yeah, we'd still come.
In this process, the agent told us that the issue with property on our end of Rodanthe is that when NCDOT replaces the Bonner bridge, the new bridge will probably hit the island right about here. Instead of looking at the uninterrupted view of the sound, we'll be looking at U.S. 12.
It seems nuts, on the face of it, to build a 23-mile-long bridge, but the real trouble with U.S. 12 is not just the Bonner bridge. Oh, the bridge is bad -- it's got a horrible rating because it's old and decrepit, and the pilings contribute to the silting-up of Oregon Inlet. But the real trouble is overwash on the rest of the road. It costs NCDOT well over a million dollars every summer to keep the sand ploughed off of U.S. 12 between the bridge and Rodanthe. When you're driving up to Nags Head, you can see all the overwash places.
Overwash, of course, is what keeps the banks alive. It nourishes the sound, replenishes the beaches, and generally is a good thing. It also leaves several feet of sand in the road after every major storm. NCDOT wants to close U.S. 12 up in the national wildlife refuge and just maintain a long bridge. The locals, though, want access to all of the Pea Island beaches and fishing spots to stay open, and not just to people with four-wheel-drive vehicles. A lot of tourism depends on people having access to the remote beaches.
It's a tough call. I would hate to imagine that we're going to be looking at a long bridge in the sunset, but I would also hate to have New Inlet break open again and leave everybody stranded. I included the map, as a point of interest, so you can see just how huge the project is. The lines on the far left of the wetland designation are the proposed bridge lines. Hmmmmm.
The rental packet included an informal ballot to allow summer people to weigh in on the bridge's terminus. Two plans have already been rejected -- one that would just replace the current bridge and one that would come in at New Inlet. The first doesn't solve the overwash problem on U.S. 12, and the second is too disruptive to wildlife.
Plans three and four come in to Rodanthe -- one just above us at the end of the wildlife refuge (acceptable) and the other just below at the fishing channel (not). Apparently the time of decision is nigh, and people are getting restive.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
The interesting thing about the sunset tonight may not show up well in this photo. The sound and the sky were exactly the same color, so if you look at the right side of the picture, it's impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. It reminds me of one of the Mary Poppins stories, where Michael and Jane walk up into the sky because they can't tell where it starts.
Monday, August 4, 2008
The important thing to understand about the sound is that, although it is wide, it is not deep. Out in the fishing channel, it averages 15-20 feet, but as Paki demonstrated a couple of years ago, someone who doesn't mind being nibbled by fish can walk to the channel markers almost a mile out and not get in water above his or her chest. Oh, there are a couple of holes up in the national wildlife refuge (more about one of these later), and NCDOT (!) keeps the Chicamacomico channel open for the fishing boats into Rodanthe (15 feet deep, four feet wide. I am not kidding. Miss the channel and some shrimp boat is being pulled off backward by jet skis.)
Kayaking in the sound is like flying over an alien landscape. Shoals of little silver fish flash back and forth under the boat. We saw much bigger fish everywhere, eating the little ones. Several of these jumped out of the water quite close to us, and they were about 12-15 inches long, brown, kind of chunky-looking. Drum? Mullet? When I think of mullet, I think of fish with bad haircuts, something like a marine Lyle Lovett. I digress.
We paddled first out to a sunken barge, the relic of another NCDOT effort to create fish habitat in the sound. I dunno about fish habitat, but it certainly created crab habitat. Spider, blue, and wharf crabs swarm all over it. We took our dip net out, but to be honest, I do not want to deal with a crab, particularly an agressive blue one, in a dip net. Spider crabs, if you can get past their obviously arachnoid appearance, aren't so bad because they don't have big pincers. I tried dip-netting fish, with no success.
After thoroughly inspecting the barge and environs, we paddled up into the national wildlife refuge. Herons (green, great blue, night), egrets, cowbirds everywhere. I drifted out over one of the holes, watching a heron fishing along the wrack. A fish jumped beside me and I nearly went over. I paddled off the hole and away. It's not all that deep, maybe six or eight feet, and I can swim fine, but when you're used to water that's two feet deep, it seems like the abyss.
Back down the sound toward home, water chuckling under the bows. I can't think really, of anything more relaxing that paddling the sound, watching the fish, waiting for wonders. We found several right off our own beach. The first was a horseshoe crab, always a favorite, wending its prehistoric way across the eelgrass. This was small as horseshoe crabs go, about nine inches across. We grabbed him and carried him to our neighbors, to show the kids. (We asked their mom if it was okay, naturally. We remember how we accidentally scared Suzanne with a crab to the point that we spent months convincing her, every night, that they hadn't followed her to bed.) These kids squealed with delight as it made its lumbering way back through the water. Later, though, we heard the little one saying "I'm scared of the horseshoe crab!" Oh well.
Following that, I found a hermit crab scuttling along the bottom, and scooped him up for further investigations. When I lifted him out of the water, he drew back into his whorled shell, but the minute I immersed my hand, he came out, and then hung upside down under my fingers, filtering things, I guess. Hank was cleaning the eelgrass and cordgrass that had clogged our beach after the storm. I stood in the mid-calf-deep water just beyond, watching dozens of small fish school around me. Being nibbled by fish isn't one of my favorite things, but these were so small, and so wary. If I moved at all, they'd skitter away. Lots of things cast shadows on the water, and all of them are bad for you if you're three inches long. As we ate our breakfast on the deck this morning, we watched an egret catch and eat at least two, right where I was standing.
In his book River Horse, William Least Heat-Moon says, "Brevity does not make life meaningless, but forgetting does." This comes to mind as we watch the children next door splashing and laughing with each new discovery. It was just Saturday, wasn't it, when we paddled out to the barge with Chip perched on one end of the kayak and Gabe LeBlanc on the other, both with dip nets? Didn't the girls just come in from the beach with buckets of shells in chubby hands? Wasn't it this morning that they learned to catch the elusive ghost crabs, totally abandoned to the moment and as unselfconscious as plovers?
No, I don't forget. At the beach, time ceases to have any conventional meaning. I don't know what time it is right now (but I know that my blog posts read three hours off, for some reason.) In the larger sense, I don't know if it's "this" year, or some other year, eight of them now that we've been in Rodanthe. The sound roots me in the "now," along with the shining fish and the egrets and the crabs. My children have gone to the ocean beach, but I hear them laughing in the kids next door.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Lightning strikes on water are much worse news for human divers. High voltages and metal tanks full of pressurized oxygen . . . hmm. Not a good mix.
This morning, Hank and I decided that we'd go to church at Fair Haven United Methodist. This turned out to be a good move on a many levels -- it's a tiny church, very friendly, with a pastor who sleeps in a camper behind the church on weekends. The choir was six sopranos and a baritone who never moved his lips, but the service was wonderful. I've missed a lot of church lately, so it felt great to be there.
We couldn't help but notice, though, that everybody in the congregation, nearly, was a Midgett, a Gray, or an O'Neal. Sometimes they have names like Midgett O'Neal, or, alas, Gray Midgett. Apparently you have to be very careful who you marry around here, because all the locals are related on some level. Well, for years before the Herbert C. Bonner bridge connected Hatteras Island to the rest of the world, this was a tiny, tiny village. The nearest town of any size was Manteo, a 45 minute boat ride away on a good day. On a bad day, the boat didn't run at all. On a really terrible day, it ran one way and people got stuck in Manteo overnight.
Rodanthe is bigger now, of course, but it's maxed out at small, instead of tiny. A perched water table kind of limits how big one can get.
After church, we stopped at the coffee shop, which also sells beads (how perfect is that?) Before ten thirty we'd had church and a chai latte.
Today was a great beach day -- warm but not hot, and the waves were just the way I like them -- flat. Even I went playing in the ocean. The surfer girls were a bit disappointed, but the truth is, they love the ocean so much, it doesn't matter what they do there. They may be almost 22, but they play the same way they always have. Hank went up to Pea Island to see several of his friends who summer here, and came back to report a pod of about 20 dolphins that rollicked in the surf for everyone's amusement.
Hank and I spent the later part of the afternoon sitting in chairs just above the tide line, watching plovers hunt for coquina clams and mole crabs in the surf. Plovers are such endearing little birds -- they chase the waves down the beach, running like crazy, and then stab their heads into the sand up to their eyeballs. They never manage to get bowled over by the waves, either. Watching them is a kind of hypnosis. We came back to the house with the clamor in our brains significantly reduced.
It's been a bird-intensive day. This evening we watched herons and egrets stalking dinner in the sound. The water was so still, the birds looked like they were standing on a mirror. Hard to believe the difference between today and yesterday.
Sarah and Jeff made chicken fritters and stacked tomato salad for dinner, with asparagus on the side. It was fabulous. We had invited John, and when he came, he brought his "show and tell" piece -- a bronze sculpture of an acrobat. He also had part of the clay model for the sculpture and a wax cast of the piece he's currently working on, so we all got a hands-on lesson in lost-wax sculpture. Much laughter and a long dinner watching the sun set.
I've also been instructed to say that we had a red-letter occurrance, in that a team of Sarah, Jeff, Suzanne, and Trey beat Hank, Chip, and me at Trivial Pursuit, the Millennium Edition. It was a close-run thing, though, and I want to say in our defense that none of us were alive when the IRS changed tax day from March 15 to April 15.
Now we're hauling up on midnight, the kids are out chasing ghost crabs, and I'm seriously thinking about bed. Tomorrow I may dump the water out of the SS Diet Dew and paddle out to the barge.