My Frontier turned 212,000 miles a little while ago. I’m hanging out in Memphis, tonight. Tomorrow I continue toward my sister’s family in middle Arkansas. …Guitar stores, barbeque, time to write, and maybe some live music if I plan well.
In September of 1999, I purchased a 2000 Nissan Frontier, and since then it has been a reliable companion on many roadtrip adventures. Whether the journey was for fun (Boston, Oklahoma, Outer Banks, etc.), family (Arkansas, Atlanta, Maine), or business (Houston, Cleveland, and countless hospital visits all over the Carolinas), I got there and back and felt solid doing it.
This past Saturday, the odometer changed from 199,999 to 200,000, and I stopped for a few photographs.
(This milestone would have been reached sooner, but my other truck has accumulated nearly 40,000 miles over the past 27 months, as well. It’s a Nissan, too.)
It was the 24th annual Long Cane Christmas Bird Count, which takes place in McCormick, Greenwood, and Abbeville Counties, South Carolina. Over the years, I have participated in 96 Christmas Bird Counts in 17 count circles, and this one is my favorite. The 23 consecutive years I have done this count have built up memories and surprises and friendships, making Long Cane a cherished winter tradition.
This out-of-focus photo is the Hwy. 81 bridge over Little River. It was early in the day, and I was still fairly blurry, myself, after too little sleep the night before. The boat landing here is where, in recent years, I always meet up with Joyce to begin the daylight portion of the count. Prior to this, JB and I had found two species of owls, and Joyce had found three on her journey through the darkness to join us.
There was another bridge I wanted to include here, but I was a long way from the truck when I decided I wanted the camera. The bridge is broken, sections lying in the water and on the bank, where a truck attempted to cross during a flood and collapsed the structure. The road has been closed for over two years because of it, and there is no evidence that a replacement is coming.
The birding day ended with 71 species for our group. Some exciting finds were included in the total: Lincoln’s Sparrow (2nd time on the count), Great Egret (2nd time on the count), Lesser Yellowlegs (first time on the count!), and record numbers of Greater Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, and Rusty Blackbirds. With next year being a big anniversary date of the Long Cane count, we’re discussing ideas for how to promote its specialness.
Last night was All Saints’ Eve, and I spent the suppertime portion of it at the Flying Melon. I sat at the counter where I could hear the jazz from the CD player, had a new species of root beer (Abita) and the best burger on the island (competitor’s claims notwithstanding). It was a good place to meditate while other observances prevailed elsewhere.
And today was All Saints’ Day, with plenty of time to remember the journeys of Christians who’ve made it home. Absence and distance cannot suspend what makes us one.
I woke up, finished packing, and turned in the keys at the realty office. At that point I had choices of how to go home. I could go immediately to the upper end of the island, catch the free ferry, and be on my way via the other Outer Banks islands. Instead, I went to the ferry office there in Ocracoke and reserved a spot on the 12:00 boat to Cedar Island. This meant I had a few more hours to wait, and that seemed better than rushing off right away.
At the ferry office, the woman behind the counter said, “You stayed in my house, this week.” She recognized my truck and kayak. I had hoped to meet the owner of the rental cottage, but thought it not likely. It was a pleasant surprise. I called her by name, which surprised her (…I had met her cousin tending shop a week earlier, who, learning where I was staying, said, “Oh you’re in Sarah’s house.”) We chatted while she sold me the ticket, and I enjoyed the friendly encounter.
After getting a muffin and orange juice at Ocracoke Coffee, I went back to Howard St. to look around the Village Craftsmen shop one more time. Manning the counter was Philip Howard, Ocracoke historian and owner of the shop. I had met him last Thursday night when he told stories of island memories and then led the barn dance. We talked a bit, and, once again, I was made to feel welcome.
Others I recognized, today and before, living the details of their private lives publically, too special to ignore, yet too sacred to publish.
While slowly driving back through town to the ferry lineup, a group crossed the road in front of me. One man stopped in the center of the road and wished to speak. Lowering my window for him, he asked how I enjoyed my stay. It turns out he was my next door neighbor for the week, a resident on the island; he recognized my truck — and I suspect he may have recognized the hesitant movement toward departure. It’s the kind of place from which one benefits by not leaving too quickly.
Without explanation to the waiting travelers, the always-timely ferry left thirty-five minutes late, slowing my departure even more. Some interesting conversation developed among us in the meantime, and eventually we were allowed to board. The horn blew, and the connection between ferry and land was breached.
On a clear day, it takes a long time for Ocracoke to fade from sight. In a clear mind, it’s never completely gone.
Ocracoke is a different kind of place, and worth the distance because of it. It’s a place you ease into and ease out of, the punched ferry ticket your silent permission to be still, and the poetry of the moment is revealed by one’s readiness to absorb.
Some of you have picked up on my love for Nissans, of which I saw many around the island. So you’ll understand my fun in finding this little beauty on the ferry:
After a morning of running, buying a small step ladder, and getting breakfast, I decided it was time to kayak. Conditions were finally right for me to attempt a paddle in unfamiliar waters. The step ladder was to assist me in loading the boat onto the Titan, something not necessary with the Frontier since it’s not as tall. I have always enlisted help from someone else when loading to or unloading from the Titan, but I learned before leaving home that I could do it by myself if I stood on something. Thankfully the Q700X is not a very heavy kayak (44 pounds), but the 18-foot length makes it somewhat awkward to maneuver while holding it above your head, especially in the wind.
Wave action at the landing was chaotic, but low. I cautiously moved away from the docks and faced the wind, holding position near the shore until I determined the feel of the water underneath me. Satisfied, I carved out left, into the sound, and arced fully downwind, heading toward the ferry channel and the entrance to Silver Lake. It was lively, and the rudder became necessary to hold me on course.
Silver Lake is not actually a lake but a jettied natural harbor where ferries terminal and the village of Ocracoke crescents from its edge. I entered the space between the jetties, those lines of rocks moderating the flow of waves and wind for those who travel the water. In a tiny vessel like mine, the difference was clear; the surface was more stable between the rocks. Paddling leisurely in the harbor, I strolled past docks and tethered boats and came to the shallow landing at the Surf Shop, where I got out and went to the door. Since I was wet, I didn’t go inside, but had one of the guys meet me on the porch to give me suggestions for where to paddle from here. They rent kayaks, so I figured they would know, and I got some helpful advice.
Back out past the seafood company and the ferry berths, I exited into the sound again and turned left, toward Springer’s Point. I covered distance quickly, moving past some homes and then the point into a broad cove where some tidal creeks reached into the island. I chose what seemed to be the main creek and started in. For the narrower channel, and since I was sitting below grass level and the wind wasn’t a big factor, I raised the rudder and reverted to hip/torso steering. The creek went a long way back through marsh, with several streams branching off. After a while I was paddling essentially through the backyards of some homes, and the creek became very narrow and blocked with tree branches. I turned around, probably pleasing the small group of Mallards and one Green-winged Teal hen that I kept flushing.
When I arrived back near the mouth of the creek, I explored a few more creeks, briefly, before entering the sound and turning left again. I could see the long sandy conclusion of the island in the distance, near where Michael and I had driven on Sunday. I moved in that direction, resting on the water really, and let the breeze coming off the island catch me from the side and push me for a few hundred feet. From there I paddled some more toward the distant sand, but not intending to go all the way. At a selected spot past a stand of trees, I turned and started back.
Along the way a boat wake caught me from behind at an angle, and I noticed how, in that situation, you can tell what is about to happen behind you by what you see the surface doing to your left front. Everything the water does means something. It is a language unto itself, with a vocabulary embedded in the seasons, accented by the depth of the land which rides below. And sometimes the language is a song, with hypnotizing rhythm, or recitative so convincing I nod my assent to things it says are true. When I’ve gone back to shore, what will I miss that is never sung again?
The distance passed, and I came to the ferry cut again, the “Ditch” as it’s called locally. As I emerged from the lee of the jetties, the wind met me head on, unchecked across the open miles of Pamlico Sound. The waves were a batallion of white-haired gnomes, marching out to sea with me in their way. By glancing to my right for relative shore speed, I could tell the wind had slowed me, but the relative water speed was still blazing as the waves took their shots. Some broke across the bow and some crashed beside the cockpit, getting me wet. So I began to time my stroke so the blade sliced into each crest, attacking them, and the ride smoothed-out considerably. Active waves are fun!
I was only out for a little more than two hours, but it was packed with enough distance and sensation and interior openings that it seemed like half a day. Sliding back into the landing, I was tired and ready for something to eat. Here’s a photo of the 700 after takeout, with the Cedar Island and Swan Quarter ferries in the background having just met each other.
After getting a shower I headed over to The Pelican Restaurant for lunch. Then I washed some clothes, did some writing, and took a nap. Around 4:30 I drove to the upper end of the island to enjoy the evening outside, my last night here.
About the time I was getting to the ferry landing, my phone rang, and it was Andrea, my traveling-nurse sister in Arizona. She was watching some birds outside her apartment and, in addition to sharing the joy of the observation, was asking for some identification tips. What she had was a Black-crowned Night-Heron and a Least Bittern, cool birds, the latter of which I don’t have on my Hyde County list. Here are some shots from the drive.
Some of the clouds look like willow seeds blowing.
Turning off of NC 12 onto Ramp 70, I went through the process of deflating my tires before heading out onto the beach. (Flatter tires provide better floatation on the soft sand; sometimes having four-wheel-drive just isn’t enough.) I brought lunch since I was planning to stay for a long time — turkey, avocado and mustard on wheat, with Lighthouse Rootbeer.
I drove far down the beach, turned around and came back. A fisherman in a Jeep flagged me down and asked me all about my Titan, and we had good truck talk for fifteen or twenty minutes. I continued up the beach until I found a good place to stop for some photographs. Sitting there I happened to look down and notice that I was still in 2WD! I had driven all those miles through beach sand in a three-ton vehicle and never felt any hesitation to make me notice I had forgotten to engage 4WD. At that point I was pretty impressed with my truck. Some of the sand was hard-packed from the rain, but a lot of it was still loose and deep.
Leaving the beach, I pumped my tires back to regulation pressure and followed a tiny unimproved road to a canoe landing on the sound. Two kayakers from Ohio were just getting ready to load their Perception Carolinas back onto their vehicle after some time on the water. We talked for a long while as they attended all the little details. They helpfully shared good information about kayaking in the area.
My friend Michael arrived in the evening, in time for supper and baseball on TV. His wife couldn’t come this time, but he was able to break away for a few days.
. . . . .
Does every community have its own form of celebrity?…its own particular craft or art that it elevates?