Thursday, May 17, 2012

Some surprising views from the island

"Keep moving," she said.
I was a little taken aback.
We were, you see, just approaching the halfway point of one of our favorite beachwalks, an approximately six-mile round trip that takes us from our secluded beach access in the middle of the northern stretch where we live, all the way to the very tip-top of Topsail Island.  It's a beautiful, interesting route, with views of various beachfronts and vacation homes, fishing boats, sea and bird life, and the New River Inlet, a broad tidal estuary that both separates our island from the off-limit confines of the the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune, and provides inland-to-ocean access for commercial fishing boats and sport fishermen alike.
I had been doing my best to keep up with her relentless, cardio-conscious pace, so I was surprised that she complained when I slowed down and veered towards the waterline as we approached the inlet, which is a fine spot to search for the spectacular shells that often roll in near where the ocean currents meet the outbound flow of the river.
"What?" I answered. "I was just looking for shells."
"Didn't you see those swimmers?" she whispered.
"What swimmers?" I replied.
"The ones with no clothes on," she laughed.
Swimmers? No clothes?
In my desire to spot and retrieve large-sized whelks, conchs and other mighty mollusks, I had missed, perhaps, the most interesting view of the day, a buoyant bevy of bare-naked beach babes sunning and playing in the waves nearby.
"I had always heard there were nude beaches around here, but this is the first time I've seen it," she said. 
And I missed it.
We walked on in silence, each, understandably, lost in our own thoughts.
"Put down that telescope," she suddenly hissed, using much the same tone as a western sheriff warning off an armed and dangerous Billy the Kid.
I had brought along my fancy new spyglass, a gift from a visiting brother-and-sister-in-law, in hopes of catching a closer glimpse of the offshore markers the Army Corps of Engineers has placed for the most recent round of dredging needed to keep the inlet open for commercial boat traffic.
"I was just looking at that buoy," I protested.
"Yeah, right. Or maybe that girl," she replied.
But really, folks, it wasn't that I was all that anxious to catch a glimpse of a bunch of sans-suit sunbathers. But I was interested. And curious.
How long had this been going on?
So I did what any red-blooded American boy would do.
I looked it up.
Turns out, the whole subject was kind of hot news a few years ago, when it came to light that neither of the communities on the northern and southern ends of Topsail Island had laws against sunbathing or swimming in the buff on their beaches.
A headline from the Wilmington (NC) Star-News put it this way:
"Women still feel free to drop tops at Topsail Beach," leading off an attention-getting story that revealed that "Topsail Beach, along with three other area beaches, abides by state and federal laws, which do not distinguish between a man’s and woman’s bare chest."
That was news to me. News to just about everybody, I'd say.
Other stories followed, both in newspapers and blog posts, but eventually, the furor died down.
‘We’ve never had a problem with it, actually,’’ said Danny Salese, North Topsail’s police chief. ‘‘It’s very isolated. They find places that are more secluded. We try to divert it to another area, a more secluded area. There’s been only one complaint that I know of since I’ve been here.’’
As laid-back as most Carolinians seems to be, this is, after all, a part of what is often known as the Bible Belt, and a state that recently made international headlines when it approved a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.  I'm almost positive if there were a sudden upswing in birthday-suit sunbathing at, say, Windmont Park or Lake Calhoun, some folks would get up in arms. I know the male portion of the Star-Courier newsroom would be Johnny on the spot in reporting it.
"That's why they call it Topsail," said one wag in an online chat. "It's where tops sail off."
We've been walking these beaches almost daily for months at a time over the past couple of years, and this was our first sighting of suitless sunbathers. So, chances are, we won't be lucky--or unlucky enough, depending on your point of view--to see it again.
But we both learned a valuable lesson.
She needs to watch out where she takes me on those walks.
And I need to pay more attention.

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