Thursday, November 14, 2013

One bright and sunny day

Our current visit to the North Carolina shore has been different than most. For one thing, it's quicker than normal, with just a couple of weeks or so of precious time with our grandboys before I'm due back at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for another round of chemotherapy. The every-three-weeks treatment schedule has served to confirm a decision we had already made; that now is a good time to "take a break," so to speak, and give up the beach house we've enjoyed for the past three years with plans to reconsider our options and arrangements after all this cancer stuff is thankfully over.  So, while we were looking forward to spending time with the little boys, we were also prepared for the hated task of sorting, pitching, cleaning, packing and hauling that comes with an even minor-league move like this one. We have consciously avoided gathering too many possessions or burying ourselves in too much clutter, but still, I know there's always going to be stuff in my life.
Too much stuff.
My load was lightened both literally and figuratively when our landlord agreed that it would be OK to leave behind any of the furniture we've collected that we don't want to move and keep. It's a relief to me to not have to mess with it, and I suppose it will now enable him to advertise the place as "semi-furnished" when he attempts to lure the next renters. Plus it's nice to think that the comfy, stripy, shabby-chic couch I liberated from the local Salvation Army will continue to provide a prime spot for morning letters, rainy day books and late afternoon naps after long sun-spattered days on the beach.
But still, there's been plenty to do, so we were both happy to take a break when son Patrick called. In addition to his teaching and coaching duties, he has picked up part-time jobs reporting on sports for the local daily newspaper on Friday nights and refereeing football games on Saturdays. It was going to be a busy weekend. Would we mind watching the boys?
Bring 'em on.
Like most places in our hemisphere, the Carolina shore is an amazing place to be in the fall of the year.  Unlike our Illinois home, where the brisk winds and bare trees of November begin to signal the early days of snowy winter, it's still mostly a moderate season here, with the soft-hued change of color just beginning to show in the deep piny Carolina woods.  The skies over our beachfront are a deep azure, with changing temperatures signaling the season when shrimpers, fishermen and oystermen return to pursue the rich harvest that both the deep sea and marshy backwaters have to offer as cooler water generates livelier life in ocean and inlet.
Having lived through parts of three autumns in these water, we knew where we wanted to be on that bright, clear Saturday morning. The Seaview is a fishing pier located just a mile down the shore from our beach digs.  The Carolina coast used to be dotted with these treasured landmarks. And while hurricanes, skyrocketing operating costs and crazy changes in real estate values have dramatically reduced their number over the years, they still exist from Kitty Hawk, Nag's Head and Rodanthe up north in the Outer Banks, to Ocean Isle and Sunset Beach near the South Carolina border.  At 1000 feet, the Seaview is one of the longest in the state. It's a great place to fish, walk and watch, especially this time of year, when the red and black drum, pompano, sea mullet (the fish, not the haircut) and blue fish are running fast and furious. The railings are lined with groups of fishermen, including dedicated, serious anglers with their carts and coolers; noisy, happy family groups; avid grandpa/grandkid partnerships and, on that sunny morning, an entire Pack of Cub Scouts on hand for their first-ever Seaview Fishing Derby. But the best thing about the Seaview in my mind, beside the good people who run it, is the restaurant that anchors it to the shore. It is one of those places that has not changed much over the years, a place that will never be cool or trendy, a place where fried fish is just fine, thank you, and they'll even cook your catch, and a place where biscuits are important business and good grits are next to Godliness.
In short, my kind of place.
Later, we walked up the beach to an important spot that we've been anxiously watching since mid-August. The turtle nest my spouse discovered back then was long overdue to hatch. The head turtle-lady for our section of island was meeting us there, along with a few of the volunteers who had helped monitor the nest during our unexpectedly longish stay in the midwest. While most nests hatch at around the 60-day mark, this one had gone nearly 90 days without sight or sign of any baby turtles. The nest was to be dug up that day to see what had happened. Perhaps it had already hatched during a storm and escaped human detection. Or maybe the lateness of the year and an early cold snap had left the nest unhatched and barren.
Happily, it was good news.
The nest was filled with dozens of viable-looking eggs that would be moved somewhere warm, hatched, and actually transported by the United States Coast Guard to the Sargasso Sea, where most baby sea turtles gather to eat, learn and grow up. But it took one young turtle to really make our day. Because among the yet-to-be-hatched was one partly hatched egg. Called "pipped" in turtle parlance, this little fellow's head was already poking out of the shell. As we watched he thrust first one flipper, then the next through the egg.
He waved.
We waved back.
Later that day we drove across the high-rise bridge that connects our skinny, sandy 26-mile island to the mainland. Below, in the great Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, a mini-flotilla of southbound boats from nearby ports with great-sounding names like Oriental, Bath, Arapahoe and the Albemarle Sound sailed down the waterway, bound for the southern shores where they'll spend the winter.
"Where are they going, grandpa?" said one of the grandsons.
"Heading south for the season, I imagine," I said.
"Are they going away forever?"
"Don't worry," I said. "They'll be back."
I glanced into the backseat at our grandsons as they raptly watch the sailboats far below on that bright and sunny day.
"We'll be back," I said to myself. "We'll be back, too."

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