‘Shroom Boom

With a late afternoon coffee in hand I’m staring out the window assessing the view.  Unfortunately, it is not altogether pleasing.  In fact, it is borderline abysmal.  I’ve never had such a terrible looking yard. At present, It’s basically a mud pit… well, a mud pit with weeds.  It’s been wrecked by many weeks of rain and although we’ve enjoyed a full eight days of warm, sunny weather we still haven’t dried out. We’ve had our front lawn sodded twice in the year we have lived here and both times the grass has perished. I think of Hurricane Michael and its aftermath on Florida’s panhandle and realize that our struggles to address all the drainage issues are mighty inconsequential of what’s happening there.

Still, early this morning, in jest, I tell my neighbor, Sayed, who lives at the top of our pipe-stem on the main street, that I’m considering getting pigs.  His look is quizzical, of course.

I explain:  “My yard is nothing but mud now. What fragile grass I had has been drowned out…and yet those blasted weeds have flourished.  So now, I’ve got nothing but mud and you know how pigs like to roll around in mud.” 

“Ah!” he says with a chuckle.   He gets it.

His yard has plenty of grass and while he does not have drainage issues he notes something has changed in his yard.  Hmm.  He is pondering.  Yes, he has weeds…but…he can’t quite nail it.  I don’t judge; he is a busy father and husband. 

However, it dawns on me this morning what it is.

Over the course of more than several morning walks with The Poodle I note a strange phenomena….something I haven’t seen in all the years I have lived in Northern Virginia…

Multitudes of mushrooms. Large and small, weird and wild….colorful and mud-colored drab….we seem to have it all.

These snake-like 'shrooms have popped up in various places in the neighborhood.

A Snake – like mushroom brightens up a flower bed…

A psychedelic mushroom stands alone in a patch of muck.

While a psychedelic mushroom, a tiny little thing, stands proud in a field of muck….

And, barely off the beaten path from our walking path, a veritable mushroom city.  I’m in awe because it wasn’t there just a few days ago.

A mushroom city....

Then there is the grotesque, fuzzy variety growing in the middle of the sidewalk that at first glance I mistook for vomit….

Honestly, I thought it was vomit.....

…Not to mention one that looks like a UFO from a galaxy far, far away….

As these surely inedible and likely poisonous  ‘shrooms take over the neighborhood I can only think of those varieties that make my mouth water in lovely anticipation of the deliciousness they assure.  I’ve got risotto ai  funghi (risotto with porcini mushrooms) on my brain….along with stuffed Portobello mushrooms oozing with mozzarella and freshly grated Parmesan cheese or …how about button mushrooms sauteed in Plugra butter, wine, with plenty of chopped garlic and fresh parsley.

Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is.

There is only one thing to do now, as if you didn’t know kind reader….

It’s off to the store for the edible variety of mushrooms…and wine of course.

A mouthful of bliss is surely on the menu tonight.



LXI

I’m standing in my kitchen pouring salsa into a small bowl.  I’ve already got the tortilla chips arranged on the chip platter….and I’ve got some mixed nuts out too.  I make a mental note to check on the kabobs marinating in the refrigerator (which, thankfully is humming along perfectly after it’s repair).  I check my watch.  Sis and family won’t be arriving for our little cookout for another forty-five minutes or so.  I’ve got time to sip on a white wine spritzer while reading my latest pick-up on Kindle, Trail of Broken Wings by Sejal Badani. 

Before I reach for my wine, I remember the beautiful hot cherry peppers I had picked up at Wegman’s specifically for my brother-in-law.  I didn’t want to forget including them with the other items we were planning to grill.   I pull them out from the fridge and rinse them.  As I stood at the counter drying them off the doorbell rings. 

“Ciao CC,” says my sister as she tentatively pops her head in the doorway.

Hmm They’re early!  Often, they run late….

My nephew runs in and promptly gives me a bear hug as his mother sets a large Whole Foods bag on the island counter.  She has all the fixings for a lovely Caprese salad including a generous bunch of fresh basil she’d brought in from her yard.  Her basil is still growing ever-so-vigorously in a large barrel planter; everything in it is still thriving in a sunny location in front of her house.

“You’re early! I say as we air kiss each other’s cheeks.  I give her a run-down on what we’re having for dinner later as I continue drying off the peppers.  Rocket-man has also stepped into kitchen with beers in hand for himself and his bro-in-law.  He sets them on the counter.

“Where is your husband?” I ask sis.

“Oh, he’s out walking the dog.” 

And then it begins….

The Poodle, who is out on the screened-in porch, begins to bark like crazy.   Though irritating, I think nothing of it as there surely is a squirrel taunting him from a tree.  Then the tenor of his bark changes to that familiar oh-my-Yippee-ki-yay excitement that overtakes when he sees his bestie Nica, my sister’s dog.

The patio kitchen door opens and in bolts Nica followed by my brother-in-law. He’s got his martini glass Hawaiian shirt on.  Now we are all around the kitchen island.  The guys have their beers and sis and son are oddly at rapt attention as I show them the peppers that I had picked up for grilling.

Hmm.  Faintly, my senses tingle….

The dogs start their two minute uber-exuberant zoomie ritual that always results in rugs askew.  This time however, the excitement between the two is strangely magnified times ten.  The barking and excited whining has not stopped as quickly as usual.  In fact, the barking was getting annoying enough that I was ready to banish the two to the basement.

It would be just a nano-second after that thought that the reason for their excitement would be revealed.

“…And I’m so disappointed that Wegman’s didn’t have any of their gourmet burgers available yesterday…” I say as I feel a light tap on my left shoulder.  I turn my head, but just barely, thinking it’s just my nephew wanting to know if he can get a treat from his designated space in my pantry. 

WHAT the…?

She had come through the back yard and stealthily up the back deck steps.  She had opened the door whisper-quiet and because my back was to the door it would be simple enough to take me…

COMPLETELY BY SURPRISE!

Happy Birthday Mom. 

It’s my “baby” girl.  She had flown in from Chicago.  Weeks in the making, the family had cooked up this surprise which left me speechless and in a puddle of happy tears.  Needless to say, this was the best birthday present ever.

Sixty-one is starting out wonderfully blissful.

One Less Set of Eyes…

The day started in the usual way which is to say, as of late, I’ve had to practically do cartwheels to get The Poodle out the door for his early morning walk. Begrudgingly, he finally gets with the program, as it were, and we’re off up the street, around the block and into the woods.

Luckily we have been missed by Hurricane Florence but we’re experiencing some scant peripheral effects as it is a particularly gloomy day.   We’re due for rain but we’ve not seen more than a few drops, so far that is.  Still, the sky could not be any grayer.  As I listen to a Hearts of Space playlist I’m all to keenly aware of how the music and the somber sky are messing with my soul. I need some pep in my step so I switch to Spotify and decide on something more energizing.  On cue, The Poodle begins to pick up his pace too, although it’s because of a nearby squirrel sighting.

My mind wanders over this and that as we continue down the path. About a mile into our walk I say to The Poodle, as I often do, “We’re almost there so let’s stop for a brief moment to say hello, shall we?”

‘Round this bend….up and over breaks in the macadam path due to gnarly tree roots….then around another bend to the right…..

Wait a minute….

I stop in the middle of the path in a moment of utter confusion.

Was I so into my head that I missed her?

“Let’s turn around,” I say to The Poodle.  We backtrack only three steps. I look right, left…all around me.

Something definitely is not right here.

I turn back in the direction of my purpose.

And then it hits me like a two by four….

I am in the right place… but she is not!

OH NO! This can’t be! I literally cried out aloud. The Poodle looks at me with questioning, clouded eyes.

Drusilla the wood nymph–the name I gave to her– is gone!  I hadn’t taken this route for a while because the mosquitoes were such an annoyance…and now, it seems that she has disappeared! 

I cannot believe that my “eyes and ears in the woods” is gone. 

I stand at the spot where she was once proudly rooted, searching for an explanation.  And then I see her.  She had to have taken her last breath weeks ago during one of the pounding rains.  She’s lifeless indeed, broken almost beyond recognition, split into three or four chunks and covered with a  tangle of debris.  The heavy rains from some weeks ago have drowned the life out of her, washing her away from the sentry post she held for years down into the shallow ravine that was now to be her final resting place.

I stand above the spot where she fell lamenting the loss long enough for The Poodle to decide that he may as well lie down and rest his weary bones.

Dear readers you must think I’m bonkers.  Perhaps so.  But truly, seeing Drusilla the wood nymph on my morning walks for years when visiting my sister and now for a year living in her neighborhood has been a lovely ritual.  Nearly every morning I’d share a moment with her, stopping as close to her base as possible given the terrain to tell her a thought that I held in my heart…then I’d move on to the rest of my day.  It was a curiously magical, divine start to my day.

Yes, you know it…I shed a tear or two.  I will miss her wonky head and her almost sad, asymmetrical face.  I will miss the simple act of saying “Good Morning Drusilla.” My morning walks won’t feel quite the same now that she is gone.

I suppose it just speaks to the impermanence of Every. Little. Thing.

In the words of french novelist Gustave Flaubert:

“The principle thing in this world is to keep one’s soul aloft.”

Through some difficult months a walk in the woods and a Drusilla sighting  was responsible for doing just that.

There was bliss in that.

 

 

Drusilla, the wood nymph.  Eyes and ears of these woods!

Chilled…Not Chilled

I’m staring at the glass before me which contains a splash of a lovely, buttery Chardonnay.  What I’m about to do will make any decent oenophile gasp in horror.I add ice cubes.Lest you judge dear reader I’ve got reason as you’ll see….or not.

So, I’ve had a first world problem for over a week now (eight days and ten hours to be exact).  The refrigerator, a lovely gleaming Kitchen Aid purchased new one year ago…went on the fritz.  Specifically, only part of it died.  It was a curiously slow decline that I witnessed;  over the course of two weeks I noted that the refrigerator was not cooling items very well but the freezer was behaving perfectly fine.

That’s strange. How could this be? 

I checked the settings.  I even lowered the temperature by two degrees.  Nothing.  Well, actually there was something; I was beginning to throw away food at an alarming rate due to spoilage.Well isn’t this just peachy? Not.I dug through my files to find the receipt.

#$%! Seriously?!

Yep.  You guessed it.  We are less than a week past the warranty coverage.  As happens often in my world…what rotten luck.

Grrr.   A one year warranty for a $3200 refrigerator!?   Over coffee, I gripe to my sis about this.  She points out that’s why they try to rope you into purchasing pricey extended warranty coverage.  In all my years of purchasing new refrigerators I never purchased extended warranties. Refrigerators were built to last a long time.  Our fridge in my childhood years is likely still running, albeit terribly out of fashion in it’s avocado dress.

Harumpf.

I call the place where I purchased the refrigerator and they are sympathetic.  They urge me to contact Kitchen Aid to complain about a one year warranty saying that if enough people do so perhaps the company will do something about it.  They also give me the name of the service repair company they refer their customers to.  I’m of the temperament to complain later.  In need of a refrigerator, like yesterday, my energies need to go into getting the problem fixed.  So I look up the referral and the company appears to have good ratings.  I call to have it serviced, which in itself makes me want to spit bullets because, again….the refrigerator is just a year old!  But I grit teeth and breathe through the impulse to be angry.  There are so many less fortunate than me.

The response is not as swift as I would have liked it to be.  It takes two days for a serviceman to come out but I’ve got the luxury of storing items in my sisters’ basement refrigerator.  It doesn’t take long for the repairman to diagnose the problem.  I spit even more bullets when it was determined that the freezer door apparently was not being closed appropriately on enough occasions that it caused the refrigerator fan to fail.  I rack my brains for all of a minute and realize that this problem can be traced back to a certain man-child who had the freezer stuffed to the gills with his junk food for ten months.

I excuse myself to my study for a moment.  I need the time to give my Dammit Doll a good three whacks on my desk.  Ah…better. I’m feeling mighty proud that I didn’t utter one expletive.  And yes, it hasn’t escaped me that for six weeks we didn’t have a functioning kitchen due to the renovation but we did have a working refrigerator! Now the opposite has occurred! How upside-down is that?

The repairman orders a new fan part which may be around $400 and he says we should have it in a week, tops.  “Great,” I say with all the calm I can muster.  The service rep smiles when I tell him: “I’ll chill.  We can go with the flow for one week; it’s just a minor inconvenience in the big scheme of things.” Right?

Hmm.  Maybe I’d lose a pound or two without trips to the fridge for cheese…

So here we are today, a week later.  The repairman is back with the new part in hand. I’m practically busting with excitement that within the hour I’ll have a working refrigerator again.  I’m itching to fill the bins with salad greens and vegetables and of course eggs, butter, cheese, milk and yogurt.  There’s a couple of bottles of prosecco and a bottle of Chardonnay too, not to mention Rocket-man will have his beer back in the fridge and not in a cooler on the kitchen floor.

As I type these words I am mindful that my inconvenience is trivial compared to so many.   Hundreds of thousands of folks in North Carolina are without power as the continue to be pummeled by Hurricane Florence.  Relief washes over me knowing that my elderly aunt and uncle have evacuated Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks to a safer location.  We are lucky that it seems our area will be spared Flo’s wrath.So I’m chilled (sort-of) with the refrigerator repairman–in spite of the fact that he arrived just barely within the service window of between 1-4 p.m.  I’m chilled (sort-of) that he has been downstairs working on the repair for two hours now.

Good grief!  How long does it take to install a refrigerator fan?!

Meanwhile, The Poodle figures it’s his earnest duty to bark…a lot…which of course is doing nothing to keep SHE WHO LOVES and FEEDS HIM calm after a week of hit or miss meals because of not having a refrigerator!Ah…here we go folks!  I hear the repair dude calling from the kitchen below.  I practically dance down the stairs with checkbook in hand ready to pay and then make a mad dash to the grocery store.

Oh…wait dear reader.  I’ve got an update!

Wait for it…wait for it….WAIT FOR IT…Drum roll…..THE WRONG PART WAS ORDERED! 

“Sorry ma’am, but it looks like It’ll be another week before the correct part comes in.Son of a…biscuit.

I’m pretty sure I looked at him with blood-laced daggers in my eyes.  In fact, I noted he winced as he said “I’m sorry” for the third time.A purple minion moment is entirely justified here.  Just saying.So pardon me while I go do just that… Purple Minion Moment: I am not chilled.

Not chilled.

As soon as the repairman was out the door I call and leave an after-hours message for the appliance repair company telling them in measured restraint that I AM NOT CHILLED.

Fortunately, I’ve got chicken stored in my sister’s refrigerator.  That, along with tomatoes, rice, onions, olive oil and garlic means there is hope for a home cooked meal on the table this evening.  And there’s plenty of pasta in the pantry with all sorts of possibilities that don’t require a stocked refrigerator.  Indeed.  What on earth am I carping on about.  We can get through another week.

There is bliss in that.

The Magic of 108

I got a late start on walking The Poodle this morning. Sleep eluded me well into the wee hours of the morning. In a jolt I was up at 6:30, a good hour and a half later than my usual time. In fact, I nearly fell out of bed in a rush to attend to our house guest. That would be the very one who was pacing with pitter-patter perkiness in our room, nails tapping in a sort of syncopated beat on the wood floor as she paced about between the hall and bedroom.   Oh my!  How could I have forgotten that Nica (that would be my sister’s pooch) is still with us for the long weekend?   My old boy, The Poodle, barely opens one eye.  He’s curled up into a tight ball in his bed.

“Nica needs to go out ASAP,” I all but croak in my before-caffeine voice to Rocket-man as I reach for my phone and watch.  He still appears out for the count, as he should be given he’s enjoying a few days off.

I hear his soft groan of acknowledgement and breathe gratefulness that he’s going to do the first walk of the day with Nica.

Over coffee I check for messages.  Still nothing back from my son, I note.  I sigh deeply.  I had called two days ago.  He didn’t pick up (and I didn’t think he would).  Still, I left a message.  I sang Happy Birthday, and wished him the best on that September 1st day, his 36th birthday.

Later that morning I rolled out the yoga mat and inexplicably, without two moments thought, decided on something different from my usual practice: 108 Sun salutations, the graceful sequence of twelve poses or asanas called Surya Namaskar.

Good griefWhere did that come from!? I thought as I stood at the top of the mat.  I’ve only done 108 sun salutations once and that was nine years ago in a tiny studio overlooking the ocean in Southern California.  Typically the practice of 108 sun salutations is reserved for the change of seasons (think solstice or equinox).  It’s physically challenging enough when you perform three or so sets in a typical Vinyasa class; 108 is well, akin to a marathon.  108 is a sacred number in Hinduism and Yoga.  There is also a spiritual significance to the number 108.   For example, there are 108 beads on the catholic rosary and on a strand of Tibetan prayer beads.

courtesy of : https://yogawisdomforeveryday.wordpress.comsalutations-and-the-winter-solstice/

As I stand facing the wrong direction (eastward is recommended) A little dialog inside my head ensues:

So, you know you haven’t even had breakfast.

Okay, I know. So actually that is better. It’s advised to practice on an empty stomach. Check.

What about the dogs?

Yes, I know….I’ve got to do this practice slowly, purposefully, mindfully and with NO DISTRACTIONS. 

I’ll close them out of the bedroom. Check.

What if your daughter texts you?

Phone on airplane mode. In fact, take off your Apple watch too.  Remember, NO DISTRACTIONS.  Check.

And just WHY again after all this time are you considering this?  The autumnal equinox is still weeks away don’t you know!? 

So….my kind seven readers, I’m sure you will understand.  It’s my son’s birthday and my mood is blue.  I’m overdue for a calming mental shift. Estranged we remain despite ten months of him living in my basement.  Nothing seemed to appreciably alter our estrangement.  Not praying, nor purple minion head-popping moments, nor outpourings of love, nor soulful tears…not even family gatherings helped much.  Nothing changed. Well, except my heart is heavier over this second-time-around gentle boot out the door.

And so, with the dogs in another room thankfully slumbering away, I dedicate my practice to the boy I labored nearly twenty hours to bring into the world.  I still pray that he will find his way.

I select music from Spotify to help me through the practice; it’s my Dreamcatcher playlist.

Hands at heart center, I close my eyes.  Inhale, exhale. Okay, let’s begin….

As I move through the poses inexplicably I’ve got images before me which I haven’t “seen” for quite some time.  I’m at the Army hospital laboring to bring my baby into the world.  The nurse attends to a screaming young woman several beds away from mine.  She’s all of seventeen, if that.  I recall my judgemental stare.  It’s obvious she didn’t prepare for the miracle about to unfold!   Even the nurses are impatient with her; she is not cooperating on any level.  I’m doing my best to breathe through contractions and remain calm through her screams and saltier than a sailor expletives.  I’m starting to tire and am fighting the urge to ask for drugs (I eventually caved to an epidural after more than sixteen hours).  At some point my husband stepped out for coffee and my mother comes into the labor suite.  A nurse tells me that she’s not having success with the external fetal monitor.  “We’re going to have to monitor your baby differently now,” she says as she prepares me for the internal fetal monitor. I knew what that entailed.  I had done my homework. My mother barely lasted two minutes in the room.  With a dramatic wave of her hand she announced she was leaving and heading for a good bourbon on the rocks.

How vivid still, that stab of disappointment.  Yet again she could not offer even a smidgen of nurturing support, not even during the birth of her first grandchild.  The sting was over in a flash I recall.  In fact, I was immensely relieved.  But it would be many years before I understood why.  I would have been invisible; If she would have stayed in the room it would have been all about her.

Focus! shouts a voice in my head. What number am I on?!  

Inhale, Love…Happy Birthday son…exhale, peace…I pray you find your way…

And then the strangest sensation overcame me, somewhere around my 30th sun salutation.  As I slowly lowered into chaturanga a song from my playlist punctured thoughts of my son, literally stopping the video of him that was playing through my mind as I inhaled and exhaled through each pose.  It was a song from Coyote Oldman’s album Under The Ancient Sky.  Whoosh! I was transported in time…it’s now four years ago in Carefree, Arizona.  I am at my mother’s house.

Every morning before the sun peeked through the tallest saguaro on the eastern hills I would step out the door for my morning walk-jog.  I’ve no doubt that the task of caring for my mother for over three months would have done me in completely without this morning ritual that became sacred to me.  It was Coyote Oldman’s music that soothed me through four miles of gently rolling hills among cacti, saguaros, coyotes, Javelinas and other Sonoran desert creatures.   The song New Worlds was the first in that playlist.

As I exhale into uttanasana (standing forward fold) I may as well be in my mom’s driveway…I am there, gazing at the rising sun.  It’s still cool in the early morning and yet I walk tentatively down the long pebbled driveway on the look-out for rattlesnakes.

Stay on task girl…..you’re on number thirty-two, I think.

Inhale…exhale…

Just great.  So now thoughts of my mother, gone two years now, invade my yoga mat.  Images of her tirades during those difficult months morphed into other memories that reached as far back as when I was ten years old.

My breath becomes labored, more pronounced, as I worked to shake thoughts of her from my mind.  I do not want to lose my asana count nor the fluidity of the practice so I start to whisper my poses:  “Inhale, circle arms up to reach the sky, exhale fold….inhale flat back….exhale step/jump back into chataranga dandasana, inhale, upward facing dog, press back into downward facing dog….five breaths….

It was in that flow, to the cedar flute of Coyote Oldman, that somehow my mother came to me.  It was a surreal, supernatural experience that perhaps lasted a minute or two.  Honestly dear reader, I am still trying to process it.  It was as if my mother and I were one. 

Oh man…this is weird.  Perhaps I should have eaten breakfast!  I stupidly forgot to bring a bottle of water to my mat.I would not allow myself to step off the mat.

Tears escaped the corners of my eyes as I held to the rhythm of my practice.

Inhale, long exhale….inhale…

The feeling of her presence was intense.

“Are you here mamma?”  I whispered as I stepped back into downward dog.  Exhale…No answer.

“I feel your presence.  Why? Are you here to set things straight?” I whisper through tears now streaming down my face.  No answer.

But I begin to feel an answer…of sorts.  As “we” move through the poses she is exceptionally serene, a trait she never possessed while living.  I feel her amazingly youthful; her bronze skin is smooth, wrinkle-free.  Can it be that she wants to finally bond with me through this yoga practice…and that maybe, just maybe…she wants to feel its benefits too.  How I have advocated for years that she give yoga–any activity for that matter–a try; all failed attempts to get her to manage her bouts of depression, anxiety and mobility issues.

“I wish it would have been better between us.  Did you ever love me mamma?   What do you want to tell me?”

“No more walking on eggshells mamma.  Is it here and now, on this mat, that I can be brutally blunt with my questions?”

And poof…she was gone. Somehow, I managed to keep it together.

Inhale, peace, exhale….It’s Okay…let it go.   

Inhale, peace…exhale…It’s Okay let it go.

Bathed in sweat, the feeling that remained on my mat was pure peace.  Wow.

108 Sun salutations; a cleansing like no other!  In any other situation I probably would have freaked over this visitation of sorts.  The magic of it still affects me days later.

Inhale, exhale….There is bliss in that.

Head Wins (for now)

 

I was in my Sis’s kitchen twenty minutes or so before my nephew’s first day of 5th grade. Knowing that I’d be over to witness the event, Sis had a hot cup of strong, perfect coffee ready for me. As I take my first sips I watch as she gathers lunch items for her son’s lunchbox.  She finishes by nestling a sweet note under his sandwich.  I think about the days eons ago when I did the same thing for my kids.

I joke with my nephew saying, “So…what’s up with a yellow bus in the neighborhood?”

He rolls his eyes.  He’s not ready for summer to end.

Truth is, I feel the same.  Honestly, my entire being is still back at the beach.  My toes are in the sand and the book I brought but never open is cast off to the side as I gaze out at the ocean.

Apparently, some of the kids I queried while standing less than a half hour later at the bus stop with my nephew feel the same.  They aren’t ready for what seems like an abrupt end to summer.  “It’s not even labor day and we are back in school,” says one youngster.   There were seven or eight kids all with new backpacks, lunchboxes, and noticeably of course, new shoes, along with their parents waiting for the bus.  It’s not yet 8:15 and we’re all sweating as we stand waiting with the kids.  The Poodle had plopped himself down on the sidewalk and is panting too from the heat.  The humidity level is already high for what will be another scorcher of a day.  For one little one it would be her first time on a yellow school bus.  Wearing a blue dress with pretty pink shoes she was, understandably, a very nervous kindergartener.  Both mom and dad were witnessing this milestone day for their daughter.  Mom carried her little pink backpack while dad did his best to reassure.  It helped that her big brother would also be on the same bus.

As the kids broke off into their own circle the parents stood together and chatted about their summers.  Most everyone went to a beach over the summer.

Ocracoke morning

“We went to Ocracoke,” I say to one dad.

“Where is that?” he asks. I was not surprised at the question as it isn’t necessarily a hot Outer Banks destination.

So off I went only too happy to babble on for a good five minutes about our beach week in rustic Ocracoke.

“…and at one point,” I continued, ” I could look as far as the eye could see on my right and again to my left…and as God is my witness…I was the only person on the beach!  I felt like I had been deposited on uninhabited island!”

“Really?”

“Yes, really! There are no houses or high-rises on the beach.  In fact, there are no high-rises anywhere on the island.  The only structure you’ll see on the beach is a small wood lifeguard stand” I replied.

“Wow, I’ll have to check that out for next year,” he said clearly interested.

Later back at the house over my second cup of coffee and a delicious banana muffin that my nephew had made the day before, I thought about our first beach evening just two weeks ago.  At the time, we were dining at the Ocracoke Oyster Company, one of the larger restaurants on the island.  As we sipped on wine, Sis and I had our wheels seriously turning and our heads high in the clouds about ditching city life for Ocracoke Island living.

Hmm.  We’d add five to the population of roughly 591, eight if you count the pets,” I say wistfully.  “But where would we shop?  I don’t even see a real grocery store around.  I mean, there is an elementary school and at least one church but I don’t see any non-tourist stores here.”

At that moment our young server comes with our appetizers.  Oysters, calamari, and a basket of onion rings.   Without a pause I begin peppering her with questions (something I’m more bold at doing now that I am in my 60’s).  She is happy to answer our questions as she refills our water glasses.  Coming from New York, she answered a help-wanted ad for Ocracoke and left on the spot.  She’s been living on the island for most of the summer.  She’s not sure of her future plans but she’s having a blast so far.

Sis and I marvel at her fearlessness.  Oh to be young again….

“So, where on earth do you shop for stuff?” I ask.  “I mean, it’s not like you can order from Amazon all the way out here.”

“Actually, I order stuff all the time from Amazon,” she replied.

“Seriously?”  Seriously.

I asked another person, an older guy, who has lived on the island for twenty years.  He confirmed that he gets most of what he needs from Amazon.  He even joked that being a Prime member doesn’t help the Ocracokers much as purchases obviously don’t arrive next day.  I imagine a UPS truck on the ferry and think that must be one uberly cool route for that driver.

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure about my Sis but after four days on the island, as charming as it was, my island-living dreams lessened considerably.  I asked any local that would spare two minutes how they liked living year-round on tiny Ocracoke.  While most folks were very upbeat it was unanimous that winters were particularly brutal.  “It takes a special someone to like our winters,” said one.  “Winters are downright dead with nothing to do,” said another.   One spirited woman that worked in a tiny gallery summed-up what most people said: “It’s freaking bleak here in the winter plus, I’d be as big as a barn eating non-stop and watching Netflix 24-7.”  She added that she leaves the island every winter spending a month or two away, traveling to exotic locales.  Last year it was Thailand.  This year it will be somewhere in Europe.

Though we enjoyed, unexpectedly, an Italian white wine from Venice during one of our nights, I start to dwell on the remoteness of Ocracoke island living not to mention the memory of that terrifying lightening and thunder storm which sounded to me as if the world was coming to an end.

Wine from our neck of the woods in Italy!

Ocracoke has its unpleasant side then.  Dramatic weather, bitterly cold winters, dreary, depressing, and dead for months on end.  Ah…Reality bites.  My romantic bubble has burst.  Sigh.

So yeah…realistically, I don’t have the luxury of the peripatetic life of a twenty-year-old and truthfully, even when I was that age I didn’t live free and footloose.  My heart says one thing…my head says another.  And yes, often –admittedly, perhaps too oftenmy head wins.

Though I am not ready for the proverbial rocking chair just yet, as boring as it may sound, my head now is all about quick access to a good hospital, preferably by car or ambulance and not by helicopter.  And I need the fun of a zoo, lots of museums and the promise of attending concerts, cultural events, wine tastings, and so much more.  Plus, I like touching and feeling stuff before I buy.  How would I manage without Target (weekly), REI (frequently) and Nordstrom’s (once in a blue moon)? Not to mention reliable internet access!

Yes, my head wins, for now.  All is good.  As I sit here with my heart at the beach I acknowledge that it will just have to be enough.  At any moment I can sit back, relax, and close my eyes and…with a slow and steady breath…the ocean is right before me.  I can hear the crash of waves on the shore and the gentle peeps of Sanderlings skittering about looking for food….

My only Ocracoke shells

It will do, I think… until next time. 

And there will be a next time.

There is bliss in that.

 

Blissed-out (mostly) on Ocracoke

It’s been a little more than a week since returning from our second summer adventure yet it feels more like months ago.  I’m lamenting already but hopeful that more adventures will spring up in the fall and winter.  For now, though I am still tackling the sand in the car, memories of a lovely week with my sis and family will have to calm the itch to pack another bag and be off somewhere….anywhere.

I’m listless and finding it hard to get back into the groove after truly doing nothing. The beach does that to me every time.

This time our destination was a bit more rustic than other beach trips: Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.  We’re no strangers to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We’ve done a fair amount of vacationing there, mostly on the northern part of the barrier chain in Duck and Corolla. Admittedly, we haven’t really explored a lot of the 130 miles of the thin strip of these barrier islands; we tend to drop beach chairs down into the sand and veg for the duration of a week.  We hadn’t for example, ever driven beyond Nags Head and Roanoke Island, the very spot where I married Rocket-man years ago. Yep… The Lost Colony island of Roanoke.

Sis is the one who suggested this particular beach destination.  She and her husband, on a whim, spent an overnight on Ocracoke last year when returning from a beach stay near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  They were immediately smitten with its rustic charm.

“How do you get there,” I had asked at the time.   “Isn’t it the most remote island in the Outer Banks?”

“You take your car and ferry over,” she said.  “It takes about an hour.”

Away we go to Ocracoke!

“Wow…you put your car on a ferry?” I said in wonder.  I’ve taken ferries before.  It’s not that I don’t know the concept of vehicles on a ferry it’s just I’ve just never put my car on one.

Before heading to our Ocracoke (pronounces just as you see it: like the vegetable Okra and the soft drink Coke) adventure we made a pit stop in Manteo, on Roanoke Island. Sis and I wanted to see our great-aunt, family historian, Auntie Lou and her husband, our Uncle Jack. Auntie is in her 80’s and now needs a cane to get around but her mind is still pretty much sharp as a tack. Uncle Jack sat mostly quiet as sis and I peppered auntie with questions. It was lovely to spend a couple of hours catching up on life and listening to some family-tree stories. 

After we said our goodbyes we explored the area a bit, shopped, and decided on an early dinner as we planned an zero-dark-thirty departure for the Hatteras ferry the next morning.

The early morning sun shined happy as we drove through the little towns and quaint villages along the thin strip of land flanked by the Atlantic ocean on one side and the Pamlico Sound on the other.  I was excited to pass through the tiny town of Rodanthe, the locale featured in Nicholas Sparks 2002 tear-jerker Nights in Rodanthe, which was adapted into a film starring Richard GereWe also inched out way through Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, and Frisco finally arriving to Hatteras where we would take the ferry over to Ocracoke Island.  I was positively energized with excitement as we pulled into the Hatteras ferry station.  As we queued-up behind a long line of cars sis stepped out of hers which was several cars ahead of us. I thought for sure we’d be the first ones here given that we woke up before the roosters.

How long is this going to take?” I asked sis.  “There seem to be so many cars!”

“The line moves pretty quickly,” she said.  “You’ll see…maybe a half-hour, tops.  We’re just waiting for another ferry-boat to pull in.  Don’t worry…this is going to be fun,” she added as she hopped back into the car.

Ah.  She caught that hint of nervousness in my voice.

And fun it was! I was amazed that some folks stayed in their cars for the ride. The weather couldn’t be more perfect with the wind calm enough to be gentle on the hair…and yet there are people, sitting in their cars, sleeping or on their devices. I had to catch my myself in that moment of judgement: who am I to critique these folks?  Perhaps they make the ferry trip often enough that the novelty of it all has worn off.

Standing at the front of the boat, rows of cars behind me, I inhaled the experience into memory. I breathed in deeply, feeling the subtlety salty ocean air far to my left and the Pamlico sound air directly to my right. As I strained to see land I caught sight of flying fish which makes all of us watching ooh and aah at the spectacle. Before an hour is up we are slowly pulling into the Ocracoke ferry dock.

At sixteen miles long, and at its widest point, three miles across, Ocracoke is barely five feet above sea level so flooding is always an issue.  In fact, it rained two of the four days of our stay and large pools and lakes of water sprouted everywhere. There are no high rises or beach mansions so it’s mighty rustic as beach towns go.  As of 2014, an estimated 591 people live on the island year-round.  This “sand bar” of a place has some interesting history too.  For example, It was, understandably due to its remoteness, a favorite hang-out for pirates back in the day.  Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, frequently anchored just off the island.  Apparently it was his favorite anchorage spot and it’s where he ultimately met his demise in 1718.

Vowing not to let rain spoil our time, we managed to get to the beach everyday.   We frolicked a fair amount of time in the water on day two of our stay. My nephew had oodles of fun body surfing with his father and Zio “Luigi.”  I also spent more time than usual in the water thanks to the peace of mind of my newly purchased Sharkbanz, a device intended to deter sharks by way of upsetting their electroreception.  On advice by my dear friend, Miss Cookie who used the product during her beach week, I purchased one literally three days before our trip with only a quick perusal of the official website and a couple of YouTube videos. You can check out their site here: https://www.sharkbanz.com/pages/how-it-works

I had my Sharkbanz strapped to my ankle which, at first glance, could easily be mistaken for an ankle bracelet monitoring device for someone on parole or under house arrest.  “HA….let’s give ’em something to talk about!” I thought as onlookers noted my accessory as I played in the water on my boogie board.

Of course, it was only after my trip that I delved into more YouTube videos to see that on occasion the device doesn’t work!  Miss Cookie, had warned that Great Whites appear to be unaffected by the strong magnet device.  They stalk from a distance and then purposefully aggressively strike to kill. Still, Ignorance is bliss, I say. Even if it was but a placebo effect, my “fashion” accessory allowed me to spend hours in the water without worrying much about what lurked below the surface.  Later that night as I tossed and turned in the motel bed to the loud drone of the window unit air conditioner, I thought about my Starkbanz safely back in its proper box for storage.  How about similar devices to deter snakes…and spiders…and frogs that fall atop one’s head?!   Alas, sleep eluded all of us that night as powerful thunder and lightning tormented the tiny island for what seemed like hours.

Foggy-brained in the morning due to lack of sleep, we were all dragging just a bit.  At a quaint coffee shop around the corner, the Ocracoke Coffee Co., people were all a-twitter about the terrific storm of the night and all the rain that came with it.  As I stood in line for my java fix I caught bits and pieces of conversation from folks coming and going.

“What a night, eh?” said one guy who looked to be in his fifties.

“I know, amazing right? I just love lightning storms!” gushed the barista gal behind the counter. She sported Shamrock green braids gathered into a loose bun at the base of her neck. While I don’t have green hair I think I am stylin’ with my well-worn Chacos and Lululemon capris.  Still, I feel like a fossil in that moment as the general consensus of the morning chatter in the coffee-house was just how “freaking cool” that lightning show was.

Am I the only one on the planet who doesn’t find it particularly soothing to be squarely under a thunder and lightning storm?  As a side note, By chance I happened to read that last week severe lightning damaged the steeple of the Ocracoke Methodist church.  It took out the wooden cross.

Ocracoke Methodist Church – now missing part of its steeple and it’s cross.

 

Ponder on the meaning of that weirdness whilst I think of more Ocracoke tidbits to share….

A Roanoke relic in the brackish marsh….