Saturday, February 28, 2009

While Riding Before Rain


A blue heron lives on this lake
I see him often at the point
Where I stop the bike to think
And watch the water break

He has no complications
No need to sort things out
No dreams, anticipations
No sacred faith, no doubts

He has found a fish today
With supper in his gullet
His mission is complete
He can soar now home

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Therapy Days .... from 2006

I took a couple of “therapy days” at North Carolina’s “Crystal Coast” last week. For this to work two elements have to converge: good weather and free time. It’s like planets lining up. If they do so perfectly, the bike and I are in the truck heading east on Highway 70, seeking that peaceful feeling that only the sea can provide.

Thursday was a perfect sail day -- winds out of the Southwest 12 to 15 knots, seas two to three feet and not a cloud in the sky. I can single-hand the 34-foot Catalina with relative ease now. After disconnecting the shore power cord, I cast off all but the windward stern line. This I run to the mid-cleat and then loop it back to the wheel where I position myself, my bare feet feeling the thrum of the diesel and the cool of the fiberglass cockpit sole. I check the lights and gauges and begin reversing out of the slip, keeping an eye on the depth finder. This basin needs dredging and the tide is going out. I nose the bow into the narrow channel that connects the slip basin with the Intracoastal Waterway. It's tricky here and very shallow . The digits blink out the distance from the bottom of the hull to the sand below:“3.6….5.2… 6.0” … and in a few minutes I pass green day mark 27 into the deeper water of the ICW. When the channel curves into the wind, I set the wheel and reach for the winch handle and hoist the mainsail. With the main up and a gentle, steady breeze off starboard, I pull the cable and kill the diesel and release the line to unfurl the 150 Genoa. The big headsail catches and fills, making “Sails Call heel 10 degrees. She slides noiselessly under the high-rise bridge as the mellow voice of James Taylor comes from the cockpit speakers:

"My daddy used to ride the rails
So they say, so they say
Soft as smoke and as tough as nails
Boxcar Jones, old walking man
Coming back home was like going to jail
The sheets and the blankets and babies and all
No he never did come back home
Never that I recall"

As the sloop exits Beaufort Inlet and lopes into the Atlantic, I reflect on the fact that after 12 years of coming here, I still do not tire of these waters. I expect to see wild ponies, descendants of Spanish galleon livestock I am told, running the dunes of Shackelford Banks or dotting the grazing fields of Bird Shoal. Along the route to Cape Lookout, I watch confidently for the gray liquid shapes of dolphin whose game it is to race my bow just below the surface of green water. I know that if I am patient, I am likely to see the mottled green back of a large sea turtle silently break the surface and then disappear in Lookout Bight. Thursday did not disappoint me in any of these respects.

Friday blew five knots more that I wanted to handle alone, so I opted for two-wheel therapy. I took the Trek 2300 out of the bed of the Ford and saddled up for a blacktop cruise. After a circuitous 20-mile ride over some of the water-lined back country of Carteret County, I ended up in Beaufort, just as the sun was beginning to make long shadows.

I confess that I have a weakness for historical markers and old graveyards. I leaned the bike up against an ancient iron fence and entered the “Old Burying Grounds”, a cemetery that dates back to the 1700’s. I have been here before. Each time I find something new. Hundred-year-old live oaks shade these tombs and graves, all of which point East. Why? The story goes that the graves face east to enable the resurrected dead to face rising sun on judgment morning. I ponder on this. It doesn’t jive with the slogans on monuments proclaiming that the departed are already up in heaven. What? Do they leave the angel band and return to the crypt to rise?

I pass the tomb of little Vienna Dill -- 1863-1865. The child died of yellow fever and was buried in a glass top casket. Years later, curious vandals exhumed her body and found it intact. But she quickly deteriorated when they opened the casket. She was reburied and now a heavy concrete slab marks the spot, atop of which lies a stone cherubic figure of a child sleeping on her side.

Nearby lies…er.. stands the body of a British sailor who died aboard ship in the port of Beaufort during the Revolutionary war. He wished that he not be buried with his boots off, so he was interred standing up! The grave marker reads:
“Resting ‘neath a foreign ground
Here stands a sailor of Mad George’s Crown
Name unknown and all alone
Standing in the rebel’s Ground”

In January 1886, the “Crissie Wright”, a three-masted schooner. encountered bad weather on her way north and tried to make it into the shelter of Lookout Bight. But her main mast brace parted and she drifted helplessly onto the shoals where she lay broadside and was broached by every incoming wave.

Many of the shorefolk tried in vain to help the sailors. They built a bonfire, hoping the men would swim to it. But those who tried froze to death in the attempt. The next morning, the waves subsided and the whalers were able to reach the schooner. They found four men wrapped in the jib sail. They were all frozen solid but one, the ship’s cook, who was barely alive. He died a year later. Except for the cook, all the victims of the wreck were together in a common grave here. The locals still have an expression: “cold as the night the Crissie Wright came ashore.”

On the Craven Street side of the graveyard is the “Rum Keg Girl”. The story goes that an English family, including an infant daughter, came to Beaufort. The girl grew up with a desire to see her homeland and persuaded her mother to allow her to make the voyage. Mom agreed, butmade the father promise to bring her back “in one piece”. The girl made it to England, but on the way back, she died. Ordinarily, she would have been buried at sea, but for the promise her father made. So he purchased a keg of rum, drained the contents and sealed his daughter inside and buried her when he returned. The marker was hard to read. I couldn’t make out the dates.

Daylight fading, I find the bike and leave the graveyard still telling its stories to any who would come close enough to hear.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Slow is good

My daughter asked me the other day, “Dad, why do you pick slow things?”

“What do you mean, Sugarbear?”

“You like to ride your bicycle and you like to sail,” she said. “Motorcycles and motor boats go a lot faster.”

Guilty as charged. As to why, let’s see…Motors belch smoke and make noise. Maybe It’s an age thing. I don’t like noisy people and I don’t like noisy things.

Also, consider this: Last time I sailed to Cape Lookout, with the world sliding by, like a lazy carousel backdrop, I heard a splash off the port bow and saw a pod of dolphins break the water right in front of the boat. They were this close! Just inches below the surface. You could see their undulating silver shapes shimmer through the water. They were playing with the boat, racing her. You just don’t see that in a power boat. The noise scares them away.

It’s winter now and I don’t get the opportunity to ride the Trek 2300 as much. But when a warm day comes along I will take to the two-lane paved roads that cross-hatch the rolling farmland just west of our neighborhood. On one such day recently, I rode past a cemetery. I had clicked the derailleur into a high gear, preparing for a slight downhill grade, when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young woman, her back to me, standing beside a new grave. I was moving quickly but I saw that she had in her right hand one of those foil balloons. She was staring down at a fresh mound of dirt.

I continued my ride and made the turn-around at Highway 751 and then began to pedal home. By the time I passed the cemetery a second time, the woman was gone. Curious, I pedaled over to the fresh mound of dirt. His name was Ronald Brennan, age 24. The balloon was still there, bobbing in a light breeze. It bore the words “I (symbol for heart) You”. Articles that had been placed around the grave let me know that Ron had been a musician. A styrofoam guitar studded with flowers made some reference to an “angel band”. Several people had signed it. I wondered about the balloon woman. Was she a friend? His girlfriend? His wife?

I finished my ride and slid the bike back onto its rack in the garage. I was still thinking about Ronald Brennan as I removed my helmet and shoes. After a shower, I plugged his name into Google. Nothing. But when I searched local obituaries, his name popped up. He had died seven days ago of bone cancer. He played and sang at people’s weddings and parties but his regular job was doing construction. No mention of a wife or why he had died so young.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


I’m in this tunnel last night, OK? And all I can tell you is that it’s long and dark and damp. And I am moving through it with great difficulty. For some reason, my feet won’t obey my brain. I can see the end of the tunnel and what appear to be street lights and tree branches. So it must be nighttime outside.

I know it is a simple matter of crawling to the light and stepping out into the open. But inexplicably, I can’t move forward. I am stupidly preoccupied with my pockets. I am searching every pocket….for what? I can’t tell you.
I never do make it out of the tunnel. I wake up first. It is 4 o’clock in the morning. I tell myself to remember this dream. And to make sure I do, I replay it in my mind before dozing off again.

We took the grandboys to Walt Disney World recently. It was crowded the day after Thanksgiving. There was an hour wait for Dumbo. So while Drake, the older one, went with Aunt Katie and Uncle Ryan to ride the flying pachyderm, I took little Xander, put him on my shoulders to plug the cry valve (little kid didn’t know he was having fun), and got in the shorter line for the “Hall of Disney Heroines”. This is where Cinderella, Snow White, Tinker Bell and the others stand in perfect character, greeting children and smiling for photographs. But Xander wanted no part of it. Not even the professional Disney Handlers could coax him into it. He took one look at pasty-faced Cinderella and his wail increased by at least 20 decibels. So, we left the building and found the Dumbo riders.

Disney, from a cynic’s point of view, is a velvet money trap starring Mickey Mouse as the high priest of pickpockets. But that aside, it does have a unique atmosphere that can cheer the disconsolate adult and mesmerize the kids.

When I knew the picture session with Snow White and Xander wasn’t going to happen, I asked Snow White if the rumors were true about her and Sneezy. She winked and said in her best cartoon voice, “Oh my! I love ALL of them just the same!” I’ll bet you do, you ol’ frog kisser. No, wait, that’s another fairy tale, isn’t it? And if “When you wish upon a star your dreams come true” like the song says… does that mean that I will find myself crawling through some tunnel sludge for real? Just asking.