Life is all about being part of the stream, not standing in it, at least that is the definition I found while at Atlantic Beach one year.
How we react during the aftermath of a bad decision will help define who we are. I found part of my definition while one hour into a two hour trip across the mouth of the Pamlico Sound- and by my own definition, the decision that put me in the middle of that expansive body of water wasn’t such a bad decision after all.
One summer in the early 1990’s, I had taken my family to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, for a one week vacation of fun and sun at the beach. Emphasis on the sun- I mean accentuate the sun with a big fat exclamation point as the sky was clear and the temperatures poked through the 100 degrees ceiling.
The first two days were hot enough to make the beach uncomfortable. The typical coastal breeze was no more than Satan’s whisper. Dipping into the ocean was a moot point because by the time we made it back to the shelter we built with two cheap umbrellas, the blazing sun evaporated the water from our bodies and clothing. I swear I remember seeing steam come off of us as we ran- oh yeah, the sand was hot enough to melt our feet. The shade of the shelter wasn’t much relief from the stifling heat as the sub-tropic climate ensured air so thick we could scoop a glass of hot water right out of the air.
Day two:sun-burnt, exhausted, and thoroughly irritated, the four of us fell into a hotel room that was marginally cooler than the beach- the air conditioner begged us to fan it as it sounded like it was coughing up its last copper coil and close to death.
We all agreed that the first two days demanded a break from the Saharan Beach, which meant we needed an alternate activity on the third. So, I started looking at nearby attractions and came up with the Emerald Isle Aquarium, which immediately brought on cheers of joy from my wife and two children, but of course I had to dampen the parade with some of my over-thought logic. The aquarium was only a few minutes up the road, and yes it was most likely air conditioned, which meant that all the other families on vacation in the area were mostly likely drooling over the same location for respite from the sweltering beach.
“Imagine what the inside of that place, a building full of water, will feel like with all that hot human flesh pressed upon it,” (or some such malarkey). “A/C or not, that place will be miserably close- and we can’t spend all day in there; two hours at best according to my estimation.”
The spokesman for the rest of the group, my now ex, chimed in with, “What else is there to do? We have to take a break from the beach, and we can’t spend all day in this terrarium.”
I smiled like a pirate of days gone past—I may or may not have let out a hearty “Arrrgh”— spread a map across the bed, and traced my finger along an imaginary path until I stabbed at a place called Kill Devil Hills- the sacred grounds where man first bent the skies to his will.
“And how will going there help us tomorrow? Isn’t that a long way around just to see some godforsaken sand dunes?” She asked as she traced a slithering path inland across some estuary and back towards the coast and Nag’s Head, “How long do you suppose it will take us to get around THAT?” She stabbed the Pamlico Sound.
Plunk! The ace-up-my-sleeve brochure hit the map. “Look what I discovered. There is a ferry service that runs from Beaufort to Cape Hatteras. We can drive the AIR CONDITIONED car to the ferry; enjoy a just over two hour quasi-cruise, and then drive up the Outer Banks to Kitty Hawk.” Almost mumbling under my breath, I tossed in, “I can hang glide at KDH.” Regaining clarity in my diction, I continued, “We’ll pack the cooler with fruit and drinks. Heck, maybe we can spend time on the beach up that way. And then we can come back the long way- the route you traced.”
She then looked at me with the I-have-fallen-prey-to-your-hairball-schemes-in-the-past-and-will-probably-be-sucked-into-this-one-too cocked eyebrow. “What’s the deal? When do we have to be in Beaufort to make the ferry?”
“We need to call now, to reserve a spot for tomorrow. I think we should shoot for the 9:00 a.m departure. That way we can get breakfast and not be rushed.” Knowing I had already swayed the decision, I asked, “Whaddya say? Do I make that call?”
The next morning, after a night that saw no good Samaritans peppering the searing skies with tons upon tons of ice, we arrived at the ferry station with 15 minutes to spare: duly fed, stoked for the adventure, and prepared like seasoned scouts, – only to be met by a nautical valet who parked the car on the waiting vessel and promptly hid the keys. There were signs everywhere, big red and ominous letters that warned against starting ANY vehicle while the ferry was making its crossing.
Damn. There went the a/c option for just over two hours. Oh well, how bad could it be? I smiled and said, “Look- there will be a breeze and it looks like the ferry has some shady spots. The trip will be over before we know it.”
That was met with the familiar cocked eyebrow.
After only a few minutes into the trip aboard the huge metal duck, the slick blue sky, accentuated by God’s blazing thumbprint became an obvious omen that the third day was going to be a carbon copy of the first two- just another day in the paradise of Vulcan’s furnace; the only difference was that day we were gliding along emerald glass sea while being treated to a eulogized breeze instead of sticking it out on the beach.
After nearly an hour of fighting against a handful of whining kids, miserable parents, and a seagull that shit on my shoulder, I found a comfortably shaded spot for my family- who were overtly casting furious glances my way. I grabbed one of my sandwiches and went up to boat’s bow on a mission to feed the gulls.
Breaking off pieces of the sandwich and holding them up, I watched as the birds would float down, one at a time, and snatch the orts from my fingers. Watching the birds as they calmly torqued their wings to make use of what little breeze there was in an attempt to keep pace with the boat, while drifting slowly in on the food target, was quite a testament to the awesome power of nature.
After a few minutes of being lost with my new feathered friends (yes, friends in spit of the fact that one had crapped on me earlier) I noticed two dots in the sky, to the west, as they moved from a higher altitude. No more than a few seconds passed before the dots took the shapes of aircraft- fast aircraft at that. And they were flying directly at the ferry.
The U.S.M.C Harriers, flying out of the Cherry Point Marine Air Station, ‘buzzed’ the ferry. I know they appeared a lot lower than they actually were, but I felt I could reach up and let my fingers dragged across the plane’s bellies as they whooshed overhead before they climbed and turned north, flying up the coast as if they were attached to the same invisible stick. I watched the war birds as they became gray specks against the blue sky.
After the sky erased the fading, shrinking dots, I looked down and noticed how quickly everyone else who witnessed the faux-strafing of the ferry were back to being vocally miserable due to the heat. I saw whimpering children, bitching adults, red faces, and frowns, but what I felt was something totally different.
I felt an awareness about myself. I know I was physically just as uncomfortable and suffering from the heat as everyone else, but the misery seemed to blend in with the events, no matter how unimportant they were, that just passed. That feeling became part of the experience of the moment. I felt alive; an integral component belonging to all of reality because of witnessing the marvels of flight- both natural and manmade.
But there was more. I could feel the sauna of the day, and how it affected me. I was in awe of the wonders that played out before my eyes, yet I felt a deeper experience as I could smell the ocean, feel the low rumble of the ferry’s engines they propelled the boat, I listened to the orchestra— powered by the melodies of discomfort, the laughing of gulls, and the internal rhythm of my own heartbeat—play resoundingly in hi-fidelity stereophonic sound. I saw the fading, chipping paint on the underside of the Marine Corps jets; the weather beaten, and dirty beaks of the winged scavengers; I felt sweat beads glide along my skin like they were luges racing for the Gold.
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I realized for the first time that what the saying ‘live wide’ meant. Grab the moment and ride it for what it’s worth. Make the ‘now’ as total as I possibly could.
Back at the protected area I left my family, I asked them if they heard, or saw, the planes.
Almost collectively they grunted, “Yeah, big deal. It’s hot. How much longer until we get off this damn oven?”
I smiled and replied, “I’d say- too soon.”
My smile was met with three of the most cocked eyebrows I have ever seen.
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