Saturday, April 5, 2014

Spring At Last

Sleeping Laughing Gulls. Courtesy TMP.
Several hundred seagulls invaded the marina and surrounding creek water a couple days ago reminding me of the classic Hitchcock horror film, The Birds. Unusual for our part of this southern waterway was the homogeneity of the flocks and rafts of washing and preening gulls. All were Laughing Gulls with black heads and high-pitched nasal cackling derisive "laughter." 

We presume that the birds of a feather were migrating back north to the rich feeding grounds of New York's and New Jersey's municipal dumps and landfills. (Why do we call them "landfills" when we are building a mountain with garbage?)

Laughing Laughing Gulls.  Courtesy TMP. 

Naturally, they pay for their stay in guano, a valuable currency in the nineteenth century, but not so much today. On the other hand, they are not so obnoxious as the cormorant that chose LZ Sea Dogs' masthead as its nesting place from which it released massive wet white oysters of waste onto the deck and canvas. Bill threatened to fell the mast to get rid of that bird, or shoot it. I suppose Bill's verbal harangue was more than the bird could stand; seeing that it was unwelcome, it eventually departed.

The sun has last. With temperatures pushing into the eighties, the water has begun to warm, some fish swim back into the creek to feed the otters (that happily and savagely chomp their silver-sided catch when they surface from their invisible chase) and dolphins, and the crabs will soon emerge form their winter mud hungry for the bait in our traps. The ospreys are re-building their nest, coasting high above the water to haul branches in their talons from the mainland woods to the tall gray dead pine on the river shore. Pelicans have returned as well, but may just be passing through.

Spring is the best weather of an outside life. Fresh air rushes through the hatches, a soft breeze sweeps through the saloon. With open ports, we hear the waves whisper in the dark. Songbirds chirp lightly amid pollen, bright skies and a blue river. The mink scampered past the clubhouse a few days ago, and a family of three otters has been fishing and playing in the marina. White sails, elegant in contrast to the rich blue of the sky, float across the water like origami swans.

Blue sky, blue water.

Large pods of dolphins cluster off the end of the peninsula, swirling and smashing the water with their tails, stunning their prey, eating as they swim on, leaving a bright slick of fish oil to mark their passing. The bold southwest wind remains fresh and pleasant, almost chilly, as it blows over the cool river.

On shore at LouMac Park, which I can see from the boat, the colorful tent village of the Cycle NC bikers camping by the river. A thousand or so cyclists have gathered in Oriental to enjoy long leisurely rides on our flat and shady country roads. Most drivers try not to hit them.

A week ago, Glenda hosted her third oyster roast of the year. Having enjoyed the first two roasts, we returned eager to savor more oysters. Her home has a relaxed setting on Broad Creek and, last week, dozens of pelicans were clustered on two docks, bills in the winds of a passing front. Rich cooked a cauldron of Frogmore Stew under the big pine -- shrimp (of course), clams, kielbasa, corn and potatoes. Inside were meatballs, more shrimp, chowder, queso and chips along with Beth's first Bahamian Mac & cheese get the idea. More tasty food than all of us could eat in one sitting.

As much fun as we had, as many oysters as I shucked and slurped, I confess that slicing off three knuckles while trying to shuck a difficult oyster was not a highpoint. Lesson: wear gloves on both hands so that you do not drip dark red blood all over your hostess' kitchen floor, counter and sink.

Oyster knuckles a week later, healing nicely. Photo by Cam.

Freeloading Laughing Gulls on the still-free ferry.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Curse or Coincidence?

Laughing gulls crowd the dock

Big mistake yesterday, I left the water to visit a friend, thus unleashing a vehicular hell.

A slightly rough start for the Land Cruiser was followed a half mile later by a sharp backfire when I crossed the state-maintained boundary onto White Farm Road. The muffler exploded, but I did not know that at the time so I continued. Although the Land Cruiser died on me, it restarted easily. Every time it stopped running all the way to Ben's home. However, when I tried to return from Ben's a couple of hours later, it would not start. Not surprising given how many times it had died on the way there.

I borrowed Ben's truck. He is recovering from surgery and did not need to be driving anyway. And I needed to return to the marina to inflate one of Taylor's tires that had gone flat while she was in Greensboro; she had an interview in the afternoon in Bayboro.

When I tried the door locks on Taylor's Subaru, nothing happened, so I tried to start it. Dead. New battery, but not a whisper of effort. I borrowed Butch's jumper cables. Taylor has her own, but they were in Beth's car from when I jumped her car a couple of weeks ago. With the Subaru started and recharging its battery, I plugged the tire pump into the 12V system in the car. No joy. The owner of Penelope, a trimaran, offered his onboard car pump. It did not provide much pressure, but it worked slowly, ever so slowly. We had a nice chat about the two years he and his wife spent cruising and the renting of their house while they were gone, a disappointing experience as the last tenants trashed the house before departing.

I needed to return Ben's truck before evening, and Butch and Ches offered to follow me to troubleshoot the Land Cruiser and give me a ride back if it failed to start again. I climbed into Ben's truck, turned the key in the ignition and....nothing. Silence as empty as deepest darkest space.

"Really?" I exclaimed toward Butch as I motioned for him to turn off his truck. "This makes no sense. The truck started fine when I cranked it up to jump Taylor's car. How could it have no charge?"

"Were the battery connections corroded?" queried Butch. 

Butch and Ches know about cars, having built drag racers and rebuilt their own cars and trucks many times when they lived in Virginia and West Virginia. I worked at a gas station during the 1974 gas shortage. I replaced water pumps and changed oil, batteries and lots of stuff about which I learned almost nothing.

"No, looked about average to me." As if I would know.

Butch, Ches and Prancer the Pomeranian drove me to Village Hardware, their second trip in less than half an hour. Paul directed me to the battery terminals and I purchased two to replace the ones on Ben's truck that had corroded to the point that, when I attached the jumper cables, I unknowingly pinched right through the hot wire.

What are the odds of having three different vehicles fail on you on the same day? Can such a trifecta be coincidence? I think not.

To cap it all, when Butch and Ches looked under the hood of the Land Cruiser, it cranked without hesitation. They praised the smooth purr of the engine, and I drove it back to the marina without incident. Of course, something had exploded the muffler that morning. I know not what. Mechanical things baffle me because too often they behave irrationally.

In any case, I should never leave the water.

Royal tern and friends

Back on the dock, The terns have returned (reterned?). They perch on dock pilings with their orange beaks pointing into the wind under jaunty black crests. They look fast even sitting still. Mornings are raucous with argumentative gulls. They do not care that we plan to sleep past sunrise. With daylight the cacophony begins. Sharp clipped cries of many gulls squawking "mine, mine, mine, five, five, ten, ten, ten, ten" like an auction gone mad with meaningless bids, each gull screeching over the others, louder and louder. If spooked, they rise as one, swoop high above the creek, then dive back to the dock to steal each other's pilings. All the while, the laughing gulls laugh maniacally.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Between Hurricane Seasons

A drop behind the ferry
Finally it is March. For this part of the coast, that should mean spring. It is not spring despite the daffodils and crepe myrtle blooming.

With cold freezing rain again this past week, the cars sheathed in ice, Beth's school cancelled classes. Bitter and sharp northerly gale-force winds rocked us to sleep. The air was cloudy with blowing mist, gray and dull under sunless skies.

Raccoon Creek (usually called the Duck Pond) flooded Hodges Street, but The Bean was open for anyone with Neuse Nikes, the white rubber calf-high fishermen's boots ubiquitous to our working waterfront. Inside the warm coffee shop, hot drinks mixed with warm conversation and a view across the cold and lifeless harbor.

Lying in my berth a couple mornings back, listening to the bursts of wind and rocked by the swing of the boat, I thought, "What if? What if our climate has begun a significant and irreversible change? A cataclysmic change? What if the increasing frequency and intensity of storms we have witnessed this year is just the beginning?"

On the plus side of the life ledger, with sea levels rising, living on a boat is fairly ideal. Still, a boat is vulnerable to big storms. We can prepare for hurricanes, pulling the boat out of the water or seeking a sheltered anchorage up one of the many creeks that feed the Neuse. But how should we prepare for a threat as broad as climate change?

When we are accustomed to and familiar with certain cycles, change is disruptive and disorienting (disorientating, if you are British). When sailing open water with no shore in sight, we depend upon the guidance of charts and GPS to know where we are and to see where our destination lies and how long we must travel to reach port. There is no guide for climate, especially when it is a material change to the familiar, no pattern of latitude and longitude on which we can find our position. Climate unfolds in its own way, conserving its mystery until we experience its effect.

Midway between the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons is a good time to reflect on last year. Fortunately, the weather prognosticators were badly wrong on the high side, calling for more and more severe hurricane activity than we witnessed. For the first time since 2010, we did not have a local hurricane. 

Nevertheless, we dutifully and diligently studied daily the origins, projected paths and timing of every tropical disturbance identified by NOAA. We followed the reports of the hurricane hunters each time they flew into a storm to take wind and pressure readings. We scoured multiple sources of weather data for anomalies, knowing that one source cannot catch it all. We watched the progress of fronts sweeping across the continent to block or deflect or feed threatening systems.

Last year, none struck us. We never had to seriously evaluate the severity of the risk to determine the best place for the boat and ourselves. But the time will come. There is no year without concern for hurricanes. Until then, we will enjoy the sun any day we can.