Monday was our last full day on the island. It was the only day that we did not go to the ocean. We spent the mid morning cleaning and doing some pre travel arranging and then walked around the village so Bev could look in several of the shops. At each stop, I did my best to keep any available outside seating from being stolen while she shopped. I’m not much of a shopper. Most segments of the retail economy would collapse if they had to depend on people like me. The only Ocracoke shops I entered were the grocery store, the seafood shop and the tackle shop. I did go to the grocery store often. Early Monday afternoon we made our largest single grocery purchase as we prepared to cook for a group of friends that evening. I thought about music as I cooked that meal.
One of the pleasures of playing music is the way that it opens doors. I met my wife and most of my close friends because of a guitar or a banjo or a bass. Probably the same thing happens to golfers, trap shooters and chess players, but I treasure the images of so many music-made friends over so many years. A few of them are famous. All of them are special. With most I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a song or a few from the vast body known as “the tradition.” As we played, that tradition changed: refined by fresh interpretation or expanded by new material springing from the fertile minds and depth of human experience brought to focus in the heady atmosphere that sometimes infuses an impromptu jam session. Somewhere in the process of that long journey, I learned that songs do not have to be old to be traditional.
Almost from their beginning, the work of Lennon and McCartney began showing up where people gathered to play traditional country. Manfred Mann’s “Fox on the Run” has long been a Bluegrass standard. Some new songs come with the fit and feel of “tradition” because in their creation they were molded and hand fit into the swirls and eddies of emotion that wind through the chambers of every human heart. Some artists — Larry Sparks comes to mind — can, by sheer force of talent, embue a superficial ditty with soul and power. These days, if you have the chance to listen to a parking lot jam session at a Bluegrass festival or fiddler’s convention, don’t be surprised if the players launch into something by Beyonce or The Black Eyed Peas. For what it’s worth, I like mine cooked with fatback and served with hot, buttered cornbread.
The joy of sharing music often leads to the joy of sharing lives, and that’s part of our newest bond to Ocracoke. Last October we happened to meet a couple members of the famous folk group, Molasses Creek. Marcy and Lou and Fiddler Dave graced some of my performance time, and Bev and I attended their regular performance at the Deep Water Theater. This year we got to know the band better, and they accepted my offer to cook a Dutch oven meal for them on our last night. (Keep in mind that the “Dutch ovens” to which I refer have nothing to do with blankets or flatulence.)
About three o’clock Monday afternoon, I parked the bus on School Rd. near the Deep Water Theater. There we began peeling potatoes and onions and rounding up biscuit ingredients. By 4:30 we were carrying cast iron ovens, boxes of supplies and banjo cases a short way along Howard street to the restored, historic home of soon-to-be friend, Philip Howard. I cooked a hearty shepherd’s pie in one of my larger ovens and made-from-scratch biscuits in another, then ten of us surrounded the magnificent round table that once belonged to Sam Jones to share the meal and pleasurable conversation. After supper we sat around the living room and played music for an hour. Bev and I found every part of the evening a pleasure and a joyous way of winding down our time on Ocracoke. Our host for the evening has a related blog entry here: http://villagecraftsmen.blogspot.com/2014/10/sheperds-pie-banjo-music.html?showComment=1414690952753#c1873186019735183317
Before daylight on Tuesday morning we were cleaning and stowing for travel. After we shared morning tea and said goodbye to our hosts, we drove through the village about eleven and parked in the public lot near the ferry dock. We were booked on the 1:00 boat for Cedar Island. We ate at an outdoor food stand and then Bev visited one more shop. She had to buy a grandchild gift or two. We had to claim our ferry reservation by 12:30. We got there at twelve. Because of being early, we spent two and a half hours in the ferry line. Our boat was an hour and a half late. When we were finally able to load, they placed our curb side so close to the cabin that I could not open the door. It was no big deal since we had everything we needed for the two-and-a-quarter hour trip, but it meant no visiting with the other passengers during this crossing. If we had experienced trouble, we could have easily gotten out a window or one of three escape hatches. My major disappointment with being closed in is that I have no pictures from the boat deck. We did manage a few through the driver’s window.
Even though this was only our third long ferry ride — the first was leaving the island 37 years ago — we’ve learned to love the two plus hour trip. I thought to check our progress by GPS and learned that the boat we were on averaged 11.5 mph. That was plenty fast enough as we began to decompress from an experience which, in spite of a few unpleasantries, still has an Avalon-like feel for us. Ocracoke is just other-worldly enough to allow us a smidgen of perspective on the labor we went through to get there and the labor to which we return. This trip is proving far more valuable than the dollars and the few drops of sweat we expended to make it happen. I saw no mists parting as we crossed Pamlico Sound, and I neither saw or felt anything akin to a trans dimensional experience, so I am encouraged by the reaffirmation that Ocracoke is not some mystic mecca which can only be reached by the pure of heart. Come to think of it, that group of drunk, non-singing, Elvis-impersonating fishermen had already made that fact clear. If you want to go there, you can, and I intend to. Someday. Maybe not next October, but someday.
The drive from Cedar Island dock provided further reality check. For most of an hour I drove along narrow, two-lane roads which obviously were built on an inconceivable amount of hauled-in fill. All that separated our thirty thousand plus pounds of rolling hardware from the swamps and canals was a narrow and steeply sloping shoulder. If we had experienced a breakdown, I would not have dreamed of putting even a single tire off the pavement. We had no trouble, and I was not exactly nervous, but that stretch of driving demanded my absolute attention. I was not unhappy when we reached wider lanes with more forgiving berms.
Because our boat was so late, we soon realized that we would not make it to our friend’s home near Jacksonville with enough daylight to negotiate their narrow drive. While we were enjoying our first trip through the seaport section of Morehead City, we decided that this would be a good place to spend the night. We located an excellent spot on the fringe of a Wally World lot, next to a belt of grass and trees where I could walk Kora and close enough to Lowe’s to use their excellent wifi. We walked to Micky Dee and ate McRib sandwiches before enjoying a satisfying dose of Netflix in bed.
After a leisurely morning and a lunch of delicious leftovers, we drove partway back across town to shoot these photos at Diamond Limo Service:
That’s right, it’s ANOTHER Gillig H2000LF. I did not try to find out where this bus had served, but it is not outside the realm of possibility that it could have been an RDU stablemate of our Sophia. It now serves as a “party” bus, which is, I believe, a euphemism for “rolling bar and strip joint.” We are happy to provide different work for Sophia. I thought about that contrast as we drove to our next waypoint near the massive military base known as Camp Lejune. Our visit had nothing to do with the Marines. Our business wore a different sort of dog tag.
I’ve learned that people who rescue dogs want to tell about it. Since I have Kora with me so often in public, I’ve come to expect the likelihood of having to hear someone’s rescue experience. Sometimes the person who is anxious to share is being dragged around by the object of their philanthropy, but more often they’ve left Muffy or Butch or Major at home. The conversation always starts the same way: “That’s a beautiful dog. Is he a rescue?”
I always ignore the gender confusion. Sometimes I can’t tell if a pooch I’m meeting for the first time is male or female, but Kora is — and I’m being absolutely honest — far too pretty and feminine to be a male of any breed. Rather than correcting the stranger concerning Kora’s gender, the question racing at that moment through my frontal cortex is how can I politely excuse myself from having to listen to another rescue story. When the pickup line includes any use of the word “rescue”, I can almost certainly count on an extensive diatribe which will include excruciating detail concerning the person’s emotional state at the time of the “rescue” and a long list of the health and behavioral issues the dog brought to the relationship. It’s not that I don’t think rescuing any dog from a bad situation is admirable. It is. I’m just not interested in hearing about it. For a long time I found myself trapped no matter what I said. For the past few months, however, this method has provided partial relief. I look the questioner momentarily in the eye as I say, “Yes she IS.” And as I’m turning to head in any other direction I add, “We rescued her from the best breeder of working Aussies in the southeast.” Sometimes that confuses them just long enough for me to make my getaway.
That breeder’s name is Bill, and he is our friend who lives just across the road from Camp Lejune. We met Bill and Judy in 2011 during the course of my research to find an Australian Shepherd breeder who was focused on producing dogs that have sense and working ability rather than animals which have been bred for size or color or coat length or any number of secondary characteristics. Bill and I became friends almost from the beginning.
We picked Kora out from photographs and emailed descriptions of her, her ancestors and her litter mates. After Bev, it’s one of the most fortunate choices of my life. Kora is a joy and a delight, and we have long since learned that she has those instincts and abilities to be a great livestock dog that her entire pedigree suggests. Since we don’t own livestock in this phase of our lives, we bring Kora back to Bill from time to time so he can refresh her training and handle her in an upcoming working trial event. Kora is staying at Bayfield Farm until after her next trial event in early December. That is, if we can stand to be without her for so long.
On Wednesday afternoon we got to see that she has not forgotten her training as Bill took her to the field to bring in his goats and later to handle his flock of ducks. Working Aussies have to have proficiency with cattle, sheep and ducks. Kora used to not like ducks. She’s doing great with them now. We’re looking forward to her building her next round of credentials in December as she works toward one day being awarded the letters WTCH permanently affixed to the front of her registered name. That stands for Working Trial Champion.
When we left Bill and Judy’s early Thursday morning, we took with us two of Kora’s pups which had been there the past two months for their initial training. These girls, Tosh and Thena, are not yet eleven months old, but they are both well started on their life’s work. One of the purposes for this leg of the trip was delivering them to their new owners between Raleigh and Greensboro. We hate to see these girls go, but their new home is with people who will love them and treat them well in addition to providing them an everyday opportunity to use their great intellect and ability. I am pleased to report that Bill is so impressed with Kora and her offspring that he now owns a littermate to Tosh and Thena. Becka is so much like her mother, and that is nothing but good.
After we delivered the pups and lunched at Steak and Shake, we drove steadily west for a couple hours or more. At Morganton, we stopped for fuel and supplies and then headed mostly south along hilly, two-lane roads toward South Mountain State Park.
South Mountain is a curious corner of Appalachia, separated from the contiguous mass of the Blue Ridge by fifty or so miles. I suppose this would be a good time for some of you to learn to properly pronounce the word “Appalachian.” It has no long “A” sound, and the final syllable does NOT sound like “shun.” Remember that. All short “A” sounds, and the ending is “chun.” Use this little ditty to remember how to pronounce the noun form: “Mr. Snake,” said Eve, “If you attempt to deceive, I’ll throw this apple atcha.”
We discovered that the State of North Carolina had chosen this particular time to replace several bridges and improve a number intersections along the route from Morganton to South Mountain. Inconvenient though that might have been, it was compounded by the fact that we were allowed to drive nearly ten miles down Enola Rd. without being forewarned that we would find that road closed for bridge replacement. We were forced into a long backtrack and searching for an appropriate detour. Once we discovered the way around, we began seeing Enola Rd. Detour signs. The intersection where the Road Closed Ahead sign should have been placed bore no such indication. What should have taken us about half an hour was more than doubled.
South Mountain Park was worth the trouble. Even though it’s in our back yard, I’d not been there since I was a pup. Getting into the campground was tight, but we found a lovely spot. Hardwood fall colors were at their peak, a beautiful stream flows through the site, and only a handful of other campers were present. Had extensive talks with two different young rangers who were interested in Sophia. We stayed two nights with not even minimal cell service. Hated to leave midmorning Saturday, but a cold rain was falling and turning to snow. Friday night temps had dropped into the high thirties with much colder predicted for later on Saturday. We decided that we shouldn’t tempt fate and possibly not be able to get the bus out of the campground. The exit promised to be challenging enough on merely wet pavement due to a sharp angle between the uphill exit drive and the connecting road. No one else was in the parking lot, so I was able to swing far to the left before turning right out of the lot. Our low floor did not scrape at all. I was glad.
The trip from South Mountain to home base in Marion was uneventful in spite of the rain. We stopped near Morganton for a Taco Bell lunch and a run into Lowe’s. Stopped again at Spencer’s Hardware in our hometown for a wood stove door gasket. I need to get our little stove back up on a temporary mount to get us through the next few days, especially since we’re operating sans insulation.
About 1:00 P.M. we rolled back onto our usual parking place. We’d been gone sixteen days. Our odometer doesn’t work, so I don’t know how many miles. The bus performed almost flawlessly other than horrible fuel economy. Hard to accurately check for above mentioned reasons, but a couple of spot checks along the interstate showed something like 5.5 mpg. We should get at least 8 and I wouldn’t think 9 or 10 unreasonable. More investigation required.
I’m penning this wrap-up about five hours after we returned. I’ve been busy all afternoon attending necessary chores with the bus and our home base. I’ve also been putting a good bit of thought into tomorrow since it’s a Sunday and I have pastoral duties for the first time in a month. As much as I’d like to write something about the net effect of this trip, I can’t find the thoughts. Much less the words. Maybe that will come in the next few days. If so, I’ll share.
We’re thrilled that we got to go. Double thrilled that we had no mechanical issues even though our CoachNet was paid. In thirty seven years of marriage, this is the longest we’ve ever been away. I can’t say “away from home” since we were driving and living in “home” the whole time, but we were away from the place we usually park and the place where most of our responsibilities are centered. It was good to be away. It’s good to be back. In spite of the drastic change in weather, I find that I’m ready for the next phase. However that comes. I suspect that it will come hard and fast.
Best to all,
Jim & Bev
Back in Marion, NC
P.S. We had one incident today that made me chuckle. While we were waiting for food at Taco Bell, I stood patiently waiting for a short-but-not-slim woman to move away from the accessory station. She finally took a couple steps toward the serving counter, and I moved in and began pulling a few napkins. While I was at it, she reversed those two steps without bothering to look behind her. Of course she ran into me. I was not hurt or inconvenienced in any way, but she appeared to be horribly embarrassed. As she turned and looked up at me to begin her apologies, her eyes grew to enormous proportion. I assured her that it was okay, but she went on. I didn’t realize until a few moments after she finally walked away that she had been struck by both my size and the fact that I was still wearing the navy blue watch cap I had put on before we left the campground. I heard her behind me asking Beverly, “Is your husband a lumberjack? He sure is big.” I turned immediately and sang the only appropriate response, “I’m a lumberjack, and I’m okay. I sleep all night and I work all day.”