|The Chicamacomico at Milestone landing|
This morning, the Chicomacomico woke me from a deep sleep with the low frequency vibration of its big diesel engine, powering down as it glided into the landing at Milestone. D O G heard and came to tell me it was time, putting one paw on my arm and I got up, leaving my husband warm and curled up on his side of the bed.
The Chicomacomico does a lumbering, watery minuet with the River Neuse today. The schedule is regular, so you know more or less what time it is here by calculating the height of the sun and the arrivals and departure of the ferry. The two flat boats with tall, slender pilot houses cross each other mid-channel, moving vehicles across this widest section of the Big River near where it elbows a degree or two northeast before it bells out into the Great Sound. Both are about 275 gross ton ferries with a vehicle capacity of about 26 or less, depending on what kind of vehicles load on. Sometimes a truck pulling another boat will make the trip, taking up three or four vehicle's worth of deck space. But the car ferries are completely free, no matter what you're hauling, and they lace together the outer and inner shore points, from the great web of inland waterway out to the barrier islands that face the wide open sea.
I don't know what the Chicomacomico's doing here. Our wake up call usually comes from the Floyd J. Lupton, a larger capacity ferry which plies these waters regularly. The Chicomacomico's traditional route is from Hatteras to Okracoke, but apparently she's on loan to us, maybe because the Lupton's in for a seasonal over-haul. I wonder if she came here with crew and Captain, or whether they just delivered her into the hands of the usual crew. Which is more important? Intimacy with the boat itself, or knowledge of the river?
D O G and I go out for a walk at about 6:45. This early-rising is a sign of my new maturity. I am willing (and able) to haul myself out of bed this early to take him out for his morning walkies where once moving around at such an hour would have been almost physically painful for me. I can do it without coffee now. I wake, wipe the sleep from my eyes, and pull on a soft old sweatshirt, chinos and some broken down Nike Airs. It gives me pleasure to wear my old clothes, and to pull a wool hat over my head in order to avoid brushing my hair, even with my fingers. I hook D O G on his leash, and we head out the door.
All D O G needs is one briny whiff of the outdoors and he's awake and wiggling down the stairs from the top of the Lighthouse, ready for adventure. We get to the bottom, and I can feel how much we both enjoy that first silent step onto the incredibly spongy coastal turf and the sweet, balsam scent that rises from the soft, wet beds of pine needles. There's a light and bracing brininess to the cool mist and the air is still. The slight chill pouring in off the River is opening my eyes and bringing me gently to full consciousness in the half-light of early morning. Every thing's gray, and what's not gray is a muted version of its normal color. We walk down to the ferry landing to see what's going on.
The Chicomacomico does a slow 180 before sending up a black cloud of diesel and sliding bow-first into the slip at Milestone. The Lupton doesn't do the flip, and since I haven't ever been up in the wheel house, I'm not sure how it accomplishes the trip from Point A to Point B on the Big River going backwards. But these smaller vessels do the flip, and then power down to glide into the dock making silent contact with the cushioned pilings. The crew drops the metal gangway and it clanks onto land. Then there's the shout “UN-load!”. I am startled. It's the first human sound I've heard today. Two cars and one truck bump-bump over the gangway onto the reassuring solidity of the Ferry's asphalt lot and, once all three vehicles have disappeared west down the highway and into the pines, D O G and I turn to leave. That'll be all for the traffic in Milestone for the next 45 minutes or so.
I feel satisfied to have held off on the pleasure of the first sip of hot coffee that awaits me back home.