Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Vultures Weep Over the Beautiful Corpse

Vulture cross section: From the Household Cyclopedia,
scanned and reproduced by Matthew Spong.

The Vultures Weep Over the Beautiful Corpse

There are no tears that taste so sweet
as those the mourning vultures weep
when at last the meat's completely gone
and all that's left is gleaming bone.

All its sufferings calmed and past,
In death the corpse is who laughs last.

Spirit is not meat.
The vultures seek repast.

 - Dorothy Potter Snyder, October 2013

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pelican Passing

We took the ferry across the Big River, and drove a half hour to Bonaventure. As we rode across the sparkling water, through the piney woods on the two-lane highway, and later sat on the sun washed deck of a waterfront restaurant with our dog watching the wild horses play on the barrier islands just across the marina, I had that woozy, lighter-than-air feeling that I sometimes have when I see myself living this new, prettier, completely different life. It's a feeling that, if I let it go that way, can nauseate me or make me feel a bit crazy; but if I contemplate it as a spectator rather than as if it were mine, that feeling just makes me grin like a fool.

After lunch, I struck up a conversation with the captain of a yacht with whom I had a lot in common, including the university from which we had both graduated. He now takes people out on cruises, he said. Better life, he said. I passed the million dollar mark this year, he said. That's how much money I've put into this tub. Then, before setting sail with the business casual types who had just contracted his services for a Saturday afternoon cruise, he handed me the long, clean, white wing bone of a pelican. "Don't know what those bumps on it are," he said, handing it to me with a wink. "Might be a message."

And he was gone. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Don't Look Away

She watches the breaking news about the sentencing of Cleveland rapist, kidnapper, and murderer Ariel Castro. She is completely mesmerized by the rich flow of tears and snot that run from from Michelle Knight's tiny, broken face as she bravely addresses the court in front of the man who tortured, raped and imprisoned her for over a decade. Judge Russo addresses the man in the orange jumpsuit as if he were an ordinary guy, explaining to him wearily that Castro, contrary to what he has said in his own defense, is indeed a violent person. The criminal responds, speaking uninterruptedly for what seems like way too long a time. She wonders how can they let him talk so much. The defendant tries to formulate words, sentences, and paragraphs that will elicit the understanding and compassion of the court, and ends up proving only that he is a sociopathic narcissist.

She hangs on every word transmitted from the Cayahuga County Courthouse today, letting other tasks go unattended. She is hypnotized by the images on the screen because one summer when she was a child, she herself missed being a victim of a man like this. Missed it by a hair.  
She was 10, and riding her mother's old WWII-era blue bicycle around the flat, suburban streets of the rural, mid-western town where her grandparents lived. She had grown up spending vacations there, and she loved spending those six golden weeks each summer in a place where she was free to roam, free to play with the neighbor kids, free to get tanned and transformed by the sweet, dry, western air. It was the freedom that was the best part of those summers; the feeling of safety and limitless freedom.
One day she rode up S. Avenue from her grandparents' house on Buchanan, there in the "Presidential Streets" neighborhood of town. Pump, pump, pump, on she rode the big WWII-era bike, flying along and naming the streets out loud as she passed them: Buchanan, Pierce, Fillmore, Polk, Tyler... All the Presidents in neat historical order. That day, she went past Washington Street North where well-kept yards with brick suburban ranches gave way to dusty, weed-filled lots with low, stricken-looking wood buildings.
The TV commentators say that Castro offered the girls rides home in his car, and they got in because they knew him. He was just another guy from the neighborhood. Before they knew it, they were at his house. Before they knew it, he was pushing them through the back door, through the old house, and to the top of the old wooden stairs that went down to the basement where they saw chains coiled on the floor. Chains.
Just past Adams, the girl saw a sleek black cat crossing the bar ditch into a weedy lot followed by five tiny black kittens. So she dropped the heavy bike in the dust at the shoulder of the road and followed the cats into the car park, which fronted a series of low structures that had once been painted the sick green color normally reserved for the walls of old gas station bathrooms. There was an old aqua and white Oldsmobile parked there. It had fins and pointy red parking lights projecting out from the back like rows of missiles.  
The girl was startled when the driver's side door suddenly swung open.
She listens as the well-groomed TV news anchor recounts how one of the women tried to escape what they are now calling "the house of horrors". As punishment, he chained her to a pole in the basement and made her wear a motorcycle helmet on her head. Castro taped her legs and taped her mouth shut, and other things "too terrible to say on air", says the news anchor. Not too terrible to happen, but too terrible to say on air. You have to wonder, muses the anchorman, how Castro managed to convince the women to accompany him into his house.   
She does not remember what the old man said when he appeared so suddenly, opening the door in such a way that she nearly walked right into it; he must have seen her coming in the rearview mirror. But she did remember that after he swung open the car door, he stuck out his dirty, denim-covered legs so that she was trapped between the door and his legs. He wore "over-hauls" on his big, old man's body, and he had very red, sunburned skin with a dusting of white hairs all over. He was poorly shaved, and gave off a strong odor of stale sweat, cigarettes and beer. He did not smile.
The old man asked her questions. She was afraid that she had been trespassing, so she stood straight and respectful, hands clasped loosely in front as she did in music class. She responded to his questions shyly, looking up to answer and then quickly looking back down at the rubber toes of her sneakers. He asked many, many questions: Where was she from? What was her name? What was her Daddy's name? How old was she? Did her Daddy take care of her good? She itched where the sweat trickled down the back of her turquoise wash n' wear shorts and top, but she didn't dare reach up to scratch. Her mouth had gone dry.
He told her that he lived "all alone" and said other words designed to evoke sympathy. She said, "Oh, I bet you never get a nice home-cooked meal," and she immediately regretted the intimate sound of the words as they left her mouth. He invited her into the low wood structure with the fly-specked screen door that was only feet from where she stood. Are you hungry? he asked. I have some snacks inside. No thank you, she said. Not "no thanks", but "no thank you", still smiling politely and dipping as if to curtsy, awkwardly holding onto the protocol her mother had taught her to use with adults. But a creepy tingle at the base of her brain kept saying "uh oh uh oh uh oh", and it was as if an invisible lasso were being slowly lowered around her as she stood frozen, staring at the rubber toes of her sneakers.
On the TV, the police officers and lawyers around Castro in the courtroom are all men. They avert their eyes from the alleged monster as he speaks, or look in his general direction but somehow just past him with odd grimaces (of anger? shame? discomfort?) on their faces. Castro's lawyers do not look at their client either, but rather at the judge, leaning slightly forward with hunched shoulders. Castro says "I am not a monster, I'm sick," and incongruously raises his handcuffed hands in what seems to be a gesture of prayer. And still all the men look away, look everywhere but at the man in the orange jumpsuit. Look at him, she thinks, look right at him.
The old man asked the girl, what are you doing this summer? She, her sister and the neighbor kids friends were collecting aluminum cans to turn in at the recycling plant for money; the kids were proud of their little business and pursued it vigorously, even though they would come home smelling of stale beer as a result of plunging headfirst into waste baskets at the municipal golf course, and even though their grandparents really didn't like them "canning". But she didn't say all that; she just said in a small voice "collecting cans".  "Tell you what," said the old man in an over-bright voice as if he had just had the best idea ever. "Get into my car and I'll help you look for cans!" He scooted a little further out on the car seat, reaching one big, red arm out on the open door just inches from the girl's thin, sun-kissed shoulder. The hot summer air went completely silent except for the sound of the girl's heartbeat. Uh oh uh oh uh oh, said the prickle at the bottom of her brain, uh oh uh oh uh oh. She started to back away but, suddenly spry, he caught her between the two dirty denim legs that were strong and not at all like the legs of an old man. The legs squeezed just enough to show that they could squeeze harder if they wanted to.
Which is when the old man asked, "Does your Daddy pet you?"
The CNN reporter asked how it could be that three women were held prisoner and tortured for so many years with no one in the perpetrator's family or the neighborhood knowing. Could anyone have done anything to stop this horror? One neighborhood guy tells the reporter that he had known Ariel Castro since junior high school, and he was stumped because he always thought Castro was a nice, outgoing person. "A very nice guy," he says. A very nice guy? What made him a very nice guy in this person's opinion? That he played salsa music on the porch and had barbecues? What did they talk about? Women? Sports? What did this guy see when he looked at Ariel Castro?  
The girl had no idea what the old man meant by "pet". "Yes," she said, unsure of the answer, blushing as she said it because she didn't understand what he was getting at. She was thinking of pets, of her cats back home, of caresses, of kindness which was what she was used to from her Daddy.   "Yes," she said. And that was when the old man reached out and traced his big meaty hand from one small breast to the other one and then down between her thin legs. "I bet he does," said the old man.
The handsome anchor man clears his throat and says that Castro's former wife accused him of breaking her nose (twice), breaking her ribs, knocking out her teeth, cutting her, causing a cerebral hemorrhage, dislocating both shoulders, and threatening to kill her and her daughters. She received an order of protection against him which was later dropped, asserts the anchorman without elaborating further. She can't understand why someone who habitually assaults and injures people doesn't end up in jail. She wonders further why such a person was allowed to become a school bus driver. Why do the police, courts and schools avert their eyes from such crimes? How much damage do you have to do to another person before society has to put you in jail? How many times can you assault people and still qualify as a school bus driver? Is justice really that blind?

The T.V. reporter stands in front of the "house of horrors" and  tells the TV camera that people saw Castro driving his bus around, parking near schools where he would try to "befriend" teenage girls and offer them rides home. In light of recent events, says the reporter, it is suspected that Castro was trawling for a fourth victim. 
The old man touched her there, there and there, where no one had ever touched her. The girl was no longer thinking; somewhere in the most primitive part of her brain an enormously strong survival instinct took over, and her skinny knee flew upward, jamming itself hard into the soft inside of the old man's thigh, making him grab at it instead of her. He howled and she jumped backwards as if she had springs on her feet. The old man clawed at her, shouting, but she was already loose and running, gulping the hot, dry air and running for the road. She lifted up the heavy old bike in one motion, fumbling for the peddles, pushing hard to get going. She heard the gravel crunching behind her, but she didn't look back. Pump pump pump. She rode like the wind.
The Cleveland School District fired Castro for unprofessional behavior, but it did not investigate his strange activities further. She thinks how amazing it is that no one ever thought that that the bus driver might be a pedophile, that no one thought, here's a guy with opportunity. Maybe he knows what happened to little Gina? I mean, how amazing is it that he could he be in plain sight hunting for a new victim and yet remain completely invisible to a community whose girls had been disappearing?
Her mother took the girl to the town police precinct where they both sat in big old wooden chairs that smelled of rancid furniture oil. A very young policeman sitting behind a big old wooden desk asked the girl questions that he seemed to be reading from a script. He asked his questions in a neutral voice, one by one, without looking at her when she answered. The mother's face was taut and distracted during the interview; she appeared to be studying the wanted posters on the precinct wall, or checking the time on the big gun-metal gray wall clock. Looking at her mother's expression, the girl wondered if she were in trouble. She tried hard to answer each one of the policeman's questions correctly.  In between questions, the big clock on the wall went tic-tic-tic, the second hand bouncing lightly just past the second and then back with each tic.  Tic-tic-tic. The policeman asked the girl about location, time, and the appearance "of the suspect". Then, studying his paper as if he might burn holes in it with his eyes, he asked her, "Did the man have sexual contact with you?"
She listens closely to Castro's neighbor Daniel Marti as he talks to the reporter. "It was happening right in front of our face, and we didn't even know," he says. Family came over sometimes, but Castro made them use the back door; when they asked to go upstairs, he would make excuses saying the house was too messy; then there was the abandoned bus, the child left trapped (trapped!) inside, and the troubles at work. Castro walked home regularly with huge bags of McDonald's take-out, states the reporter standing in front of the "house of horrors". Heck, we had barbecues on his front porch, says Charles Ramsay, the neighbor who finally freed Amanda when her heard her screaming behind the storm door. "My neighbor," says Ramsay referring to Castro, "you got some big testicles to pull this off, bro."
"Did the man have sexual contact with you?" repeated the young officer, still examining his paper. Her mother continued to study the wall. The world went completely silent and breathless; even the clock stopped ticking.
"No," said the girl. 
The clock started ticking again, and everyone breathed out and smiled. The girl's mother looked at her, smiling. The policeman, made a swift check on his piece of paper and looked up with a bright grin. "Okay", he said briskly, "I guess that's all I have!" That's how the girl knew that she was right to say "no", because everyone looked happier.
But everything was not alright. Because the truth was that the girl had been sexually molested by an old pedophile who had probably molested other kids before, and would probably go on to molest more. The truth was that a dangerous man had tried to do something terrible to her. And she grew up with the secret of that awful event lodged in her brain like a worm; she learned to say that she was okay when she wasn't, and from that one event she learned to associate sexual feelings with fear and powerlessness. She wondered for years what would have happened to her if the old man had caught her and pulled her into that old car. But she was a lucky, lucky girl. Because she got away.
Michelle, Amanda, and Gina were not lucky girls, she thinks now as she watches the breaking news on CNN. While Ariel Castro gives his speech to the judge, the other men in the room cast their eyes down or look at a point in space somewhere just past him. Only tiny little Michelle has her eyes focused forward, her determined, broken little face shining with the triumph of a victor, snot and tears cascading off her nose. Castro looks straight at his first victim. Why does the judge let him look at her like that? Why don't the other men in the room at least raise their eyes to stare him down, to challenge him? Why, she wonders. Why does everybody look away?

She sits there for a long time staring at the TV screen. She wants to turn it off and go do something else but she has to keep watching. She has to hear every last awful detail. She will not avert her eyes from this. Because she knows better than anyone that it's when you look away that bad things happen.

Monday, April 22, 2013

American Dream, American Nightmare

I am sitting in the balcony of The Lighthouse facing the Big River which today sparkles blue-gray, reflecting the Sunday sun in the little river hamlet of Milestone.  I  can see the ferry Chicomacomico returning for its 10 A.M. discharge of cars and trucks at Milestone Landing. The regularity of the ferry's comings and goings, and the slow, purposeful movements of its crew calm me, and give me a window into the practical and unhurried daily life of the Big River and its people. I am happy that no one I know got shot or blown up today.

The Boston Marathon was bombed yesterday. My childhood friend Amy lives four blocks from where they finally arrested the younger bomber, bleeding himself out in a boat. I found out where they had cornered him on my smart phone in the dark, empty parking lot of a Food Lion outside of Bethany Crossroads in down-east North Carolina. I sms'ed Amy, but got no response. Less than an hour later, after the capture, the streets of Boston erupted in chants of “USA, USA” and “Boston, Boston”, and shirtless young men grinned and flexed their muscles for the news cameras to film.

The images were unseemly, uncomfortable, and completely unworthy of the suffering of the victims.  It was too loud, too proud, too much like a sporting event. It was as if this life of ours in America were one awesome continental Super Bowl and that our team had won. There was no winning in Boston. There never is when reason is abandoned to violence. There was only the panicked applying of tourniquets to blasted flesh and bone, ruined lives and the professional, self-sacrificing work of public servants who speedily brought this incident to a bloody close. There are no winners at such “events”, so why all the cheering? Was this response related to why the bombing happened in the first place?

Boston men chanting "USA, USA" after capture of Bomber
After 9/11, New York City became for me a steel and concrete trap where one day I felt I would wind up unhappy -- or dead. The smell of burning buildings and mass death had changed me and had shown me how vulnerable urban citizens are to anyone with a mind to destroy. But I had also seen a decline in the city environment's ability to support the lives of ordinary citizens on a day-to-day basis. I had seen young students of mine, dedicated to living in what they believe to be the center of the world, mortgage themselves to the hilt for the next 30 years in exchange for the possession of a 1-bedroom apartment in a sought-after neighborhood. I had seen a one-hour disruption of train or subway service turn large crowds into a dangerous, growling mass of fear and loathing.  And I had not seen our "experts" devise or promote any major, creative solutions to this congestion, un-sustainability and un-livability. While I think rooftop gardens are lovely, I do not believe that they are going to save us from drowning in our own waste. 

So when I left New York, I was safely tucked into my husband's black truck with the last of my cardboard boxes containing my remarkably few souvenirs from 23 years of living in the city. I had turned the key in the lock of apartment 41 of 464 W. 152 Street Harlem for the very last time. I had smelled the dusty, gray perfume of those mud-colored mosaic floors and those humid plaster walls for the last time. I had felt beneath my feet for the last time the smooth surface of the pink marble risers worn down from a century of tired, black men and women trudging up the stairs with their sorrow and their bags of groceries. There was urgency to my movements, because I knew that the door that would allow me to escape from New York City was closing quickly. And I wanted out. Badly.

We now know that after Boston, the bombers' next stop was to be New York City. I am glad they didn't follow through, but I am equally glad that I removed myself from the natural path of their homicidal hurricane. I worry sometimes that my sister is still there.

Years ago, a vigorous young red-headed student of mine said,  “I have been in New York City for three years and I'm leaving before I make it to seven. If you don't leave New York before 7 years is up," he said, "you never leave.” Then and now, I found his words astonishingly mature for a 26 year old. Perhaps having cancer at 15 grows you up fast, but he was right and I took the lesson to heart. The city takes you like an alligator, and once you're in its grip for enough time, it pulls you into a death roll so slow and gradual that you barely know what's happening to you. You get used to filth. You get used to tough. You get used to the four flights of stairs and five block walk it takes to do your laundry. And it becomes impossible for you to believe that a life outside of the city limits is possible or desirable, just as for a prisoner it becomes eventually unbearable to live outside the walls of his cell.

I rescued myself from that death roll by deciding to travel abroad. Becoming a troubadour, I went to sing in the bars and the cruise lines of Europe. And there, in the cold clean air of Germany, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden and in the smoky, wine-stained venues of France, I woke up. I woke up from the illusion that New York was the center of the world. I learned that I could enjoy making music without any real hope of becoming famous or rich doing it, or eventually living in the clouds with the beautiful people to whom I had come so tantalizingly close when I worked at the big magazine. I learned all of that and more. Traveling through Europe with my guitar, I got over the American sickness of cultural narcissism and I enjoyed life for its ephemeral details, the moment to moment pleasure of simply living it.
The author with bandmates
onstage in Berlin, Germany

In the smallest towns of Germany there were men who sat all night on a bar stool gazing in silence at me for hours as I sang to them the songs of Carol King, Paul Simon and Iron and Wine. Beer after beer, they quietly worked to resolve their own internal conflict between their attraction to rock and roll and me, and their fierce disapproval of the American Way. "You. Disney Land," they would remark enigmatically.

They asked us about our lives in New York City, which was like Oz to them, a destination they considered beyond their ability to visit even for a short time. "Oh, New York! It is my dream", they would breathe. But it also happened sometimes that after passing the hat for the last time, a working man with a heavy gaze and a few too many pints in him would add 5 Euros to the tip jar and say to me in the slow, strong-accented tones of the German countryside, “You like Bush. Bush ist murder.” And in those moments, when I wanted to argue, to defend, to cheer for my team, I learned to practice silence. And I learned something equally important: That there is a universe of people who don't share my country's beliefs, values, or its feeling of "exceptionalism". Singing for my supper, I earned that scrap of humility that I had been unaware that I sorely, sorely lacked.

I viewed my country from a distance during the awkward years of Bush the Second, through the eyes of working class Europeans. I didn't always agree with what they said about America in those smoky, beery nights in Bordeaux, Cologne, Paris, Helsinki and Berlin and all the little towns in between where we stopped to sings a few songs, pass the hat and sell a few CDs of our music. And we saw no irony yet in the "car bombs" (a shot of whisky dunked in a glass of Guiness) that our audience was eager to buy for us to see if they could get us smashed (which they sometimes did). But I did finally get it, really get it, that I had been living in a bubble that reflected only an distorted image of itself, and that I was woefully ignorant of the gritty, smelly realities of most of the rest of the world.  Part of that distorted image was the American idea of what it really looks like to be a winner.

Or a loser.

Returning to New York, I no longer fit it. Yes, of course I still fit into my little apartment with its view of the flat asphalt roof of the police station and the white towers of the City University a few blocks to the south. Indeed, I was overwhelmed by the space available to me in my four rooms in Harlem after four years of living from a suitcase with my guitar on my back. But what I didn't fit into anymore was the illusion of New York. I couldn't be party to that silent agreement that is perhaps the only thing that binds the wildly rich and the desperately poor there, which is the belief that New York City is the greatest place on earth. I could no longer pledge daily allegiance to the words of Sinatra that “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere.” Now I saw a terrible death dance every day between the hunger for fame and the debilitating feeling of failure shared by the many millions who hadn't “made it” and never would.  Take the illusion away and all winning was about was getting the big pile of hard cash and everything that flows from it. Take the illusion away, and the City just looks dirty. And I began to see that New York City was eating people, and that it found its casual snacks among the weakest of us, the low-hanging fruit. (Strange fruit, indeed.) If I could not make myself see fame and money as goals in themselves, then I would always be a stranger in New York City.
River ferry, NC.

During the time I have been writing these lines, the shadows on the balcony have shortened and the day is ripening toward mid-morning. The ferry Cape Point has arrived at the station and as the day grows older, more vehicles load the boat which will now head towards the military base in the piney forests across the Big River. What are these folks doing today? Are they going to have lunch with friends? Are they returning from morning services at one of the many tiny white clapboard churches that are scattered around these coastal woods? I know that down-eastern North Carolinians do not live for New York values, but rather to go fishing or hunting with their friends early in the morning, to go to church on Sundays and, afterwards, to enjoy a cold beer and a plate of shrimp and grits with their family. I know that for them, a nice clean trailer on a pretty piece of earth is a pretty fine way to live. I know that the chances are absolutely nil that a resentful youth in coastal Carolina who feels himself a loser will decide to blow up the ferry. And that will remain so as long as you can fish for free on this waterfront, feel the fresh breeze off the sound and go home to someone who loves you. Here, that makes you a winner.

A young man lies in a hospital in Boston with a bullet hole in his neck having done something unimaginably awful, presumably mentored in his evil by his own older brother. Does he think about his dead brother now? The one they say he ran over with a car in his haste to escape the police who were shooting at him? That older brother who wanted and failed to achieve the dream of becoming one of the most American of things, a Golden Gloves champion? Will he ever consider that he may have gotten roped into this awful affair not for Allah, not for jihad, but rather to take revenge on the American society that denied his big brother his shiny American Dream? America had promised his older brother that if he bulked up enough and hit hard enough he would be a winner, and then it left him stranded on the shores of the worst of all American outcomes: Loss, anonymity and mediocrity.

How do you live with the bitter pill of having lost your American Dream so early in life? Well, you might travel to another country to learn how to kill us. After all, such an option has been clearly marked out for you in living color and high-definition by numerous media outlets. And how many deaths does it take to compensate for a failure to win? How many bombs does it take to erase the horror of discovering that you're a loser at age 26? How many people's lives to do you have to destroy to prove that you're a man?

In Milestone, the ferry pulls out and makes a quick 180 with its single propeller. It heads cross-current to Cherry Point. And as the churning of the diesel engine fades, a calm falls on The Lighthouse. The tide, the birds, and the creaking of the old twisted oaks in the wind lull me and quiet my spirit. In this silence there is sense, there is peace, there is victory. In the exploding of bombs and the fist-pumping and shouting of the mob, there is none. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Weather Report from Milestone.

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.

Gray morning and ducks on Big River, Milestone.