After posting the image of Hurricane Florence’s projected path, the storm shifted, veering south where it then pivoted north once more. Fortunately, I can say that the worst damage at my house was the destruction the kids left behind due to being stuck inside with no school for five days. (On the plus side, the poor weather gave me the excuse to stay in and finish work on An Uncertain Confidence which will be going on sale later next month).
However, much of the rest of the state, particularly the south and eastern portions, can’t say the same. Hurricane Florence was downgraded as far as wind speed goes to a shadow of her former self before the eye of the storm made landfall. Unfortunately, once here, she decided to stick around and stay for a while. I don’t entirely blame her. I’ve done the same.
She brought more than three feet of rain in some areas. That’s as deep as some of the local neighborhood swimming pools. Under a normal summer, this might have been welcome as we’re usually under drought conditions, but we’ve seen a lot of rain this summer. What am saying? Three feet of water dumping down on your head over a matter of days is never a good thing.
In any event, the rivers started rising. And rising. And rising, causing a few of our highways to become temporary rivers in their own right.
The crunch of gravel in between pelts of rainfall. That’s what woke me up. Dawn was still far away as evidenced by the lack of light that penetrated through the thin fabric of our tent.
Though the hour was late, my eyes were wide open and sleep would not be returning soon. Had the noise outside been only a dream? I strained my ears.
The sound of rocks being turned underfoot was unmistakable and could only mean one thing – our campsite had an uninvited visitor.
Careful to not make too much sound, I shifted while I recalled the grounds manager’s warning from earlier that day. “Make sure you put your foodstuffs in your car and lock them up at night,” she’d said. “A bear has been hanging out not too far away.”
Had we not secured it all?
The patter of rain on the tent’s rooftop increased, though a second tent frame, covered by a tarp, hung over the campsite’s picnic table. The storm wouldn’t be driving our uninvited guest away.
Or is it guests?
Her Royal Highness, who had rolled her body into a ball next to my knees snored. If something dangerous was out there, she’d know it, right? I told myself, followed by Some guard dog she’s proven to be. Still, I was glad enough for her lack of consciousness at the moment having no desire to invite any more of the wildlife’s attention than we already had with an over defensive response.
The rain continued to fall. Thunder rolled in the distance. I held my breath – and listened.
Drip. Drip. Drop. The storm began to taper off without a recurrence of the gravel’s crunch. Had our guest moved on? I couldn’t tell.
Her Royal Highness woke and went to the edge of my sleeping mat where she began to cough and make a retching noise sure to wake the other sleepers. The mountain air must not be agreeing with her tummy.
I looked at the ceiling. Tap. Tap. Would this rain ever end? I looked at the window. I hadn’t dared unzip the flap before. My husband shifted – fast asleep – oblivious to it all.
Her Royal Highness’s retching continued.
Was I willing to risk taking her outside or was I willing to sleep in a tent one more night christened with her sick-up?
Her Royal Highness moved to the tent door, facing away from the picnic area, and touched the corner with her nose. She’d cleverly managed to figure out how its zippers worked earlier in the day to the delight of our children and appeared to be willing to do so again. Perhaps the choice wasn’t entirely mine to make after all.
Hoping to hope not to bump into our uninvited guest (who’d only grown larger in my imagination by the second), I ran out with her into the night’s storm, staying close enough to grab her shoulder and force her back inside if I so much as heard a twig snap from the area on the other side of the tent. Rain soaked my shirt as Her Royal Highness stopped coughing and began to sniff around.
She took a few steps forward, squatted, turned around and ran back inside.
All that fuss for that?
I followed her in a flash and zipped the door and its flimsy protection closed once more. I huddled under my blanket as Her Royal Highness sprawled out across my legs.
Drip…Drip… The drops of water fell softer – lighter – and somehow sleep managed to find me once more.
Even so, I was the first to wake the following morning. I opened the flap and stepped toward the picnic table – sure and yet uncertain of what exactly I might find.
A box of pre-packaged brownies lay on its side with the corner of the box ripped open and much of its contents removed. While we had taken our cooler to the truck the night before when the rain began, we must have missed it under the table.
I heard my stepdad, who had camped with us, tell my boys the damage was from a raccoon. That was smart thinking on his part, I thought. The boys wouldn’t make us leave our vacation early for a raccoon. I whispered to my husband. “I heard it last night. Sounded big. Like a bear.”
I started picking up. A pile of paper plates, still in their plastic wrapper, had been turned upside down. Something had tried to open the package. I took the plates to my husband to show evidence of the visitor’s claw.
Except that’s when I noticed it was not one claw mark, but two.
Two tiny holes from claws attached to finger-shaped paws.
Paws belonging to creatures who like to wash their food.
Creatures who must like to eat their snacks on plates too and animals who had most likely experienced the fright of their night when Her Royal Highness and I suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the middle of a downpour. I guess my stepdad hadn’t told my kids a story after all.
We joked about the party those raccoons must have had that night while we spent the daylight hiking. When evening came, we made sure to do a better job of securing our belongings. We’d learned our lesson. If the raccoons did come back they would find their party hosts much less accommodating than their native surroundings.
We had a great time and thanks to all that rain the waterfalls were spectacular. Had the lack of sleep, the late night visitors, or storm put me off camping again like this in the future? Absolutely not – we’re not exactly backpacking. After all, what’s the worst that could happen?
“Are you combing your hair with your toes?” is a question I never thought I would need to ask, but when your child is the human incarnate of a Gumby doll, I guess anything goes.
My youngest, LT, has hypermobility, a condition that allows him to perform fun party tricks like the one above, but at the same time made it difficult to build up the muscle definition needed to sit up, crawl, or walk. He spent almost a year of his life in physical therapy mastering skills which other kids picked up naturally at a half (or a third) of his age. At times it seemed he would never gain the knack, until one day the pieces fell into place, and he took his first step.
It is now time for him to take his next first step – into kindergarten.
To say that I am a wee bit nervous is an understatement. Thus far he has spent his entire life surrounded by those who have known him, his abilities, and his limitations from birth. But as of next week, he’ll be in a classroom of twelve to twenty children, each with unique talents and challenges of their own. Has he caught up to his peers? How will he cope? How will his teacher? We will soon find out.
As the last days of summer break wound down a group of us (eight adults, six children under the age of ten, and two dogs) decided to head to the Outer Banks, which is a series of naturally forming islands off the coast of North Carolina where pirates once sailed and wild horses still roam.
After two days of red flags, signifying a dangerous riptide in the water, we decided to take in the surrounding sights and made our way to the Currituck Beach Light.
Currituck’s lighthouse is not the tallest lighthouse in North Carolina, at 198.5 ft (60.5 m) that distinction goes to the lighthouse at Cape Hatteras, but it would do.
The sun beat down on us as we waited in line. Sweat formed as the staff advised it would be another twenty to thirty minutes wait before we could go inside. The kids scattered across the green while the adults held their places. I watched as my eldest and one of his cousins started playing tag. LT attempted to join in but he couldn’t compete with their speed and soon the game lost its appeal.
LT returned to my side and guzzled down the contents of my only remaining bottle of water already showing signs of tiring. I looked at the tower. 220 spiraling steps awaited us, constructed prior to any form of building safety code (or air conditioning). Some of our group discussed sitting this one out as the crowd waiting increased along with the temperature. I looked at LT. There was no way I would be able carry him to the top were he to slip or give up mid-climb.
The line moved. Our group was next. It was time to decide who was going and who was staying on the ground. LT didn’t hesitate to join his brother and cousins at the front of the line. His face was set. His decision was made. I guess mine was too.
The majority of our group disappeared up the stairs within seconds of our entry. I hung back ready to react as I could as my youngest grabbed the handrail and took that first step forward. I watched with laser focus as he took another. Then another. We reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs. Eight more flights to go. LT didn’t look back. We rounded the next. The inside of the tower narrowed.
Halfway up, another group appeared at the top of the next landing and began their descent. I made the mistake of glancing down. It was all too easy to imagine what might happen if LT were to slip now. Maybe it would be best for us to stop to wait with our backs against the wall while they squeezed past. I hesitated. LT did not. Instead, he kept climbing.
We met more and more people the higher we went and each time my stomach twisted along with my heart, but LT never looked back, never complained, never asked me to do the work for him, and never once stopped.
Then we were at the top of the stairs and roughly 150 feet (45.72m) from the ground. A small doorway through the brick wall opened to an external landing, which circled the lighthouse and provided an unencumbered view of both the ocean and the sound separating the island from the mainland. But the most beautiful sight for me was the smile on LT’s face as he joined the rest of our family on the rail.
It was enough to make me forget we had to still go back down. Well … almost.
We reached the bottom with LT leading the line of children behind me. After exiting, I turned and looked up once more, amazed again at how far this one little guy had gone on his own and reminded once more of how much can be accomplished one determined step at a time.
How would he cope with this next stage in his life or any goal he sets his mind to for that matter? I had my answer. It was the same way any of us should – with one foot forward.
Other random facts
Built in 1875, Currituck Beach Lighthouse is one of eight official lighthouses in the state of North Carolina, though there are more than twenty if you include replicas like the Roanoke Lighthouse and converted offshore rigs like the Frying Pan Shoals Light, which also serves as a bed and breakfast for a truly unique off-grid travel experience.
Twenty degrees. That’s roughly the difference in temperature between my hometown and the mountains at this time of year. Considering it is no reaching the nineties (32C) and the fact that our air conditioning has decided to take some time off work, we decided a change of scenery was in order.
Tents and sleeping bags strapped to the car, we set out for the Pisgah National Forest, just a few hours to the west, near Mount Mitchell, the highest point in the eastern United States, to be exact. The park is part of the Appalachian Mountains, accessible through winding roads and the Blue Ridge Parkway. While you can (and I have) backpack camp along the trail, there are also a number of more ‘civilized’ camp sites scattered along the roadways offering bath houses and running water, but operate on a strictly first come, first serve basis.
Knowing the risk that there might be no room at a particular site, we’d identified a location that might offer more than one option and plugged in the address into the navigation app on my husband’s phone. While we drove, I scrolled down the webpage describing the area. Down at the bottom of the screen in bold text, the site read, ‘As we are in a remote area, GPS directions may not be accurate. Click here for detailed directions.’
LT demanded markers in the back where he was hard at work on his latest masterpiece. Kiddo wanted a movie. My mom, who was brave enough to venture along with us, chatted about recent family news. I returned my phone to my bag, dismissing the site’s warning. So what if we didn’t find that exact site. There were sure to be another.
As the mountain roads twisted and turned, the back of the car grew silent. In Kiddo’s case this is a troubling sign as he is particularly prone to motion sickness. We pulled over to give him some air. “Are we almost there?” he asked as we piled back into the car. We glanced at the navigation app. It read, ‘No Signal’.
“Seven more miles to go,” my husband replied. To me he added with a shrug, “at least, that’s what it said before it dropped off.” My mom offered her seat so that Kiddo could be closer to the open window.
It felt more like seventy. The signal never returned and I grew increasingly chagrined for not looking at those step by step directions while I still had the chance. We could only assume we were still going in the right direction as there was only one direction to go. Up. And Around. And Up some more.
We noticed the smell of campfires first. The campsite wasn’t the one we were originally targeting, but considering the shade of pale green on the faces of those in the back seats, it would have to do. Fortunately, a single site was still vacant.
Mom looked at her phone. “Still no signal,” she replied.
Preferring to stream our music to downloading it, we were limited to listening to the same five to ten songs on repeat as we pitched the tents (one for my mom and the boys the other for Her Royal Highness, my husband, and me), unpacked our supplies, and stoked the fire. As the sun began to set we noticed dark clouds rolling in. “Do you think it is going to storm tonight?” My mom asked.
Storm – such a small word for such a big event in the wide open.
Shortly after midnight the wind picked up as lightning flashed across the sky, temporarily making the flimsy fabric of my tent appear as colorful as it appeared in bright day. Her Royal Highness sat at full attention in the center. Thunder boomed. Her Royal Highness whimpered. I sat up and tried to comfort her as the wind whipped at our sides. She nuzzled the flap that served as the door as if to say, let’s go!
“Shh shh, it will be okay,” I whispered as felt along the flap’s zipper and found a half-inch of water. At least, I hope so, I thought. A storm this intense couldn’t go on for long. Or could it? My hands itched to locate my phone and bring up the radar, but once again – no signal. You don’t realize how much you have grown to rely on constant connection until you are completely cut off.
The storm passed, though I didn’t track it. We woke without alarms and ate when we were hungry. We found trails by looking at maps and *gasp* asking other humans for directions. The air remained cool and inviting as we ventured deeper into the forest until the only sign of people were the footprints left on paths made muddy and slick with rain water and the occasional signpost or hand railing (thank you park service).
Before the day ended we had walked roughly nine miles and seen stunning vistas and waterfalls made only more impressive from the storm. I’d watched my boys walk hand in hand as the trail became steep and attempted to memorize the moment as they called out “Brother Jump” before hopping off exposed roots together. (It’s a memory I fully plan to use to maximum embarrassment when they start dating.)
That evening (which thankfully was thunderstorm-free) we ate the most amazing steak dinner, cooked over the fire ring’s open flame as a neighboring site played music in a language we didn’t recognize, but was music all the same. We laughed while Her Royal Highness snored. We chatted when normally we might be scrolling on our phones. We enjoyed being together. And before we called it a night, Kiddo told us it had been his favorite camping trip ever.
I may just agree.
We’d lost connectivity for a few days, it was true, but as it turns out we only strengthened our connection. All it had taken was a change of scenery (and perhaps a difference of twenty degrees).
Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?
Ignoring the fact that my name isn’t Mary, nor do I consider myself contrary (well – at least, not most of the time), my garden may have looked better in prior years, but at least it is back in bloom. Thanks for asking!
A few weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that would be the case.
February and March were rather dramatic months around here weather-wise with temperature fluctuations that were extreme even for North Carolinian standards. One day would be warm enough to turn on the air conditioning and let the kids run outside in their swimsuits – the next day cold enough to pull out the parkas. Is it any wonder then that I fell ill?
“Conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative” – Oscar Wilde
I don’t remember asking you Oscar, and really, what part of I was sick last week did you miss? Now, back to my story. Our news reported that much of the commercial plant life was equally confused and budded too early, causing several crops to be considered a total loss after the frost returned, which is a bummer as I always look forward to picking strawberries with my kids in May. Therefore I was delighted to notice green leaves and white flowers on the vines that grow in my backyard (kids there’s hope for us yet).
If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need – Marcus Tullius Cicero
I’m not sure I completely agree with the statement above, but I appreciate where the thought is coming from. For years now I’ve been growing grapes as well as blackberries, among a few other foodstuffs, but though they grow side by side, the vines are as different as people.
My blackberries, for example, barely needed to be covered in earth before they took off on their own, with several shoots of new vines popping up in other beds independent of my plantings. My grapes, on the other hand, required a little more attention.
The first year we were together, the vines grew, but never produced. The second was more of the same. I considered letting the blackberries take over, but decided to give them one more chance while doing a bit more homework.
“The more help a person has in his garden, the less it belongs to him.” – W. H. Davies
That may be true, but I think, in this case, my plants appreciated the phone-a-friend. I learned that grapevines produce best when pruned while dormant and the weather is still cold. In my area, that means late February.
I remember the first time I clipped away at the vines (which look more branch-like than vine-like at that time of year). I thought to myself how the practice must seem to the plant. Here they were, having barely survived the harshness of winter, they then forced to suffer further as their limbs were hacked away.
During such times, I imagine that if my grapes were people, they might cry at how unfair their life was compared to that of the blackberry. If they were religious fruit, they might also wonder if they were being tested and rage against their gardener. I understand what it must seem like for them, but still, I continue snipping away in the cold of winter year after year, not because of some cruel game, but because I care. I do this so that when summer finally arrives, they will be the best they can be.
“In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends.” – John Churton Collins
And when summer does arrive, the situation in my garden is quite different. My blackberries, having produced small clusters of berries in the spring are only shadows of their former glory. Several of the vines, hunched over, touching the ground under the weight their leaves, as small as they are, are more brown than green and most vines will be forced to give away to the next generation of shoots now breaking through the dirt’s surface on either side.
“When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.” – Ray Kroc
My grapevines, however, will remain strong even under the weight of heavy bunches of fruit. The fruit itself will be protected from the cruel sun by gorgeous full leaves wider than a handspan or two, but not so protected they cannot ripen fully thanks to their vine’s earlier sacrifice. Meanwhile, tendrils of new vines, still growing, will stretch and twist around nearby surfaces, as much the bully in their newfound success as the blackberry once was.
The point is my grapevine should not envy my blackberry for its easy start (as tempting as that might be at the time). The grapevine that experienced and overcame hardship will bear fruit much longer. It will be made stronger in a way the blackberry, by its very nature, will never appreciate nor understand. That grapevine will become capable of withstanding the next extreme with a confidence felt to its roots, returning year after year in steady growth while others might rise quickly only to fall. It’s a lesson, and eventual outcome, I try to keep in mind when dealing with my own hardship or two.
While both plants produce their own delicious fruit in their own season, in terms of success per individual vine, there really is no comparison.
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