Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ewell's Ferry

Once, in the early 1980s, I spent a good hour on a bench on a bluff just beyond the ferry. Serenaded by the ripples of the water, I reread, for the fourth or fifth time, Siddhartha. It seemed appropriate to read about a man who found peace while transporting pilgrims and merchants across the river. Ewell’s Ferry wasn’t very busy that day and the ferry operator only had a few vehicles that crossed. I thought he had the ideal job. He worked at a pace about as slow as the muddy stream that divided Bladen County. His duty was to shuttle cars, trucks and tractors back and forth. He could take no more than two vehicles a trip and was limited to six passengers. When he wasn’t moving cars or mowing the grass, his other task in summer, I imagined him tending a trotline for catfish or sitting up under a shade trees and watching a bobber or reading a book, while nodding to the occasional fishermen or tugboats pushing barges of pulpwood, all while keeping an ear open for the horn of a car announcing a customer.

Ewell’s Ferry is located County, between the communities of Carvers and Kelly. It’s the only way to get an automobile across the Cape Fear River for fifty or so miles and it is the only inland ferry left in North Carolina. All the other rivers and creeks have been spanned by bridges. When the ferry isn’t running, which it doesn’t do at night or when the water is high or during fog, you have to drive up to Elizabethtown or down near Riegelwood to find a bridge. Last week, when I was driving from Wilmington to Pinehurst, I decided go up the north side of the Cape Fear and then cross over at Ewell’s Ferry. I wanted my daughter to get this experience, riding across a two car ferry that runs on a cable. Unfortunately, the ferry wasn’t running, but maybe that’s okay because she wasn’t impressed. The locked gate didn’t give a reason for the closing, but it may have been weather as the day had been rainy and there were a few light patches of fog. Or maybe its budget cuts, but I’d hate to think of that.
When I worked this area back in the early 80s, I occasionally use the ferry to get over to the northeastern part of Bladen County. If I had an evening meeting, it’d only been one way. I’d cross right before they shut down operations for the day and then drive back at night on Highway 53, taking it around White Lake and crossing the river at Elizabethtown. Without the ferry, I had an additional 45 minutes of a deer-dodging drive home. I loved it when I had extra time and could stop at the ferry. Sometimes I just sat on the bench and watched the water flow by, other times I talked with the operator or read.

Never had a river attracted him as much as this one. Never had he found the voice and appearance of flowing water so beautiful. It seemed to him as if the river had something special to tell him, something which he did not know, something which still awaited him. Siddhartha had wanted to drown himself in this river; the old, tired, despairing Siddhartha was today drowned in it. The new Siddhartha felt a deep love for this flowing water and decided that he would not leave it again so quickly.
-Herman Hesse, Siddhartha


  1. What a beautiful passage from Siddharta, I love Hermann Hesse's books!

    Rivers have something... ferries too. It's nice that you showed it to your daughter. Did she enjoy the excursion?

    Thanks for sharing your nice memories, so peaceful. I've taken a ferry too this summer, from the mainland in Holland, to an island in the North Sea. It was just a 20 minute trip, escorted by the seagulls. The kids would throw them bread and they would catch it in the air.

  2. I also love this passage from Siddhartha, though I think it was lost on my teen who read it last year in English. Tuesdays With Morrie is more his style.

  3. I have crossed on a few ferries, some like that and one a big behemoth of one between your state and Wisconsin. I liked the smaller ones better. I'm not sure I can think of any that exist around here anymore. It's a shame that we are in too big of a hurry that we have to build bridges.

  4. Very nice pictures. Your lens might have all fogging up, hence the nice soft feel, very pretty. I haven't read Siddhartha, and probably won't be in a while, but I like the passage.

  5. I love that quote from Siddhartha; I must read it again.

  6. Leni, I agree about rivers and ferrys... The Cape Fear has another ferry, but it's at its mouth (from Fort Fisher to Southport) and is 30 minutes or so long.

    Fantasy Lifer, I was in the 10th grade when I first read Siddhartha

    Ed, I haven't taken the ferry across Lake Michigan, but the ferry from the mainline to Ocracoke Island in NC is 2.5 - 3 hours long. I'd like to find a few more like Ewell's--I'd go out of my way to ride them.

    Mother Hen, I was having a problem keeping my lens from fogging up, you can see how hard it was raining--it was all I could do to keep my camera dry

    Kenju, do a book review on it--it'd be interesting to see how your thoughts on the book changed over the years.

  7. How beautiful the area looks. I can only recall being on one ferry; it allows cars to reach Balboa Island. From there you drive over a bridge to get to the peninsula on the other side. It's not nearly as scenic as North Carolina.

  8. Very pretty.

    It's been forever since I've been on a ferry. I'd kinda like to go again.

  9. Beautiful memories. Thank you for sharing.

  10. You may not have grown up rich Sage but you certainly came up wealthy.

    Nice reading to compliment your writing this morning.

  11. Go over to Algonac, Sage, and take the ferry across to Walpole Island (Ontario). Their ferry is a tadbit bigger than this one. I think it fits about maybe 8 cars. There's also another one further north in Marine City.

  12. What a great place to read and contemplate. I love places like that, especially around water. "Deer-dodging..." I know the feeling!

  13. Great photos. I love the last one, where the trees make almost a hole in the sky.

    Something about ferries is naturally sort of mysterious.

  14. We seem to have a lot of ferries around here, from ones even smaller than above to several over the Missouri and Mississippi. (See, e.g. Akers Ferry.) I much prefer them, for the peaceful alternative to a bridge which keeps you dry, but doesn't actually let you experience the river.


  15. Lovely photos, as usual.

    Does your daughter know they are doing doing a theatrical version of Little House on the Prairie? A grown up Melissa Gilbert will be Ma.

  16. Sage
    I enjoyed your story, photo's and the trip back into a slower past.

  17. Dan, it is a beautiful area, isn't it.

    TC, take the big ferry over here and visit Murf and me

    Venus, thanks!

    Walking Guy, that's the nicest compliment I've received in awhile, thanks.

    Murf, I'll have to put that on my list of destinations

    Beau, I'm still deer-dodging! :)

    Charles, thanks, I didn't actually see the circle till after I shot the photo

    Randall, that looks like a neat ferry, I'll have to check out back roads in MO next time I'd down there

    Diane, I'll have to look for the Little House show, is it touring?

    Sleepy, thanks!

  18. It is one the best passages of Siddhartha. I don't remember how many I read this book or gifted a copy.

    Thanks for the photos and your insights too.

  19. Sage - yep, it's touring!

  20. I was on a ferry in the early 90s. There's still one that goes across the Mon River at Fredricktown PA

  21. Wow! Hesse!! I read him so long ago. I took a Ferry regularly across the Ohio River for three dollars. It cut a lot of travel time and was quite busy from 6 AM to 8 PM. Thanks for the memories, Sage!

  22. I crossed on the Ewell ferry when I was about 10 years old. 1950. I drove there, from home, about 50 miles by myself this Spring to ride it again. I am now 71 and enjoyed the trip. I sat on the bench and watched cars and a tractor cross. I had carried some food and really enjoyed the trip.