Thursday, October 28, 2010

Masonboro Island (a Travel Tip Thursday Post)

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt that encourages bloggers to tell about new and exciting places to travel. Today,, I'm taking you to Masonboro Island, a post that I completed before flying down to San Jose.

One of the first things my father got after moving to North Carolina was a boat. The first one was a 14 foot jon boat that could easily navigate the shallow waters of Masonboro Island, which was across the sound from where we lived. The tides made such boats very desirable desirable. At low tide, the only place you were guaranteed water was the dredged Intercoastal Waterway. Much of the rest of the sound dried up and was just mud, grass and oyster beds. There are many creeks in the island you can navigate during high tide, that drop you off on the backside of the dunes, just 100 or so yards from the surf. In time, my father got larger boats, but he always kept one capable of navigating the creeks.

My dad fishing off the jetty in Masonboro Inlet (Wrightsville Beach is in the background)

Masonboro Island became a playground for me in my youth. We spent a lot of time there in the fall. On summer nights we’d gig flounder in the shallow creeks. Once, a friend and I began to stash away the stuff we needed to run away from home. Our plans included setting up camp on Masonboro Island and living like Huckleberry Finn. Supplies included plenty of plastic for collecting rain water and making solar stills to produce fresh water because there was little such water on the island. At 16, I got a canoe and my first overnight trip was to the island. It wasn’t my first camping trip there, as I’d been doing that for years with my dad, but it was fun to be on your on and so far away (but it never seemed so far away as long as you could see the lights of the piers on Wrightsville Beach to the north and Carolina Beach to the south, as well as the lights of the Loran towers to the west, near Snow’s Cut). I learned the stars during the many nights that I camped on the island, for it was if I had a giant screen and got to watch the stars (or the moon) rise on the horizon. Moonrises were special, as the light seemed to simmer across the water.

On most trips home, I still make a stop at Masonboro Island. This past trip, we fished both Carolina Beach and Wrightsville Inlet. At high tide, we were able to run my dad’s boat up Cabbage Inlet (not really an inlet, but there are many places on the island where the water washes over during extreme tides or storms). The ocean water temperature was still in the 70s and I had to go in, riding a few waves.

Today, the island is an undeveloped state park. My travel tip for you: if you are ever in the area, there are kayak liveries on both Wrightsville and Carolina Beach. Rent a kayak and paddle across the inlet and explore the island. The creeks are fun to paddle and a great place to watch birds. Just don’t try to swim across the inlet; it doesn’t look too far, but when the tide is running the currents are very strong and you may find yourself way out in the ocean. Tip 2: Take bug repellant!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Traveling, my last trip and my parents, and fancy bathrooms

The photo was taken two weeks ago in my front yard...

This week, I’m traveling again and as I write, I’m sitting in O’Hare, wondering when we’ll get out as a record low front is moving through… I’ve spent the night here before, it ain’t fun. But they do have new toilet seats in the bathroom that puts a clean covering on the seat for you. I was amazed… Once I get to Central America, you can be sure the bano will not be that fancy. But enough of that, I'll leave further bathroom reviews and comments to Murf and Bone.

While I start another trip, I am going to reflect on my past one and break my rule about not writing about family in this blog as I share a glimpse in my recent trip home last week. As for catching up on blog posts, that’ll have to wait till November.
My short trip last week to North Carolina was to check up on my parents, to see how my mother was doing and spent time with my father. I knew that when I came down, he’d let my mother go into adult day care so we could spend time out on his boat fishing.

I don’t think I’ve been prepared for my parents aging. My father is still in good health and always seems much younger than his years when he’s behind the wheel of his boat, steering it through the channel. As the bow splashes through salt water and the wind blows in his face, he could be a teenager. It’s hard to imagine that he’s his age.

My mother is another story. With Alzheimer’s there is little hope and my prayers as I was flying down to North Carolina had to do with accepting that cup and being able to see (or at least have a glimpse of) grace. A year ago this summer, she’d called my sister and me by name. That was the first time in a while that she’d used my name and may well be the last, for she hasn’t used my name since. For me, during this past trip, that period of grace came one morning around the kitchen table. On this visit, I found Mom even less vocal than before. I think I could count on one hand the number of words she spoke in the four days I was home. But she surprised us one morning when she said, “I believe…” As soon as the words came out, she got quiet and didn’t say anything else. In the head, I knew she was beginning a sentence. My mother often was timid and would begin a sentence this way… “I believe it’s gonna rain,” she might say, never wanting to put herself out there (in case she was wrong) and say “it’s going to rain.” Although I have no idea what was on her mind that morning, the phrase, “I believe” was enough. It took on a whole different meaning for me, reminding me that sometimes belief is all we have.

I wrote the above sitting in O’hare. I’m posting this from a wonderful view of the mountains in Costa Rica. (see photo below) Life is good and the world is beautiful.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Carolina Beach (A Travel Tip Thursday post)

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt that encourages us to write about favorite travel places, giving folks a “tip” about where to go (I’m good at telling folks that) and what to see. Today, I’m taking you to Carolina Beach.

By the way, having just made a trip to North Carolina last week and heading down to Central America next week, I haven't had a lot of time to write or to keep up with everyone's blog and this will probably continue through the first week of November.

Growing up in the Myrtle Grove Sound area, east of Wilmington, NC, we were exactly half way between two beaches: Wrightsville and Carolina. It was about nine miles both ways, and about the same amount of time to travel. We liked Wrightsville Beach best (they still have nicer beaches that don’t drop off so quickly and clearer water as Carolina Beach is too close to the river and the water is often dirty). Carolina Beach also had a reputation. When I was a kid, the country radio station that was always on when in my parents car (which is why to this day I can’t stand country music) played a song called Carolina Beach over and over again… The lyrics went like this:

Carolina Beach, Carolina Beach
Sure did ruin my life
Lost my home, lost my car
Lost my sweet, sweet wife

Said I was goin’ fishin’
Well, that’s what I said
But I didn’t go fishin’
Went to the beach instead

Today, Carolina Beach has cleaned up (that’s not to say that a lot of folks haven’t lost their “sweet, sweet spouses at both beaches). Plus, with the traffic to Wrightsville Beach, it’s a lot quicker to drive to Carolina Beach. So last Saturday morning, the last day while visiting my parents, I headed down there in time for the sunrise and I caught a guy catching bait, snapping the photo above as he appears to be throwing the net in order to catch the rising sun.

Although sunrises are always nice, I did miss out on one treat. Along the boardwalk (which is now mostly cement), there’s a place that’s been a local establishment since the 1920s. Britt’s Donut Shop makes the best donuts around, Krispy Kreme don’t hold anything on Britt’s. It’s not very big and the place is normally crowded, but it closes up in the winter. It was already closed. A sign on the door said they’d see everyone in April 2011. So I drove back to my parent’s house, with an empty stomach but a soul recharged for having seen such a sunrise.

If it’s summer and you’re in Carolina Beach, check out Britt’s Donuts. That’s my travel tip for today.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Art of Pilgrim (a short personal essay and a book review)

In the spring of 1988, just a week or two before setting off on my first solo-transcontinental road trip, (a journey that would end with me spending a year in Virginia City, Nevada), I read Mark Twain’s Roughing It. As I drove across Wyoming on I-80, Twain’s description of his travels on the Overland Trail, which paralleled the modern freeway, came alive. At one remote interchange, I got off and explored an old stage stop that today is no more the stone ruins. Feeling the warm sun and listening to the wind rustle through the sparse vegetation, I imagined what it had been like a hundred and twenty-five years earlier. Then the wail of a Union Pacific freight train was heard. As the train rolled eastward, I realized it had eliminated the need for the stage line, and that the freeway and airplane had since overshadowed the passenger trains. “Twain was here before all that,” I thought. Later that day, I stopped at Fort Bridger and Salt Lake and toured both spots, thinking about a young Samuel Clemens, who was still a year or two away from claiming the name, Mark Twain. Reading his writings, I felt more connected to the land and to his book. Had I just read the book or just flew down I-80; I would have missed the connections.

Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred (New York: MJF Books, 1998), 254 pages.
This book makes a lot of sense to me. Travel should be so much more than just sightseeing and crossing off places on our bucket lists of sites to see before we die. To me, it is instinctive to learn more about the places I travel in an attempt to connect with the “soul” of the land and the people. In this book, Cousineau draws upon a wealth of pilgrimage literature as he encourages his readers to be attentive in their travels. Cousineau’s book is seasoned with stories and quotes that come from the breath of humanity. He draws upon pilgrims of all ages. Most are religious, but not all. It seems there is an embedded need within our psyche to connect with something deeper. Included in the pilgrims reported on are visits to Jim Morrison’s grave and baseball fans who seek out Ty Cobb’s cleats. Cousineau is familiar with the writings of Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, and Hindu pilgrims, but he also is knowledgeable about native tribes and the legends of mythic journeys and what they have to tell us about pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages change us. They can also bring political changes as Cousineau points to when writing about the “hill of crosses” in Lithuania. The hill, the site of a Lithuania victory of Sweden, had been an important site for the country since the mid-19th Century. Crosses adored the hill, but after the Soviet take-over in 1917, the crosses were regularly removed. But every time they were removed, they were replaced, often by those who travelled many miles and risked their lives to replace the crosses. Finally, in 1985, the Soviets stopped bulldozing the crosses and a few years later, Lithuanian students began to protest for independence. Looking back on his country’s long struggle, one Lithuanian commented on the importance of the Hill of Crosses. “Just knowing that it was there made the fight for independence much easier.” (44-47)

Cousineau grew up in a family that traveled frequently. His father felt that travel was good for the mind and his mother thought it was good for the soul. (xv) Cousineau combines the two perspectives. “Pilgrimage is the kind of journeying that marks just this move from mindless to mindful, soulless to soulful travel.” (xxiii) The book is divided into chapters that follow a pilgrim’s path: the longing, the call, departure, the pilgrim’s way, the labyrinth, arrival, and returning. He speaks of the pilgrim’s lamp, the tower, the satchel, and the role of the well where the pilgrim is refreshed, and the need to give gifts and make offerings. I recommend this book and include some quotes to tempt you to read it:

“If you truly want to know the secret of soulful travel, we need to believe that there is something scared waiting to be discovered in virtually every journey.” (xxii)

Beauty is a ‘by-product of ordinary things,’” quote from Joseph Brodsky (22)

“Questions tune the soul…” “Ask yourself what mystery is being guarded by your longing.” (24)

The tarot card for a pilgrim is “the fool.” (49)

“’It is not so much what you do,’ wrote Epictetus in his study of happiness, ‘it is how you do it.’” (92)

“The practice of soulful travel is to discover the overlapping point between history and every day life, the way to find the essence of every place… Curiosity about the extraordinary in the ordinary moves the heart of the travel intent on seeing behind the veil of tourism.” (121)

“Do not seek to follow the footsteps of the men of old, seek what they sought. –Matssuo Basho” (173)
“…savored the melancholy beauty, what the Japanese call sabi, the ‘sigh of the moment’” (176)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Day on the Water

I’m with limited internet access, so I will be catching up with blogs Sunday or later… Anyway, here is a narrative of yesterday’s adventures with a couple of pictures.

Standing on the bow of the boat, I cast the jig toward the bank, yanking the line and then reeling, so that the jig drops to the bottom then jumps up, then drops again. The boat rocks with the swells and I keep my legs apart to maintain balance. We’re fishing for trout in Carolina Beach Inlet and on my first cast, I hook a flounder. It’s great eating, but as hard as I try, I just can’t stretch it to the 14 inches legal limit. It comes in as 13 ½ inches and I slip it back into the water. I’m a bit superstitious as many times I’ve caught fish on the first cast and then never get a bite. I keep getting occasional bites, but can’t seem to hook any. Several times, I think I have a bite only to realize that I’m hooked on a mudbank and have to pull and release and play with the line. Most time I get the lure free, but do lose a couple of jigs. It doesn’t matter; it feels good to be back on salt water.

As we fish, I watch the shrimp trawlers work the mouth of the inlet. You can tell the ones culling their catch as the gulls follow close behind, looking to pick up an easy meal. Midmorning, the channel buoys are almost sideways as the tide is running in so fast. The water clears as the cleaner ocean water pours into the inlet. I hook a nice sized speckled trout. He fights hard, but I keep the line taut and in a few minutes, he’s in the net. He probably weighs three pounds. We continue to fish. Dad catches another trout, maybe two pounds. As high tide approaches a little after noon, the first of the shrimpers head to port, passing just off our starboard. A sailboat heads out to see, passing close by. We’re getting no more bites, so we run out of the inlet and turn north, following land for nine miles to Masonboro Inlet, where we try our luck off the rocks that stabilize the channel. A fish strikes my line and I fight it, and it slowly is reeled to the boat and into the net. It’s a puppy drum, but like the flounder is just shy of its legal limit (16 inches). He goes back into the water. It’s getting late and we head back toward the boat ramp at Snow’s Cut, running through the Intercoastal Waterway. It’s been a good day on the water.

Later in the afternoon, in the shower as I clean up, I realize that although I’m on firm ground, I’m still feel the sway of the boat.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Wet Dreams and Sleepless Nights

It was not the night to sleep. It was horrible and embarrassing. I woke up with warm liquid running down my leg. I could believe it. I can’t remember doing this, even when I was a kid. And then I realized that I’m not in bed, but in an airplane seat. How can I get a change of clothes out of the overhead bin and get to the bathroom and not look foolish to those who are not asleep. Then, in my stupor, I realize it’s not warm liquid, it’s hot. It's burning hot. And the guy next to me is apologizing and wiping my leg with a napkin. He’d fallen asleep with his coffee cup in hand and has spilled it over his shirt and my left leg. I look out the window; dawn is just break at thirty-some thousand feet. So much for my hour and a half additional sleep on the leg to Atlanta. We talk the rest of the way. He’s humbled, and seems to be a good guy.  We laugh at his starched white dress shirt with a brown stain on it. I’m causal; my dockers will go into the washing machine. He has a meeting and will probably be paying way too much for a new shirt at the Brooks Brother store in the airport.

That wasn’t my first rude awakening of the night. My first occurred when the alarm went off at 4 PM. Sleep, I suppose, is over-rated.

I’m in North Carolina for a few days. I’ll try to get around to some blogs occasionally, but I have to hunt down a wi-fi connection (or use my Blackberry, which just isn’t fun for blog reading). This is the month for travel. It's starting with me checking in on my parents.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

What My Fellow Bloggers Did This Weekend...

I haven’t been up for writing blogs recently, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think about my readers. Yesterday evening, I got to wondering what some of my fellow bloggers was up to.

Bone: Two weeks ago, Bone was so mad at a friend whose wedding was the Saturday of the Auburn/Alabama game. He spent much of this Saturday afternoon looking for a wedding to crash. Bama losing to the lesser of the Carolina’s was just too humiliating.

John: After suffering from a toothache all week, he forgot all about it as the Gamecocks caught Bama at low tide. I guess those boys from South Carolina had a lot of fight after losing to the other USC (in the Supreme Court over a logo dispute). Joining John at his party was Pia, who was trying to show loyalty to her newly adopted state.

Murf: While tailgating at the Big House, she realized that she was lucky to be on the outside where they couldn’t see the scoreboard. Though they fancy themselves as liberals over there in Ann Arbor, the city had never been this green.

Do I have any readers who are MSU fans?

Sage: He woke up Saturday morning wondering why a slew of his Facebook friends had changed their profile pictures to green and blue football helmets. He thought it nice that no one was on the highways Saturday when he took bicycle ride. Instead of worrying about traffic, he was able to enjoy the colors of fall. He also found it a nice weekend to do a little paddling and photograph the fall colors reflecting off the water.
Have a great Sunday and be sure to take time to enjoy the colors of the season (for those of you living in the northern half of the planet.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Art Prize Photos including the winners...

The winners of Art Prize were announced last night. The main winners are determined by a public vote. If I remember correctly, there was over 1700 pieces of art. A week ago, based on the public vote, they reduced the pieces being considered down to 10. On Thursday evening they announced the winner. I happened to have taken a few photos of it and have a composite below. It didn’t make the top 10, but it was a favorite of mine. In my last post, two of the top ten were included: the penny and the flying pig. (click on photos to enlarge)
Look at the wood on this sailboat. It's beautiful (but I'd be afraid to sail it)! Maybe this boat will give master boat builder Ed some idea. Somewhere, deep in his archives are photos of a beautiful kayak, with wood much like the boat above. This was teh second place piece. It's lovely and my photo doesn't do it justice at all. The piece is called "Svelata," and was produced by Mia Tavonatti of Santa Ana, CA.

The winner of this year's contest was Chris LaPorte (a local boy--who lives in Grand Rapids) photograph-like, life-size drawing of 53 cavalry officers. The piece is titled "American Officers, 1921." LaPorte used a photo he'd found at a garage sale to to do the drawing which earned him $250,000. Not bad earnings for over 800 hours of work (I'd never have the patience). Ily, my favorite red-headed Cuban who reads this blog is also an artist that likes sketches. She has until next fall to get her piece ready.
To see more of the winners, go here. When I was up there last weekend, I only saw seven of the top ten, as the art was scattered all around the downtown area. It's quite a show and a lot of fun and I'd recommend it if you are ever in the area in early October.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Art Prize 2010

It seems that I've been running so hard that I don't know if I am coming and going and, sadly, haven't been doing any real running. But I did get some time to step off the treadmill last weekend and went up to Grand Rapids for Art Prize. This international competition has 1000s of pieces of art spread all over the downtown area. I took my camera and snapped a few photos of art pieces that I liked and created a powerpoint "post cards" for you to see. Click to make the photo larger.
All kind of art is on display during Art Prize. The public gets to vote on their favorite pieces and then the top ten selections are in a run-off, again with the public voting. The various types of art include large and wild sculptures (like the pig and the penny, that's made of pennies), fabric, paintings, photographs, drawings among others.
The city of Grand Rapids also revealed a new statue of Rosa Park, who lived much of her life in Michigan and would visit Grand Rapids. This "post card" shows both the statue and it's base.
Another favorite activity at Art Prize is people watching! Maybe I'll get time to write more (and share more photos) later. Until then, as Red (of the Red Green show) says, "keep your stick on the ice."