It took two rather long days of riding in the car to get there and back, but when we finally arrived in Atlantic Beach on Emerald Isle, my first glimpse of those uninterrupted miles of sea, pristine beach, and fleecy clouds, all framed in late afternoon sunlight as I stood on the balcony of my Windjammer Hotel room, was even better than having a vision. It was real! Breathtakingly gorgeous! And a picture-postcard-perfect reflection of exactly what had been in my mind's eye: the roiling, majestic ocean, which I so desperately wanted to revisit after going so long without seeing it , never knowing if I would again.
It was, of course, way too cold and windy to get in, but it was such a treat to immerse myself in the rhythmic lapping of waves and watch as small groups of gulls wheeled and circled synchronously in the air above the water. Getting me to the beach again was the miracle work of my stalwart pals Hank and John, who live in Boone. John, it turns out, has been visiting this particular beach town since he was in high school. One must-do thing on our list, I soon learned, was to have lunch in the drive-in hamburger place called El's, where he used to take his high-school sweetheart way back when. You sit outside in the parking lot and waitresses come to your car and take your order. Then they bring out the most delicious-ever El-burger laced with everything a girl could want, and you sit in your car and gobble it up, asap. Egrets wait nearby, stalking the ground for hand-outs and remnants. When John finished his burger, he jumped out of the car and tossed one bird a left-over French fry. Suddenly, in a matter of seconds, what had been the odd creature or two patiently loitering in the parking lot became a Hitchcockian swarm, headed straight in his direction. John quickly dived back into the car barely escaping the onslaught.
On the way there, we stopped at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh for lunch in the Blue Ridge atrium restaurant. Afterwards we briefly cruised the collections. John has a favorite Botticelli he wanted to see. I confess I was more excited by the rows of painted Adirondack chairs when we got to the beach, for sale everywhere, in radiant colors of flamingo pink, turquoise blue, carrot orange, and emerald green. I was dying to haul several home to cheer up my back deck, but there was no way to do it.
First thing in the morning on Saturday, we visited the new state aquarium, and wandered happily along the boardwalks outside where you could sit down in little inlets to observe the beauty and peacefulness of the marsh. We were lucky because we were early; no one else was around. Back inside the aquarium, we tentatively touched the sting rays swimming in an open tank, and watched the divers who ceremoniously entered a huge water-filled enclosure the length of a long wall, to hang out with the sharks. These being modern and techno-interactive times, one of the divers was rigged out with a sound system and mike, in addition to his wet suit and breathing mask, so he could take questions and talk with the audience. The children loved it. All the fish we saw came from waterways local to North Carolina. There were even the two distant cousins to Virgil, a pair of small brown alligators with black spots who, I swear, smiled when they saw me.
Our last night, Saturday, we ate in an irresistibly eccentric, small restaurant overlooking the sea. I had fresh Little Neck clams which I haven't tasted in years and a lime mohito. Then we went to an abomination of a movie, just out, called "Fool's Gold." (Whatever you do, give this one a pass.) And I did get a temporary reprieve from war and dirty politics. I also got, on the way back, some pink Himalayan salt at the Raleigh Sunday morning flea market, from the Jurassic Era, and some chunky whole crystals in a jar, to which you add water and then take a teaspoon of the salty solution every morning. It's supposed to help all kinds of chronic conditions: from arthritis to sinusitis and high blood pressure. We'll see if it works or not!
Now I'm back at my post here in Blacksburg, left to my own devices. I'm battling with a new HD digital TV that won't transmit my soap operas on CBS, despite a carefully installed roof aerial. Is that a sign I'm meant to stop watching them? I hope not. All my pens seem to have run out of ink. Next week I have to get a new water softener to replace the archaic system in the basement. Meanwhile, my dearly beloved housemate of 14 years, Hersha, has finally moved out and into her new house in Christiansburg. She's gone, and I'm feeling sticklike and a little gray and still wishing like hell I had those Adirondack chairs.