a special encounter

You guys, I got to see otters!! It was so exciting! I walked down to the dock and lifted my binoculars to my eyes and in that very moment, in their frame, were two otters swimming. It was truly unbelievable, that instant. They swam and played and ate fish – crunch, crunch, crunch – while I watched for a full 15 minutes before they turned a bend in the river out of sight. I saw them climb out onto fallen trees a few times. It was magical. It was one of the best things that has happened to me on this trip.

(I’m sorry, no pictures. What the binoculars catch the iPhone absolutely does not.)

All this, on a very fine day. I started early in the morning with speaker-phone remote yoga with a dear friend back in Texas, who was once my yoga teacher. I had a quiet day working, and then the otters at dusk. I had good conversations with both my dad and my good buddy Liz, and in the dark there were fireflies and also fireworks out my front door (don’t ask me why). It was a lovely time, aside from Hops’s fireworks-related trauma.

But lest you count your chickens: that night there was rain, and Foxy started dripping more water than usual and from more places, and there I was at 1 and 2 AM crawling around in the rain in the dark with a tiny folding screwdriver on my multitool, trying to take the van apart to see where the water was coming in. That was a dark time, counterpoint to the day.

Next day, in dry and light, I was able to take my van-dismantling a step or two further, see how she’s put together a little better than before, and put some parts back and discard others. I still don’t know where the water comes in, but I have a plan for the next effort. And I observe that problems look very different in the dark versus in the light. There’s a powerful metaphor at work here. At 2 AM, I despaired. At 4 PM, I felt again like Foxy and Hops and I will take on anything: slowly and limping, maybe, but moving on down the road.

In lieu of otters, please enjoy these scenes from the last day or two.

Post-script: I also just ID’d my first bird from its birdsong alone. It’s a brown-headed cowbird. I had been noticing this distinctive, two-note, liquid burble. I just Googled “liquid birdsong” and came up with a few offerings; the cowbird was unmistakable. I checked its range map, just to be sure (thank you as usual to Cornell), and have added it to my list!

tenth state

It has been a good six weeks or so since I hit my ninth state (Georgia), because I’ve spent so much time circling Tennessee-Georgia-two-Carolinas. Finally my tenth state: Virginia. This is a beautiful place! All the driving has been perfectly lovely, and I could scarcely keep my eyes on the road for admiring the bike path that ran alongside state highway 5 into Richmond for some 40 miles. I stopped off to see another significant tree: the Emancipation Oak in Hampton, where newly freed slaves learned to read and write under its branches before a school was built, and where they gathered in 1863 to hear the Emancipation Proclamation read aloud. The tree is now on the site of Hampton College, an HBCU whose forerunner was that first school under the oak, led by free-born African American Mary Smith Kelsey Peake.

I made a very brief visit at a friend’s house in Richmond to pick up some books – I’ll be back to see them again, but very much regret that I didn’t get a picture! (Thanks for the mail service, Beasa!) And they live in a really neat-looking, eclectic neighborhood. I didn’t really spend any time in the city, but what I saw, I liked (for a city). And then back out to the sticks.

Confession: I have rented a home for the week via Airbnb. Yes, this is cheating. But hear me out. I needed to say in one location for a week, and there is little to no free camping in these parts. It is getting very hot, daytimes. Having a home base–with air conditioning–allows me to leave Hops and go off on adventures (like riding my bike, which I have done very little of lately, because of the heat). I got a great deal on this place that’s actually less than campsites around here cost. So, there’s good and bad: the house reeks of cigarette smoke, and the bed is terrible–I just sleep in the van, which is fine. I like to sleep in the van! We have a little dock on a creek off the Rappahannock River. We have a kitchen, a bathroom, and a couch in the air conditioning. I’ve been doing early-morning yoga outside on the lawn, and riding my bike on the quiet country roads while Hops stays somewhere safe and cool. I bought lots of groceries that needed refrigeration, and fragile produce like pears!, and I’m doing a bunch of cooking. This was my birthday present to myself. And, again, cheaper than camping. That’s weird but true.

I’ve seen killdeer, hawks, buzzards, cardinals, Eastern bluebirds, a huge snapping turtle, deer, wild turkeys, a bald eagle, and Hops. Previous guests of this Airbnb have seen beaver; my fingers are crossed. (Have I told you how many beaver I’ve seen on this trip already? I’ve been lucky.)

So, an interlude. It’s cheating, but what the heck. This is my trip.

Kill Devil Hills

From the Beaufort area, north to more Outer Banks in the Nag’s Head/Kill Devil Hills region. (These names!) I spent a night in Cape Hatteras National Seashore, where a whipping, blustering wind rocked Foxy all night. I didn’t feel so much disturbed as stimulated, and stayed up late that night reading as we rolled in the weather.

Cape Hatteras camp

We had some invigorating runs (Hops) and walks (me) on the beach. Here’s a video – I’m sorry I can’t figure out how to make it smaller…

And we visited the Bodie Island Lighthouse and the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

I climbed to the top of the lighthouse, 164 feet: about triple the height of the lighthouse I climbed at Port Isabel. It was very breezy up there, but I was brave. The Wright Brothers Memorial is of course about that first flight, beginning on Big Kill Devil Hill. There were some pretty good didactics, but Hops & I were more interested in the nice long walk around the hill and up to the monument.

It was another shining, beautiful day as we headed north again, for Virginia.

they’re everywhere, once you start paying attention

I guess I’ll go ahead and call myself an amateur birdwatcher now. I bought a pair of binoculars, for one thing. I find that the more birds I notice, the more the birds come to me. There have been so many encounters. Some weeks ago (time becomes so meaningless out here) I was pulled over at a cemetery down a dirt road for a phone call with my father when a great big black vulture came stumbling down the road at us, staggering like a drunk, straight for the van. Recall the roadrunner in Palo Duro who wanted to get in my van. There was also a Carolina wren in Poinsett, absolutely mad to get in the van with me through cracked windows, even though I kept discouraging it: my dad says they seek out old barns and such, and Foxy must have looked like a perfect nest. (I don’t disagree.) And then the cardinal who wanted in in Charleston.

remember this guy?

I’ve kept a list for a few of my last spots:
brown pelican
little blue heron
Canada goose (& goslings!)
double-crested cormorant
Eastern bluebird
piping plover
laughing gull
red-winged blackbird
always red-tailed hawks and buzzards – I think I’m seeing more black than turkey vultures.

The binoculars are a boon, if I can remember to keep them on me. Eyes open, friends.