“When I wanted you to share my life, I had no doubt in my mind”
Right Down The Line, Gerry Rafferty
Mary and I commemorated our Fifteen Wedding Anniversary at the idyllic Sanderling Hotel in the Duck community of the Outer Banks, the very same place we spent our honeymoon. Anniversaries are, in my opinion, bookmarked temporal chapters that are 365 pages long. The more chapters documented the more muscular and robust the couple’s commitment will be to each other—so, the culture lore goes. The recognition and celebratory events associated with this custom has deep historical roots dating back to the Middle-Ages and then, packaged and categorized to a tidy discipline by the Victorians: the era of Charles Darwin, the iconic naturalist. Like a museum display case of Coleopteran insects that are taxonomically labeled, each anniversary year has a gemological gift affixed to it, i.e. 25 years is the silver anniversary; 50 years is gold; and the 15th—drum roll please, a ruby.
Mary and I have a trial and tested strategy for the drive to the beach; filled with Jack Johnson and Jimmy Buffett music, guzzling down Starbucks’ coffee, and conversations about kids, work and politics: generally, we agree on most topics. I find the drive a white knuckling experience, Mary, however, loves long drives— and, there appears to be a strong correlation between speed of dialogue and the velocity of the car. Maybe, we shouldn’t drink so much coffee; it might be safer.
To arrive at the Sanderling, we meander through the community of Duck, an apotheosis of a quaint beach town; trinket shops galore, and renown to the avid hunter for being the migratory path for wild ducks and other wild fowls.
The Sanderling has rooms that view both the Atlantic Ocean and the Currituck Sound. We prefer the Ocean view; we enjoy being lulled to sleep with the white noise of breaking waves on the beach. There were two unique features of the Sanderling that struck me as charming and evoked delight: tea time at 3PM and the impressive display of John James Audubon ornithological prints that dressed the walls. Audubon was an 1800 French American, naturalist painter, whose art depicted North American indigenous birds in their natural habitat.
The bar was low with regards to an agenda; no pressure, we were to luxuriate in beach-ness by taking long walks on the beach, reading— and, the climax was to have dinner at the Left Bank an AAA Four Diamond Award winning restaurant on the sound side of the resort. But, before we were to venture to the Pantheon and partake in ambrosia, Mary had indulged by (pampering) herself with a first; a scheduled pedicure, manicure and makeup/hairstyling at the resident Spa and Salon: a prelude to the climax.
We stayed two nights and left the morning of day three. The days were filled with long leisurely walks on the beach and one brief interlude among the weedy trail of the marsh. The marsh walk had all the trimmings of a Lewis Carroll’s chapter in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland. The trail was pox with mud puddles and hemmed in with Spartina and assorted aquatic plants cording the estuary side, and the beach side, which had gnarly, contorted trunks and boughs of oak trees that were salt-wind manicured in the direction of the prevailing easterly winds, that shroud it’s understory with random shafts of light imbuing a perpetually twilight. As we hopscotch over the puddles, we encountered the local flora and fauna: a box turtle, indigenous songbirds, small inconspicuous wild flowers, and “the rabbit”. Now, I’m not suggesting the rabbit was donning a waistcoat, possessed a pocket watch, spoke in an English accent muttering the words, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late”, but, I thought I witness,…”it pop down a large rabbit hole under the hedge” Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, 1865. Unlike Alice, Mary and I reined in our teetering curiosity and refrained from a toboggan down the rabbit hole, and sauntered back to our room for lunch.
Our beach wonderings were also fraught with ethologic anthropomorphizing empathy; possessed by the apparition of Socrates, Mary and I converted to peripatetic-ism and engaged in l-o-n-g excursions over the undulating, wave sculpted cusps of sand, admiring the eclectic drift wood décor of the beach with a backdrop of sea oats blanketing the barricading berm, where we memorably chanced upon, the Clear-Nose Skate, littering the beach as cadavers in a mass graveyard, and an interloper, the clever, adaptable grackle.
The Clear Nose skate, Raja eglanteria, is ubiquitous up and down the east coast; like the snowbird hoary elders who pilot the RV’s the size of a school bus, they migrate south during fall and winter. Kite in shape, almond brown on top with random splattering of dark splotches and bars, and their bottom is opaque white. They averaged in size, about 18” wide and 30” long. What was the perpetrator of the Skateicide? Was it toxins from man’s pollutions or excreted from an organism; was it a parasitic organism—or, the enigmatic natural causes? My cursory investigation came up empty of any overt, obvious solution to the riddle of the beach carnage. The sanitation beach crew, the gulls, were air-lifting the odoriferous corpses out; traces and concerns of the mystery will soon be eroded from existence.
As we trudged on the saturated sand, which was intermittently soaked by spilling waves that splayed their content as a toppled glass of water would unto a kitchen floor, we spied, what seemed to be an aberrant squatting infraction of a niche entrenched by the indigenous shore birds, or colloquially put, elbowing in on someone’s dinner turf: the swash zone was inhabited by an interloper, the grackle, feeding at the trough of the willet and sanderling, whose predatory strategy is to jackhammer into the wet sand in search of a mole crab morsel. The grackles were exhibiting the same antics of the willet sanderling duo; not completely feckless, but occasionally, beak to carapace contact was made, and a mole crab delicacy was had. The grackle, Quiscalus sp., is a medium size bird, 1 ft. long, 3 ft., wing span; bicolor with its head to shoulder, hood-like, a purple iridescence and the rest of the body is black; sexual dimorphism is inherent of the species, female smaller, conspicuously drab brown; and, they have an omnivorous eating repertoire, to include, now, mole crabs. The ethological framing of questions that might elucidate this disparate display of foraging might focus on: 1) What problem might it have evolved from; and 2) phylogenetic inquiry of how might common ancestry shaped and constrain this behavior. Change that is shrouded propitiously, deleteriously, or neutral suggest life’s pathways; as in, Ben Hostetter’s, Porcupine Dilemma, 2011, a romantic anthropomorphize tale of a porcupine, whose storyline is a pageant of life changing decisional fork roads. In one conversation between Nick the quilled star, and Poe, a disgruntled, pillow making factory worker, raven, whose volition of a life’s aspirational path was usurped by responsibility; a mixed gift: Poe grumbled, “Had me a son and after…well, everything changed. Forced to give up on the dreams I had—on being an astronaut. Had to give up the stars.” Yet, as he tilted his beak upward and strained his eyes to view the stars in the stratosphere, he overlooks the “biggest star” his s(u)n! The wash zone of the beach is the grackles chance dream. As Louis Pasteur commented, “chance favors the prepared mind”, or in this case, genome.
Returning from the tangential natural history foray of the beach, we prepared for the anniversary dinner, the summit of the Atlantic Ocean tryst, to be commemorated at the luxurious restaurant, The Left Bank. My preparatory ritual was minimal at most, but Mary’s, on the other hand, had plans to accentuate her accessories, which conjured up the philosophical romp of Darwinian sexual selection. In 1871 Darwin’s, The Descent of Man, chapter on Sexual Selection evoked the countenance of raised eye brows from the prudish Victorians; wherein, the theory posits that certain physical, mental or psychological traits evolved because they aid in competition among individuals for access to a preferred mate or because they are enhancements of traits that help to attract mates. Mary had me with just a smile.
When you already have the ocean’s oysters’ pearl, as a confidant and lover, you wonder how any cosmetic products could enhance this briny precious stone; however, this returned pearl glisten with stunning optical delight: every strand of hair purposefully position, gradation of makeup hues accentuating her chocolate brown eyes and nails painted red, as if to exclaim, eyes on me—and, they were! After my ocular orgasm had abated, we donned our evening attire and strutted to the planned apogee of our Fifteen Anniversary commemorative dalliance: dinning at the Left Bank restaurant to experience American cuisine with the technique and traditions of French culinary finesse under the auspices of Chef Robinson. The food was sumptuous; cooked and served to perfection—but there was more; the ambiance was condiment-like: it enhanced the emotive experience to a crescendo of rapture. The design of the restaurant evoke the illusion of a bay window looming into the marsh of the Currituck Sound: half elliptical wall sectioned with floor to ceiling windows dressed with elegant curtains allowing multiple vistas that obliged and engendered eye ecstasy of the sunset.
The panorama of the estuary; a polygamous marriage of marine, fresh water, and a ribbon of sand veneered with Spartina grass, optically splashed through the portal holes of my corneas to the shores of my retinas, flooding my optical nerves with the perceptive paradox: nature is art and art is nature; where, art is a conscious construct of the mind that gives non-purposeful nature, meaning and beauty. Captivated by the serenity of the marsh, which precipitated a musing meiosis of proses and lyrics from Charles Darwin’s ,”… a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes , with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth…”; Rachel Carson’s, “…Underlying the beauty of spectacle there is meaning and significance. It is the elusiveness of that meaning that haunts us, that sends us again and again into the natural world where the key to the riddle is hidden. It sends us back to the edge of the sea, where the drama of life played its first scene on earth and perhaps even its prelude, where the forces of evolution are at work today,…”; and, Jack Johnson’s, Better Together I believe in memories they look so pretty when I sleep/ and when I wake up you look so pretty sleeping next to me/ but there is not enough time/ and there is no song I could sing/ and there is no combination of words I could say/ but I will still tell you one thing/ WE’RE BETTER TOGETHER .