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We are wrapping up the first phase of our stay in Durham and we have barely scratched the surface.  I’ve visited Chapel Hill twice, and I have yet to visit Raleigh, the state capital, which is only thirty miles from here.  I feel I may be failing to educate my readers about the Triangle area of North Carolina, but  it takes time to settle into a new place, to find a new doctor and dentist, to discover the things worth doing and seeing.  It is a process with which I am long familiar.  One step forward, two steps back.  It is the price one pays for geographic variety, the cost of being a nomad.

The two parts of North Carolina that attract tourists in droves are the mountains and the sea.  The state has been blessed with attractive proportions of both landscapes.  The Appalachians run up through the western part of the state and the barrier islands, the Outer Banks, maintain a tenuous foothold against the waves of the Atlantic.

In the last ten days, I have been to both areas, for very different reasons.  The first trip was easier in terms of distance and the driving, although the route finding was a little tricky.  I have invested in yet another GPS to replace the one I lost to the smash and grab man.  This one should help keep us on track. I am tempted to call this the land equivalent of the Bermuda triangle, since I discovered that I am not the only one who finds it impossible to get one’s bearings here.  I have adjusted the voice of the GPS to guide me in Italian, rather than English.  Silvia’s voice is pleasant, far gentler than her American counterpart, and if she does anything to bring back my Italian language skills I will be grateful.

The destination for our first significant outing was the coastal town of Swansboro, some three hours away by car.  The village lies about half-way down the North Carolina coast, below the bulge of Cape Hatteras, tucked in underneath the old town of Beaufort.  You can place it by its proximity to the Croatan National Forest and Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base.  Marines and marine life are the main focus of the people who live in Swansboro.  Camp LeJeune is home to some 40,000 Marines, so they have a significant impact on the economy and the lives of the local population.   Swansboro is home to boat nomads and fisherman as well.  The shrimping season will start soon.

A long lost relative had sent me an unabridged CD set of a book by Arthur Upfield, which made the drive pass very quickly.  Roger was astounded to learn that I had spent three years Down Under and never read any of Upfield’s books.  The author of the “Bony” books grew up in England but settled in Australia in 1910 at the age of twenty.  After the War, he immersed himself in the aboriginal culture and life in the Outback, then wrote a popular series of mysteries with a half-caste hero as the protagonist, a man with the unlikely name of Napoleon Bonaparte.

His books depict life in the forties and fifties, but the Outback changes slowly, so much of what he depicts is probably accurate to this day.  The “Bushranger of the Skies” had us both hooked.  Tony Hillerman credits Upfield with some of the inspiration for his own series of mysteries starring Jim Chee of the Navaho Tribal Police.  At a rest stop, my wife was so absorbed with the narrative that she felt we were back in Australia.  Everything around us was out of place.

Our journey to the North Carolina coast had a simple mission–  to enjoy a little rest and relaxation on the water.  Lamar Hudgens launched Barrier Island Kayaks fourteen years ago.  He offers kayak rentals, guided trips and instruction out of a building right on the water.  He is one of a handful of Americans qualified by the British Canoe Union with a five star rating, but we had not come to take advantage of his expertise on this particular trip.  We were there for the scenery, the paddling, and the zen-like calmness that comes when you are out on the water and into the rhythm of self propulsion.

The Waterway Inn is literally right next door, so we were able to check in, change clothes, grab some lunch and get out on the water by mid-afternoon of the same Saturday we departed from Durham.  With Bob Patterson as our guide, we paddled through the marsh lands and hunted for sharks teeth on one of the islands close to town.  We learned to identify birds and get a feel for the tide.  We learned to dodge the maniacs on jet skis.

Sunday morning after breakfast, Bob led the way toward Bear Island.   The trip out to the uninhabited barrier island was mesmerizing, offering us a variety of birds and seascapes, and we were fortunate in our timing, having the benefit of a returning tide on our way back.  It is like being carried on the back of a giant whale, being pushed by the sea.  Green turtles, loggerheads and even giant leatherbacks lay their eggs on the island.  I am glad there are no lights to distract them, that their offspring will be able to make their way easily back into the ocean.

I hate to visualize them making their way through the black muck that is spreading like cancer in the Gulf, but I have no doubt it is happening.  Bear Island is beautiful.  Like the turtles that come back year after year, we too will return.

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