The man who works at the end of the world

When we stopped in the boatyard office to pick up our mail this morning, we mentioned to Carolyn that we were planning to drive to the Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge today. “Oh, you’re going to the end of the world, then,” she said, matter-of-factly.

Google map of the end of the world

Google map of the end of the world

When a native of Beaufort, which is by definition a frontier, tells you you’re headed to the end of the world, the comment is not to be taken lightly. In case you don’t know where the frontier is, we heard this from an expert on the subject, Bill Brown: The frontier is any place more than two hours driving distance from an interstate.

In preparation for our trip to the end of the world, we packed energy bars, water, and lots of cameras. The gas tank was full, and we had lots of great music on the car stereo.

I spent some time on the internet, looking for information about the wildlife refuge. Although it looked large on the map, I couldn’t find any roads or trails within it. I figured that was an oversight by Google Maps. We are talking end of the world here.

Outside of Beaufort, there’s a sign that makes us laugh. It reads:
Sea Level 27
Atlantic 30

It’s not meant to be facetious. It’s a green highway sign — 27 miles to the town of Sea Level, and 30 miles to the town of Atlantic. Neither one is actually the end of the world, but they’re close.

Cedar Island isn’t actually the end of the world, either. There’s a ferry terminal there, and the boat to Ocracoke is crowded with tourists and residents and even semi trucks. However, the strip mall near the ferry is in a state between fading and crumbling, and all the shops have failed. There’s an old motel, with gaps in the roof where there used to be shingles.

The town of Cedar Island has about 300 residents, and fishing is a major source of income. In one front yard, a husband and wife were repairing green fishing nets, using the same sort of gear we learned about when we sailed to Juneau, Alaska. Down the block, a father and son were stretching their brown nets out in the driveway for repairs.

A few blocks from Goodwin Ridge Road, we drove past the Oscar B. Goodwin Family Cemetery. There are five Goodwin homes on the island over 100 years old. And the Goodwins are still living here, as evidenced by a sign for Goodwin’s Guide Service.

As we drove through town, a dog darted out in the road. He was agitated, and when I stopped, I saw that he was chasing the red pickup truck in front of us. He kept running at top speed for over a quarter mile, barking at the truck. Finally, the truck pulled over and the dog jumped in the back. They were trying to go someplace without him, and the dog just wasn’t going to put up with that!

This cemetery is in the front yard of someone's single-wide mobile home

This cemetery is in the front yard of someone's single-wide mobile home

We finally found the end of the world when we turned toward the refuge office. Trees draped with Spanish moss hung over the road, and there were a few small houses and a single-wide mobile home with a front yard full of 19th-century tombstones.

A couple of miles down Lola Road, I slowed to a crawl, trying to figure out a strange sight. It was a riding mower in the left lane, with a rounded plaid object sticking out of it. It took me a second to realize the plaid object was a man’s derriere. He was repairing the mower right there in the road.

At the end of the road, we found an information kiosk with a map, but like Google Maps, it showed no roads into the refuge. We decided to go into the nondescript cinder block building and ask.

The view from the end of the world

The view from the end of the world

This is where we met the man who works at the end of the world. Kevin Keeler, a tall man with a gray ponytail and an easy laugh, had a long career with the Department of Defense, at one point supervising about 50 people. But they cut back on staff before he was ready to retire, so seven years ago, he took his current job with the Department of the Interior.

Kevin Keeler, the man who works at the end of the world

Kevin Keeler, the man who works at the end of the world

Now Keeler works alone. Cedar Island National Wildlife Refuge has a staff of one, and he is it. He manages 14,400 acres, doing everything from paperwork to mowing to “cleaning the shitter,” as he puts it. His title, a complete understatement, is “Maintenance Worker!”

The end of the world has an interesting history. In 1964, the federal government acquired the land for the refuge. There was a town then, called Lola, adjacent to the refuge. In 1967, in a reaction to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Navy used the right of eminent domain to take the 16 homes that made up Lola. They demolished the houses and put up a radar dish that could see south and east, just out of range of the Cuban missiles of the day.

Within three years, the Navy no longer needed the once-critical facility. By then, we’d put a man on the moon, and they were probably getting better information from satellites than the archaic land-based radar. They transferred the facility to the Department of the Interior — the Wildlife Refuge. Which is why local folks sometimes say, “The wildlife refuge took my granddaddy’s land.” Not precisely.

For about 19 years, there was a man in charge of the refuge. Then they consolidated the various refuges as a cost-saving measure. For Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge, that meant closing the office and leaving the place to fend for itself for 15 years. After all, it was a wildlife refuge, not a people refuge.

When they hired Keeler in 2003, he found the building covered in vines and filled with several feet of silt. Across the street, one of the Navy buildings had to be demolished as a safety hazard. Worst of all, the refuge had become a dumping site. He described the trash he found: “Washers, dryers, construction equipment, cars…and the tires!”

A local Outward Bound group helped clean up the tires. “You know how many we found, just between here and the highway?” Keeler asked. “Two hundred and eighty-seven, and eighty-five of them were still on the rims!”

In addition to giving us the history, Keeler showed us how to get into the refuge. We parked on the highway and walked along one of the fire breaks, marked on the map as “unimproved trails.” We had the place to ourselves, and the only sound accompanying our footsteps was the wind sighing in the trees.

On this warm, sunny day, the end of the world was a very good place to be.

Later, we found out we’d been incredibly lucky. The real reason nobody goes into the wildlife refuge, besides a lack of trails and roads and facilities and promotion? Mosquitoes!

According to Carolyn, Cedar Island is the worst place in the area for mosquitoes. “There are so many, they’ll carry you away,” she said. Yet we didn’t see a single one. We just happened to go during that tiny window between winter and spring, when the mosquitoes hadn’t hatched yet.

I’ll worry a little bit about Keeler, though. There he is, at the end of the world, but he’s not alone. He’s surrounded by hordes of giant blood-thirsty mosquitoes, and one of these days, they just might carry him away.

Barry hiking in the wildlife refuge

Barry hiking in the wildlife refuge

Margaret and her Dad hiking in the wildlife refuge

Margaret and her Dad hiking in the wildlife refuge

12 meatloaves walk into a bar

As a man named Grey told me, “It started with a beer.” He could have been speaking of many regrettable activities. In this case, he was referring to the judging process for the “Backstreet Pub’s first (hopefully annual) Meatloaf Off.”

When pub owner Liz Kopf sent an email promoting the event, that’s exactly what she called it — first (hopefully annual). How refreshingly honest! As my pappy, the editor, told me, you should never say “first annual” in a news story. An event is not actually annual until it happens the second year.

As a food writer, I was super-excited by the prospect of a meatloaf competition. I pictured myself running around with my little notebook and pencil, documenting the judging process and interviewing the winners. Perhaps I could get a scoop and publish the winning meatloaf recipe in the Foodie Gazette!

When we arrived, the bartender told me that the judging was upstairs, and no one was allowed up there. I was crestfallen. “Not even members of the Press?” I asked. He rolled his eyes at my impertinence and went to take someone else’s order. I entertained myself by playing with my camera.

Marilyn, Philip, and Barry wait for winners to be announced

Marilyn, Philip, and Barry wait for winners to be announced

The Backstreet Pub has great ambience, now that it's non-smoking

The Backstreet Pub has great ambience, now that it's non-smoking

A few minutes later, as I was cooling my heels, one of the judges came down the stairs. He was not much of an interview subject, though, being a dog.

The first judge descends the staircase

The first judge descends the staircase

Finally, the other judges came down and announced the winners. I was standing beside the third-place winner, a woman named Donna, and I congratulated her and asked how it felt. She shrugged. Then she saw my camera, scowled, and turned her back, saying, “No photos.”

Disappointed, I turned to one of the judges, a man named Grey.

“How did you get selected to be a judge?” I asked.

“I’m the bar-owner’s boyfriend,” he said.

“Er, that’s nice,” I said, lamely. He returned to his beer.

At this point, I decided interviewing people was hard. Eating meatloaf would be easier. I joined the crowd making its way up the narrow spiral staircase.

Upstairs, folks were lined up, plates in hand, to taste the 12 meatloaf-off contenders. I took a small spoonful of each, along with some mashed potatoes and some sort of spinach dish. Afterwards, I talked with first place winner Kathy Roberts and second place winner James Lewis about their winning entries.

Kathy’s meatloaf was based on an old recipe published by Kellogg’s cornflakes. Instead of baking it in a loaf pan, she pressed the mixture into muffin tins, making small, round meatloaves. I’m sure her lettuce-lined platter got the highest score for presentation, before the hungry crowd descended upon it.

First place winner, Kathy Roberts

First place winner, Kathy Roberts

Kathy’s topping was not only delicious, it was nice and thick. She had basted each loaf at least three times during baking with a mixture of chili sauce, brown sugar, and catsup.

James’ meatloaf, which took second place, had a secret ingredient: Klaussen’s Sauerkraut. He used a basic meatloaf recipe with oatmeal for filler, pressed half of it into a pan, and then covered it with a layer of sauerkraut. On top of this, he put a mixture of one part stone ground mustard, one part yellow mustard, and one part honey. He covered this with the rest of the meatloaf and topped it with catsup.

I asked James where he got the recipe.

Second place winner, James Lewis

Second place winner, James Lewis

“I’m a computer tech,” he said. “A few years ago, I went to somebody’s house to work on their computer, and they were making dinner while I was there. I saw them putting the sauerkraut in the middle of the meatloaf, and I thought, ‘Sauerkraut? What the heck?'” But I went home and tried it, and I’ve been making it this way ever since.”

Kevin arrived late, and most of the meatloaf was gone. There was still beer.

Kevin arrived late, and most of the meatloaf was gone. There was still beer.

"They licked the platters clean!"

"They licked the platters clean!"

At the end of the evening, I realized I was not cut out to be a hard-core journalist. First of all, I found it easier to interview meatloaf than people. Secondly, I was not objective. I preferred James’ meatloaf over Kathy’s, and I thought the spinach was better than all the meatloaves! Most importantly, I had failed to answer the key question: Who brought the spinach dish?

A few days after the event, I ran into a woman named Denise who I knew from around town. She’d been at the Meatloaf Off, where she told me about the prior competition — a macaroni and cheese contest. She was also brainstorming on the next one, which might be a chicken soup contest. So it was natural for me to ask, “Did you have anything to do with organizing the meatloaf competition?”

“Oh, no,” she said, “I just brought the spinach souffle.”

And that’s how I got the recipe for what I consider the REAL winner of the “Backstreet Pub’s first (hopefully annual) Meatloaf Off”: Denise’s Mom’s Spinach Souffle.

Dancing like a bunch of monkeys in the snow

Margaret and Barry at Mardi Gras in Gloucester, NC

Margaret and Barry at Mardi Gras in Gloucester, NC

There’s nothing like a little publicity to mess up a great local event. That must be what the folks in Gloucester, North Carolina were thinking when their down-east Mardi Gras celebration got written up in Our State magazine. As one volunteer confided, “We were hoping for a little bad weather, to keep the numbers down.”

Be careful what you ask for! The evening before the event, Mother Nature dumped an unprecedented foot of snow on the area. This was not a little bad weather. For an area where snow shovels are rare (we saw people raking their driveways), it was a LOT.

Still, Barry and I were only 15 miles down the road, and we had four-wheel drive. It was no problem to drive to Gloucester, a tiny town about as close to the end of the road as you’re likely to get. Our route was lined with snowmen, including one wearing a bikini!

When we arrived, we found friendly folks serving up seafood gumbo with big ol’ crab legs, chunks of fried turkey, red beans and rice, and king cake. Everyone seemed to be wearing a silly mask or hat, so our colorful outfits fit right in. “Wait a minute,” said Pam, when we ran into her, “don’t y’all live on a sailboat? Where do you keep those costumes?”

And then someone shouted, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” and rowdy dancing began. It was the zydeco band Unknown Tongues, who had started this community Mardi Gras celebration 18 years ago. They set our feet and hearts dancing, right there in that wacky North Carolina snow, especially when they played “You’re Gonna Look Like a Monkey When You Get Old.”

(Weird, small, coincidental world! I just realized, when I read the Our State article, that proceeds from Mardi Gras go to the Woodrow Price Scholarship Fund. That would be the same Woodrow Price I wrote about almost a year ago, when my Dad came to visit.)

Margaret poses with the Official Mardi Gras Snowperson

Margaret poses with the Official Mardi Gras Snowperson

The first people we met were the best-dressed of the whole event

The first people we met were the best-dressed of the whole event

Barry and a new friend practice their flashing technique

Barry and a new friend practice their flashing technique

Barry liked both the front and back of this headpiece

Barry liked both the front and back of this headpiece

Margaret poses with a bumper sticker that's perfect for her

Margaret poses with a bumper sticker that's perfect for her

This kind fellow passed out a taste of gumbo to the folks waiting in the food line

This kind fellow passed out a taste of gumbo to the folks waiting in the food line

This fellow knew how to accessorize, with a tiny ukelele and a rubboard tie

This fellow knew how to accessorize, with a tiny ukelele and a rubboard tie

The tooth fairy came, with plenty of teeth and dental implements to share

The tooth fairy came, with plenty of teeth and dental implements to share

Great sunglasses

Great sunglasses

Proud lady in a feather mask

Proud lady in a feather mask

This lady makes a special mask for the event each year

This lady makes a special mask for the event each year

This tie was so bright, it practically glowed green

This tie was so bright, it practically glowed green

Man in feathers

Man in feathers

This elegant costume didn't stop her from dancing at all

Don't let the elegant brocade jacket fool you -- this lady could DANCE

Two masked ladies caught in the unladylike act of eating gumbo

Two masked ladies caught in the unladylike act of eating gumbo

The bonfire was necessary to thaw us out for dancing

The bonfire was necessary to thaw us out for dancing

Dancing like a bunch of monkeys in the snow from Margaret Meps Schulte on Vimeo.

Tastes like chicken

Last fall, I went to Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, not because the town’s name is so cool, but to document an amazing chicken pot pie recipe. I’ve been raving about Pennsylvania Dutch pot pie ever since.

A couple of weeks ago, Barry found leftover Christmas turkey and gravy in the fridge. Could it be turned into pot pie?

“Hmmm, I don’t know,” I said. “Making it from turkey instead of chicken might be sacrilege.”

Barry just looked at me and waited.

“All right,” I sighed. “But you have to watch the video first.” So we sat down and watched the Pot Pie Nirvana video. This put me in the mood and showed Barry the technique.

Then we rolled up our sleeves and made pot pie together in our tiny boat galley. This proves that two people can cook almost anything in a kitchen with less than three feet each of counter space and floor space, if they are extremely patient and affectionate with each other.

Barry shows off the dough in the bowl. It was cold enough to wear our Santa hats inside the boat.

Barry shows off the dough in the bowl. It was cold enough to wear our Santa hats inside the boat.

Barry rolling out the noodles. This shows just how tiny our galley is -- Barry's working on top of the icebox, next to the stove.

Barry rolling out the noodles. This shows just how tiny our galley is -- Barry's working on top of the icebox, next to the stove.

Barry's using our rolling pin on top of a silicone mat to roll the noodles.

Barry's using our rolling pin on top of a silicone mat to roll the noodles.

Barry uses a plastic knife to cut the dough into square noodles.

Barry uses a plastic knife to cut the dough into square noodles.

Barry cutting the noodles on the silicone mat.

Barry cutting the noodles on the silicone mat.

Margaret made some of the noodles, too.

Margaret made some of the noodles, too.

Dropping the handmade noodles into turkey broth. For a pot, we used a pressure cooker without the lid.

Dropping the handmade noodles into turkey broth. For a pot, we used a pressure cooker without the lid.

Margaret blows on the spoon before testing the pot pie. Burning her tongue at this point would be a tragedy.

Margaret blows on the spoon before testing the pot pie. Burning her tongue at this point would be a tragedy.

Margaret stirs in leftover turkey from Christmas dinner.

Margaret stirs in leftover turkey from Christmas dinner.

Meps is ready to eat her pot pie. The beverage of choice is a Mike's Lemonade, in honor of Mike, who introduced us to pot pie.

Meps is ready to eat her pot pie. The beverage of choice is a Mike's Lemonade, in honor of the guy who introduced us to pot pie.

I'm ready to eat! Stop taking pictures and sit down!

I'm ready to eat! Stop taking pictures and sit down!

Everything but the Christmas tree

About a week ago, I wrote about our decision to stay here in the boatyard for the holidays. At the time, I was feeling sorry for myself, and my tone was so wistful that friends and family responded with consoling emails (my favorite was the invitation from Australia).

Then the celebrating started, and I forgot to be sad.

My dictionary defines “jamboree” as “a large celebration or party, typically a lavish and boisterous one.” Some definitions involve Boy Scouts or country music.

One of our holiday activities was attending the Christmas show at the Crystal Coast Jamboree with the Bock family, boatyard employees, and liveaboards. But the real jamboree was the evening’s dinner, held at a Japanese steakhouse. The chefs flipped and twirled and tossed the food to us as though we were trained seals. At one point, Kenny egged Dale into eating some wasabi for the first time. “DAMN!” he exploded, practically spitting sushi. “What IS that stuff?”

Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip

Our solstice bonfire - Barry, John, Marilyn, Philip

The days grew shorter and the nights longer. On December 21st, we celebrated the Solstice with a bonfire — well, actually a little campfire on the edge of the sandblasting pit. We ate roasted weenies, melted cheese sandwiches, and toasted marshmallows. Most importantly, we ran a 100-foot extension cord and plugged in a crockpot full of mulled wine. We were warmed inside and out.

It takes more than food and fire to properly celebrate the Solstice, though. This is the window between the lunar and solar new years, when evil spirits inhabit the earth and must be kept at bay by merriment and partying. At least, that’s what Philip of Oryoki said.

Our merriment included dancing around the fire in leafy green headdresses and playing some extremely loud percussion. “Extremely” means that some steel boats are more fun to beat on than drums. We bid the moon farewell (guess who did so by actually mooning it) and listened to every song I could find in our collection about the sun. “Eu Quero Sol” and “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” were the most apropos.

Philip chases away evil spirits

Philip chases away evil spirits

Then came the event that was my real reason for staying over this Christmas: A North Carolina oyster roast. I stuffed myself on steamed oysters dipped in melted butter, and Barry ate multiple helpings of deer stew and hush puppies. Dale sucked down more hot vinegar sauce more than wasabi peas, though. Everyone was smiling as we stood around the fire barrel, relaxing and enjoying each other’s company without any of that silly boat work.

Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster

Meps gets ready to slurp an oyster

Warming ourselves around the fire

Warming ourselves around the fire

After the oyster roast, the boatyard closed for the holidays, but we kept the fires of holiday spirit bright, celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas aboard our boats. Flutterby was chock-full of little wrapped gifts, sent from Washington and Florida and Oregon and Ohio, and cards — some of them homemade — from everywhere. Oryoki was decorated with garland and colored lights. We sported Santa hats around the boatyard and debated on which side the pom-pom should dangle.

Wonderful collection of cards

Wonderful collection of cards

Our Christmas dinner was a delightful sort of scavenger hunt — I got my 12-pound turkey out of the refrigerator on Ula G and took it to the lounge to wash it. Then we plopped it onto the huge propane grill that we’d rolled from Pelican (a monohull) to Oryoki (a catamaran) to keep it out of the rain. The turkey was just the centerpiece — the table on Oryoki groaned under cranberry sauce and stuffing and homemade rolls and veggies. The butterscotch pie waited out in the cockpit, and the whole thing was washed down with Marilyn’s homemade egg nog.

Happy couple at Christmas

I wore my Santa's helper lingerie all day on Christmas

Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby

Barry on Christmas Eve aboard Flutterby. Hot artichoke dip was a hit!

Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie

Nobody turned down the butterscotch pie with meringue topping (see Foodie Gazette for recipe)

Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum

Homemade eggnog by Marilyn - yum

Beginning on the 18th, each day the spirit of generosity and gratitude increased in my heart, until I felt like the Grinch — my heart was three sizes larger. I was connected to friends and loved ones all over the world, even when the phone stopped working for 24 hours on Christmas Day. There was so much love, right here! How could I ever feel wistful or sad? It was the best Christmas EVER.

Bunny pants on elf duty

We’ve done so much traveling this year, together and apart, that we decided to stay here in the boatyard for Christmas. Theoretically, we’re supposed to be working on the boat, although the weather and our respective cases of bronchitis are hampering our efforts. I hate the thought of coughing into my respirator.

I got a little sad this evening, thinking about our plan to stay here on the boat. Our liveliest boatyard neighbors, Charlie and Dick, have gone back to Ohio to be with family. Our best friends in town, Ted and Malla, slipped Ocean Gypsy’s lines and headed south for the winter on Monday. Between the four of them, they’ve left us two boats and ten vehicles. That’s enough to open a used car lot!

Bock Marine threw a fantastic Christmas party, but it was over too soon. They’ll be closing down for a whole week. Without Randy and Larry and Dale and Kenny, the place is dreadfully dull. Minutes seem like hours. And there isn’t even mail delivery to distract us. No Christmas cards. No packages. Sigh.

For me, the hardest thing will be simply spending these days without any family. We love Mom, both our Dads, Grandma, and all our siblings and nephews and niece — and we have never, ever, ever in our lives spent a Christmas without at least one of them. I spent some time today looking at photos and videos from past Christmases, seeing how the sheer joy of being together is reflected in our faces. Not this year. Sigh.

A few days ago, I received an email asking what my favorite Christmas traditions were. I was initially stumped, having no decorations, no lights, no tree. With two people, how can we eat a whole butterscotch pie and a roast turkey? I sat here, sighing, in my Santa hat, wondering if I even have Christmas traditions this year.

You can leave your hat on Santa meets the Death BunniesIn my Santa hat? There’s a tradition! We wear our Santa hats all the time in December. When it’s warm, don’t come on the boat — we might not be wearing anything with them. When it’s cold, my Santa hat goes great with my pink Death Bunny pajama pants. Which I sometimes wear out in the boatyard, just for grins.

How about making homemade cards every year? Sometimes they don’t go out until February, but I’ve never bought a Christmas card in my whole life. Our lengthy holiday card list is like the Hotel California. Once you are on it, you’re stuck for life.

And then there are the homemade presents. We’ve made mustard, soap, jam, apple butter, signs, jewelry, baking mixes, bookmarks, spiced nuts, and refrigerator magnets. We’ve burned some very strange CD collections (anybody remember “Goin’ to the Dogs?”). This year, I wrote four whole books.

And then there’s the calendar, a 5-year tradition. It’s a week-long project, because I seem to get sick just after Thanksgiving every year anyway. I might as well sit at the computer and design a calendar showcasing this year’s best photos.

I wish we could give one to every friend, every year. It gets harder to decide how many to print and where to send them. Rumor has it that one family member likes hers so much, she keeps the old ones hanging up and pastes new dates onto them.

The past week on the boat, I’ve been on elf-duty most of the time. I designed the calendars and cards, and Barry helped me assemble and wrap and sign them. We made some goofy presents, burned some silly CDs, and wrapped them in old road maps because I refused to buy wrapping paper. I forgot I was wearing my Santa hat at the post office, and wondered why everyone was smiling at me.

It’s going to be a great Christmas. I’ve spent the past couple of weeks thinking of ways to make people happy, and now the envelopes and packages are winging their way across the continent. My thoughts turn to our friends who are staying in the boatyard for Christmas — John, Philip & Marilyn, Audrey & Ward (whose nickname is Scrooge, but I don’t believe it). What can I do for them? And especially for Barry, who got me the Death Bunny pants?

Generosity — that’s my holiday tradition. Taking the time to let people know I love and appreciate them, no matter how far they are from me and my Santa-meets-the-Death-Bunnies outfit.

New boatyard uniforms

There are many things to be afraid of in the boatyard — rotten balsa, corroded stainless, falling off the ladder, stepping on a copperhead, and coming face to face with a bear are a few. But last night, the really scary things came out for a Halloween party.

Luckily, there was plenty of food to appease them. Actually, since it was a potluck, the scary things brought food! Not scary food, though. This potluck had no blue turkey.

Here are a few of the pictures. As you can see, nobody took the easy route and wore a Tyvek suit or a dust mask. But Audrey came as Randy, and Dick came as Charlie, and John came as Tony, which confused the heck out of people who didn’t know Randy, Charlie, or Tony. It left the rest of us gasping for breath, we were laughing so hard.

Audrey dressed up as a miniature Randy. She was almost as cute as the real Randy!

Audrey dressed up as a miniature Randy. She was almost as cute as the real Randy!

Dick came as Charlie, wearing a shirt that said Tony. He even made the same tasteless jokes as Charlie!

Dick came as Charlie, wearing a shirt that said Tony. He even made the same tasteless jokes as Charlie!

Celeste and Donna, of Celestial, with pointy things on their heads and great makeup.

Celeste and Donna, with pointy things on their heads and great makeup.

Father Charlie had all the props, including the beer and the cigarette. He generated a few tasteless jokes, too.

Father Charlie had all the props, including the beer and the cigarette. He generated a few tasteless jokes, too.

Val and Harold brought the toga theme, which went well with Celeste's Pan look.

Val and Harold brought the toga theme, which went well with Celeste's Pan look.

Is this the result of too much bottom paint? Wait, Scott's boat is not even hauled out!

Is this the result of too much bottom paint? Wait, Scott's boat is not even hauled out!

Another adventure in outrageous costuming! Impossible to eat or drink with the mask, though. That left more for us!

Who was behind the mask and wig? He could be anyone, but he said his name was Barry. Then he went home with the honey bee. What's that about?

This is what we'll all be wearing to work on our boats, instead of those boooooring Tyvek suits.

This is what we'll all be wearing to work on our boats, instead of those boooooring Tyvek suits.

The whole dressed-up gang, complete with jackstands and boats on either side of us. Scary!

The whole dressed-up gang, complete with jackstands and boats on either side of us. Scary!

Crossing the butter divide

I just closed the window, here on Camano Island, Washington. After leaving North Carolina, it’s a strange feeling to be cold in the summer. But I’m glad for the warm laptop on my legs, and I’m thinking of putting some socks on my chilly feet.

Last year, we drove across the country three times, slowly. We haven’t been on a plane since the end of 2007, so the flight on Wednesday from New Bern, North Carolina to Seattle was surreal and left me disoriented. Not to mention winded from that flat-out run through the Atlanta airport! I feel like I’ve been squeezed through a very tiny aperture and popped out in another universe.

Meps in front of the high bridge from Radio Island to Morehead City

Meps in front of the high bridge from Radio Island to Morehead City

The differences between our North Carolina home and our Pacific Northwest home are vast — starting with the butter. Did you know that butter on the East coast and butter on the West coast is shaped differently? In the east, no matter what brand you buy, sticks of butter are long and skinny. In the west, they are short and fat. You have to have different butter dishes!

The sounds are different, too. In NC, I’m attuned to the sound of the Travelift and the crane, overlayed on the rhythm of cicadas on a hot day. I can identify many boats on the waterway by the sound of their engines, even before I see them. And the voices — I love listening to people speak with Southern accents, even if I can’t understand half of what they say (or, in the case of Randy, all of it). At the end of the day, Anique says she’s going “hame,” and it makes me wish I was born to talk like that. Here, the accents are flat, nonexistent. But I’m delighted to hear the call of the bird Barry and I call the “Sweetie, come here” bird. This afternoon, I napped on the grass — no fire ants or mosquitoes — and listened to the wind whispering like a person breathing in the top of 40-foot pines.

Then there are smells. Last weekend, we went out with Kenny and Nancy and Carlee in their skiff, and I breathed in the smell of the Atlantic Ocean and the marshes along the Intracoastal Waterway. I wanted to etch it in my memory, so I could compare it to the air here, where the tangy scent of fir trees fills the air like incense.

Barry, Kenny, and Nancy on the boat with Beaufort in the background

Sunday: Barry, Kenny, and Nancy on the boat with Beaufort in the background

We visited a beach today, Iverson Spit. We waded in the shallow water of Port Susan, ringed on all sides by blue, snow-capped mountains. There were a few other people on the beach, but their quiet energy was completely different from the beaches we visited in the past two weeks — Shackleford Bank, full of exuberant people on boats, and Atlantic Beach, with great big waves and surfers and swimmers. The hot, bright sunshine makes the air shimmer with heat.

Barry, Julie, Gabriel, Sharon, Emanuel, and Dave wading at Iverson Spit with Mount Baker in the background

Friday: Barry, Julie, Gabriel, Sharon, Emanuel, and Dave wading at Iverson Spit with Mount Baker in the background

The character of the light is different, going from south to north. It’s 9 o’clock now, and it would be dark at the boat. We’d have put our mosquito screen in the companionway and turned on the lights. But here, I could still read outside, it’s so light. The twilight will last for another 90 minutes, as though the light is reluctant to go away.

Only then will we slip out to the hot tub. Under the starlight, we’ll listen to the sound of the wind in the pines and breathe their scent. And miss our dear friends in North Carolina, whose voices are like music, on the other side of the butter divide.

Hero merit badges earned

“Your cat is cute.”
“She’s not my cat.”

“What’s wrong with your cat’s leg?”
“She’s not my cat.”

“You’re flying to Seattle? What are you going to do with your cat?”
“SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

To other people, fostering a cat family looks a lot like having cats. We had a cat door, food and water bowls, and a playful, frisky kitty named Buttercup who followed us around the boatyard and frolicked under our boat. All of which explains the number of times in two weeks that we had to protest, “SHE’S NOT MY CAT!”

Aboard our boat, her two kittens spent all their time sleeping and nursing. When their mother climbed into the berth with them, they would make tiny, cute squeaking sounds, and she would respond with chirps. Then they’d find a teat, suckling quietly, and she would purr.

Barry with two not-his-kittens

Barry with two not-his-kittens

One night, just after I went to bed, I heard agitated squeaking. Buttercup was responding with more than the usual meeowing, purring, and chirping. When I went to see what was up, there was a soggy kitten on the galley floor. Buttercup’s water bowl was a small Tupperware cup, just big enough for one kitten — and one kitten had fallen in!

That night, she decided the quarterberth was not a safe place. She moved the kittens under the stove, where we had to get on our hands and knees to see them. They hardly noticed us, since their eyes remained closed. We tried not to spill popcorn or sauteed onions behind the stove.

Not-my-cat comes out from a kitten feeding

Buttercup Not-My-Cat comes out from under the stove

Less than a week before our departure, we got a very welcome call. Donna of PAWS had found a foster home for the three with a retired couple who are dedicated to cats. Imagine a large house in the country, surrounded by miniature houses, each with carpet, windows, and air conditioning. Our single mother and her babies were going to live in a real cathouse!

So we dropped them off at a vet for the transfer. Even after just three weeks, it was hard to say goodbye. We drove back from the vet wearing PAWS bracelets that say, “I saved a pet.” And in our email box was a timely message from our cat rescue mentors, Blaine and Suzy: “hero merit badges earned!”

But the boat was quiet and empty. The feral cats we feed sat at the bottom of our ladder, puzzled. “Where’d that girl kitty go? We didn’t mean to chase her away!” they seemed to say. We threw ourselves into finishing the masts and packing for our trip, as if working 19-hour days would distract us from missing the friendly cream-colored cat.

We’re in the Pacific Northwest now, with even more distractions. Still, I find myself looking at the photos of Buttercup Not-My-Cat — of which we have way too many — and thinking, “Yes. For a short time, you were my cat. Thank you.”