Saturday, July 7, 2012

Of sand and shrimp and leaky ponds

When I was a kid about a hundred years ago, there was only one thing I looked forward to than the end of the school year: those precious days when we would head to the beach, sometimes for as long as a week, more often three or four days. Usually Myrtle Beach, sometimes the Outer Banks.

Didn't matter, couldn't wait.  Summer days were long, but we made 'em longer by getting up before dawn, my Dad and I, and awaiting  first light before we'd plunge into the waves.  A great swimmer and good diver, he'd get his fill after 45 minutes or so, and head back to the cottage or the inn or wherever we were staying and get his coffee. Me, I'd stay on the beach, waiting for the magic moment when the lifeguards would open up for the day and start renting those canvas rafts for maybe 25 cents an hour.  I'd ride the waves best I could on those rafts, rubbing my chest raw the first day against that salt-laden and sandy canvass, and soaking up sun until I glowed at night. I'd stay on the beach all day when I could, and sneak back soon as I could when the grownups would insist on taking a nap or eating lunch or some foolishness like that. Just never could get enough of it.

Then, anyway. Somewhere along about middle age it was a lot hotter, or maybe I was just noticing it a lot more, and tolerance for sand in my shoes and baked-flat-midday-heat waves and long walks in soft sand accompanied by no-seeums seemed to evaporate.  It was about the same time I turned into a geezer, of course.  And while I still looked forward to beach vacations, it isn't the same; after two or three days, I start thinking of the cool morning sunrises and the icy water from our springhouse and the breezes that blow over Belcher Mountain, and all the things that need doing up here, and I long to be back in the hills. 

So it was the other week. Our family has gone down to Rich Inlet at the northern end of Figure Eight Island every summer for years.  It's a fascinating place to see the changes nature wreaks every year. When first we went there were still some sorts of buoys out in the inlet, but the buoys are gone and its shape has changed so much it's hard to tell, except at low tide, where the main channel is.

 The beach at the upper end of the island has broadened nicely in recent years, but that also means it's a long hike out to the waterline, and at low water you may have to wade another 100 yards out to get more than waist-deep. It's more like work just getting out there for these aging knees.

On the other hand, Nixon Channel curves around sharply towards the mainland and creates a nice swimming-and-crabbing hole just a couple hundred feet from the cottage.  We took beach chairs and a cooler and an iPod down there the other day and parked ourselves two feet from the water's edge, where it was about a 10-step walk to full immersion, and a fine place to watch the sun set over the Intracoastal Waterway.

This is another sign of Full Geezerdom, I know.  But it's simpler, cooler, quicker and more gratifying than a long trek across hot sands and a long trek through knee-high breakers just to get wet.  I always did like the sound side.
So why go? Silly question. For the shrimp, of course.  Shrimp isn't all we eat, but to me it's the reason the Good Lord gave us the coast: It's where you go to get fresh shrimp, and I never have gotten my fill of it.  You can cook it, as Forrest Gump's friend Bubba pointed out, any number of ways. But I like mine this way: Get five pounds of good medium or large shrimp, heads off.  Heat a big pot of water. Throw in half a stick of butter. Open a beer and pour half of it in and drink the other half. Put the shrimp, unpeeled, in the boiling water for seven minutes.  Lay out old newspapers on the table.  Fix a bunch of cocktail sauce with catsup, fresh horseradish and fresh lemon juice. Give everyone a plate full of shrimp and turn 'em loose.  Grab a shrimp (watermen call 'em bugs), pull off the peel, toss it into the pile in the middle of the table, dip the shrimp it in your own supply of sauce or butter or even tartar sauce and wade your way through a pound or so. This is the essence of the shrimperoo.

Corn on the cob or cornbread re also good, but you're mostly going to be eating with your hands, so keep plenty of napkins nearby.  When you're all done, cleanup is easy: roll up those newspapers with the peels inside and carry it all out to the trash.   Mighty good eating. Mighty easy tidying up.

We miss the fresh shrimp of the coast, but back on the mountain there's work to do, now that the derecho has blown through up here and left in its wake a billion leaves and little branches on the gound and a heat wave that has taken us into the near-90s a few days.  The derecho -- a straight-lined windstorm -- is a new word to us but not to meterologists.  I imagine it'll be in the news as a figure of speech before long, the same way tsunami was when people learned what it meant and how they might press it into daily speech. There'll probably be a tsunami of news headlines about the coming derecho of -- what? negative campaign ads? political promises? huge corporate contributions? hot rhetoric? -- in the election season.  The tide is just beginning to rise.

Cooling off in all this hot air is somewhat problematic. We have a leaky, muddy pond inhabited by some big old snapping turtles, but its waters are cool enough to make it worth our while.  There's a lot of pluff mud on the bottom of that old pond, so our old scuba diving booties come in handy negotiating the rocky, gooey bottom.  You can just about wade across the old pond, but there are some inflatable chairs left over from the visit of some young'uns a few years ago, and Party Doll has discovered a floatable plastic drink container that keeps pondwater and turtles out. So our little watering hole will do nicely until sea level rises enough to give Patrick County some oceanfront real estate.  I think it will be quite a while.

In the meantime, if only we could figure out how to grow shrimp in a muddy mountain pond.

1 comment:

  1. When I was a child, there was no place I'd rather go than the beach. I still remember the awe when I saw the ocean — a body of water where you couldn't see the other side. I had expected it to be like Cheraw Beach, a lake along the Pee Dee River where my family had gone when I was younger. But as I grew older, my fascination with the beach waned. The sand, the sunburn, the dead-fish smells became more obvious and the surf less appealing. Give me a quiet mountain cottage now, and I'll be a happy vacationer. But I'll be happy if you bring a few pounds of shrimp, too.