Tuesday, May 13, 2008

OBX Jumping Turtles

There’s something about the persistence of the ocean that’s inspirational. Maybe that’s why so many famous people come from or live on one coast or another.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina is kind of a different place. Me ‘n Mama took a few days to travel down to that part of Dixie, shoot a beach wedding at Nag’s Head, and seek out some light house photos for our art prints. I don’t want to jinx anything – writing this from the beginning of the trip home at the Norfolk, Virginia airport – but the journey down here went about as well as one who hates to fly could expect.

We handed off our rental car to our gracious host, who’s going on to Williamsburg for a graduation, so we’ve got about five hours to kill here in the airport. Perfect for telling ya’ll about some of the oddities of the narrow strip of land we spent the last three days on.

Down here, being in the heart of tobacco country, you can smoke pretty much everywhere – bars, restaurants, grade school, church…. But the “drinking” thing is really screwed up.

Beer & wine, you can buy anywhere. K-Mart has a nice selection. Mixed drinks & liquor is a situation about as complicated as the Democratic primary process. Down the Outer Banks, toward Cape Hatteras, you just can’t get them. If you order a mixed drink, it’s made with champagne. Yummy, I bet…

Back up around Nag’s Head and Kitty Hawk you can buy liquor, but only from the ABC stores that keep, pretty much, banker’s hours. These stores are owned by the county and regulated by the State of North Carolina. The guy behind the counter is actually an employee of the county. Bars & restaurants also have to purchase liquor from these stores, and, instead of getting a discount or wholesale price, they pay the same thing a retail customer does, plus a tax of about $4 a bottle. So mixed drinks in a bar are way expensive.

The “drive-thru” beer & wine stores are literally that. You actually drive your car through the building – like a “quick lube” or something. You just point out what you want and they hand it through the car window to you.

But, it ain’t like my only interest is in the local drinking and smoking customs. As many of you know, I also have a borderline-unnatural affection for turtles. And they’ve got some weird ones in Carolina.

We’re driving down Highway 12 toward Bodie Island, and I have to swerve to miss what I first thought was a dead Rottweiler in the road. As I passed it, I could tell it was what we call an alligator snapper – the biggest turtle I’ve ever seen outside a zoo. It didn’t appear to have been hit, so I pulled the car over and got out to go move it out of the road. The closer I got, the bigger that rascal appeared. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you it had a head about the same size as that of a Boston Terrier.

My vast experience with turtles has taught me better than to try to pick this big fella up, but I wanted to get a picture before I did anything. As I walked up to it, a local schoolboy, maybe 12, came up behind me with a sucker in his mouth.

“I wouldn’t get too close to him if I was you.” He warned.

“No.” I said. “I’m gonna get him to bite this stick and I’ll drag him out of the road.

“You better get a bigger stick”, he said.

A school bus already had traffic backed up southbound, and a van had the northbound traffic stopped.

“Be careful”, he said, “these ones can jump.”

OK. I was glad the kid was trying to help, but what does some youngster know about turtles that I haven’t learned in a half century of intense study?

“Yeah. Thanks, kid”, I said, “I think this’ll do fine.”

So I stuck the stick down by the turtle’s head and he lunged at it, coming up about three feet off the ground. That was about two feet short of how high I jumped, screeching like a girl.

“These ones right here, you gotta get ‘em by the tail and drag ‘em.” The boy continued, without even saying “I told you so”.

Both of those lines of traffic, including that busload of impressionable children, were sitting there, watching, patiently waiting for me to move this monster from the road. I didn’t want to disappoint them, but, after seeing that thing jump, I was … (what’s the word?)….scared!

So I hauled off and kicked him (the turtle, not the kid) in the butt. Then he pushed himself up, like a dog, and slowly walked off the road. I was off the hook.

We got our lighthouse pictures – two of four, anyway. But we were very careful walking around the marshlands to do it. You never know when a giant snapping turtle is gonna jump out of the weeds and take your head off.

© 2008 Rick Baber