When I stepped off the plane two weeks ago in Raleigh-Durham, the temperature read 97 degrees in the shade. It was so hot my eyes sweated and I felt like I had a rash. It’s settled down to a mere 85 degrees today, but it feels much hotter. The sun is a terrible, searing power that saps all your energy and scorches your skin. You cannot survive in it without a hat.
I’ve been in hotter climates. Nothing prepared me for Qatar, where the sky and the land are white hot and to walk into that light feels like heading into an oven, a fire, a blinding nothingness of burning and desolation, salt and stone and dessication.
Here, at least, you sweat in the sun. Your own body water pours out of your forehead and eyelids and hairline, behind your ears and down your neck, between your breasts and under your armpits and in your crotch. When you are becalmed in dead wind, as we were, yesterday, sailing back from Ocracoke, you bake like a fish in the oven; your skin gets all crispy and brown and your backbone gets wobbly and bendy. I did the only sensible thing: I took off all my clothes and poured bucketfuls of ocean water on my body, up on the front deck. But one can’t do that in Oriental, at the dock, without getting arrested, so the wise thing to do is to head down below into air conditioning with a book.
But on Ocracoke you can go to the Atlantic, where the wind cools you down and everything is beautiful and slow and clean. Here’s a video of my Ryan on the beach there:
We cooked the clams and they were fabulous I didn’t have a recipe so I just made it up.
I used one pan and one pot with a lid that also functions as a frying pan with a one inch depth. I sliced up onions and garlic and celery and carrots, which we had on hand, and sauteed them in olive oil in the lid/ pan to our only large pot., It’s the greatest thing, something I inherited from my mother, who kept it up in Sun Valley. It’s a big, blue, enamled pot with a strainer and a lid that doubles as a frying pan, and it is about 30 years old. We use it all the time. I’ll have to take a picture of it and post it.
Into the other pan, a fairly deep Calphaalon sauce pan that you could cook soup in or sauté vegetables or even scramble eggs, I put all the trimmings–the ends of the carrots, their skins, the onion skins, the garlic bits, and the parts of the celery that didn’t look very appetizing That all got boiled, then strained so that the juices ran into the big pot that I had filled with clams, I threw the solids away. Remember now that I was using two pans. In the “frying pan” that was actually the lid for the big pot that was now full of clams, I poured a lot of wine after the onions and garlic and celery got soft and clear. After boiling that down for a little bit, I poured it into the pot with the clams, and set it to boil. When all the clams had opened, about 10 minutes later, I served them up, with a generous portion of chopped parsley and lemon. And here is what they looked like, below.
I offered this meal of our labor with a bottle of rosé, fruity but dry. After we had eaten as many clams as we could stuff down, I shucked the leftover clams and put them and the remaining broth with some water into the big pot and set it to boil. I threw some more chopped onion and garlic with olive oil into the other, “frying” pan, and, when the garlic and onion had grown translucent, threw in about two cups of rice, basmati or whatever it was, and stirred until it was coated with oil. Then I added half-cups of broth to the mix, one at a time, stirring over a medium-high heat until the liquid was absorbed, until the rice was soft enough to eat. Bits of onion and carrot and celery and parsley studded the risotto, and the final product was chewy and soft and fragrant and whole in the mouth, rich and robust and satisfying. We ate a bit of it and bagged up the rest, a delicious side dish for the shrimp or flounder, that we’ll pick up tomorrow, fresh caught, because that is what you can get here in Oriental!
Yesterday we went clamming, which involved a long bicycle ride through flat marsh on the Sound side, then a trek through yellow-brown muck through razor sharp grass and into the murky waters where the sand is gray and studded with cob-web like seaweed. I clamped my jaw tight, which made my teeth hurt, as I waded out, fearful of coming into any contact with the slimy, tangled, underwater strings. It was as though I was holding my nose with my entire, rigid body, and I said over and over, loudly and crankily, “I don’t like this.” Every three or four steps I stumbled into a whole, for the bottom is anything but even and the water very cloudy. Ryan stomped right out into it, whipped off his shoes and wiggled his toes into the sand. “Clam!” he chirped.
I clambered up onto a duck blind and recoiled while pretending to meditate on the broad shoal, which goes on for miles and never gets any deeper than three feet of water. Finally I saw that Ryan was struggling to hold his shoes and the clamming bag and waded over to help him. At first I hung around, holding his shoes, while he found clam after clam with his toes. The backs of my legs were badly sunburned and I tried to face them away from the sun. Then I started to rake the sand with my own shoes, still strapped to my feet.
I wandered over a sandy spot, noticed something white and round in the water, and gingerly reached down for it. “Clam!” I shouted. I found another one, and then another, and then it occurred to me that I could keep my legs out of the sun if I squatted down into the water, and while there I might as well fish around in the “clean,” sandy parts for a clam or two. Before long I was hooked and digging down even into the cobwebby weed. The clams were plentiful and easy to find, and each one I brought up came with a cloud of inky sand. It was fun. I filled Ryan’s shoes again and again, emptying them into the big mesh bag he carried. After an hour or so we must have collected 15 pounds, more than we could eat, so we headed back to shore, through the muck and the mud. And that was our day clamming.
Now that I have taken the time to set up the blog (www.sophiasailing.com), which took a surprisingly long time, I have a moment to write about where we have been for the last few days and what it’s like here. I know some of you, at least are curious. “She just quit her job and went down to North Carolina with her boyfriend to go sailing!” Yes I did. And very happy to have done so, in spite of the hundred bug bites and lack of laundry facilities and numerous bruises and scrapes all over my body.
Traveling aboard a sailboat is like a dance. The first, essential steps that come only with pain, allow you to move about without banging into lines, cleats, hardware, booms, and other dangerous metal objects. With time, these steps become routine, but for now, well, just look at my legs. Or don’t, as they’re not pretty.
North Carolina is lovely. The dialect is lovely and lilting and slow. But on Okracoke Island, its unique. You’ve heard of the place where the locals have been so isolated that the locals speak an English closer to Shakespeare’s than anywhere in England? We are there. It’s not quite right to say that the dialect is closer to the original late 16th century speech, since all dialects change over time and this one has, too. Still, it is true that many of the words used here, such as “mommuck,” which means to harrass or bother, and “quamish,” queasy, are found in the bard’s plays. Commonly referred to as the “high-tide” dialect, locals pronounce “high” as “hoi” and “tide” and “toi.”
The first English explorers of the New World arrived on Okracoke in the late 15th century. They couldn’t have navigated the treacherously shallow waters of what is now called the Pamlico sound without guidance from the natives, who, it seems, never settled on the island they called Wokokon and used as a hunting and fishing ground. While searching for Roanoke Island in 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh’s navigators ran aground on a sand bar and stopped to make repairs. The first mention of the island in Sir Richard Greenville’s report to Sir Walter indicated that white settlers had shipwrecked there and were saved by locals:
And after ten dayes remaining in an out Island vnhabited, called Wocokon, they with the help of some of the dwellers of Sequotan, fastened two boates of the countrey together & made mastes vnto them, and sailes of their shirtes, and hauing taken into them such victuals as the countrey yeelded, they departed after they had remained in this out Island 3 weekes: but shortly after it see∣med they were cast away, for the boates were found vpon the coast, cast a land in another Island ad∣ioyning: other then these, there was neuer any people apparelled, or white of colour, either seene,…
From The principal nauigations, voyages, traffiques and discoueries of the English nation. made by sea or ouer-land, to the remote and farthest distant quarters of the earth, at any time within the compasse of these 1600. yeres: By Richard Hakluyt preacher, and sometime student of Christ-Church in Oxford.
Wococcon was once an island that served as hunting, fishing, and herbal grounds for the Native Americans. White people never stepped on its sandy shores until the late 16th century. White people have taken it over now. White people flood the island. Indeed, one of the strangest things about being on Okracoke is the absence of people of color. I’ve seen one Black family vacationing and one Black man taking care of the trash, one Latin man serving in a restaurant and another working as a dockhand. Everyone else is white-white and most everyone here speaks with a Southern drawl. It’s not unpleasant but eerie. What is unpleasant are the confederate flags that seem to be so common, still, around here. They’re ugly.
We expected to give our new boat a new name, but this one seemed just right. Sophia (σοφία) means wisdom in Greek and Sophia is the name of the goddess and creator who appears in the Bible as the co-founder of the universe.
In Proverbs 8, Wisdom speaks:
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.
24 When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth:
26 While as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the highest part of the dust of the world.
27 When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth:
28 When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep:
29 When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:
30 Then I was by him, as one brought up with him:
The Greek noun sophia is the translation of “wisdom” in the Greek Septuagint for Hebrew חכמות,Ḥokmot or chokma. Plato taught that philosophy is the friend (philo) of wisdom (sophy). To create, to do or know anything, one requires wisdom, which Plato regarded as something beyond mere human inventions and constructions. Hildegard von Bingen, the great medieval mystic and composer, regarded Sophia, or Sapientia, in Latin, as the divine, undying source of existence. In Hinduism, the goddess Durga,mother of all things, is also believed to be outside of time. These ancient concepts of wisdom are not unlike Buddhist notions of the dharma, or the way, as a knowing that cannot be expressed in words, an awareness of what is that comes through meditation.
Below, Karen Clark sings Hildegard’s beautiful hymn to Sapientia:
O virtus Sapientie,
que circuiens circuisti,
in una via que habet vitam,
tres alas habens,
quarum una in altum volat
et altera de terra sudat
et tercia undique volat.
Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet, O Sapientia.
O Wisdom’s energy!
Whirling, you encircle
and everything embrace
in the single way of life.
Three wings you have:
one soars above into the heights,
one from the earth exudes,
and all about now flies the third.
Praise be to you, as is your due, O Wisdom.
Latin collated from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman; translation by Nathaniel M. Campbell.
First day awake in a new port, an anchorage near the little cemetery of Lukens, an island on the Pamlico Sound.Long ago, the story goes, a hurricane wiped out the town and the entire surviving community packed up and moved inland to Oriental, North Carolina.Our journey started in that city, population 898, where Ryan used to keep his old boat, Zenobia.Sophia is renting a slip for three months in the main harbor, steps away from the coffee shop, M&M’s restaurant, the Tiki Bar, the Toucan, the art gallery, and, perhaps unfortunately, the fishing boats.The shrimpers shine bright lights on board 24 hours a day and regularly waft strong fishy smells in our general direction.Otherwise, the anchorage is safe, quiet, and clean.We have access to super nice showers and laundry facilities, and there’s an excellent restaurant and bar onsite where you can have a glass while waiting for the dryer to finish.We’ve been known to spend hours doing one load of laundry.
But today, finally, we here we are in the South River, the sole boat in a peaceful lagoon where the water ripples gentle gray and pink as the sun rises.We had bananas, peanut butter on whole wheat bread, and watermelon for breakfast.It’s so nice to be underway, finally, after a week and a half of repairs at the blisteringly hot dock.We have finally turned off the air conditioning and opened all the hatches, and finally been able to look up and see stars from our bed in the V-berth.Last night we saw lots of meteors, the prelude to the grand astral symphony, the Perseides, which willriot the heavens for the next three days without the interference of moonlight. Here’s a link from the New York Times of the show that we also saw, although for us the sky was darker.
Why are these meteors called the Perseides? Perhaps because they are so numerous. Did you know that the Perseides are the descendants of Perseus and Andromeda?Perseus, the founder of Mycenae, slayer of the Medusa and Cetus, the monster who assailed the Ethiopian Princess Andromeda, daughter of Cassiopeia,as she was lashed to the rock.Andromeda is the matriarch of the family that brought forth Hercules and the Persians. So, last night we saw the offspring of demi-gods shooting across the sky,amongst innumerable constellations, known and unrecognized.We argued about whether the cloud we discerned behind the other light clouds was the Milky Way.
Finally we have freed ourselves from the odors of Sophia’s inhabitants from the last thirty years. The foul air in the head and V-berth posed a mystery, since the holding tanks were sparkling clean.Ryan replaced all the sewage hoses, the source of the stink, closed the salt-water sea-cock, since the saltwater intake pump on the electric toilet was broken.We have been pouring fresh water into the bowl to flush it.Ryan fixed the contraption well enough so that we could use it, a very exciting event after a week and a half of walking 15 minutes every time one needed to use the bathroom, not an easy thing early in the morning.But, hey, it got us up.So it was a thrill to think we might actually be able to use the head on our own boat, but, sadly, this was not to be.Ryan had to get his hands dirty again and pull the whole thing out to look inside.It turned out that the y-valve that is supposed to direct human effluents into the holding tanks had been wired shut, allowing waste to empty into the harbor, something explicitly prohibited by the Coast Guard.
For good reason, too.Oriental and other ports nearby are nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles and other wildlife.It seems the previous inhabitants of the Sophia had been unwittingly polluting these waters for years.Ryan set things right, and I stared to look for the broken part.Not to be found.The only thing I located online that remotely fit the bill cost $300.A new, manual toilet, far more reliable and easier to fix, cost about $450.So that’s what we wanted.Had to order it, of course, since the tiny little Marine West Express store in town, didn’t carry it.It will come in on Friday, they say.But we’ll be out at Ocracoke until Saturday, at least, if the winds hold.