There are lots of negatives with living in the shadow of a large coal-fired electric plant – the persistent cough, the beryllium poisoning that seems to have deprived most long term residents of the use of hard consonants, and the quaking of the earth as they purge the the lines of steam at 4AM.
But the sunsets, reflecting from a sky filled with particulate ash, remind me of the closing shots of a wide screen western where the camera slowly pans out, stretching cowboys and horses to the snapping point as they ride to another town and undoubtedly, another moral fable.
In the wake of last week’s tropical depression, my wife and I went on a hike across the supersaturated acreage to see just how much soil eight or nine feet of rain can slough off a place while you’re busy indoors doing the things this weather inclines you to: Cooking, cleaning, tidying, straightening, cooking some more, standing at the window and screeching, crying, curling into a fetal position, self-tattooing and aggressive hair removal, and finally, falling asleep while standing.
Here’s some of the pictures we got while we stretched our legs a bit, and watched this system move back out over the ocean, where it belongs.
This isn’t the closest I’ve come to drowning, but close enough.

I’ve never been much for the kind of development that they’ve tarted up the coastline here with. The first time I saw the ocean the shore was sparsely scattered with cottages in brown clapboard and heavy shutters. The resort area proper was a half mile of cinderblock motels with cast concrete mermaids and mermen wielding bent rebar tridents menacing the parking space. One of them, the Dick-a-Doo Motel (I’m not shitting you), featured the giant engorged phallus of a chicken wire and stucco banana sprouting from sparse tufts of nettle and Bermuda grass standing in for its front lawn. Now there’s a place that would never hold up to the scrutiny of a blacklight – or an even vaguely discerning modern hominid, really. But at least there was a kind of primal honesty about it. I could have thrived in that business environment, at least as a namegiver of motels. The Rub Her Aft. The Sea Cucumber. The Kon-Tiki.
The college I reluctantly attended most days was situated fairly close to the coast, so it was nothing to run down to Nag’s Head or Atlantic Beach for a weekend. A friend of a friend of mine had a cottage near Kitty Hawk, and one Saturday I drove there with my exchange-student girlfriend. She was cute and quirky. But I had no idea just how quirky until we got to the shore and she removed her swimsuit, top and bottom, for the benefit of a claque of awestruck Baptists strolling by.
Within minutes, our previously quiet stretch of beach was swarming with curious pubescent boys, Speedo clad mantubs and a pair of evil looking merchant sailors on shore leave, drinking tallboys of malt liquor.
I couldn’t tell which one of us they were more interested in, so I politely suggested she put some of her kit back on before both of us were buggered senseless. She calmly turned to me and said “I’m not going to spend the better part of a year in this pit and go home with bikini lines. Piss off.”
This was the first time I got the sense that the sea was truly inimical.
The next time was after a date with a bottle of Mezcal. I split the bottle with several friends, but it doesn’t take much of that stuff to render you apeshit, and we hit on the brilliant idea of driving to the coast overnight. We got there around dawn.
The lifeguard hadn’t arrived at his station where we chose to go in. The water was a little choppy, and I thought mainly to stay planted on my feet and just splash around and finish getting my head clear. After a while doing this, I noticed my friends had drifted some distance off and I set out to join them. What I didn’t know was there was a hurricane* stalled off the coast that was at that moment dragging numerous bathers out to sea. One woman, caught in a riptide, was found by a Coast Guard chopper later that morning, paddling her vinyl raft sixteen miles out. Well, we got caught, too. As soon as my feet left the bottom I could feel the tide pulling me. I started swimming parallel to the shore with the full realization of what a weak swimmer I was, but willed myself into continuing with the rationalization that I had at least mastered floating. As I drew up even with my friends about 250 yards from shore, we had a short discussion occasionally interrupted by four foot waves pounding our heads and filling us with water. We concluded we were all in a state of panic, and furthermore, about to die. I saw the lifeguard setting up at his tower and began shouting for help. I was wondering at this point when I should just begin to relax so I could die somewhat peacefully. After awhile, he set out with the plastic lifebuoy and caught up with us. He was exhausted, and a little panicked himself. “Grab the buoy and kick like hell, man, or we’re going to die.”
It was becoming a theme.
When we got back to shallow water, I started vomiting up some of the ocean/tequila mix but continued busting my ass to get on that beach.
Once we’d shaken off the adrenaline, and the lifeguard had put out the hurricane flags,he shook his head and said. “I thought you guys were putting me on at first. Then I saw the waves out there. I got about halfway out to you, and I thought. Goddamn, I’m probably going to have to turn back.
This is your lucky day.”

*Turns out it was merely a tropical storm. Andrew, 1986. 50 dead- one killed by the undertow that grabbed us, 49 in Jamaica from flooding.

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