October 21, 2014

She Sells Seashells

The backstory:

A few years ago, while vacationing on Sandbridge beach, my daughter found a sand dollar. On Virginia beaches you are lucky to find whole shells intact, let alone, a whole sand dollar.  Grandma had her put it in her purse for "safe keeping".  Indeed, Grandma's purse is not the safest place to keep such things.  So Grandma gave my very heartbroken daughter $10 and sent her across the street to a fish and tackle shop that sold some shells and sand dollars behind their glass case to replace her broken sand dollar.  I chatted with the store owner and asked her if she found her large beautiful shells locally.  "Oh NO!" she said.  She explained to me something about some private boat, some island, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

That little morsel stuck in my head for several years.  I have been Googling and surfing the internet trying to put together those pieces of information from the shop owner.  I have read websites and thread after thread on discussion boards and finally found what I was looking for. From that little broken sand dollar in Grandma's purse grew the most wonderful mother and daughter adventure to date.

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Each year Alan looks forward, more than words could ever express, to his annual deer hunt.  All the familial menfolk come into town.  They grow out their beards and don their flannel shirts and have the best three days of their life at our cabin.  I tried to invite myself once.  I offered to be the "camp cook".  Who could refuse that offer?  Apparently, my husband could, without hesitation.  No girls allowed.  My oldest son has joined the exclusive fraternity of the deer hunters and looks forward to, again, more than words could ever express, this annual event.

My daughters (not picturing the gruesome deer hunting part of the hunt) wanted to go and join in the fun.  I explained to Alan that it wasn't really fair to say "no" -- but if he understood their little minds he would understand that they really didn't want to go kill and butcher deer, but they wanted to have fun as well.  So I introduced him to the idea of the "Girl's Deer Hunt."  Instead of telling them "no", he could make a more attractive option for them.  He gave me full authorization to plan away and there has not been talk of deer since.

The girls dubbed our getaway the AGG (Annual Girls' Getaway) and I thought it would be perfect timing to bring to fruition all those years of research and head off for a grand shelling adventure.

We hit the road on Friday night and had our first layover on Virginia Beach.  Saturday morning we drove south to the Outer Banks and drove down the entire island, stopping only to play an impromptu game of Putt Putt (because, we could stop spontaneously for such things since we didn't have a certain special guy with us).  

The shock of the afternoon came to Evie and Sadie when their 5 year old little sister gave them a pretty hard spanking on the course and won by a landslide.  Who would have thought that the girl whose club is a tall as she is could hit several holes in one!  Clearly she knows here that she has the game in the bag.

We went to Hatteras at the southern tip of the Outer Banks and caught an early evening ferry to Ocracoke Island, where we would spend the next night of our adventure.

There isn't much on Ocracoke Island, including hotels.  We stayed in a vintage little place complete with a hook by the door holding the swatter to smack your own skeeters.  The next morning we took a morning walk to check out the island and realized it was going to be a bit more chilly that day than I had anticipated so we scouted out the only shop around for some fitting attire. They didn't have children's sizes so I cinched the older girls into a women's size xs and Eliza. . . poor girl.  Nothing cute and fashionable for her, just a small men's swimsuit I found in the $3 bargain bin.  I wrapped the strings around her waist a few times and her little leggys were covered and ready for some ocean breezes.  Evie and Sadie were being very vocal about the love they had for their new cute pants.  Eliza was a hilarious sport about her new tacky threads.

We met our guide and jumped aboard our boat and headed to a deserted island south of Ocracoke Island called Portsmouth Island.  It was a pretty breezy ride - we were all grateful for our new pants then!

A few other people charter over to Portsmouth to go shelling, but our guide also has the only land vehicle permit on the island so as soon as our boat docked we hiked inland a bit through the marshy swamp and hopped aboard our ATV's and headed across the island where no foot traffic could go and get to the good stuff.  

We soon learned a strong reason why residents may have deserted the island long ago.  Beach = breeze = no bugs.  BUT, the minute you step 10 yards off the surf, however, the air is so thick with mosquitoes you can't even breath.  In our ears, in our nose, up our pant legs and down our shirts.  We ate them and they ate us.  The guide prepared us by giving us a branch of a Myrtle bush to swat them with.  Eliza lovingly played housekeeping and busied herself dusting our ATV from the bugs with her sprig and would brush me off too as her own body was being sucked to death by ginormous mosquitoes.  I had my hoodie cinched tight around my face with only an inch of exposed skin to allow me to see where I was driving.  I heard shrieks from the back bench of the ATV from Evie and Sadie as they fought the losing battle with the bugs and shouted back to them that we certainly were on an adventure!

We took our ATV to the south side of the island and started our shell hunt.  We found shells of all varieties and the girls really loved finding sand dollars.

We finished our shell hunt on Portsmouth and headed back across the marsh and mosquito infestation, hopped aboard our little boat and went back to the main island.  From there we drove up on another ferry which took us 2 1/2 hours south to the final stop of our AGG - Beaufort, South Carolina.

Ahh, Beaufort, it felt like the Ritz after Ocracoke - but was still circa 1979.  However, the hotel was as Southern friendly as they come, neat as a pin with the best home cooked breakfast.  I love these little mom and pop establishments that take pride in what they are.

Our hotel was right on the water and our Captain met us the next morning a few yards from our front door.  The weather was warm, the sun was perfect, there was not a cloud in the sky.  I knew this was going to be a very good day.  The Captain informed us that the weather conditions were just perfect enough that he was going to be able to take us to a little island that you often can't get to.  It is a glorified sand bar really, and the winds and tide make docking close to it nearly impossible most of the time.

The first thing we saw in the shallow water as we puttered in close was a massive whelk shell - that was a promising sign!  We sloshed through the shallows to the island -- JACKPOT!  Huge whelk shells, large sand dollars, scotch bonnets, and lettered olives dotted the island! We spread out and walked around the circumference of the island, we trolled through the shallow water, we walked the small interior which was also a treasure trove of shells as the island is often covered with water.  

The girls swam, Eliza built sand castles and we just walked and walked, every time seeing something new.  We were the only people on this small island and it was the most serene and peaceful 6 hours we have ever experienced.

We loaded our bags to capacity with shells and dozens of sand dollars, went to another island to visit the Cape Lookout lighthouse and then anchored our boat next to Shackleford Banks to have our lunch on the bow as we watched the wild ponies.

After lunch, we headed to another sand bar area called Sand Dollar Island.  It was a huge area 8-24" deep in water.  We were searching for sand dollars but had to be careful what we picked up and where we stepped.  This area was where the sea life grows.  We found live whelks, whelks laying eggs (imagine a whelk shell spitting out what looks to be a long section of large intestine - weird!), we tiptoed carefully around the dozens of stingrays swimming around our feet.   It took a while to get there because of the tide and it was fun to snuggle with my little bunny love and watch the girls on the bow laugh and talk the way only best friends do.  I am so grateful for their special relationship.

Our fabulous afternoon drew to a close and we took our sandy selves and seashell treasures off the boat and into our car for the 7 hour drive home.  Of this whole experience, that might have been my favorite part.  I love the bond I have with my daughters and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  The conversations we shared over those 7 hours home were some that I will keep in my heart forever.  We were able to share the emotions we felt that day.  I was able to share with them why those feelings were so sweet. 

They expressed how carefree we felt.  I pointed out that they can appreciate what that feels like because they know what stress truly feels like.  They expressed how indulgent the day felt.  I countered that they can feel that emotion more acutely because they know sacrifice.  They shared how happy they felt.  They understand happiness because they know sadness and disappointment. Our special journey with Bridger has allowed us to gain a greater depth of emotion than what we previously had.  Because we experience certain emotions with a greater intensity or duration, the counter emotion is made that much richer.  We went home that weekend with a greater appreciation for our trials and challenges, understanding that because of them we enjoyed, more fully, every minute of our time away together.

I am still finding sand embedded in the carpet of my car and the shells and sand dollars are laid out still waiting to find the perfect spot to be placed.  But every grain of sand and shell I see is a reminder of a very special place in my heart, which is full of wonderful memories of our AGG.

  Say it with me ten times:
 She sells seashells by the seashore!