We put our toes in the Atlantic Ocean. Jimmy felt quite pleased with his achievement after driving 8,000 miles to get there from Washington State (although it is only about 3,000 miles in a straight line. Ho hum). “Not so much of an achievement for you,” he said. “You knew where you were going.” You might dispute that if you’d seen us driving up and down the coast at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, doing U-turns and snarling up the heavy traffic towing our ponderous trailer looking for State Park signs. All my fault.
Days earlier, Jimmy had been reading the guide book and asked, “Have you heard of Myrtle Beach?”
“Well it says here it’s a really tacky seaside town.”
“We’ve got to go there, don’t you think?”
So there we were, happily camped at the Myrtle Beach State Park, an unadulterated two mile stretch of sandy beach and dunes, with towering hotels visible to the north and south. “Our” beach was interrupted only by the narrow boardwalk which snakes through the dunes, put there to stop us trampling the natural habitat.
As we walked along the surf, a snowman appeared in the distance. People gathered around it, obviously posing for pictures. I thought I saw the snowman move and then spotted Dracula. Well it was nearly Halloween. As we got nearer, we could see the group was a wedding party. The snowman was a beaming bride in a flowing white dress and shimmery shawl and Dracula turned out to be the vicar. It must be time to get my eyes tested.
As we strolled along we stopped to read the nature information boards placed along the walkways. Sea turtles somehow find their way to this small piece of tranquil beach, sandwiched as it is between resorts, to clamber out at night and lay their eggs. Dolphins are visible along this stretch of coast in October and November making their migration to warmer waters. “Look! There’s one now,” I said as I caught a splash out of the corner of my eye and conjuring up a sighting.
“Oh, sure.” We tell each other so many tall tales that it is now difficult for either of us to know when the other is telling the truth. It is particularly difficult to convince the other if the truth is a little too convenient.
We made our way out onto the fishing pier. A fishing pier in a conservation area – a bit of an oxymoron? But this is America, and huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ is part of the culture of this young nation which not so long ago was a wilderness. Several fishermen, survival coded into their DNA, lined the pier dressed in camouflage gear in order to hide from the fish. I’d been scanning the ocean eagerly looking for dolphins, ever hopeful. “There’s another one!”
“I’m not kidding!” I said rushing up to the rail to get two feet closer to my sighting which was at least half a mile out at sea.
Well it is my fault. I’ve pointed out too many “bears” to Jimmy over the last few months, turning every shadow into a creature. He has long since learned to ignore my wildlife sightings.
“I’m serious,” I shrieked, my voice rising an octave. “Just look out there,” and I stood at point like a hunting dog. Something about my tone or posture made Jimmy deign to look in the direction I was pointing.
“I see it!!” he yelled, joining in my exhilaration at last. The dolphins were indeed swimming south to warmer waters as they disappeared behind the end of the pier. We rushed along to see them come around the pier and proceed to feed right in front of us in ones and twos, some pairs being mother and calf. “See?”
“I told you so.”
“You never believe me.”
“Yes I do.”
“One of these days you’ll miss the sight of your life.”
“Oh, shut up and watch.”
The dolphins’ characteristic arcing, with dorsal fin appearing and disappearing, was mesmerizing and we would occasionally see a spout of water from their blowhole or a tail fluke. One energetic fellow leapt out of the water completely and slapped himself broadside into the sea three times creating a show and eliciting shrieks from his audience on the pier.
We really had seen a bear some months previously. He had to run out in the road in front of our car for us to spot him. It was hardly a PBS “Nature” moment, but exciting nonetheless, just as our dolphin watch was.
P.S. We missed hearing our freight trains in Myrtle Beach as we have come to expect them right next to the campsite and feel comforted by them chugging past, but we’ve gone one better. As we sat round the campfire, our singsong was interrupted every five minutes by a jet screaming directly overhead. We were right next to an international airport.
An apology to the residents of Myrtle Beach:
We liked Myrtle Beach. Jimmy had been reading out of a snobby guide book that really only praises the National Parks. If you want to visit a tacky seaside town, England has quite a good selection.