Deserted Island: Shackleford Banks

At the southern end of a 200-mile string of barrier islands off the North Carolina coast known as the Outer Banks is Cape Lookout National Seashore. And at the southern end of that is an uninhabited island called Shackleford Banks. I spent the day before Thanksgiving there with my parents.

The island is only accessible by boat but there are a couple of ferry services on the mainland in Beaufort. Beaufort itself is a cool little town established in 1709. It’s rich in history and very picturesque but its biggest claim to fame (and my favorite thing about it) is the fact the Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge ran aground just off its coast in 1718. The wreck was discovered in 1996 and is the subject of an ongoing archaeological research project.

You can view artifacts from the QAR in the NC Maritime Museum in Beaufort  which happened to be right across the street from our ferry service. So while we waited for our departure time, we got to wander about the museum examining artifacts from straight pins and tiny glass beads to cannon that had been buried under the shifting shoals of Beaufort Inlet for 300 years. To me, that’s a lot of fun and I tried to read every sign in the 45 minutes we had before our boat left.

Our ferry was a flat-bottomed skiff that offered no protection from the frigid late November wind which I thought it was invigorating. My parents looked slightly less thrilled, but 15 minutes of cold wind and spray seemed a small price to pay.

Leaving Beaufort in our wake.

We were plenty warm enough once we arrived at the island and hiked the half a mile through the dunes to the ocean side.

The sound side of the island where the boat dropped us.

My parents hiking across the island.

And when we got there, it was delightfully deserted.

There were just two people on the other side when we arrived and they were just leaving to catch the boat back.

The Gulf Stream passes at it’s closest just off shore here before swinging away to the east bringing with it plenty of shells more common to shores farther south.

I haven’t picked up a Florida fighting conch (lower right) since I was a kid beachcombing in Florida.

A broken queen’s helmet, also not common this far north.

There were also plenty of shorebirds…

…and a lone shrimp boat being swarmed by gulls.

And to my delight, a bonus. To visit the Cape Lookout Lighthouse (and take a photo of it making my collection of Outer Banks lighthouses almost complete), we would have to have taken another, longer boat ride and our mini-vacation just didn’t allow time for both trips. But when I took a closer look at this photo, I realized the Cape Lookout Light is just barely visible on the horizon.

See the tiny tiny lighthouse on the horizon? I say this counts.

And even more delightful, on the walk back across the island, we got to see some of the wild horses that have lived on the island for about  400 years.

Locals say the “banker ponies” are shipwreck survivors. You can find a more detailed history here.

So I’ve added another island to my mental list of favorite places, and I’ll be going back first chance I get.

How about ya’ll? What’s one of your favorite places and why?

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Let’s Talk about Sex: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People, part 4

Three months ago, a very small percentage of the registered voters in North Carolina managed to pass an amendment to the state constitution that illegalized gay marriage. In the weeks leading up to the vote, I started a series of posts about some of the more common and frustrating myths about gay people. I got discouraged for a while and didn’t finish but I just got my second wind.

For those of you who missed the first 5 myths, here’s a quick recap:

1 – Being gay is a choice. Because somewhere between 2 and 10% of the general population so love being social pariahs, we’ve chosen to become lifelong targets of bigotry and hate.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. There are some people who are so enamored of their own exterior plumbing that they, and their followers, seem to believe that there are just 2 kinds of people in the world – men and the rest of us who are just sad that we don’t have a penis, too.

3 – Lesbians hate men. The rationale seems to go like this: Some women are so upset about not having a penis that they become angered with all men and sleep with women to spite the men. Or something like that. Bottom line is, women couldn’t possibly love other women. It must have something to do with the penis. (For the long version of the first 3 myths, see part 1 of this series, I Used to Be a Tomboy)

4 – Being gay is a mental illness. In spite the fact that the American Psychiatric Association defines homosexuality as a normal variant of human sexual behavior, there are a lot of people out there who just “know” that gay people are sick, just like they “know” the earth was created 6,000 years ago and all the fossils in the world are just an elaborate hoax and proof of a vast conspiracy against God-fearing, extremist Christians. (For the long version, see part 2, Who’s a Heretic?)

5- The Bible says that being gay is morally wrong or evil. To borrow a line from Shakespeare, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” and it would appear that he does, every day, from the pulpits and altars of churches all over our country. (See part 3, The Bible Tells Me So)

So moving on. Here’s another of my favorite myths to hate:

6- Being gay is just about sex. Now doesn’t this seem a teensy bit like the pot calling the kettle black?One of the best ways to undermine an opponent, apart from demonizing them, is to minimize them, as this little myth tries to do. It separates sexuality and romantic, spiritual love. But only for gay people.

So when the subject is heterosexuality, sex and love are two sides of the same coin. And the fact that so many of straight people spend their single youth doing it like randy bunnies with anyone who will get into bed with them, that breaking faith with one’s wife or husband just to have sex with someone new is commonplace in our heterosexual culture, or that the huge pornography industry was built mostly on the desires of straight men – none of this refutes that notion that heterosexual sex is all about choosing and remaining dedicated to a spiritual soulmate? But being gay is just about sex. Gotcha.

7- Gay people are promiscuous. Yes we are. As a generalization, I accept this one. Now that I’ve just pissed off some of my fellow lesbians out there, let me explain why:  Because people in general are promiscuous. I know it. You know it. We all know it.

Really, Ted?! You’re talking to your children!

That’s why popular American culture is steeped in sex. That’s why these TV shows like Friends, Sex in the City, and Two and a Half Men were so popular. There’s even a popular show with the unabashed premise that the main character is telling his future children about the sexual exploits of he and his friends as a necessary preface to the story of how he fell in love with their mother. I’m not judging here. I loved Friends and I like How I Met Your Mother. (Well, except for that telling it to the kids part.)

But these shows aren’t really about friendship or love or family or the complexities of modern living. They’re about sex. (And call me a prude, but I can’t believe what they can say on prime time TV now.) Whatever else happens in each episode, sex is the tent pole that holds these shows up. (Who thinks that’s a phallic reference?) Without the pretty people having sex or talking about sex, the whole thing collapses.

Got to admit I love the irony of an actor who is gay and a committed family man playing a straight man whore.

My point is, human beings (especially young ones) are obsessed with sex. Our lives revolve around it. Except for maybe food, it seems to be the single most motivating force in our lives. And that makes sense. Nature designed it that way so we wouldn’t die off. But let’s get real here. Gay people are not any more (or less) promiscuous than straight people. We just prefer different partners.

A note for the romantics:  This generalized view of human promiscuity does not call attention to the inevitable exceptions. They’re called women. Okay, feminists, that was a joke. Kind of. I’m not trying to minimize the female libido. I’m sure there are plenty of randy women out there, too.

But there are still those of us who prefer the romantic notion that sex is just a part of the whole love thing. I am one of those. I was never promiscuous, am completely convinced that I’ve spent the last 12 years with my soulmate (a woman with whom I share much more than a sex life), and have no desire to sleep with anyone other than her for the rest of my life.

Marriage is a Fundamental Right in a Free Society

Today, I am hosting a guest writer for whom I have great respect.

He is a retired Navy Captain, a Vietnam vet, a student of American history, an engineer who spent thirty years building warships, and a fiscal conservative who believes in limited government and a strong military. Based on this, you might entertain certain preconceived notions about his other beliefs. You would likely be wrong. He is a man of great integrity who has always taught me that education, tolerance and compassion are the keys to maintaining our American way of life. See for yourself. Here’s an enlightening essay from my dad:

 Social philosopher F. A. Hayek said “A free society is a pluralistic society without a common hierarchy of particular ends.” It should matter not to each of us whether our neighbor is a Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, atheist, agnostic, or free-thinker. It should matter not if a couple is of the same sex. What matters is that s/he not infringe on the free choice of others. In order to achieve that free society we have established laws to protect our fundamental rights as established in our Constitution and the 14th Amendment.

Unfortunately some States, North Carolina being the most recent, have passed laws banning same sex marriage. That may be due to ignorance, bigotry, a lack of education, a religious belief or some combination of them. It matters not. What matters is that they have elected to impose something as a rule of law that is counter to our fundamental right of free association.

Tolerance is a virtue. It is also a necessity in a free society. Our freedom means that we must tolerate what others believe whether we agree with them or not. We need not agree on every aspect of our lives in order to live peacefully with one another; however we should accept the actions of others so long as they are peaceful.

Compare this to socialism or fascism. Those systems require a single hierarchy of ends; the collective decides which ends will be pursued and which not. One’s particular ends must be subordinated to the priorities of the State or collective. The result is not the peaceful disagreement and tolerance of good order, but rather fighting over the reins of power in order to achieve one’s ends at the expense of others. Instead of a society where everyone wins, we have a society where the State wins and many of us loose.

Our society should be one where we may pursue anything that is peaceful; it should be limited only by our ambition and our respect for the rights of others. States that pass laws banning same sex marriages are infringing on a fundamental human right. They are continuing us on a trend where our social environment is becoming less free and more controlled by the State.

I Used to Be a Tomboy: 10 Common Misconceptions about Gay People

I have always been amazed at how remarkably interested perfect strangers seem to be in my sex life. That’s the problem with being gay. Not only do people choose to believe all sorts of pretty ridiculous things about you, they’re constantly trying to tell you what those things are.

And they go out of their way to do it. They drive by gay bars in pick-up trucks, chuck beer bottles at anyone walking in from the parking lot, shout various epithets, and speed off. They stand on sidewalks on college campuses clutching a Bible and shouting at passers-by about Sodom and Gomorrah. They stand for hours in the hot sun outside gay pride events toting hand-lettered signs expressing their interpretation of God’s particular tastes (i.e. “God hates queers”).  All of this because a few of us prefer partners of the same gender. When you think about it, you have to wonder what all the fuss is about.

So with the vote on Amendment One (which would make gay marriage in the state of North Carolina illegal twice over) fast approaching, I thought I would dispel a few of the misconceptions about gay folks like me.

1 – Being gay is a choice.  Gay people are demonized in churches and legislative houses. They are disowned by their families, fired from jobs, snubbed by neighbors, dishonored by the military, and generally victimized by bullies and haters of all kinds. There is often such a high cost for being openly gay that some people will stay closeted for their entire lives rather than pay it. Yet, still, there are people who insist that gay men and lesbians choose to be gay.

So let me ask all of you, would you choose it? The only choice a gay man or lesbian really has is whether to be true to our feelings and live as we are or to conform to society’s expectations, stuff what we feel, and live a lie regardless of the personal cost.

2 – Lesbians want to be men. When I was five years old, I wanted very much to be a Cub Scout like my big brothers. I was told only boys could be Cub Scouts. I was crushed. When I was old enough to join the girl scouts and be a Brownie, I happily signed up. But the Brownies weren’t like the Cub Scouts. They didn’t get those cool yellow kerchiefs and blue shirts and caps. They wore brown dresses and beanies. I was mortified.

But my mom said, give it a chance so I did, but not once did I get to make a balsa wood model racecar. My troop just sat around singing Kumbaya and playing stupid party games. I hated it. It was my first inkling that I wasn’t like the other girls. I grew up happily wearing my brothers’ hand-me-down dungarees and playing with their hand-me-down Matchbox cars. When I was 25, my mom was still telling people that I still hadn’t outgrown my tomboy stage. I’m 46 now, and I still haven’t.

Yes, that’s me about 15 years ago and yes,
that is a dinosaur footprint.

So I have to tell you. I have always coveted boys’ clothes and toys. To me, they are more comfortable and more fun. (From the first time I almost broke my ankle in high heels and nursed sore toes for a week after wearing the evil things for an evening, I knew that “girl” clothes would never be for me.) But a girl who wants to wear jeans and have a cool pocketknife is still a girl. Not once have I ever, and I think I would know, wanted a penis. So no, I have never wanted to be a man. But I did want very much to be a Cub Scout.

3 – Lesbians hate men. This one is kind of funny to me because of all my women friends, gay and straight, it is by far the straight women who trash men the most. (Sorry guys, but it’s true.)

As for me, well, I love women. And that has nothing to do with hating men. Actually, it has nothing to do with men at all – that’s kind of the point. And I think that pisses off some men. I don’t know why. Maybe they perceive lesbians as competition. (We’re not, you know. Well, except for the bisexual women. But I think true bisexuals are rare. So mostly, the women who dated me were never going to date you.) Or maybe the chest-beaters out there don’t like the idea that two women can be happy together without a man. Honestly, I think that’s it.

I can see now, that this is going to take more than one post. Stay tuned for part two of 10 Stupid Common Misconceptions about Gay People. (Don’t go away now. Tomorrow, we tackle Leviticus. Whee.)

And remember, if you live in North Carolina, the polls are open for early voting!

Were the Mayans Right? Pope Warns of Dire Threat to the Future of Humanity

Thank goodness for the pope! He’s looking out for us. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to Vatican diplomats from almost 180 different countries in an effort to rally the faithful to Church doctrine and safeguard the world from a dire threat “to the future of humanity itself.”

Good for him, right? If humanity is facing disaster, I like to think it’s a good thing that the religious leader of 1.18 billion souls worldwide is speaking up about it. With power like that, he could single-handedly change the world. Imagine it. Feed the hungry, protect the children, stop wars and the wanton destruction of the natural world. With all the multitude of catastrophic problems facing the human race in 2012, it couldn’t have been easy to decide what to focus on. So I’m sure you’re wondering by now just which threat to the future of humanity the pope was talking about.

You might guess overpopulation. That’s a pretty scary one. But no. Church doctrine pretty much helped to swamp the lifeboat on that one by adhering to its ancient stance against any form or artificial birth control. How about terrorism, global warming, a deadly viral pandemic? Nope. None of those. The pontiff wasn’t talking about the stuff of nightmares. He had something more domestic in mind, something connubial, something downright festive, really. He was talking about gay marriage.

Consider this:

via People magazine

Here are Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi at their wedding. They’re happy. They’re in love. They’ve just dedicated their lives to each other. It must be the beginning of the end for all humanity.

Okay, I admit I’m having a little trouble following the Pope’s logic. If I understand it correctly, he believes (sorry, correction: He knows, because the Holy Spirit keeps him in line with divine design in matters of his office and so he is, therefore, infallible) – so he knows that by legalizing gay marriage, the state of New York, for example, has opened the door for people like Neil Patrick Harris and his boyfriend to marry as well, thus leading the world down a path toward certain catastrophe.

via People magazine

Just look at them. They’re rich, smart, fantastically devoted to their adopted children, and let’s face it, just absolutely adorable. It’s insidious. They want to provide their children with a safe, nurturing environment with two loving parents in which to grow up. How dare they?

So I guess I’m a little dense because I’m still fuzzy about the details about how this endangers humanity, especially since gay men and women are practicing the Vatican’s favorite (and only approved) form of birth control – abstinence from heterosexual sex, and in many cases, they are providing homes for orphaned children. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Apparently, not.

So I pondered it for a while and came up with this. Let’s see what you think:

The pope made his announcement shortly after the beginning of 2012, the very year the ancient Mayan calendar reportedly predicts the end of the world. That can’t be coincidence, can it?

Mayan calendar created by a modern craftsman
Mayan calendar created by a modern
craftsman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So the way I figure it, another U.S. state is going to pass a law legalizing gay marriage (like New York did!) or fail to illegalize it twice over (like North Carolina is trying to to). This will royally tick off the pontiff (because nothing pisses him off so much as uppity Americans who insist on thinking for themselves), and then the Bishop of Rome will have some kind of holy apoplectic fit, eventually reach supreme pontifical supercritical mass which will cause a righteous chain reaction and melt down, and thereby precipitate the end of the world and extinction of “humanity itself.”

And proving the Mayans right. Except they didn’t know to blame it on the gays.

What’s that? Yeah, it sounds a little lame to me too. So how about we tell the truth? People who have a common enemy are easier to control. It’s as simple as that. Pick a group of people who are different than the group you are trying to control, demonize your victims, convince your followers they are superior to the victims, lead them against the victims, and suddenly, you have yourself some serious mind control. It worked for Hitler.

The Pope ought to know. He was there.

When “Well-behaved” Just Won’t Do

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”

Cover of "Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make ...
Ulrich used her famous line as the title
 for her latest book.

You’ve probably seen it on a bumper sticker or a coffee mug, but do you know who said it? Do you know why? She’s Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, an historian, Harvard professor, and Pulitzer Prize winning author who once used the phrase in a paper she wrote as a graduate student.  As an historian who has spent a lifetime writing about the role of women in American history, I think she nailed it in one simple sentence.

I’ve noticed that the older I’ve gotten, the more well-behaved I’ve become. You’d think that would be a good thing, right? Most of us do, especially once we have children and become models for behavior. But there’s a difference between courtesy and complacence.

For years now, my partner and I have told ourselves that just living honestly and openly is the best way to advocate for our family (and other “nontraditional” families). We don’t “advertise” ourselves as a lesbian couple, but we don’t hide anything either. We hope that as people get to know us, even like us, they’ll find that we’re pretty much just like everyone else. We pay our taxes, love our children, honor our parents, help out our neighbors and our friends when we can. We’re nice people. And we don’t make waves. What’s to hate?

It’s just a yard sign, but
it’s a beginning.

On May 8, the voters of North Carolina will consider a proposed amendment to the state constitution to ensure “that marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State.” There’s already a law against gay marriage in North Carolina, but it seems some of our state legislators (of the Republican persuasion) felt that it wasn’t illegal enough. They want an actual amendment.

For years now, I’ve told myself, So what? What do I care if the state or the federal government tells me I can’t marry B? We love each other. We’re raising a family together and plan to spend the rest of our lives together. What do we care if we can’t legally marry? (Actually there are some very good reasons involving health insurance and my non-existent legal rights as her partner. But this essay isn’t about that.)

It’s about our kids. By telling us that we can’t marry, the state of NC is telling our sons that their family is not legitimate. And we just can’t have that.

State Senator Daniel Soucek, the Republican who sponsored the bill for Amendment One, warns us that the amendment is necessary to defend the existing law against “activist judges” who may not agree with the “majority” of the voters and overturn the law. So voters should have the last say. All the voters. I’m sure that was his intention when he and his fellow sponsors of the bill arranged to place it on the ballot on the same day as the Republican primary.

Recently, Soucek had this to say to the Huffington Post, “It’s not just the term ‘marriage.’ It’s all of the societal communal building blocks that make up traditional marriage. We think that’s the healthiest way to raise children.” And there it is. This isn’t just about marriage. It’s about our children.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard or read similar words from people with the power to do a lot of damage. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being referred to as perverted, immoral, mentally ill, evil, unnatural, or maybe worst of all, unfit as a parent. I’m tired of trying to “nice” the bigots and the haters into their right minds. I’m tired of being well-behaved.

So I’m setting up my soap box on this blog for the next three weeks until the vote on May 8. Expect to see a lot about basic human rights, about ordinary people who happen to be gay, about family values and why the Republican version of that phrase is an oxymoron. It won’t be “nice.” It won’t be “well-behaved.” But it will be true.

Shipwreck

One of my favorite things about the Outer Banks, what sets it apart from all the other Atlantic and Gulf coast beaches I have visited, are all the shipwrecks. Apparently opposing forces like to meet just off shore here playing havoc with mariners.  The icy water of the Labrador Current from the north crashes into the tropic water of the Gulf Stream from the south at Cape Point on Hatteras Island (about 8 miles from where I’m sitting right now), creating strong offshore winds and the shifting sand bars of Diamond Shoals, a sailor’s navigation nightmare. The North Carolina coast became known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. Hundreds of shipwrecks have been mapped along the Outer Banks.

And the really cool thing is, you don’t even have to scuba dive to go see one. Sometimes the wrecks have washed ashore and several of these are documented by shipwreck enthusiasts. Though even one storm can change things significantly, revealing a wreck or burying a it completely, so hunting for a shipwreck on shore is an iffy enterprise.

This is a photo I took last year of a wreck known as the Flambeau Road wreck in Hatteras village. It isn’t known what ship it was, but estimates based on construction identify it as a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century cargo schooner. I was thrilled to find it. Since this seems to be a pretty reliable wreck and easy to get to, I went back to visit this year.

And this is what I found. I was so excited I circled it for an a long time snapping photos as the sun went down, a storm approached, and the tide began to creep in.

This is me (or my feet), standing on the deck of a shipwreck (or more likely, the inside of the hull, but that didn’t rhyme or have the same visual effect).

Once I decided I could stand on the wreck without hurting it (is that silly?), I got excited all over again and climbed all over it like a hundred-year-old, salt-soaked jungle gym trying to find artsy angles.

Finally, the light was getting dim and I was thoroughly chilled, so I decided to leave my lovely wreck to the tide.

Flotsam

It’s day three of our retreat at the Outer Banks, and I’m celebrating by spending as much time as possible wandering up and down the shore with my camera.

If you look closely at the pincers, it looks like they’re lined with teeth. Crustacean parts are creepy.

 I am a compulsive beachcomber. One of my great joys in visiting the edge of the any big body of salty water is to pace its margins too see what the tide left on the sand.

I don’t know where the people went but it was thoughtful of them to leave this for me to photograph, don’t you think?

And sometimes, people leave behind fun stuff too. I saw several sand castles yesterday but this was the best (and most colorfully staged).

The Outer Banks – Day One

Last week’s birthday break kind of ran into this week’s family vacation. So for the next week, Fork in My Eye will be mostly a photo-a-day blog featuring the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This one is from my first walk on the beach after we arrived last evening. Hope you enjoy the pictures.

If you look just above the fisherman, you can see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance.

(North) Carolina on My Mind

I’ve spent most of my life in the southeast U.S. and I love it. I grew up in southern Mississippi about a mile from the Gulf of Mexico, spent 2 years on the Florida west coast, and 10 years in the central Texas hill country. Those are all unique and beautiful places. But this mini photo essay is about the little piece of the South I call home now, North Carolina.

We lived in the western part of the state in the Blue Ridge Mountains for 10 years. Up there, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a national forest full of water falls, rhododendrons, black bears, abandoned mines, and hardwoods that turn fifty shades of brilliant in the fall. Now we’re living in the piedmont, about halfway between the mountains and the sea. The weather’s warmer, the land flatter, the wild flowers bloom longer, and the woods have a few more pines. And it’s just a few hours from the Outer Banks, 200 miles of largely undeveloped barrier islands that protect most of the Carolina coast from seas so treacherous that the area became known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Taken from the Blue Ridge Parkway.

One of the falls visible from the Graveyard Fields trail off the parkway.

Pearson's Falls located on a botanical preserve in western NC.

The closest I ever came to meeting a bear in the woods. Some deer also passed this way.

Autumn on Falls Lake.

Surfers at Wrightsville Beach/

Hatteras Lighthouse

Nag's Head