… and they could use with some snow plows for Christmas!
Frank (his dharma name is too unwieldy in the Vietnamese so I default to his usual moniker) and I left for our first 3-week vacation in our 3 decades together. We’ve been coming to this beach house for 27 years and the photographic history is filled with sun, smiles, sand and sea shells. We are deeply creatures of habit: same place, same food, same routine. The drive begins at home and ends on its first leg somewhere between Pennsylvania and Virginia. There are still the in-jokes about the Scott 66 in Scranton and the motel which refused us room when we were first travelling with our four-month old daughter. Had it been in December, there might have been a great story to tell. But it was May and we were headed South to introduce his parents to the little Smudgit.
The obligatory visit done, we had headed east for the night at a beach where he had spent many a summer dreading the annual sunburn. That was 1983 and these condos were just being put up. The next year we came down, rented one, and continued every year since. The first evening’s dinner is clam fritters and hush puppies. After that, it’s catch as fresh catch can. The days are stretched out from one end of the county to the other and each tourist trap, gift shop, artisan show room is combed for some treasure.
The beach is a long swath of sand, interrupted only by the usual flotsam and jetsam of life near a freighter lane. Sometimes there are wave-washed traces of footprints from an occasional runner or an elderly couple out walking their dog. We tend to come here on the off shoulder season. Cheap lodgings and isolation. We also give the locals a chance to shake their heads in that cultivated way only locals can when we step into the ocean. This year, with the Kid in New Zealand for the holiday season, it seemed pointless to stay at home and put up the tree, bake cookies or sweets for just the two of us. And it is officially an off shoulder season – though this may be so off the shoulder that a monk would blush.
Thanks to Kyle of the Reformed Buddhist we got a bit of a heads up on the weather for the drive down. I must admit, I attributed the (pretend?) hysteria to his twisted sense of humour or just being Virginian and not really knowing what snow is. I mean, I have cousins in the DC area – they drive an SUV that would make an oilfield weep – all just in case there’s a dusting of the white stuff! By the time we were halfway through Pennsylvania, I began to worry a bit. The closing angle of the storm made me wonder if we weren’t headed into the heart of one part of it given our speed and its trajectory. We had planned on stopping in Scranton but that only meant delaying the inevitable drive through a different center of the storm the next day.
Such is life, I suppose. There’s always a storm center to be met. I raised my concerns forgetting with whom I have been living all these 3 decades. If this were Kansas, we’d be twister stalking. But it’s the North-East. So when I said, “If we continue at our current rate, Hon, we’ll hit the blizzard in about three hours,” why was I surprised that he replied:
“Sounds good. Haven’t run one of those in a few years.”
I admit we’ve tucked in a bit in the last few years. A cancer scare for him, chronic pain for me, growing pains for the Kid. Life, loss and letting go have pushed us into a cave that has become very comfortable. A blizzard seemed just the right fix. And a blizzard in a state where they don’t use snow plows could be like going to a 3-month retreat to turbo-boost practice!
We made it to Harrisonburg after hitting a wall of snow as we crossed into VA. The last hour predicted by the GPS to get to Harrisonburg took only two. The hotel was a suitable “Bates Inn” for the night and the waft of alcohol in the hallways from various styles of coping with being stranded added to the ambiance. The next morning, despite warnings that the highway to Richmond was likely closed, we put the Japanese engineering, affectionately christened T-Rex, out. A high wheel base, 4×4, and a motherly-growly 5-liter, V8 is most of what this girl needs in times like this. The rest comes in the shape of a North Carolina son-of-auto-mechanic who grew up running the mountain roads for reasons best left unwritten. The snow fall was light but the road to Richmond had not been plowed and the slide into the ditches were only distinguished by the cars and tractor trailers left there overnight. Driving consisted of staying the middle path where possible and putting much faith in the forward momentum. Yet, I was thrilled to be living the old times – even when the road to Richmond disappeared in a glare of white and the best I could do as navigator was to call out “left, more left, no! right, I meant right!”
The scenery was post-nuclear white and I desperately wanted to stop and take some shots of the pines curved under the weight of snow. We had survived the Ice Storm of ’98 – fifteen days without electricity – and this was reminiscent of the day we managed to get down the lane way and onto the highway to the city. Eerily still and solemn, even the female cardinal watching us by the roadside and the heron struggling to find familiar ground seemed pasted to the background. Then we caught up with the traffic which had stopped for unknown reasons. People tumbled out of their cars, likely more to escape the tense confines than to actually see what was happening. We chatted with a couple of them and all agreed that whatever it was up ahead, there was nothing to do but wait. It was a Snow Sangha. Then one man, impatient and angry, insisted we all back up the way we had come and take the side road. We politely turned down his suggestion but the (more) elderly couple beside us put their small truck in reverse and maneuvered back to the exit. Less than 30 seconds later, the line of cars and trucks began to move. I sent a prayer along that the couple had seen the change soon enough to not brave the alternate route which I saw earlier and had rejected as too hazardous even for T-Rex.
Five hours of driving zazen took us beyond the storm and into rain. NBD after the two five-hour shifts of tactical breathing.
We are here. Now. Watching the pelicans trace sine waves over the surf and planning the nightly forage for food where the locals eat since the regular seasonal restaurants are closed.
I watched the sun set on the first night here. Quick over this ocean. With little regard for any longing that the day stay on just a moment more.
These pictures were taken less than a minute apart. How quickly time passes – there is wisdom in not needing blizzards to remember that.
Thank you for practicing,