ESSAY- Two if by sea: When you're an interested surf-gazer

The merger of dolphin and shark at the Outer Banks last summer made for an unsavory view.

Uh oh. I spot a triangular fin about 50 feet off shore. Shark, or dolphin? Suddenly, my heart is pounding. Should I alert those three pot-bellied guys, the ones diving into the waves?

When you're a surf-gazer (and were there an Olympic surf-gazing event, I'd take home the Gold) there are few activities more important in your day than scanning the water for those ominous dark triangles.

  The other preoccupation is watching for swimmers who are struggling and just might disappear below the waves. Now, being as how my swimming skills are about one step above those of a poodle, you wouldn't want to count on me to save you, and there are no lifeguards on our stretch of the Outer Banks. However, should the need arise, I could leap around on the sand, waving my arms, yelling "Help! Help!" about as well as anyone.

My hands tense up on the plastic armrests of my sand chair as I mentally rehearse both the leaping and the hollering. The lapping water has sucked my chair's aluminum bottom and my feet deep into the wet sand. I extricate chair and feet, the better to prepare for my duty as the Paul Revere of Corolla. 

This is exhausting. What time is it, anyway? The sun is definitely over the yardarm, and a cocktail has yet to appear in my hand. Surely somebody is whipping up a pitcher of piña coladas. (I won't consider myself a success as a mother until all three of my adult children can make a museum-quality pina colada. Jackson has mastered this. As for Jill and What's-his-name, I can only hope.)

And, come to think of it, in addition to sharks and people drowning, there are tsunamis to watch for. This is not a new activity for me. No siree. I'm not one of those people who only started to obsess over killer waves when the Big One hit the Indian Ocean in 2004. 

Back when I was a kid, my big sister enjoyed scaring the hell out of me, declaring confidently, as we sat on the sand at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that a tidal wave could wash over us at any moment, with absolutely no warning, so it was essential to keep one eye on the horizon at all times. Because you never know. ("You never know" – words to live by. They are bumper-sticker worthy. Tattoo-worthy.)

Only now, in addition to watching for the bulging horizon line, I have to watch for the receding water and stranded fish that are harbingers of a tsunami. 

I don't know if I can take the pressure.

Yikes. The fin reappears. Now there are two of them. Here's where my finely-honed surf-gazing skills come into play: The shark fin is a curvy triangle. And, well, the dolphin fin is also a curvy triangle, but it's curvier than the shark's. So, I'm thinking these two fins are, um, probably dolphins, on account of the curviness. 

Dang. Hard to say, really. 

Just as I'm wondering whether or not I should start the leaping and the hollering, a woman trots along the wet sand, pointing, smiling, and shouting at the pot-bellied guys, "Dolphins!"

At last, the relief shift! Guess I'll go fire up the blender myself. I have to do everything around here.


Curvy grandmother Janis Jaquith would like to vacation in Free Union, but she already lives there.