Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mile Zero

Is that the smoke from burning sox?
(No, redbud in bloom along the canal)
Today we learned that sailors on Chesapeake Bay celebrate March 21--the spring equinox--by burning their socks.

Truth!  In the words of the immortal Dave Barry, I am not making this up.  (Click the link to confirm.)

Somehow the vernal equinox blew by us this week.  But yesterday was also momentous, because we arrived safely in Norfolk, VA--"Mile Zero" on the Intracoastal Waterway. (Next stop: Chesapeake Bay)

"Should we burn our socks to celebrate our safe arrival?" asked the crew. "No!" said Cap. "I need all the sox I've got to keep my feet warm!"

With a forecast of "High 40, feels like 35," and feeling colder, we pulled away from the Not Very Dismal Swamp Visitors Center dock. A nice little stinging wet mist was blowing, for added traveling pleasure.

But we were well fortified for the day's travails.  Yesterday, after a sunny cruise on canal (photos HERE), we docked to enjoy a fried-chicken-dinner at the Great Dismal Swamp Welcome Center.

Now, the Welcome Center is your typical state-run welcome center. It's on a busy road (U.S. Highway 17, in this case).  A place to make a pit-stop, eat your picnic lunch, walk the dog, pick up brochures. But it's also the nation's only visitor center with a boat dock . . .  where boaters cruising the Intracoastal Waterway can tie up. (And stay overnight. For free. Thank you, North Carolina!)
Let's lobby the government:
Clean, new socks for all boaters!

For the chicken dinner, we thank Penny Leary-Smith, the Welcome Center Director.  Never mind the brochures. Visit the Center to meet Penny. She looks like your darling grandmother. She talks with a honey of a drawl. She asks boaters, "Can I pick you up anything when I run to the store?"

When she took the job as center director more than 20 years ago, Penny was told, "Stay away from politics." Ha! Penny is like a stealth bomb, and I mean that as the highest compliment. She has helped keep Congress from closing down the canal, using charm as a cloak for intellect and resolve.

Case in Point:  Penny told us about attending a meeting with representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers soon after she started the job. "I looked around, and there was the U.S. flag. And there was the Army Corps flag. And there was the Virginia flag. But no North Carolina flag anywhere.

"So we got all introduced," she said, "and I said, I am SO glad to know you, and to learn all your distinguished titles. It's clear you are all very smart people . . . and doing SUCH good work.

"There's just one thing I can't understand.  It seems impossible that a room full of such intelligent people might not know this canal is both in Virginia and in North Carolina."

Next meeting, the Tarheel State flag was on display.

Penny retires this month. She oughta run for Senate.

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