From the Office and Backyard to the Road, Boat, or Plane–Backstories and
Side Stories While on Assignment. Updates on Personal Projects, Too.

Archive for January, 2010


Last week in the North Carolina mountains, the fluff of snow piled high on pine branches. Tiny flakes blew and sparkled in the sunlight. Everyone talked of the snowfall and temperatures in the teens that had set into the High Country for longer than any time in recent memory. (Several said that the last time it was so cold and snowy for so long, it was was back in the late 1970s.) Up for several days in the white-blanketed mountains, I skied at Appalachian, Sugar and Beech. All had terrific snow, the dry kind you just brush off your shoulders and cheeks. And the cold was fierce, stinging your fingers and bringing you back inside for hot cocoa or tea after every two or three or runs. That’s not a bad plan, though. If you like cozy, this was a dreamy trip. I kept being amazed by the white beauty everywhere, the quiet that snow brings.


Besides skiing, one night I sat at the long bar at the Six Pence Pub in Blowing Rock and ordered a beer and a reuben sandwich. A man walked in holding his head and stomping snow from his boots. He sat down, ordered a whisky, and told how he’d just slipped on the icy sidewalk and landed in a snowdrift. By the next morning, four or five inches more snow had fallen, temperatures were in the low teens, and my two-wheel-drive wagon couldn’t get up a hill, so I left it in a parking spot for a few days and continued the trip with friends with a heavy duty SUV. We tried the new zipline at Hawknest, launching from platforms to glide along wires stretched between tall trees, past an iced-over pond, and above the people lined up for the tubing runs. Another night we all went to the Banner Elk Winery and sampled wines; and one morning, I swam in the heated pool at the Chetola Resort. I had the whole pool to myself, and while I did the backstroke and steam rose from the water, wind whipped snow against tall glass windows.


Through it all, I kept thinking of the irony that while Vancouver waits and hopes for snow for the Winter Olympics in the far northwest, down here in the South it’s a winter wonderland.

– Sandy Lang, January 2010



Life by tides

This is so cool. A dozen writers were asked to write odes to the Lowcountry for this month’s issue of Charleston Magazine. (The other writers included Josephine Humphreys, William Baldwin, Marjory Wentworth, Roger Pinckney, Jonathan Sanchez and more who I’ve read and admired for years.) My ode is below. In the print version, it was paired with a beautiful painting by Mickey Williams.


On a sailboat we called the Eel Pye, we’d drifted right up to a dozen or more dolphins that were in a swirl, almost a frenzy, of fishing. It was a summer afternoon on the Fort Johnson side of the harbor, where the water was mixing with a changing tide. It was one of those scenes that gets seared in memory, a little movie to be played later—the dolphins’ slippery gray backs rising over and over, twisting in water that popped with a school of silvery fish.

Tides come and go, and things happen. On that old 22-foot Eel Pye, we’d let the rush of the changing tide pull us. The boat was moored in Wappoo Creek, a channel that connects the Ashley River end of the harbor with the Stono River. The currents there are famously strong, and we decided to make the most of it. I’d strap on flippers and jump in, swimming against the flow, and then turn around and let the water pull me back to the boat. It was such easy floating. And whenever I dunked under, I would hear so much life. Unlike freshwater lakes, where all you hear is your own splashes, the riverbed offered up a constant clicking (of crabs? oysters?) and bubbles rising. The creek water on my lips tasted salty and thick, like a tea of pluff mud and decaying marsh grass.

I loved to swim from that boat, until she was sold, but there are other stories of tides and boats and dolphins. One summer evening, on a swim around the pools and sandbars that build and fade with the tides on Sullivan’s Island, two dolphins surfaced so near and so many times I thought I’d get to touch one. I watched and called to them as the sun lowered, and they eventually swam off.

Back over near James Island, the currents and tides once brought in a beautiful wooden yacht that stretched at least 30 feet, with CONTESSA lettered in gold paint across her transom. We were out on a fall afternoon ride in the johnboat when we first saw her, stranded and abandoned in a creek off the Stono. For the next few weeks, we kept checking on the once-elegant boat, passing near.

Before long, the Contessa started a slow tilt in the low tides, and the lean got more exaggerated each day. We’d motor up sometimes and touch the wooden hull, and, when the tide was good for getting there, we ferried a few friends out for their own close-up look. Everyone made up stories about the impressive boat’s past—where she had come from, who owned her and left her, and why. But we never knew the real story, only what we could imagine. Then one day, the Contessa was gone. In my mind, I pictured the tides and mud had finally swallowed her.

Yesterday afternoon on a run over the Stono River Bridge, I looked down at the same swelling water and wondered what’s next. Around here, that six feet or so of ocean is always coming and going—mixing things up and adding a little mystery. Just the way I like it.

– Sandy Lang, January 2010


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