7/1/12 The End of It

My good friend, Larry Perkins, recently posted on FaceBook about a long, enjoyable walk on a Carolina beach with his dog, Banjo, when, from the dunes below, they encountered a rock jetty with a walkway on top jutting far out into the ocean with a sign at its entrance that read, “No Pets Beyond This Point.” From his position, Larry could not see how far the jetty went, but observed that it extended for a long, long way. I cannot ascertain whether it was part of a private beach or a public beach, but whichever, there was a uniformed security guard there, perhaps a junior officer from the Carolina Beach Enforcement’s Pet Prohibition Patrol. Thus barred from further access due his having an unauthorized Cocker Spaniel, Larry asked the uniformed officer how far that jetty went out into the ocean.

“It goes all the way out to the end of it,” was the answer.

Now Larry has moved to the Carolina coast to write a book, and perhaps this was going to be one of his topics, and may yet still be … but it has been hijacked by another writer. Larry posted this so we could marvel at the succinctness and rich existentialism of the security guard’s answer along with him. Maybe that was the extent of what he planned to do with the reply he received. Perhaps there were many other things, because the answer itself is a great title for a book, fat and ripe for ruminations to last a lifetime. ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF IT. First a book, then a movie, coming soon to a theatre near you. Please, allow me to insert myself into the scenario and completely misappropriate Larry’s post for my own purposes because I am compelled to do so.

Staring at the “No Pets Beyond This Point” sign as I looked over the top of the dune at the seemingly endless jetty, I asked the security guard at the entrance to the public access area just how far that jetty extended out into the ocean.

“It goes all the way out to the end of it,” she replied without any emotion, sort of an automatic reply as if she got this question all the time.

I was a bit nonplussed by her answer, which told me nothing but opened a Pandora’s box of questions, and with my dog in hand, being prevented from seeing for myself, I asked her, “To the end of what? Its own terminus? The ocean? The world? The universe? Or does it perhaps end at the place where time stops for all of us? Does a new existence begin at its end?”

“It certainly goes way on out there before it ends,” she said. “You’ll have to go and see for yourself, one day, but you can’t take your dog, and you can’t go past the point of no return.”

I thought about this for a minute. I must be missing something, I thought. I asked, “And what, pray tell, is the reason my dog isn’t permitted on any portion of this extremely long jetty that goes all the way out to the end of it? He’d hardly be a bother; being such a small dog on such a large jetty, he’d hardly be noticed at all.”

The security guard, apparently thinking I might bolt into a dog-free zone with my dog in tow placed her hand on her service weapon, eyed me steadily, and said point-blank, “They are just not permitted. You are not fixing to give me any trouble about your dog, are you?” The hand not stroking the service weapon was fingering the transmit button on the walkie-talkie microphone attached the epaulet on her uniform shirt. Apparently dog smugglers were common in this area of the beach, and all sorts of police assets could be brought to bear at a moment’s notice for those who crossed the line.

“No, ma’am. I am not,” I assured her. She still seemed a bit suspicious as she turned around to go back into her guard shack. I could see her casting furtive glances towards me every time she looked up from her MODERN DETECTIVE magazine, eyeing me like me and my dog might be thinking about destroying this mysterious jetty. Jihadist Jetty- Gerrymanderers we were, she might have been thinking, wanting to move the jetty so that it no longer reached its own end, but a new end me and my dog had designed for it. If I had had a wheelbarrow with me, there might have been some reasonable suspicion for her to have thought this way, but I only had a Cocker Spaniel, who, had I actually had a wheel barrow, would have insisted on riding in it while I pushed.

I peered further and further, as far as I could see, and made out the wording of another sign at the actual entrance of the walkway that spanned the top of the jetty. “No Wheelbarrows Beyond This Point, Under The Penalty of Law.” Pets were banished before one could even enter the place where the property that contained the jetty commenced. Wheelbarrows were banished on the jetty itself. Oddly, I thought, an entire intercontinental railroad’s worth of Chinamen with wheelbarrows would take months to make a dent in that jetty. Moving enough material with wheelbarrows to damage this jetty would be a project larger than transporting the concrete in Hoover dam with a wheelbarrow; it would take ten thousand CCC workmen ten years to move that much concrete with wheelbarrows. It’d take that many people and that many years to make a scratch on the heavy rip-rap that lined the jetty, since each stone seemed to be more than a wheelbarrow’s worth. Maybe the jetty was built during the days of Goliath, each wheel barrow a giant-sized one. Perhaps the original English settlers, Sir Walter Raleigh’s “Lost Colony of Roanoke” who vanished from Roanoke Island found this jetty when they arrived from England. Maybe they walked this jetty all the way to its end never to be seen again. Perhaps the word “Croatan” means the land where this jetty ends.

As I thought these things, my dog began to strain at its leash, whining and growling as if seeing some distant ghosts, or some malevolent spirits, those things it is rumored and whispered in the dark and still depths of night which dogs can see that we humans can’t. The whine and growl turned into a whimper. Suddenly my dog was intensely interested in going the other way . . . nearly as interested for us to return the way we came as the security guard seemed to be. It was obvious we were not wanted there, nor did my dog sense a welcoming presence, but something sinister and threatening. I gave the jetty one last, long look, spied someone returning from a jaunt out on the jetty and decided I would wait around to talk to him when he came over the dune and came through the gate beyond which no pets could pass. My dog insisted that we wait a bit further away than we were due to whatever he was sensing about the place, so we retreated to the parking lot, which was empty except for two vehicles; one was a pickup truck with the logo of the Carolina Beach Enforcement’s Pet Access Prohibition Patrol on the door, and the other a good looking antique car, no doubt, belonging to the person I could see far in the distance returning from atop the jetty. We had walked there from a distance away, so we had no car there. We sat in the grass adjacent to the nearly empty parking lot and simply waited. But neither my dog, nor the security guard, seemed excited about being there. As the sense of mystery grew about me, I began to feel a bit nervous myself, nearly fearful, but I was so curious by now, nothing could have made me leave without speaking to that person I saw headed in my direction, even though he was just a pinpoint on the jetty’s horizon. It’d be a half-hour before he got to me. Curiosity. Overwhelming curiosity.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” my dog said to me.

“You’re a DOG,” I replied back.

Neither of us thought a thing about this exchange. 

As we waited, I scratched my dog behind his ear, which brought him great comfort, but the instant I stopped, he was endlessly sniffing the air, the ground around us, and everything within reach of his leash, as dogs are wont to do, but with more intensity than normal. Something here was very interesting to him. I could not smell what it was that he found so interesting, but then smell is an entirely different world for a dog. What they smell and see is a mystery to us. Their noses tell them things we could never imagine. While we can smell a pizza in the oven as it is nearly done, a dog can smell every individual piece of the pizza, its seasonings, and our fingerprints on it, the entire list of ingredients bringing memories of things in our kitchens that we know because they are familiar, but the dog knows by scent. The dog even knows where the now empty bottle of oregano used to sit on the shelf, and which direction the trash truck that hauled away the garbage bag that contained it went. We just don’t understand that world. It is mysterious to us. I began to wonder whether dogs, if able to sense things from another dimension, could smell them, too, that is, if they were actually present.

Before I had a chance to think about it much more, the security guard and the jetty-wanderer were coming through the gate in the approaching twilight, the jetty-wanderer with fishing rod in hand, and the security guard pulling the gate closed and locking it. I heard the jingle of the chain as it went around the gate and the click of the padlock as she snapped it shut. The padlock’s click seemed to be abnormally loud in my ear, and made the dog jump and bark. The security guard wheeled around, eyed the dog and me for a moment, obviously thinking about giving us some sort of warning about trespassing on the Carolina Beach Pet Prohibition Patrol’s assigned areas of responsibility, but she shrugged her shoulders at us, got in to her truck, and right before she cranked it up, said to the jetty-wanderer, “See you tomorrow!”

“Sure thing,” he answered. Then she drove away and he began to stow his fishing gear in his car, the long, heavy surf-casting rod sticking out the half-down rear window of a nearly mint condition 1952 Chevy sedan. I approached him to ask him a few questions. He seemed friendly enough as he smiled at me as I came near, though my dog didn’t seem to care for him very much.

I said hello and he said hello back. “No luck today?” I asked, seeing no fish, only the evidence of one who had been fishing.

“I caught a couple early this morning, but they were too big to bring back, so I released them,” he said. “I was hoping for a few smaller ones, but, nope: no luck. I suppose they didn’t care for the bait I was using.” I thought his response of too big to bring back was curious. There were few things a fisherman liked more than landing a big one!

“Say, do you mind me asking a few questions about that jetty, since I was unable to venture up there because I had my dog with me?” I asked.

He gave me a bit of a grimace, was silent for an uncomfortable moment, then answered, “No. Not really. What would you like to know?”

“How far does that jetty extend out into the ocean?”

“It goes a long, long, way. I don’t think anyone has even been to the end of it. The jetty closes at dark, and there is simply no way to get to the end and back before nightfall if one started at daylight. Some have said it goes all the way across to Atlantis.”

“The Atlantic, you mean, and that’s impossible. No jetty can go all the way across the Atlantic.”

He seemed a bit perturbed now, with my correction of what he had said. “No, I mean ATLANTIS. A-T-L-A-N-T-I-S, not the Atlantic. That jetty’s been there for hundreds of years. No one knows who really built it, though there are rumors, stories. We locals know about them, but the government has kept them all sort of a secret for all this time, though occasionally that weird radio show “Coast to Coast” will have a guest or two who are on there speculating about the jetty, but no one believes anything anyone says on that show. We locals know not to talk too much about the jetty. It’s like saying you saw Bigfoot, or a UFO at area 51. It’s best to just keep quiet about it. We just tell people it goes out all the way to its end.”

“I find that extremely hard to believe,” I said.

He didn’t seem agitated at my disbelief since I had stopped trying to correct him. He continued, “Some say the jetty goes all the way to Gibraltar. Some say it goes to Croatan.” He nearly whispered when he said the word “Croatan”, looking around as if someone might be listening. “Well, excuse me, but I gotta run. I’ll be back in the morning. You can come go fishing with me if you’d like. It’s a long walk before you get to the point of no return, which is the point where you cannot make it back before dark, and you have to hand carry everything in and out. They won’t allow a wheelbarrow, though it would make hauling a big fish back to the car much easier . . . and of course, you can’t bring your dog.”

My curiosity was even more piqued. “I was just able to make out the ‘No Wheelbarrow’ sign. I wonder why? And why won’t they let you take your dog out there, since there seem to be no prohibitions on taking dogs anywhere else on any of these beaches, piers or jetties.”

“I don’t know about the wheelbarrows,” he said, “but it is for your own good that they won’t let you take your pets.” He pointed at my dog, who I could tell was thinking of taking a nip at his finger, his hackles raised as the man pointed in his direction. “There are SHARKS out there, just waiting.”

“Sharks!” I exclaimed. “Of course there are sharks out there in the ocean, but there are no sharks up on the jetty!” exclaiming further.

“No,” said the man with a toothy smile, “But they say the ghost fishermen of Croatan Jetty will use anything they can get for shark bait.”

“I thought you were pulling my leg to begin with,” I said, “But now I’m sure that the joke’s on me.” I stated to laugh, but my laugh was not convincing, even to me. This was all just a bit weirder than it was simply strange.

“The jetty’s a peculiar place. Some say it goes all the way to Atlantis. Some say just across the ocean. In any case, there are disagreements about just how far it goes, since no one can seem to get to its end. Some say it goes on forever. Some walk out there and never return. Some say the Earth’s center of power is at the end of the jetty. Some say that once you get to the end, you move into a different dimension. Some say the jetty goes to Bermuda and that’s the beginning of the Bermuda Triangle. I know of many stories of fishermen who went out too far onto the jetty and never returned. Don’t know if they’re true or not, but that’s the stories I grew up with. That’s where the stories of the ghost fishermen originate. It’s all a mystery to me, too, but one that I know is best not to delve in too deeply. We have a mental hospital on Cape Hatteras that they say is filled with people who went out too far, or pondered too long and too hard about the jetty. It’s best just to wander out a ways, fish for a while, and come on back in. I wouldn’t want to get caught out there after dark, or during a storm.”

I listened with great fascination, hungry for more.

“Just beyond the point-of-no-return, one can look with a pair of binoculars and see the remains of thousands of wooden wheelbarrows, remarkably preserved by the salt-air. They say these are ancient. They say that the people of lost colony of Roanoke Island built the jetty to return home. Some say that the jetty was already there, but they crossed the REAL point of no return. Some say that THEY are the ghost fishermen, still hunting for something to eat. I don’t really know, myself, having long given up on worrying about it. I just know the fishing’s good there, and most folks won’t venture out on it, . . . not the locals, anyway. And as you can see, tourists are discouraged from coming at all.”

He was leaving me with far more questions than answers, but he was leaving just the same. He was done talking to me about the jetty.

“Well, so long,” he said as he slipped into the driver’s seat of that old Chevy and fired it up. The gears growled as he put it into reverse and began to back up. Before he backed out far enough turn around, he stuck his head out the window and said, “I really like dogs, but, by the way, you don’t know where I could get any kittens, do you?”

“No, sir. I sure don’t.” I said. He then waved and drove off.

“Kittens,” I thought to myself, “Now why would he want any kittens?”

I gave my dog a pat and he wagged his tail, joyful that we were headed back to home where the scents would all be comforting and familiar to him. He had heard the last part of that conversation and felt much better about the man. He knew exactly why the man wanted the kittens, and, on that realization, decided that he liked that man a lot more than he had at first, since my dog was not exactly fond of cats.

I never did catch on.

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