The peace of the dolphins

Published 10:48 pm Thursday, June 25, 2009

For a guy who’s lived near the Outer Banks of North Carolina most of his 44 years, sometimes it’s hard to find something new to do while visiting there. Usually, that’s not a problem, as my favorite thing to do at the beach is exactly … nothing.

Still, as my wife and I drove down Route 32 toward Manteo last Friday for a long weekend, I wondered if there might be some new experience we could both enjoy, something that would relieve the stress that has a tendency to build oh-so-quickly in a newspaper office.

Arriving at our hotel in South Nags Head, we headed out to our balcony overlooking the water to enjoy a few minutes watching the ocean. As it turned out, though, watching the tide advance until it was literally beneath our feet, slapping at the sandbags piled against the side of the building, wasn’t all that relaxing. It’s hard to really let go of your tension when you’re wondering if a late-night storm will result in your end of the hotel collapsing into the waves.

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But Saturday morning found us making plans for two entirely new experiences — a dolphin watch cruise in the sound and an evening performance of The Lost Colony. Having seen — and even swum with — dolphins before, I expected the outdoor drama about the English colony that was lost to history to be the more interesting of the two experiences.

And I wasn’t disappointed. The production is first-rate, the outdoor theater is comfortable, the weather cooperated and the story is an interesting one — still one of America’s true unexplained mysteries, more than 400 years later.

But it didn’t hold a candle to the experience we had on a pontoon boat as literally dozens of dolphins, including several babies, cavorted in the shallow waters around us. When even the captain of the boat gets excited about what he’s seeing, you know you’ve struck gold.

I listened as a group of college girls (who struck me as hailing from Iowa or some other landlocked part of the nation) squealed and giggled with delight every time one of the playful critters surfaced from beneath the boat or breached at its side. I watched the family from India filming for nearly the entire hour that we sat amongst the dolphin pods and laughed to myself as the father shot scores of photos straight from the hip, never even checking to make sure the camera was actually aimed at the spectacle he was watching.

What I didn’t do, unfortunately, was take my own camera. I’d left it on a bench at the dock, necessitating a call from the boat to have the folks at Kitty Hawk Kites rescue it and hold it for me.

All I have from this trip are memories. Well, that and a calmer spirit. Mission accomplished.