For the weeks leading up to the trip, I would tell people I was going to Hatteras. When I got there, I wasn’t even near it.
The islands don’t look like much on a map, and in many places, they’re not — barely wider than the two-lane road known as Route 12. But it’s a long piece of pavement from one end to the other.
I crossed onto the Outer Banks at Manteo. Milepost 18, I think. Maybe 16. Milepost 1, at the northern end, is near Kill Devil Hill, where the Wright Brothers made their first controlled flight of a powered aircraft. Somewhere around Milepost 36, I found the cottage where I would stay a few days with friends.
One afternoon found us waiting for the free ferry, at Milepost 71, a short distance past Hatteras Lighthouse. It’s the only way to get to Ocracoke Island, the next island to the south.
Hatteras Light get’s all the publicity. Publicity for the area calls it America’s Lighthouse, and at 208 feet it is the tallest of the five lights — Currituck Beach, Roanoke Marshes, Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island, Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke — warning mariners off the shallow shifting sands of the Outer Banks.
Buddy, an older version of Grady, is in the back seat, panting. Buddy and Grady are Golden Retrievers, both rescued dogs and terrific traveling pals. Unfortunately, part of my trip could not include Grady, so he’s back home, but Buddy does his best to hold down the back seat of the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Sabrena, Buddy’s human half, poured a half bottle of cold water into the bowl behind the seat. I think Buddy said Thank You.
Holly Hunter sat in the red Grand Cherokee next to us. Her mouth and eyes, anyway. The body around them was a mite younger than the HH in “Saving Grace.” I took a picture of her later, leaning against the ferry rail, holding her toddler.
I like photographing people as I travel. Sometimes we talk, about where they’ve been and where they’re going, and sometimes, as with “Holly” or an old couple sharing morning coffee at a sidewalk café in Paris, I take my photographic travelogue punctuation and move on.
I got slobbered on by a yellow lab in a pickup I passed as I walked between the rows of cars and FedEx delivery vans and trash collection rigs making their daily rounds. And I got waved to by a toddler in a Chevy Carryall, or something of that ilk. To dogs and little kids, I’m a magnet.
Ocracoke isn’t much — about 12 miles of pavement from the ferry to the village bisect the dunes separating the Atlantic Ocean from itself. We ate shrimp — .25 each, 3-5 p.m., minimum order 25 — in a small bar and restaurant reminiscent of the some tiki bars in the Caribbean Islands. I had a bottle (no draught beer available) of Mother Earth Dark Cloud beer, a slightly sweet lager from a North Carolina microbrewery.
On the way back, we stopped to take pictures of a herd of turtles obviously wanting – against the ministration of a nearby sign – to be fed. At first, I thought our presence would scare them from crossing the road, but I eventually noticed they moved away when I did. And gathered – 35, and not nearly all, in one picture – when I moved to the edge of the water.
I got some nice shots of Hatteras Lighthouse at sunset, and a picture of a red-light cloud formation that looked — I kid you not — as though it was a shadow of a spaceship from the movie “Independence Day.”
We walked on the beach at Salvo in the very early morning and tried numerous times to get a picture of a ghost crab. They’re small, white, and F-A-S-T! We finally got one.


We stopped at the entrance, a couple miles south of Salvo on Highway 12, where the sign says four-wheel drive recommended, lower tire pressure to 20 pounds or less. Pull the shift into 4W-Lo and head out for the Jeep’s first time on a beach.
We assemble the fishing rods and tackle, and wind line onto the new reel. But the tide is wrong and the current way too strong and I didn’t buy enough bobbers for two rigs so I let him practice casting for a bit and trade my fishing for swimming.
“I’m scared,” said the little girl holding my hand, no whining, just a statement of fact.
“You won’t let me drown?” One of those declarative queries that makes you actually think of the possibility something will happen and you’ll not keep your promise, and you squeeze the tiny hand just a little firmer.
A big wave breaks, and the rushing foam lifts her, then sets her back on the sandy bottom.
“It picked me up,” she said.
“That was fun,” she said, turning to face the incoming waves, looking for the next big one.
“I want to do it again.”

It’s Spring, the sun is shining (when precipitation is not pouring down upon us), and my best friend and spouse is refinishing the nest, applying ideas she has gleaned from a winter of Home and Garden TV.

It’s time to paint the garage, moving shelves, possibly making more usable space into which will, within months, funnel more stuff that needs stored. That’s the way with garages. You clear a path, and it fills itself in, like silt in a stream bed — nourishing to plant life but difficult for human passage.

I have a deeply rooted aversion to cleaning out the flotsam and jetsam I’ve acquired over the years. Now and then I poke into it, and some piece will trigger a flood of memories. Like the cigar box my wife found while clearing a path to the garage walls.

The box is what remains of an enjoyable supply of Vega V cigars by José Melendi. In it, there was a Polaroid picture of the remains of a 1940-something Aeronca 7AC Champ, a pipe and canvas two-seat aircraft with an engine about as powerful as a sewing machine.

The plane was one of two owned by the flying club at Naval Air Station Rota, Spain when I was stationed there over the winter and spring of 1967-68. I enjoyed flying it, until one day the “the rubber band broke” and the plane landed in an olive tree somewhere near Granada, Spain.

I saw leaves scatter as though trying to escape from the path of the craft settling into the branches. Then I was standing on the ground, alone, looking up at the stricken craft. Jimmy Buffett says any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. To be able to reuse the airplane is a bonus. No bonus for me, but I did walk away from it.

The night before, I had become lost in the mountains and decided it would be prudent to land someplace and ask directions. I found a convenient tractor path along the border of an olive orchard, near a small village, and set down. Within a few minutes, a pickup truck came by, loaded front and back with young people. I didn’t know much Spanish, and they didn’t know any English, but they invited me into the truck and took me to the village.

They introduced me to a hostel keeper, and went on their way in search of an evening’s youthful pleasure.

The hostel was a family affair, with mom and dad and a couple of late-teen offspring sharing their home with travelers. They treated me to a walking tour of their town, including a visit to the local bodega, where, it turned out, a very nice wine was available for local sale. of which a half-dozen bottles became my souvenirs.

And they gave me a warm place to spend the night.

Next morning, we shared breakfast, during which I attempted to learn what I owed for my room and board. The proprietor and his wife simultaneously would not accept my money, with looks I was slow to realize indicated I had messed up.

Still, I insisted. After all, it was how they earned their living, and back home, a motel clerk would have demanded I hand over my credit card before showing me to a bed.

Finally, one of the breakfast guests suggested I walk with him. He was a sergeant in the Guardia Civil — the Spanish national police force — and the sole law officer in the area. He explained the family had offered me a gift of hospitality.

“When we go back, they will take your money,” he said, “but if you pay them, you will not be welcome here again.”

A short time later, my pesetas still in my pocket, I climbed into the Champ and headed back down the tractor path.

I spent that night in a rural clinic, cared for by some pretty great doctors and nurses.

I don’t recall the name of the village, nor the names of the family or the sergeant.

But I remember the lesson, the first of many I would learn about residents of homelands other than my own.

To borrow from humorist Will Rogers, I’ve traveled quite a bit in 60-plus years, and many of the roads have been unpaved.

I wonder what else is in those cardboard boxes in the garage.

Readers may contact John Messeder at john@jmesseder.net.

Many schools have signs on their doors proclaiming them to be Bully-Free Zones. I have even seen such signs alongside the road as I’ve driven past school driveways.

They indicate the schools are at least thinking about the problem. Unfortunately, they do not really indicate the schools have solved the problem.

Most people, in general discussion, immediately think of bullying as one kid pounding physically on another. I suggest there are other forms of bullying , sometimes more difficult to notice.

I was about 10 when my family moved from New York City, where I had attended P.S. 173 through third grade. In the small rural town in Maine where I started fourth grade, things were different. There, I was a “city slicker.” For a time, the punishment for my unfortunate infraction was an almost daily physical reminding of my inferior status. But fighting was against the rules in my home. And anyway, it only happened when the aforementioned Alpha Dog — let’s call him Tad — was not otherwise occupied.

Tad had a brother — self-described, “I may be short, but I’m wiry” — who occasionally tried to mimic his bigger sibling. The two were amazingly similar to the pair in “A Christmas Story,” the annual movie in which the tall kid beats up on younger folk, and the shorter, playing the toady, cheers him on.

Years later, other former classmates said they were unhappy with what happened, and the way I was treated. Kids don’t know how to butt in, though, often because they fear becoming the new target of abuse.

Over the course of my public school career, I found it necessary, and downright scary, to put one lad in a ditch and break another’s nose. Both were brief, frustrated, reactive instances that left me wondering what price I would pay.

In another school, a youngster entered first grade after spending his early years in a state at the opposite end of the nation. He had seen things of which his new classmates had never dreamed. His teacher, who herself had never been out of the county, found herself frustrated, and called for a parental visit.

“Whenever anyone else has a story, he always has to tell a bigger one,” said the teacher — let’s call her Ms. Newbie. “He always has to have the attention.”

It turned out the youngster’s stories involved such descriptions as his dad shooting fish before bringing them into the boat, and filling a bathtub full of crabs before boiling and freezing them for future dinners. They did, indeed, seem tall tales to youngsters whose own stories talked of catching brook trout from a stream, and to whom crabs were, uh, somewhat less than savory.

And, it turned out, they were true, derived from living his early years on the coast of Alaska, where halibut can be more than 200 pounds, and where Alaskan King Crabs can be cheaply bought fresh from the boat.

Unfortunately, Ms. Newbie’s life experience did not encourage her to check out her young charge’s stories.

In yet another school, another student from another state moved into a new elementary school. He quickly found a few friendly neighborhood youngsters, but he also finds a few classmates less than welcoming. They didn’t know the new kid, or anything about where he came from.

For his part, he knew little about his new surroundings. So he said things like “Back home,” and was reminded, in not very friendly terms, that he was not “back home.”

He was a star where he had lived. In his new school, others had staked out their own stardom, and early on, they, like Tad and Ms. Newbie, made it clear interlopers would not be tolerated.

It happens. It shouldn’t. And simple posting of a Bully Free Zone sign is not going to stop it.

Readers may contact John Messeder at john@jmesseder.net.

Time was, I am told, when teenagers would occasionally gather at the local swimming hole, shuck their duds, and jump in the creek. I’m thinking, as I write this from my advancing chronological vantage, that most of the participants turned out OK. They re-donned their duds and became doctors, lawyers, and farmers.

Unfortunately, for most of our young, there is no creek, no break in the pond-side shrubbery on which they can hang the trappings of proper society and share a few illicit moments of rebellion with selected compatriots.

The bushes have been cut back, the trees cleared, to build houses on the new private property, with locked doors and window shades pulled tightly against their frames. Inside the shingles and vinyl siding, away from the prying eyes of passersby, we go online and post messages, secure in the knowledge that only those we intend to see them will know what we wrote.

It’s a strange quirk of human-ness that we can titter at a video posted by someone we do not know, and not realize that the pictures we posted for our best friend to see are equally public to viewers in Latvia, California, our arch enemy two classrooms down the hall, or the school principal’s secretary.

In one school district, a teacher who discovers a student using a cell phone for Sexting — the new word for texting that includes pictures of admittedly inappropriate visual aids — may give the student a choice: have the phone destroyed, or face prosecution for child pornography.

I have been told that when the Polaroid camera came out, and kids discovered the film didn’t have to go to the drugstore to be processed, they did the same thing with “inappropriate” pictures of themselves. What is different is that back in the day, only those to whom the photographer actually handed the picture got to ogle its depiction.

When I load my Facebook account, I am treated to messages from friends, pictures of their family outings, and other innocent postings. I also am suddenly privy to comments about their postings from their other friends — people I do not know and likely will never meet. I detect within their comments inside jokes, underlying meanings I am not meant to decipher.

Our silliness and personal confidentialities are on the wall, like graffiti painted on a roadside boulder, except the spray-painted rock does not include the name and address of the artist. Unlike the Rust-Oleum-covered boulder, words and pictures posted to the online networks cannot be easily, if at all, deleted.

LinkedIn, a social networking site populated primarily by upwardly mobile professionals, has no delete function on its mailbox. One can remove past emails only from view, by archiving them.

I have accounts on Facebook and Twitter. I still have one on MySpace; I tried to get rid of it and could not. Once you sign up, you are permanently a member.

Facebook recently went through some controversy when it altered its rules to declare its ownership of everything its users posted on the site. It has backed off on that rule, but I would not count on it not returning when people become a little more complacent about the public-ness of the site.

Ironically, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, YouTube and several other popular gathering places have become the digital equivalent of a pre-historic community dwelling with paper-thin walls. Both provide the barest illusion of privacy. Candidates for public office share space with hormone-laden teens in their quest for attention and passing of not-so-private messages, still pictures and videos.

The sites are useful. They are wonderful meeting places, fostering, at their best, a modern equivalent of pen-pals. They are places where we may share the joys of our lives with many recipients, at the touch of a single button. Media outlets and politicians may post features and viewpoints with a click of a mouse.

But how do we separate note-passing from child pornography, indiscretion from victimization?

I am not certain the correct way to do that; it is different for each child, each situation and each parent. Our parental job — and school staff are surrogate parents — is to somehow stand hidden at the base of the picket fence, our hearts in our throats, while our children carefully balance themselves in their teetering walk from childhood to adulthood.

And when they lose occasionally their balance, we are there to catch them before they splatter on the ground. They need to know we will do that, even while they plaintively wail, “Mommy, please! I want to do it myself.”

I am certain the incorrect way is to smash their cell phones and label them pornographers.

Readers may contact John Messeder at jmesseder@comcast.net.

A popular children’s television cartoon features a boy-cow named Otis, with udders. About a year ago, there was a movie about bees, and the boy bees left the hive in search of pollen for honey.

In rural Adams County, I’m guessing most kids pretty much know how to tell a bull from a cow, and probably understand that the only way boy bees leave the hive is dead; their job is indoors.

Unfortunately, more than half our nation’s population, and a growing portion of Adams County’s population, live in urban and suburban settings, and all they see of the natural world are the movies.

Too many of them glide in an SUV past farmland and fields of living story-book animals, but miss seeing while they watch geese learn to “Fly Away Home” on the in-car DVD player.

They really need to get out more.

And I mean Out. They are suffering from what Richard Louv, in “Last Child in the Woods,” calls “nature-deficit disorder.” And the cure is not to be found in Ritalin, counseling, or the courts, all of which deal with pent-up energy that could otherwise be released in outdoor play.

In his book, Louv quotes a San Diego, Calif., fourth-grader saying, “I like to play indoors better, ‘cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

I was lucky. I was raised on 50 acres of woodland, on the shore of a fairly large lake in the middle of thousands more acres of woodlands. I spent my formative years where the last human sound I heard, as I headed into the forest primeval, was Mom saying, “you kids go out and play.” I’d wager most people of my generation still hear echoes of that refrain.

But times have changed.

We have become over protective of our offspring, and the future of my childhood books and science fiction movies — populated by body-less beings with large hairless heads plugged into atomic power sources — seems too true. Well, almost. Our kids have bodies, but there is a whole industry springing up around their obesity.

The police showed up at the door one day when my family and I lived in Hampton, Va. A neighbor had called because the youngsters, both second-graders, one boy, one girl, had been seen climbing a tree. The neighbor, said Officer Friendly, was concerned they might fall and be hurt.

True. And they might fall and be hurt if they drive a car or fall in love. They need guidance, not prohibitions, to learn how to recognize too-thin branches, too-slippery curves, and too-slick lovers. Even then, there is risk.

After traveling a goodly portion of the world, I returned to the woods of my youth, only to find what of it remained was fenced off. Cables and large rocks blocked entrances to old logging roads. A state law allowed police to prosecute anyone they found on posted land without written permission to be there; there was no need to contact the often-out-of-state landowner.

We Adams Countians have preserved thousands of acres of fields and woodlands, and we should be proud of the water and air we have protected. We missed a chance last month to buy a 200-acre parcel that would, had the plan worked out, have become a public park where children of all ages could walk among 300-year-old trees, fish in a creek, and watch hawks hunt their dinner.

But I have to wonder how much good the park would have been to those young immigrants from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., now living in Littlestown and New Oxford, who would have depended on their harried parents to drive them to the park on the other side of the county. I suspect it would have been, as a playground, of little more value than other preserved land — private property fenced in with wire and yellow signs telling passersby to stay out.

There is a growing body of evidence indicating the value of time spend playing in whatever world is outside the fortress our children and grandchildren call home. We need to stop and let them see real cows, but we also need to allow them outside to simply play.

In 1971, Simon Nicholson offered a “theory of loose parts,” in which he said, more or less, the number of possibilities a child’s imagination may create is directly related to the number of playthings that have no assigned purpose.

We need, when we design housing developments, to design into them places where children may simply play, and then let them play in it, unhindered by geometric pipe structures, PlayStation game sets, and team-colored uniforms. Instead, give them a few trees, large rocks, and maybe a mud puddle or two.

I know from experience that I gain girth when I sit all day in front of a computer, and I lose it when I get up off my derriere and move my limbs. I also know from experience there is no real fun to be found on a machine at the gym, my ears plugged into an mp3 player.

We say we want only to keep our kids safe. There are, after all, so many dangers lurking outside the fortress we call home.

The best way to keep them, our communities, and our planet safe is to tell our kids what our parents told us:

“Go outside and play.”

Readers may contact John Messeder at jmesseder@comcast.net.

We are about to withdraw our soldiers from Iraq — and send them to Afghanistan. They are needed there, Cong. Todd Platts, said Wednesday, to help knock down a Taliban resurgence in the southern part of the country.

“In the short term, we may see more casualties,” Platts said. “In the long term, it will result in much more stabile Afghanistan, for the good of that country and the region.”

Afghanistan is a small country, completely landlocked, surrounded by Pakistan to the south and east, Iran to the west, and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan across its north. It’s official languages are Afghan Persian (Persia is the ancient name for Iran), and Pashtu, but there are numerous local dialects as well.

The 250,000 square-mile country could be dropped into Texas and be surrounded by, well, 16,000 square miles of Texas.

In the middle of its roughly oval shape is the “Ring Road,” an approximately circular highway connecting the nation’s largest cities — Kandahar to the south, Herat to the northwest, near Iran, and Kabul near its eastern border. Most of Afghanistan’s approximately 30 million people live within 30 miles of the Ring Road.

There is an awful lot of territory in which Osama bin Laden can hide.

Back in the U.S. of A., Maine dairy farmers, several years back, won an increase of eight cents a gallon for the milk their cows produced for drinking. The week before that price took effect, the price of milk in the grocery story jumped 14 cents a gallon.

On a farm near East Berlin, about two years ago, I visited a husband and wife who had not taken a vacation away from the farm for 13 years.

Farmers, especially small mom-and-pop farmers, do not get an especially large cut of the price we see charged at retail.

I mention those farm stories to mention this one:

The main money-crop in Afghanistan — about 40 percent of the nation’s Gross National Product — is Poppy, a nifty flower that is the source of opium, and from that, heroin. There is, therefore, something to the argument that drug addicts — who buy the heroin sold to them by Taliban tribesmen who bought it from Afghani farmers — are financing enemies of freedom and democracy and, indirectly, killing U.S. soldiers who have volunteered to go help keep those enemies at bay.

For some silly reason, there is a long history of military incursion into Afghanistan. Alexander the Great tried it, 300 years before Christ. About the time of our Civil War, the British were attempting to add the Asian nation to their empire. The Soviet Union launched a failed 10-year attempt in 1978; we helped in the failure of that mission. And now we are there.

Meanwhile, there is a $50 million reward posted for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of Osama bin Laden. For that much money, one might wonder why some impoverished farmer hasn’t turned the guy in.

But what, exactly, can you do with $50 million in a land with little electricity, where the only iPod to be seen was in the hands of a U.S. soldier who was trying to blow up the folks who threaten to blow up your home and burn your crops if you tell where they are hiding — which could well be your house.

“Our efforts (are in) trying to help them have a different livelihood,” Platts said. “Because the price of wheat is up in the world market, it’s been a very good time to encourage some of the farmers to transition to wheat.”

We will send in more soldiers, and a bunch of helicopters to go where soldiers and Hummers dare not go — the IED-infested side roads and dirt tracks off the Ring Road. We will, at least for a time, knock the Taliban back into submission, or hiding.

But the key to long term success, as Platts noted, is an infrastructure system to help farmers get wheat, pomegranates and other foodstuffs to market — more roads, better transportation, and cold storage systems to preserve their produce while it awaits shipment.

Otherwise, the farmers of Afghanistan are still there in their mountains, producing a crop that has a worldwide cash value, waiting for yet another war to go away.