Food for Thought-Where The Turtles Sing and Sandstorms Cry


On Memorial Day weekend 1975, four days after my typewriter became the victim of the great sandstorm of the lower stalagmite valley near the upper right bend in Molasses Creek and two days after I ceased watching the only static sand dune in North America (henceforth known as “Sand Hill”), I decided to hold a yard sale. Yard sales, unlike rain and cats, do not fall from the sky. To occur, much like the Hebrew understanding of creation, yard sales can be spoken into existence. In the first chapter of Genesis an audience was low on God’s priority list. However, yard sales need an audience. Sand, while intrinsically valuable, lacks the disposable wealth to buy my used typewriter, blender, and socks. I wanted people, preferably some in golf carts, and maybe even a few with money to burn.

Communicating with the outside world is a problem. One cannot hold a successful yard sale without a modicum of advertising, even if you live 16 miles from civilization, have seven fingers, and a non-working typewriter. The eighty four thousand feet of drop cord between my shack and the village only works when its plugged in at the post office or someone’s not sliced it with a knife. Smoke signals, an ancient method of communication known to tribal peoples all over this Outer Banks, worked for me in the past. This week’s thunder storms destroyed my ability to make fire by raining on the fire place. The one match I possessed, now my toothpick, is useless for anything other than removing food from my teeth following meals.

Later that night, I was checking east west sand flow across the highway center line, I realized two options remained. Sand sometimes blows north to south during crescent moons. Even my best presuppositions about sand are often wrong. It also occurred to me that I might train a flock of seagulls to act as “carrier seagulls” to bombard the village with flyers announcing my event for the following Saturday. For this to occur, I would need to catch, capture, and train a flock of amenable seagulls.

The second idea was less challenging. The old mailman was due with my weekly round of junk mail, flyers, and sweepstakes winnings. If I hurried, I could write the flyer on some of my unused toilet paper and ask him to deliver, distribute, or post the news on the office bulletin board.

The flyer went up later the next afternoon. Written on unused toilet paper, it read:

Yard Sale
Saturday Morning
7 am until all
My stuff with tags on it is gone
Sand Shack Man

The turtles were the first to arrive. Spray painted turtles. The turtles traveled as a gang. Known on the island as the “Slow Riders Walkers Club”, the wreaked havoc on traffic wherever they went. They knew they were among the most important members of the ecological network of species inhabiting the island. Big, over bearing, mean as hell turtles. They knew how to milk the semi-endangered message from South Point to Blackbeard’s Hole. People came from miles around to study the turtles. I can tell you this; I wasn’t looking for a fight with the turtles.

Edgar, the snapping box turtle who ran their crew, asked, “How much for the typewriter?”

“Five dollars,” I said. “It got jammed up in the last sand storm.”

“Oh, you’re the one studying the sand,” he asked.

“Yes, I’m the sand man.”

“People study us too, you know,” he grinned slyly. The others snickered. As if is Edgar telling me what I already knew somehow had me on the intellectual run.

“A man was up here the other day from the University of North Carolina.”

This was supposed to impress me.  “Yeah, I’ve heard. Do you want it?”

Edgar was clearly relishing being the top ecological specimen of the moment.

“Two fifty,” he said.

I’m arguing with a turtle. I am pettifogging with a smart mouth reptile over a five dollar Sears and Roebuck typewriter. Let him have the damn thing and be done. I needed the space. Maybe I should check my meds when they leave. I did just have a conversation with a typewriter purchasing spray painted turtle.