Tag Archives: Pungo River

My Long Journey to Andra Watkins


Written in gratitude to Anne Becker and in memory of Ruth Wilkinson, whose invisible hand has nudged together another generation of kindred spirits under the roof of her home-sweet-home in the tiny town of Belhaven, NC.

The river takes, the river gives. Which is exactly how the Wilkinsons, who lived at 367 East Water Street in Belhaven when the road was known as Front Street, long before their house became an inn, ended up with a collection of Blue Willow plates. Ruth Wilkinson, the family matriarch, arrived at the collection one plate at a time as they washed up on the shore of the Pungo, a bounty claimed by some Victorian-era hurricane, decades before hurricanes had names. Floatsam or jetsam, who knew? Who cared? The river practically delivered them to the Wilkinson’s doorstep.

The plates, I’m told, have graced the Wilkinson’s Thanksgiving dinner table, accommodating family recipes inspired by Ruth, for four generations. I know this from Anne Becker — Ruth’s great-granddaughter, author of the “Wilkinson Plates.

Although she now lives in Washington State, which might as well be a different country if not for social media, Anne’s connection to the river is strong. Eastern Carolina calls her home just about every year.

Aside from owning the same house in different lifetimes, my connection to the Wilkinsons starts with Anne’s Aunt Becky. Becky and her husband showed up at the inn one sunny afternoon. They were taking a drive down Memory Lane and wanted a look around the old homestead. They didn’t have much time; they wanted to get back to their home in southern Virginia before dark. Becky promised to return, and she did — always unexpected — gifting me with her memories, a copy of the “Wilkinson Plates,” and finally, before she died, connecting me with Anne. The river takes, the river gives.

While researching another book inspired by her Belhaven family, Anne spent a few days with us last summer, sleeping in the bedroom once occupied by her Aunt Iris. We became fast friends, bonding over our early political careers, writing, reading, gardening, baking, old houses and the spirits among us.

A few months ago, Anne surprised me with a package that contained a beautiful cowl she knitted while channeling the cold Pungo River breezes, and two novels written by author Andra Watkins. Without giving away any secrets, Anne knew I would love Andra’s novels, based on our shared fascination with Theodosia Burr Alston, Vice President Aaron Burr’s less-infamous daughter, whose death remains a North Carolina legend, as unsettled as the fate of the Lost Colony.

I had just started reading Andra’s second book when out of the blue, I received an email from Andra Watkins herself.  Anne Becker had suggested she contact me about hosting an author’s night at our bed and breakfast.

At first, I was like – What? We can’t afford to host a New York Times best-selling author! I almost responded, politely of course, without opening her proposal. But I loved Andra’s books, so I couldn’t resist.  I opened the document, and my concerns amplified — What? We can’t accommodate 100 people! But then I thought about the flotsam-or-jetsam Wilkinson plates and how that one book connected me to Anne, and how one book connected Anne to Andra, and Andra to me. The river takes, the river gives. It’s my turn to keep it flowing.

Sponsored by Between Water & Main Bed & Breakfast, Andra Watkins will be coming to Belhaven’s Wilkinson Center, 144 W. Main St., Sun., Feb. 11, 2018, 3-4 p.m., to present “I Walked 444 Miles to Make a Memory,” a hilarious, motivational program about her New York Times best-selling memoir “Not Without My Father.” Book sales and signing to follow. Tickets are $10 and can be reserved by calling 252-943-0367.



Adventure is Worth the Challenge

IMG_1778Ed Wall is a man on a mission – a mission to build a boat, from scratch, in a garage barely visible from Main Street in Belhaven. He is so passionate about building his boat that he really doesn’t want to talk about the other parts of his adventurous life, such as the fact that he kayaks on the Pantego Creek or Pungo River at the crack of every dawn, even if he has to break some ice with his paddle. He barely glances over the three weeks he spent backpacking, alone, in the Arctic Refuge pursued by bears and wolves.

He wants to talk about his boat, and you can’t blame him. He started it seven years ago in Ohio and brought the pieces with him to Belhaven in July 2009. His dream is to live on the narrow, 38-foot flat-bottom sharpie sailboat, designed by Phil Bolger of Gloucester, Mass., so he can explore even more out-of-the-way places. Bolger’s sharpie is a relatively inexpensive, high-performance boat that is capable of crossing the Atlantic. Not that Ed plans to test those limits. “I’m building as much as I can handle by myself,” he said.

With the bulkheads already in place, Ed uses some of the boat’s completed sections, as household furniture; other sections are stacked against his garage walls. It reminds me of a balsa-wood boat-model kit on steroids, only Ed is crafting every piece by hand out of marine-strength plywood. This is the real deal. The boat even has a name: Argo, for the mythological Greek vessel with the magical talking prow, piloted by Jason and the Argonauts.

Sitting in his “thinking chair,” something Ed says every boat builder does, gives him perspective as he ponders his work.

If he could just hang up his kayak, he says, he would have fewer distractions and be able to complete his boat in maybe two more years. That would mean the self-taught wildlife expert, who has kayaked the Florida Everglades, the coast of Maine and Alaska’s Inside Passage, might miss the diversity of land-use patterns he sees paddling along the shoreline and “the best density of wildlife anywhere” not far from his Belhaven front door: bear, bald eagles, alligators, otters and, once, a mountain lion.

The conversation comes back to his boat. The lure of adventure is dangling before him like the ram with the Golden Fleece.