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Doing nothing at the beach for a week

We went to Myrtle Beach last week … and did nothing. Elizabeth and I spent long hours sitting in the surf or under the umbrella, interrupted only by a picnic lunch and deciding which tail to attach to my kite string and watch it climb to the heavens. There were several days of excellent flying conditions, and I was packing 500 feet of line. The kites did fine.

There were no grandchildren to exhaust … er, entertain us this time. Just sand and sunscreen, SPF 50 for me. I’m the guy at the beach with white legs.

A crowd rushed to the edge of the surf one morning when someone said he saw a shark. Nobody ventured into the water for a couple hours. Up the beach someone had his toes bitten by a shark. Another intrepid fellow picked up a monster horseshoe crab and showed it all around, carefully avoiding the stinger.

I eyed the many walkers who strolled by our beach chairs and decided that we are among only seven others at the beach who didn’t have tattoos. Most, or all, of the tattoos were unremarkable. What’s the deal?

I learned the Charlotte Observer carrier’s delivery time at 6:30 a.m. and did the crossword puzzle every morning and took a stab at the suduku puzzles that usually stump me.

I had rented two cowboy movies for the trip, “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” with Warren Beatty and Julie Christie and the epic “How the West Was Won” with a cast of thousands. “McCabe,” released in 1971, was filmed in Canada and had many American boys who had fled the Vietnam War draft as extras on the set. I had to watch it twice before I followed the story closely enough to like it. The movie was a little controversial because the McCabe character shot two of the bad guys from ambush, not giving them a sporting chance as proper cowboys would have done. He, likewise, was shot in the back.

“How the West Was Won,” 1962, featured every major motion picture star of the time except for Marilyn Monroe. It was just okay. It would have been better with Marilyn who died the year the movie was released.

To combat the beach heat, I read “Endurance,” the account of Ernest Shackleton’s 1915 attempt to reach the South Pole with 27 men. They failed. Their ship was frozen for more than a year in the Weddell Sea and was finally crushed by the ice floes. The book recounts how the British seaman led his crew to safety — riding the ice before using three life boats to rescue themselves. They all reached safety after two harrowing years. The stories of sub-zero temperatures, frost bite and eating penguins were just the remedy for last week’s heat.

I also read about the Pacific Ocean’s World War II equivalent of D-Day in 1944 during the U.S. Marine invasion of Saipan and the Battle of the Philippine Sea. Japan launched its entire navy at the Americans, hoping for a knock-out blow.

“The fate of the Empire rests on this one battle,” Admiral Soemu Toyoda had told his men.

The Americans sank three Japan carriers and shot down 750 Japanese planes while suffering very light losses. More than 2,900 Japanese sailors were lost, and the Empire came to grips with its dim prospects. Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other islands would fall next.

• • • • •

A tiny chickadee just out of the nest found its wings in my front yard recently. I spotted it on the ground, looking overwhelmed. It was the size of my thumb. It struggled to fly five feet, trembling as it landed. Then it re-gathered its strength for another 10 feet. Then it flew halfway across the lawn to a dogwood tree close to me. The tiny bird seemed very proud and justly so. Considering how long it takes human babies to learn to walk, the baby chickadee was a tremendously fast learner. It eventually flew again, fully operational this time.

— Dwight Sparks