Saturday, August 2, 2008

what color is your parachute?

I'm not at the beach today -- tired, burned out, and expecting severe thunderstorms -- but at least that gives me time to catch up with last week's tales from the land of gulls and radios.

The first thing I noticed when I got to the beach was the steep drop-off where the storms (plural for sure) had taken a huge bite out of the sand. It looked like a late autumn beach instead of a July beach. I debated whether to setup on the wet part of the beach for better interception of joggers and walkers but realized it would be easy to slide down the sand toward the waterline but harder to climb up to deal with people between there and the dunes. So I setup above the drop-off, berm, slope, whatever you want to call it. I wore quite a path in the sand running down to the water line to intercept clueless out of town visitors who walked blithely past the buoys marked "area closed".

There were more out of town visitors than usual. I attribute it partly to the New York Times article ranking Newburyport and in particular the Parker River Refuge as number 2 on their top 25 Northeast getaways. Also, Yankee Homecoming attracted people to downtown and some of them probably spilled over onto the beach. And then there was the parachute jumping thing going on (more about which later in this same post). Anyway, by like 10:30 I had worn quite a path and reduced my speech to "beach closed, new chicks, very tiny". Some of the out-of-towners did want to know about piping plovers and least terns so I was able to oblige them with more information than "very tiny". Also, a few people wanted to know about the jellyfish all over the beach -- like do they sting? No. The storms at sea cause the jellyfish to end up closer to shore and on the beach, and these aren't the dreaded stinging Portuguese man-of-war ones. I kept quite busy all morning.

At some point I noticed an airplane dropping two huge yellow streamers into the water close to shore. A small boat went out to pick up the streamers. They were to test the wind direction for the parachute jumpers. A target area for the jumpers was set up on the Newbury town beach roped off and marked with flags to show the wind direction. Well, it wasn't entirely on the town beach. The target area was partly on the refuge. This is a no-no. Unit 61 was already on the case and got them to move the target area completely to the town beach before the jumpers started. There were tons of them. I stopped counting them. Their parachutes were all different colors: rainbow stripes, hot pink, patriotic red white and blue, pale blue ... The pale blue one blended in with the sky and looked remarkably like a jellyfish. Come to think of it the moon looked like a jellyfish too. At first I thought the moon was a white parachute until I realized it wasn't moving.

Unit 61 was taking photos of the parachutists but I didn't get any because every time I got my camera out, I had to slide down the sand to intercept another clueless walker. As we were watching a parachuter landed in the dunes on the refuge. Oops. He won't be allowed to jump again today. Then the radio crackled. "A parachuter just landed in Lot 1!" Apparently Gatehouse and 62 were unaware of this parachute event until then. Unit 62 came to help out 61 with managing whatever. I went back to intercepting walkers and explaining "new chicks very tiny".

As I left, people om the boardwalk were asking 61 and 62 where the parachutes were coming from -- they couldn't see the plane because of the angle -- and the guys had them convinced they were materializing out of thin air. I assured them that they were beaming here ...

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