John calls at the appointed hour. We'll be in the simulator with some trainees from four to eight p.m., and my chance to fly it will be during their break, or afterward if the instructor quits early, as they often do if all goes well. It's not quite what we planned, but this opportunity couldn't be put off, anyway. Another piece of news John has for me is that the aircraft will soon be upgraded with some classified equipment and as soon as the simulator reflects that, the simulator too will be classified, definitely making it off limits to foreign bush pilots.
In the morning we go to the local aquarium. It's interesting driving there, seeing the architecture and vegetation. North Carolina is geographically and culturally halfway between Florida and New England and everything I see fits in with that. (I might have written that already, in an earlier blog entry but I'm way too lazy to check right now). There are both palm trees and colourful foliage trees here. At home the leaves are all brown or fallen, but here it's still fall colour season.
You can't go far wrong taking me to look at an exhibition of science or natural history, so of course I endorsed the aquarium idea, but it turns out to be a very good aquarium. They haven't tried to be all things to all people. They have specialized in the aquatic wildlife of North Carolina. It's not a huge state, but it stretches from the Appalachian Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and is not densely populated, so there are a lot of wild places and creatures to fill them.
We start with the fish that live in mountain streams. There are walleyes and pike and bass and rainbow trout. The rainbow trout are a non-native, stocked species and aside from very neutrally noting that they have displaced the native species into the smaller streams, the exhibit is very neutral about their presence. Biologists are usually pretty outspoken about intruder species. Sports fishing must be an important industry around here.
There's a big tank of river otters, who couldn't be cuter if they had been given an intensive training course in cute. Two of them are snuggling on the shore while the younger one is literally ricocheting off the rock walls of its swimming area, in between racing up to the other two to check, "NOW do you want to play with me?" While we are there it is feeding time. All the otters rush off to a separate area where they are handled and inspected for any wounds or other need for medical attention and receive some food, and meanwhile a keeper enters the enclosure and hides food of different sorts all over the enclosure. Some things float, some sink to the bottom of the pools, some are hidden in holes, some placed on high ledges, and a couple of live goldfish swim around in the pool. The otters come tearing back in and climb over everything, gleefully finding the treats, including chasing down the goldfish.
You might think a "pat the stingrays" exhibit was a joke you'd tell to unsuspecting Canadian tourists, but there really was one, a flatter tank full of various types of rays, with their poisonous barbs clipped. I expected them to be sandpapery, like sharks, but they were very soft, the texture of wet velvet. The horseshoe crabs in the next tank over were also softer than I expected. I'm going to admit that I didn't think horseshoe crabs were a current species. I thought they only existed as fossils.
The fish in the first picture are ocean fish whose identity I failed to record. They only got their picture taken because they were slower than the sharks whose images I tried to capture. I wasn't able to tie a shot such that the camera figured out all its light settings and opened the shutter at the same moment as a shark cruised by. After that I stopped trying to photograph fish in tanks.
Okay, what else? There were turtles and frogs and snakes and alligators (not available for patting) and the aquarium was built right on the shore of an estuary, kind of half swamp half river, so after you're done looking at the fish, you can go outside and see egrets and herons eating them. We went out on the veranda and then just kept walking onto a nature trail, including over an amusingly almost-sinking boardwalk across a swamp. I forgot to look both ways for alligators before crossing it, too. Good thing I still have all my toes.
We then had a quick lunch, then off to the base for airplanes. I'll tell you about that part later.