The Shark Tale


It was the summer of 2003. An August wedding was in the works. Frantic activity had been been ongoing for several months. We needed a break, so when good friend Laurie invited Semi and me to come to the beach for a few days, it seemed like a good idea. We love the beach, everything about it, and we love Laurie, too.

We were relaxing, forgetting all about the wedding to do list, basking in the negative ions of the Atlantic Ocean off the shores of South Carolina. It is wonderful to float along in the current, toes pointed skyward, chatting or simply existing as a tiny particle of the larger universe. Semi and I were feeling along the sandy bottom with our toes, for there were live sand dollars in abundance there. The water was about at ear level, for the sea creatures were in a depression at only that depth.

Suddenly, we heard a loud splash and turned back to the blue horizon to see a large fish twisting midair, completely out of the water. It had a white belly and a dark blue back. I estimate the size to be between six and ten feet in length. It was larger than either of us. “Did you see that!”, we both exclaimed at the same time. “Cool!”.

At that same time, it seemed like we perhaps were a little too far from shore. We could barely see Laurie who was sitting in a beach chair, lost in a good book. We started walking/swimming towards dry land. Things were still fairly calm at that point, but we were moving steadily. When we got to where the water was about chest high was when we saw it. Just to our left, less than a yard away from us was a large, dark blue fin moving speedily through the waves, parallel to our path. Then it disappeared under the water.

To say that we slipped immmediately into panic mode is much too mild a description. My first thoughts were for Semi, I placed myself directly behind her, holding her shoulders, thinking the shark, it had to be a shark by the way it swam and the shape of the fin, would get me first. Semi was getting married soon, she had her whole life ahead of her. I was a grandmother and had lived a good life. Besides, she was my child. Of course I would give my life to save hers.

Never before, and never since has my heart pounded in my chest with such force. It felt as though it would burst right out through my ribcage and explode in midair. Time stood still. We were trying to move our legs as fast as we could, faster even, but the water slowed us like we were wading in molasses. If only we could get to shallow enough water to be able to lift our legs into the air and run like the dickens, all would be well.

We were yelling at the top of our lungs, “Laurie, Laurie, Laurie!!!”. She didn’t look up at all, she did not hear us. We did not look around again for the fin, wherever the shark was, it was beyond our control. We could only control where we were, or try to. Fate was on our side that day, for we safely made it to the sandy beach, collapsing into helpless jellylegs at Laurie’s feet. We were breathing so hard that it was difficult to speak, but finally we got the story out of what had just happened. Laurie did not believe us! It was not a shark, she calmly claimed, you must be mistaken.

The wedding took place as planned. It was held in a pre-Civil War white clapboard church on the grounds of Mouse Creek Nursery. The windows were open and electic extension cords had been run from the main house to power fans. The chuch was overflowing with family and friends. It was easily 120 degrees Fahrenheit inside. Or more. But it still was joyful. The photo shows Semi’s expression of surprise that her husband to be is waiting for her at the altar, wearing a suit, with coat and tie. Even the preacher was in a short sleeved shirt, no tie. He survived. Barely.

The Fairegarden clan has just returned from their yearly beach vacation, again in South Carolina. We love the ocean and will go out into the water to body surf, swim, boogie board or just let the waves push us around. But Semi and I will only go out so far, or allow others to do the same. Our eyes scan the seam where water meets air for signs of fins. Offspring of Semi, LTB, who is now nearly seven years old was under my watchful eye when we saw three sets of fins surface about twenty yards from shore. Instinctively, I grabbed him by the waist and started walking backwards in carefully controlled steps. Then the fins arched up out of the water. It was a trio of wonderful dolphins, swimming together in formation, very, very close to us. We squealed with delight and hugged each other.

We went back to the family group who were sitting under the shade of the beach umbrella to tell of this wondrous sight. Semi and I exchanged looks in a knowing way that only those who have experienced a close encounter of the shark kind could. The two of us later discussed that summer of 2003, which was memorable in so many ways.

(Research revealed that our shark friend was a juvenile blue shark.)

This is the third and final post of Beach Week 2012. The links to other beach posts can be seen below. Regular programming will now resume. Until next year.
2009-Sea Creatures
2011-Water, Wind, Earth and Fire
2012-Negative Ions
2012-Agave Americana
2013-Garden Dreaming


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19 Responses to The Shark Tale

  1. Barbara H. says:

    You had an up close and personal reminder of the dark side of nature. It is humbling to realize how small we are in relation to the great world around us! How fortunate that all turned out well. Perhaps in some way it was a timely reminder to live well each day at this significant juncture in Semi’s life. Thanks for sharing, Frances.

    Hi Barbara, thanks for visiting. It was a humbling experience, and just being in the ocean does bring home how tiny we are in the larger scheme of things. Life’s too short, as my mother used to say. Live it.

  2. Pingback: Negative Ions « Fairegarden

  3. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    I always enjoy your vacation, vicariously of course. Welcome home.

    Thanks so much, Lisa, you are sweet to follow along!

  4. Layanee says:

    That kind of excitement is never needed although it does serve to educate. So glad you were just warned. Now I must go to the beach.

    Thanks Layanee. You do need to go to the beach, just don’t go out too far.

  5. A shared, scary experience like that makes a bond that lasts through the years. In Semi’s wedding photo her resemblance to you is very striking.

    Thanks Kathy. Semi and I have shared many wonderful experiences, like being your roommate at the Seattle Fling! We have also shared heartaches and scary situations. We are close, ’tis true.

  6. Cindy, MCOK says:

    Well, that had me on the edge of my seat!

    Oh good, Cindy. Then my work here is done. HA

  7. We were at the beach years ago and saw a fin. Panic set in and adrenaline brought us to shore quickly. As we turned and looked back to the water to see our shark… was a school of dolphins. hahahaa Glad your story was a happy ending seeing how it was a shark.

    Thanks Janet. When we saw the dolphines this year, my heart stopped, but the fins are different, and the way they swim is different, too. Dolphins are so much more enjoyable to see, especially when we are out in the water!

  8. gittan says:

    I really hope that you never ever have to experience that again! It must have been horrible!!! I got tears in my eyes when I read about how you tried to protect her with your body… I´m so happy that we haven´t got any dangerous animals in the seas around here, it´s alays safe in the water. BUT I wouldn´t mind somé dolphins =)
    Trippel kram gittan

    Thanks dear Gittan. I hope to never have that sort of experience again either. We do not go way out from the shore like we used to, that’s for certain. Dolphins are a wonder to see, they make our hearts glad. Sharks live out there as well, the yin to the yang.

  9. Whew, that gave me an adrenalin rush just reading about your adventure. I can certainly understand your wobbly legs upon reaching safety.
    I spent my growing up years in a small seashore town in southern NJ and gave my dear mother many near heart attacks because I loved to paddle out waaay too far on my trusty canvas raft. I remember once being on the edge of a school of leaping porpoises. I think I lost rafting privileges for a week after I returned to shore and faced my mother’s justifiable wrath. The tomboy in me always pushed the envelope. We were both lucky I got less adventuresome when I hit adolescence.

    Thanks Michaele. I got pretty excited just writing the post and reliving that adventure. Your poor mother. Mine too. It took me a little bit longer to discover the comfort of staying nearer to the shore.

  10. What an awesome, terrible, harrowing tale!

    Thanks Paisley Carrot. If I didn’t have an eye witness in my daughter Semi, no one would have believed this tale. I think some family members might still be skeptical. We don’t care. We aren’t going deep again.

  11. Jane Carroll says:

    That is too close for comfort! And why I must say I am hesitant to get into the water nowadays. Guess I’m just a big chicken! Glad ya’ll had a wonderful time. I just returned from the Gulf and it was lovely there as well…but I was the one reading on the beach keeping a watchful eye on my daughters and granddaughters!

    Thanks Jane. Chicken is good, in many ways!

  12. Gail says:

    Wow! That was scary…You tell a good story! So very glad you haven’t had any other close encounters with ‘Jaws’. Semi looks so pretty and happy! xxoogail

    Thanks Gail, you are sweet. We no longer go way out into the ocean anymore, but know that sharks can get confused, expecially young ones and come into more shallow water. We are ever alert!

  13. Semi says:

    Wow what a day!! The fin going down in the water while we are trying to run back to the beach was the worst. I agree that time stood still in that moment. I wasnt sure if you were going to make it, and was prepared to carry you in the rest of way if needed. I will forever scan the water for fins when in the ocean, especially with LTB at my side!! We have so many stories to tell. I am thankful we have been able to share so much. Lots of love Semi

    My dear Semi, you are so right, when the fin disappeared and we didn’t know where the shark was swimming was the scariest. How funny, my thoughts were to save you, your thoughts were to save me. Adenalin kicked in for me, I could have run a mile! We have shared a lot, my darling daughter, and hopefully we have just begun. Much love to you.

  14. Wow, you had me on the edge of my chair. That was scary. I loved it when you wrote, “Besides, she was my child. Of course, I would give my life to save hers.” ~~Dee

    Thanks Dee. Words can only skim the surface of the scariness of this event. As mothers, our thoughts always go to the health and well being of our kids, it goes without saying.

  15. I’m so thankful that the authorities send out helicopters everyday to scan for sharks off the beach at my parents’ condo in Florida. I recall once that the beach was closed because of sharks. How scary, but what a happy ending to that story.

    Thanks, MMD. I wonder if those helicopters we see every morning while at the beach are looking for sharks, or simply any kind of trouble. It ended happily, this shark tale, for sure.

  16. Rose says:

    What a great story, Frances! I’d be scanning the horizon for tell-tale fins the rest of my life, too.

    Thanks Rose. My advice to everyone is to keep on scanning that horizon!

  17. Les says:

    I have been in and around the water my whole life and try not to think about what might be in it that could hurt. I go in anyway. Last week in Florida, on our first day at the beach, a shark sighting emptied the ocean of swimmers. We went back in the next day and the water there is crystal clear, so every time I saw a shadow i would jump slightly. At least here in Va. the water is much murkier which is strangely comforting. I guess out of sight, out of mind.

    The recounting of your shark experience was so well told it left me anxious.

    Hi Les, thanks for adding to the conversation here. There has been much shark activity on the newscasts lately, scary stuff. Semi and I do not go out very far anymore when at the beach, nothing like we used to, and we are constantly scanning the horizon. Be on the lookout!

  18. skeeter says:

    Wowser, you had me on the edge of my seat with this story! Dolphin fins=Good. Shark fins=Not Good… Yikes. I am a bit on edge in the ocean and even in our lake. I am never too far from the shore or the boat. After seeing a snake within a few feet of my head, I walked on water! Thank goodness there was not a surf at the lake or I may have gone under with fear…

    Thanks Skeeter. Seeing a snake in the water would totally freak me out as well!

  19. Scary stuff, but what a thrilling story. Whenever I’m in the ocean I freak out a little when I see schools of fish jumping out of the water. That’s happened around me twice — the first time I was delighted as small fish threw themselves in the air all around me. The second time I was older and realized the fish were likely trying to escape a pursuing predator. Shiver!

    Thanks Pam. Semi and I will never forget this encounter with the shark, ever, and always keep a lookout during the family vacation at the beach. I would not have thought about the pursuing predator if surrounded by a group of small fish, but will now!

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