Answer (part 1): They are all names of ships.
Answer (part 2): They all appear on a map in the passenger cabin of the vessel "Carteret", a ferry that runs between Cedar Island and Ocracoke in North Carolina.
Ah, but so? Why are they on that map?
Answer (part 3): The map is of North Carolina's Outer Banks islands.
Hmm, but so? Just why are these ships' names on that map?
Answer (part 4): These are ships that have been wrecked on that coast. Hornet in 1849, Emulous in 1825, Helen H Benedict in 1914, Nuestra Signora de Solidad in 1750, like that.
All these names and many more are listed on that map. There are so many that the names form an inch long offshore shelf of sorts: a solid bank of black lettering on the seaward side of the islands, must be a hundred or more names. Not exactly the reassuring sight you want to see while on a ferry loaded with cars doing a 2.5 hour trip across the water. But there it is. The Outer Banks are known for these wrecks. The Graveyard of the Atlantic, they say here.
A man in the passenger cabin turns away from the map and says to the few of us around, "I do a lot of sailing and I wouldn't want to be out there in this. Especially not against the wind." His wife says, "Yeah, a lot of white caps out there!"
I wonder, idly, how often conversations like that one were heard in the ships listed on the map.
At the bird feeder near the gift shop of the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, there are several small birds flitting about. There's also, at the bottom of the pole, a large brown hairy rat-like creature called a ... what? It looks like a huge rat. The birds are constantly dropping seeds on him; he eats them though he's apparently wincing all the time. I ask the man behind the shop counter to identify the animal. He peers at it through the glass window, then announces it is likely a "nutria". "Can't see the tail, or I would have been sure."
Another visitor comes in and is struck by the rat-like creature too. She calls the man over and asks, "Is that Punxsutawney Phil? Ha ha!"
Of course it isn't. After all, he isn't searching for his shadow, he's munching. Besides, we are some distance from Pennsylvania.
About now, the Carolina radio station I'm listening to plays an hour of bluegrass music, that delightful guitar-strumming stuff from Kentucky. One of the songs, I think by a Tim O'Brien, has a line about where the Southern crosses the Dog.
One of those things. You know how you hear something for the first time ever, and then suddenly you hear of it again and again and again and again and again ...? Well, here we are. A month ago, I had no idea about the Southern crossing the Dog, no idea about what that peculiar phrase is supposed to mean. And now this is the third time it's popped up.
First time was when I was contemplating a trip to Moorhead, Mississippi -- to a juke joint there to listen to some blues. Some literature I ran into about the little town mentioned that it is also where the Southern crosses the Dawg.
In short, this is where two rail lines cross each other at a precise right angle. One runs east-west and is called, of course, the Southern Line. The other runs north-south and is the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Line, apparently known affectionately to all as the "Yellow Dawg". The Dawg is, as far as I can tell, now in disuse. Nevertheless, the crossing remains something of a tourist attraction. I shall forever regret that I did not make it to Moorhead in the end.
Days later in Alabama, someone treats me to the movie, "Black Snake Moan". To my surprise, "Southern Cross the Dog" flashes across the widescreen. Turns out that a company by that name is one of the film's three producers.
Days later in North Carolina, I'm listening to bluegrass and somebody sings about the Southern crossing the Dog.
I need to get to Moorhead, dammit.
Sunsilk brand shampoo, which I had always thought was an exclusively Indian brand, is available in the USofA. The bottles come with several artfully written catchphrases on them. These are those catchphrases:
Designed to attract the discerning buyer, wouldn't you say? I bought the whole shelf.