Thursday, May 07, 2009

from the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Hatteras Island

We are unprepared for it. The sunshine, the warmth – all of it. I studied the Net for weather patterns, but for once, all predictions (for storms and rains) were off. And here’s another thing: the seventies here are not the same as the seventies up north. Here, you sweat. At home you need a sweater.

I coax Ed out by late morning, but he is not ready for the beach. I sense trepidation. It’s one thing to sail down the coast of North America, solo, to pull up on small islands and pitch a tent and read a book until the light goes down, it’s another to go with your occasional traveling companion (me) to a beach place just to hang out.

So we start with the familiar – a game of tennis at the community center courts. If you hit the ball too high and it goes over the fence, you lose it, or you go down into the swampy undergrowth and look for it. Twice Ed hoists himself down into the marshes in search of a wild ball. I can't stop laughing.

And now we are loose and island ready. We walk to the beach unencumbered (except for the camera). It’s not a short walk – Hatteras Island bends here and the National Seashore commands a hefty chunk of land at the elbow. You have to enter the park by road and it takes a while to get to the shore. But, we are barefoot and the skies are blue and winds are perpetually blowing in our face. We talk of putting up a shack and staying here. It is a sign of contentment, nothing else. We have such shacks all over France and Italy and more recently – California, Connecticut and the Carolinas.

In afternoon light, the beach looks markedly different than at dawn. But its sharp, defined colors are equally stunning. And the place is still almost completely empty.


Ed sees the waves.


Let’s put our shoes down and go in!
No no. That’s not how you do it. You walk away from the beach entrance, find a spot, dig in and eventually, after much contemplation and discussion, hit the water.
(Ten steps later) Okay – this spot. Here. Now. I’m going in.

And he does. His powerful body is, for once, at the whim of a greater force. He rides the wave until the very end, then tumbles out onto the shore.


He does this again and again. Sometimes, he disappears under water for so long that I become uneasy. But, he emerges laughing, heaves himself out, stumbling unsteadily and goes back for another run.

I watch for a while...


...and eventually plunge in myself, though not nearly with his abandon. The undertow is strong and I struggle to stand up even in shallow water. Eventually I retreat to the wet sand and watch birds run toward the water and then away from the foaming wave.


Tired, Ed joins me on the sand and we build the sloppiest, most ridiculous sand castle. With moats and uneven turrets and a deep well in the middle. And then I coax him for a walk along the infinite coastline.

We see on the horizon the glimmer of metal. As we get closer, we realize that there is a short stretch where cars and trucks are permitted to drive down to the water’s edge. (This is a source of local controversy: there are those who want to keep everything, people included, off the ecologically sensitive waterfronts, and there are those who want to roll right down to the water and throw down their lines.)

…while the birds watch with amazement.


It’s a lazyman’s sport, I think.


You cast, and you need do nothing else for the rest of the hour.



We watch for a while and then head back toward the lighthouse and our path home.


Gulls keep us company. Their squawk, the crashing water and the gusts of wind make it at once a peaceful and sound-filled walk.


I’m hungry early, but dinners here are served early and the fishermen exerting all that energy out there, on the beach, like to eat early as well. We head toward a local favorite – the Captain’s Table. I order NC grilled shrimp and scallops.


Delicious. I ask the owner and a local fisherman who happens to be leaning at her desk when the season for soft shell crab starts.
Soon. In a couple of weeks. But you know, it seems that everything comes later these days.
The fisherman agrees. Next time have the tile fish. It’s in season right now.
And the grouper?
My husband (he is a fisherman and co-owner) doesn’t look for it often. Because of the limits. It doesn’t pay for him to go 30 miles off shore searching for it. He can’t bring in that much.
All your fish here are local?
Except for the oysters. We get those from the Chesapeake Bay.

We walk home along the main road. People wave to us. Friendly. At the grocery store, they ask us about our day.

At the playing field next to the school, we pause and watch a little league game. No one is hitting well, but the parents and friends are enthusiastic. The dads are coaching. One comes over and admits – I’m more nervous than they are.

A kid drops her bat to tie her shoe. The little ones out in the field crouch low and wait. The pitching machine throws out a ball. She misses. Strike three! The parents applaud, she runs off and the next one comes to bat. We retreat as the game goes into another inning.

The walk home to our motel becomes shorter each time we make our way along Route 12. Something to do with the familiarity of it by now.