Sunday, May 10, 2009

from the Outer Banks: the last laugh

We wake up to someone cranking his van outside our motel door. Motel life. I’d forgotten the quirky bits and pieces of it. [I actually love our place on Hatteras Island (Cape Pines Motel). But you have to give up on the idea that a room should have a view. The best views are toward a tiny swimming pool. Our window looks out on the power station. And of course, on the nose of our pick up truck. But, oh, is this place a bargain! And is it ever clean! But it's the location that really pushes it to the top of the heap for me. Here, at Cape Pines, you feel the pace of island life.]

More noise. Ed asks if it’s raining. I look outside.
No… I think you’re hearing the wind.

It’s the wind alright. Positively howling by the time we’re up and moving.

It’s our last day, not even a full day, and I want to go up to the top of the Hatteras lighthouse. Tallest in the country! No. Too windy. The National Park Service staff is insistent. You have no idea how much stronger the winds are up there!

I believe them. They are forceful enough even at the base. You could push a plane into the air with this kind of a gust.

We're satisfied to poke around at the visitors' center. We watch a mom take a group photo of high school kids on a field trip. How many photos were framed over the decades in front of this candy striped tower? Will these kids look quaintly clothed to their grandchildren, thumbing through an album fifty years from now?


I suggest we hike to the elbow bend of Hatteras Island. I read that it's the most south-eastern tip of the country. A funny characterization. Not southern enough, not eastern enough, but put them together and you have a winner!

We step out on the beach and we are hit by sand. Needles stinging every exposed part of your body. The day is slightly hazy, I admit it, but I swear you can see the movement of air as the wind pushes sand back into the water. Who is the powerful one now -- the ocean, or this blast of air that makes us look down to avoid a direct hit? Today, the wind has the last laugh. Even the birds appear to be struggling against its force.



We’re at the truckers’ entrance to the water. The fishermen are here, even though, I’m told, the fish aren’t biting today.



And because it’s the week-end, their families are here as well.


But we can’t hike down to the bend. The beach has been closed off just there. The National Park Service has determined that there are reasons to keep people out of the southeastern most tip of the country. It’s breeding time for a number of birds. Sea turtles, too. We're awed by these natural habitats. We're intruders. We turn around and head back to our truck.

We can hike down a path to the cape and bypass the protected beach area – I say to Ed.
The path isn’t hard to find, but at its end we encounter the same closures. Ah well. You could say that here, just at the edge of the beach, I am standing at the southeastern most part of the US. Bur for where the turtles and birds mate and reproduce.


Again we retreat. The birds and animals watch us leave.


The warm wind and moist air make us feel clammy and hot. Ed is more than ready for a swim. But I resist. It’s as if there’s too much to watch out here on this, the most beautiful beach on the continent. No, not people watch. Even on the week-end, the place is nearly empty. But the blowing sand, the movement of gulls, the dazzling waters of the Atlantic – they all grab my attention. As Ed plunges in grinning with pleasure, I stay satisfied with letting the waves crash against my legs, washing off the layer of fine sand.

Again the birds watch our antics and retreat if we move too close to their space.


And now we feel truly satisfied. We are done for now. The Outer Banks aren’t discoverable, really, not by people who breeze in and out like we do. Yet, in just four days, the islands have presented us with wildly different images of what it’s like to wake up to a spring morning here. We've tasted so much! Brilliant sunshine, stormy clouds, gentle breezes, gusty winds – we’ve had them all. Time to head north.


We leave Hatteras Island late in the afternoon. Our drive takes us past Kitty Hawk (still on the NC Outer Banks, but further north) and Ed suggests a quick stop at the memorial to the Wright Brothers, who launched the first heavier than air powered plane from here in 1903.

The monument is beautiful – perched high on a sand dune (stabilized by local grasses), much like the sand dune that was here a century back. I watch a boy run up to get a closer look.


The brothers came here from Ohio because the Outer Banks offered all that they needed for their experiment: a good wind, a soft, sandy base and vast open space. And as they launched their successful flight, a local photographer caught the moment.


There is a replica of the plane here. Indeed, you can stand behind it and put yourself back in time, camera poised, pushing your windblown hair off your face, waiting to see if this time, the plane will stay airborne...

Ed wants to study the exhibits inside the visitors' center. But I nudge him to hurry. We have a long drive ahead of us. And we have yet to eat a meal today. Still, we are the last to leave. As the guard gets ready to close the door after us, I ask him – why did one of the Wright brothers die so young? Typhoid. He ate some contaminated seafood. But not here. Further north.

We drive on as the sun sets somewhere toward the Midwest. We stop only for a minute -- to
pick up some fruit at a roadside market (becasue, of course, Saturday is market day!).


Five hours later, we're in Washington DC. We grab a late night pizza at a favorite U Street eatery and crash at my daughter’s home for the night. Happy Mother’s Day indeed! Now if only my youngest one wasn’t so far away!