Saturday, May 09, 2009

from the Outer Banks of North Carolina: the ocean and us

Sometimes, here on Hatteras Island, I think – we get it. The ocean is powerful. We are mere grains of sand. It can move a village in a day. It takes us years to build one. Yes, mere crystals of sand.

Other times, I think we don’t want to remember. The ocean is our toy. We work hard year round. We come to its shores to release all those tensions. Water is cool. This is our playground.

On the Outer Banks, the further north you get, the more of a playground feel there is to the islands.

On the southern end of Hatteras, where we are, you don’t see it as much. People fish, sure. Trucks with fishing rods stuck to the nose are as common as SUVs are in America's suburbs. At the coffee shop, the salesclerk talks about going out to fish that afternoon. The weather is warm, sticky even. The winds have died down. Good fishing day. But this isn’t merely play. It’s a way of life.


Ed and I head up north a little ways, because that’s where the rentals are. He had wanted to take out a Windrider (a trimaran) – to try it out for possible future use. But the boat got sold and so we were left to check out the just opening rental shops that are putting out their windsurfers and the occasional Hobie Cat for the summer people.

In the village of Salvo, we find a Hobie Cat, ready for sailing. Or, at least, this little person is ready to let us take her out.


But her dad comes in and tells us the boat is spoken for, at least for the next couple of hours. Come back at 3. In the meantime, you can hang out at the Atlantic beach, just at the pier. You're lucky, you know. It's been too windy. This is the first day that I'm launching the Cat.

This baffles me. Ed worries about too little wind. The island person worries about too much.
You want your boat to come back. Ed tells me. Too much wind for him is too dangerous.

We find the pier alright. But it charges a dollar for a walk and ten for a fishing afternoon and so, after watching someone nail a tail to a post, we move on.


Salvo has many, many holiday rentals. All built on stilts so that the mad stormy waters can take their anger out on the sands and leave the structure alone. In the Midwest, we hide from storms below ground. Here, they run away by building up.


Every property has a for rent sign and many have a for sale sign. The prices are steep and the bragging is bloated. “Ocean view” – for any place that shows even a speck of water, no matter how obstructed.

The sands are forever shifting here and the beach is slowly taking over the first row of homes. Instead of shoveling snow, you shovel sand off your driveway.


Sand. Everywhere there is sand. The breeze kicks it up. The humidity is high today. The sand sticks to you. Inside the houses, they must surely have given up. Sand in the bedroom, sand in the kitchen.


Too close! What price for that water view? So that the homes will someday look like this forest that once stood here defiantly?


We walk for several miles up the beach and back again. The wind is picking up again and the surfers are out. Here’s a water enthusiast, sitting at a spot where civilization and oceanfront collide.


The water pushes forward, moving, crashing. Bringing to shore fantastic large shells -- a conch, the pearly oyster. I leave them behind. I’m not a collector. Besides, these look beautiful here, on the beach, where the water gently washes their form again and again.




On the other side of Highway 12, the sound side, the water is calmer and here is where scores of windsurfers come to play in the wind. I tell Ed he should do this. Someday. Next time? For now, we are happy to go off in the catamaran. We are not above playing in the sea. We are summer people.


The wind is perfect. In Brittany, where we last sailed together, the puffs of wind made the boat go from a crawl to a gallop (can you tell that I’m basically a landlubber?) in just seconds. Here, the speed is consistent and the sail sets well the entire time we are out. The water is so warm that I let my feet soak as we zip around the buoys marking traps for crabs (I'm guessing here). We lose our bearings briefly, then find our markings on the shore again. Out from the water, land appears very insignificant.

Ed never stops grinning.

We bring the boat in and Ed pauses to chat to the owner. They winter down in Costa Rica and rent boats here in the summer. They have been doing this for 23 years.
If business gets better, I’d like to split the year half and half (they home school their girl to make this work).
How is it so far this year?
Too early to tell.

Oh, the ever optimistic islanders! They think and work in ways that we can only pretend to grasp.

I know that Ed would like to swim, but I’m hungry and so we put off more water play until the next morning. We head back to the Captain’s Table and we eat our last dinner here. North Carolina clam chowder (it’s a clear broth), a glass of North Carolina wine, North Carolina shrimp and North Carolina crab cakes.



On Saturday we think we should pack up and head north. We did all that we set out to do here. Maybe it's time to get moving. Maybe.