Where you live does matter

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The shores of Emerald Isle

The shores of Emerald Isle

Living in the midst of great natural beauty does make a difference in your life.   I don’t have a hard time making that statement.

All I have to do is let my mind wander back to the days when I used to make account calls in Washington, DC.  The memories needed to transport me back to an early morning commute on Interstate 66 are not hidden very deeply.

Life is very different living in what I often call a coastal paradise.  Whether we are able to live here for a few short years or for the next decade doesn’t really matter.  This area has already had a profound impact on the way that I view the world.

Watching the cycle of life that the area nourished by the area beaches and marshes provides a far different perspective than a morning commute to DC on Interstate 66.

The life force that we see along the shores takes many forms. The tiny fish jumping behind our house and the fiddler crabs filling the muddy banks are all part of life in the marsh.  That I cannot quite figure out what the fiddlers or shore birds are eating most of the time doesn’t matter.  This morning I stood in the back door of our garage and watched a great egret calmly grab a small fish from a tiny marsh pond.  I didn’t feel sorry for the fish since being eaten is part of living along the edges of the marsh if you are a small creature.

The shrimp, fiddler crabs, and bait fish all provide nourishment for other creatures as diverse as flounder to red drum and bottle nosed dolphins.  If something dies and sinks to the bottom, the blue crabs are there to recycle it.  The cycle never stops, just like the marsh grass never stops waving in the wind.

On the beach it is easy to lose yourself in the endless march of waves.  Just as creatures live and die in the marsh, the waves are continually moving sand and the life that goes with it from one place to another. Sea creatures wash ashore and the shore birds clean them up.  When a storm and its waves take sand, it is just part of the cycle where some beaches grow at the expense of others.

Being an observer of the natural cycles here along the coast helps you to understand where you fit in the world. It is easy to figure out that the marsh grass will be growing long after we are gone. Also the waves won’t stop moving sand just because we are no longer walking on the beach.

It is reassuring knowing that in spite of all human interference, the marsh grass is still growing here along the sounds and rivers.   At the same time the  wave and wind driven sand keep reminding us that we only can use the land as long as the land allows us that privilege.

When in a city crisscrossed with roads and filled with huge buildings, we humans sometimes feel invincible.   The invincibility disappears here on the edges of the marsh.  A storm like Irene can bring huge changes to the marshes or the impact can be little noticed.  Still you don’t have to drive far to see the power of nature.

Disaster has to strike a city for people to understand what we see on a daily basis.

Living with the knowledge that if you end up falling in the marsh, the blue crabs won’t discriminate against you gives life a little different perspective.

Maybe that knowledge that you are easily recycled takes just a bit off the edge of human arrogance that so prevalent in large cities.

Here in the marshes near the beaches, the big picture often has blue skies, lots of water, and an ocean breeze.  The view here provides warmth, life, and the knowledge that the cycle will continue with or without us.

Never the same place

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Waves at Third Street Beach

Waves at Third Street Beach

It is surprising that I know folks who live here not far from the beach and never manage to make it over to the sandy shore.  I am the opposite extreme.  I can hardly stay away, and I am always looking for an excuse to “go over to the beach.”

One of the reasons that I love going to the beach, is that even if you go to the same strip of sand, it is always a slightly different experience.  The sand might be fluffed up more or maybe there are just a bunch of new shells on the beach.  Of course the slope of the sand is always changing.

I went over to Emerald Isle’s 3rd Street Beach Thursday, September 22.  It was late in the afternoon, and we watched a storm building offshore.  The surf was actually pretty calm, and I wished that I had remembered to bring a fishing rod.

In lieu of fishing, I walked down to the surf, watched the tiny bait fish glittering on the surface of the waves, and made a YouTube video of the scene. The video turned out nicely, and you can actually see the silver flecks of the bait fish on the surface of the water if you look closely.

The trip whetted my appetite for a little fishing.  On September 23, the weather looked pretty wet for the later part of the afternoon, but not bad around noon.  The tide situation wasn’t too bad so I decided to gamble on a quick fishing trip.  The trip isn’t bad from our house near the White Oak River, and I managed to walk down to the surf just before noon.  My truck was the only vehicle in the parking lot.

There was only one group of three people relaxing in beach chairs, but otherwise the beach was empty.  It only took me about three seconds to realize that the conditions were completely different than they were the day before.  The waves were somewhat larger, and most importantly, there were no shore birds feeding on the tiny bait fish like there were on September 22.

The shore also had a lot more medium sized shells.  As I stood in the surf it was obvious that things were different at my favorite beach.  Of course standing in the surf fishing even when the fish aren’t there or perhaps not biting still beats doing almost anything else, so I stayed for an hour and enjoyed the waves crashing around my feet.

With larger waves and more current, the fishing was destined to be an exercise in futility, but the water felt so good that I hardly moved from the spot.

Time goes quickly on a beach even when you aren’t catching any fish.  Half the time I am fishing with one hand and taking pictures with the other so I stay busy one way or the other.

Sometimes the photograph I catch is worth the trip anyway.  The one at the top of the post isn’t the only good one from the trip, but it does do a reasonable job of making it easy to imagine the water swirling around your feet.  It might be useful this coming winter when I need a dose of fall to remind me that we live in paradise here along the Southern Outer Banks. Click on it or this link for an enlarged view.

And I don’t mind if our paradise keeps changing a little.

Walking between Irene, Katia, and Maria

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Hiking on the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

Hiking on the Point at Emerald Isle, NC

The Point at Emerald isle, NC is about as dynamic a piece of sand as you can find within walking distance of a parking place along the east coast.  I feel fortunate that it is less than fifteen minutes from my house to those few parking places near the Point.

One of my great memories from my youth is coming to fish on the Point with my Uncle Austin. I think it was the summer of 1969 we came down to the area in my old lime green Bronco.  We had to drive several miles down the beach to get to the Point, but I can still remember my Uncle teaching me how to drive on sand.  We didn’t catch very much, but as most fishermen will tell you, it doesn’t take fish to make a great memory.

Today I approach the Point from a different perspective.  It is a very unique spot with spectacular scenery along the Southern Outer Banks which has a whole gallery of great natural beauty. The Point is a place that I go when I want to be close to the elements. While I was pleased that our area survived Hurricane Irene with little damage, I was both concerned and excited to see what happened over on the Point.  I haven’t been disappointed.

I long ago subscribed to the view that sand is going to move where the tides and wind take it in spite of man’s delaying tactics.  The Point is a great a great laboratory. You can see sand move and change almost daily. There aren’t many places on earth where you can be one of the first people to walk on new land.

While my estimate of several acres of new sand is awaiting verification from the real surveyors of the beach, it is obvious to anyone who is familiar to the area that change is the norm at the Point, and that Irene brought lots of change.   As long as change doesn’t destroy the Point, I enjoy it for whatever it is when I walk there. Irene actually made the Point even more interesting.

With Irene’s visit, there is even more of a difference between walking at high tide and walking at high tide.  The slope of the beach seems even shallower after Irene’s visit.  You notice it especially when we have a big storm off the coast sending huge swells to the area.   When I made my second trip after Hurricane Irene on September 7, I noticed a number of places that had been over-washed that day.  If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed that Coast Guard Island might have been back on the way to becoming an island.  However, I knew that we were getting some high tides along with swells from Katia.

One of the neatest things is to find newly deposited sand while hiking.  Sometimes it is dropped in layers.  You’ll be hiking along and think that you are about to step into some deep soft wet sand only to find that you’re actually stepping into two inches of new sand that has been deposited on a very solid base.  You can see the layers very well in some of the new cuts that were made in what I call the cliffs of Emerald Isle.

The real surprise is how few people really explore the Point.  Like most beaches people tend to congregate around the spots closest to the parking.  Once you walk around the actual Point, which I define as the most westerly spot on the island, you will find very few walkers.  Eventually you run into people who have beached their boats on the backside of Coast Guard Island, but it is rare to run into more people that you can count on your fingers when you start walking north along the edge of Bogue Inlet.  I guess the hike it too long.

We’re lucky to live in area protected on the backside by Croatan National Forest’s 158,000 acres and one flank by the 56 miles of the Cape Lookout National Seashore. It doesn’t hurt to have Cape Lejeune on our other flank.  While there are still plenty of pastures and fields to be developed, I don’t think there is much chance of the Southern Outer Banks ever becoming another Myrtle Beach.  I am glad of that.  Just the possibility might keep me awake at night.

I would hate to live in an area where there is no room for changing sands.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out my “Welcome to the Beach” page.

Pictures taken on my September 7 hike to the Point.