Living by the Inlet

My Drum Fishing  Hole

My Drum Fishing Hole

In 2003 an impromptu anniversary celebration along North Carolina’s  Southern Outer Banks ended up changing our lives.   For years before that trip to Beaufort, NC, a lifelong attraction to the sand and surf kept pulling me back to the towns on the Outer Banks from Corolla to South Nags Head to Hatteras Island.

Now in the fall of 2012, we are beginning our seventh year of living by a quiet inlet of the White Oak River not far from Emerald Isle.  How we ended up in this beautiful, peaceful place and what we have learned from living here might offer some guideposts to others looking to relocate from the urban world.

One simple explanation for my love of this area is that I started going to the beaches of North Carolina when I could hardly walk.  Other than the years we lived in Canada, there was hardly a break in my annual pilgrimage to the shifting sands.  I was even camping on Ocracoke Island when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.  The feeling of being close to the sea that you get on the thin strand of sand that is North Carolina’s Outer Banks is hard to duplicate.  Many evenings while working in Northern Virginia, I would wish for an evening on the beach.

While I was deep in a career at Apple, the town of Buxton  perched on Cape Hatteras offered a special attraction.  We could go stay there for a week and forget the not so nice corporate world of Apple.  Much to my liking, you could not even find a telephone in the room much less Internet access.  I think my annual trip to the coast was one of the strongest incentives to mentor potential new managers.  I needed people whom I could trust to cover for me because going to Buxton put me off the grid.

However, our anniversary trip in 2003 was different.  Beaufort gave me the first inkling that I could live on the coast. Over the years we vacationed up and down the East coast from Chincoteague down to Bald Head Island.  No place, not even Charleston which I visited on business trips, piqued my interest like Beaufort.

It took three years, but we finally found a place to call home that satisfied the need that Beaufort had awakened.    Once we really made the decision to find a place to live,  it didn’t take long for us to decide that if we were going to live on the coast, we wanted to be able to see and smell the water.  We also wanted a place where we could live among permanent residents instead of just people on vacation.

Because of what was available on the water in our price range, we ended up in Western Carteret County on a small gut not far off the White Oak River.  Finding the right spot was worth the effort.

We are about three miles up the river from Swansboro and the Intracoastal Waterway.  Our life revolves around Cape Carteret, Emerald Isle, Cedar Point, and Swansboro.  Morehead City is also a big part of our life, and when needed we venture up to Jacksonville.  We haven’t found much need to go to larger cities.

The water is a little over twenty-five feet from our garage.  I can see if from my upstairs office.  My wife can see it from her laundry room/office.  When we eat a meal, I look out on the water and often we have some interesting visitors in the tidal gut behind our home.

Because we choose to live by the water, the water is a big part of our lives.   I always walk out on our dock before I go retrieve the morning newspaper.  When the tide is high often determines how I organize my day.   Most nice mornings I hike a road that parallels the length of the gut.   I usually spend a few minutes on our community boardwalk where I often play hide and seek with Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Green Herons, and Kingfishers.

It is a rare night when we close up for the evening and don’t hear either the hoot of an owl in the forest or a heron squawking about a territory invasion.  When it is dark at night and the skies are clear, we see more stars than most people can imagine.  The deep blue of our evening sky is hard to appreciate unless you have lived outside the glare of city lights.

While I spend much I my day writing, I rarely let slip an opportunity to get out on the water.  Sometimes I slide my kayak in the water for a quick fishing trip in our inlet. Other days I lower the skiff in the water for a visit to the marshes behind Swansboro.  Sometimes in the evening my wife and I ride out in the skiff and just watch the sun sink behind the trees on the other side of the river.  Coming back into our inlet is truly special.

The soil and climate by our inlet are favorable for growing things.  We got our first tomato this year before the end of May.  This tomato season was even better than 2011.  I had far fewer plants, and they produced almost as many tomatoes.  We grew lettuce during the late winter.  We enjoy watching our flowers and palm trees grow, and I don’t mind taking care of our low maintenance centipede yard.

On Saturday, September 15, I left for a fishing trip designed to coincide with high tide.  It only took me five minutes or so to reach my favorite fishing spot which is the picture at the top of the post.  It wasn’t long before I caught the first of three puppy drum that I enjoyed catching that morning but quickly returned to the water.  Mixed in with the drum came a couple of flounder, and it turned out that one was a fat 16.5 inch keeper.

After a couple of hours of fishing,  I made the short trip back to our dock where I cleaned the flounder and put it on ice.  After a refreshing shower, I pan fried the flounder and my wife fixed some vegetables.  We had a great lunch which was an exclamation point on a very nice day.

Three mornings I made the same quick trip to my fishing hole.  Each time I caught some feisty puppy drum.  Catching those fish in sight of our house is as close to a validation of our choice of a place to move as anything that I can conjure up.

We wanted quiet living in a natural setting not far from modern services.  I’m happy to report that we found it along the White Oak River in Bluewater Cove.  Even our experience with Hurricane Irene and a very rare tornado that visited the area have not changed our opinion of life here along the coast.

This is a great place to live.  The peace you find here is a sure road to recovery from the stress of the modern world.


In the wildness of our surroundings there is peace

A view of the White Oak River

A view of the White Oak River

There are many reasons for living in a particular place.  The place can feel like home. You perhaps have found a great job in the area.  Sometime a location can be close to friends or an easy place to engage in your favorite activities.

Then there are places we go to for more than employment or fun.

Areas like North Carolina’s Crystal Coast are often more than just a place to plant your roots.  They are among the rare spots where the human spirit can find a renewal in the cathedral of the natural world.  Within their blue sky boundaries are often homes which offer more than just a place to live.

Sometimes by quiet waters under a cloud-tinted blue sky, you will encounter a place to find yourself or even heal your spirit.

Throughout my life I have found that natural beauty on my doorstep has helped me survive the challenges of our increasingly over connected modern life.

The wildness of a deserted beach, forest or open stretch of water lets us disconnect from our modern world and reconnect with the world around us.  The peace of an empty beach lets us listen to those quiet inner voices of our own which are often overwhelmed by the noise of modern society.   That walk away from the world and into wildness also prepares us to hear the voice of God.

That it is far easier to connect with God when we have unconnected ourselves from much of the world should not come as a surprise.   We try hard to divorce ourselves from the world when we go to worship in a church.  The sanctuary of a church gives us separation from the world.  That distance between us and the everyday world gives us a chance to contemplate and worship.  We need the separation because the world has become a noisy, demanding place where multiple things and people continually vie for our attention.

You can find the same separation in the wildness of many places.

Over the last sixty plus years I have found many challenges that have reminded me how little control that we actually have over our lives.  There are times when we just have to put our trust in a power that it is greater than us.  Those who think they are master of all their world just haven’t lived long enough to face a real obstacle in their life.

When the world seems to be collapsing around you and yet the voices of concern that you are hearing from those close to you make no sense,  then a walk out beyond the homes along the beach or  a paddle out to the oyster rocks can clear your mind and help you understand the path that you need to take.

Over the years my favorite places of retreat have changed as we have moved.  At one time I found solace on the rocky coast of Nova Scotia.  A few years later, a hillside overlooking the wilderness behind our farm came to be the place I escaped.  When we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, I created a network of trails on the high mountainside behind our home.  Now that I live along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, I’ve found that I can find the solitude that I need in a number of places that have no walls.

My current favorite spot is far out on the Point at Emerald Isle.  It requires a hike of over two miles just to get there.  The effort is well worth it.  Before the fishermen come in their trucks in the fall, there are few people who are willing to spend the energy to reach the place that I have come to cherish.

Each time that I arrive there, I am reminded that we humans might try to control our world, but our efforts are at best sandcastles in the waves of time.  That I can walk this stretch of beach and see with my own eyes the new land created between my trips makes the experience I find in the wildness of this beach that much more powerful.

John Muir says it so eloquently on page 256 of The Yosemite.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.


Back to the Point


New sand and water at the Point

I first visited the Point on Emerald Isle in the summer of 1969.  My uncle Austin and I traveled down the beach in my old Ford Bronco.  At the time it was the only way to get to the Point short of a boat or a very long walk.

In 1969 there were no fancy beach homes lining the shore.  Since 2006, the Point has been one of the places I visit when I want to get away civilization.  It is a place where Mother Nature rules.  The wind, sand, and water at the Point tend to ignore any suggestions that we might have.

The Point is also a place that where change is the norm.  If you visit it once or twice a week like I try to do, you will notice subtle changes.  If for some reason you miss a month, you will likely find things rearranged some place along the shores of the Point.

In a world where some folks forget that we are not masters of our environment, the Point is an amazingly beautiful reminder that there are still places where we are at best only observers.

I can still remember the Point disappearing in the fall of 2007.  There was nothing but water at the edge of the vehicle ramp.

These pictures taken in August of 2009 show that it was a slow process for the Point to start recovering and add sand.  Huge sandbags were still prominent in 2009.

Even in the fall of 2010 three years after the picture of the Point under water, there was still a whole lot more water than sand at the Point.

By the fall of 2011, the tide had turned if you will pardon the pun.  Sand was accumulating at an amazing rate.  This picture looking back towards the vehicle ramp shows how things changed over the course of four years.  In just those few years a lot of sand filled the area between the vehicle ramp at the Point and Bogue Inlet.

In August of 2011 I created a flash-based map with pictures showing some of the recent changes at the Point.  At the time I wondered what would happen next. Certainly over the last year the changes didn’t stop. The sand continues to build up in the area near what I have always heard called Bird Island.

On August 31, 2012, I took another hike around the Point.  Using the MyTracks app in conjunction with Google Maps and my Android phone, I created this map.  Except for a small inlet of water near Bird Island, everything within the blue lines is now sand.  This picture gives you an idea of the new sand than has built up near the northern end of the Point.

I have joked with some friends that if this keeps up, it won’t be many years before we will be able to walk to Cedar Point.  However there are other things happening at the Point.  Number one in my mind is that it is becoming bowl-shaped with the sand much higher by the edge near the water than in the center.  When a storm eventually shows up, there is the potential for that sand to end up some place else.  It could be moved to the interior of the Point or dumped in the Inlet.

I have taken hundreds of pictures over at the Point, but pictures alone cannot convey the huge amount of sand that is now at the Point.  The Point will for the foreseeable future remain one of those places that is best appreciated in person.  I can keep posting pictures and maps, but the scale of the area beyond the houses is just too big to fit in a picture.  It is now well over two miles of walking from the CAMA access point on  Wyndtree Drive to the edge of the marshes on Bird Island.

Certainly if you are physically able to walk something like the Point area, it is a place where visiting is well worth the effort especially when the skies are blue.  There are few people to be found this time of year beyond the line of homes.  In the fall when trucks can drive on the beaches, it is a little bit of a different place.  However until September 15 when the trucks come, the far reaches of the Point are truly a special place where sand, wind, and water pretty much do whatever they want, and we humans have to play by their rules.

The Point is a great place to be humbled by nature.  I hope to see many more changes there.  This album of pictures that I posted in June of 2012 is a good introduction to many of the special things which keep me coming back to the Point.