Beaches and So Much More

Sea Oats at Third Street

Sea Oats at Third Street

Finding sea oats just getting ready to hit their summer stride confirms that we are in beach season.

We all have different images of our own person coastal paradise. What we see in our mind’s eye has been molded by our lives and our needs. Much of what I want in beach comes from what I remember of beaches when I was young.

Our trips to the beaches in fifties revolved around enjoying the beach and getting away from the heat of summer. You went to the beach or the mountains to escape the heat of North Carolina’s Piedmont. The heat pump had yet to arrive and change how people live in the South.

The idea of going to the beach to shop or to attend shows would have been foreign. We went to the beach to experience a world of water and sand.

The fifties were a time before shopping malls, television and national chains homogenized our worlds. No one worried about fancy meals because we carried much of our food with us. There might be a meal or two in a restaurant, but mostly we ate summer food, tomato sandwiches, pimento cheese, and simple things.

The beach was a place to unwind and relax. There were no laptops, no tablets, no cell phones, and most of the cottages did not even have telephones. Televisions were not part of our lives at the beach. I think even our transistor radios stayed at home.

If we fast forward to 2014 our world has changed. In many beach towns any unique local restaurants have to battle the same chains as you find in Charlotte, Roanoke, or Winston-Salem. The small motels and cottages of the fifties have mostly been replaced by huge homes and wall to wall high rise condos along the ocean front. In some beach towns, getting to the beach is a challenge and when you get there, finding your own piece of sand is even harder.

I grew up coming to a North Carolina coast where you fished, jumped waves, and hoped to meet some new people and see a world that was very different from the red clay soils of Lewisville, North Carolina. A beach town at night was unlike anything we might see in Lewisville in the summer. There as children we wandered the woods during the day, fished the farm ponds when we could, played capture the flag and chased fireflies in the evenings. It was a big deal to go to a softball game under the lights at the local school field. There were a couple of weeks during the summer when the old activity bus would ferry us to the swimming pool at Tanglewood, but mostly we entertained ourselves. Television had yet to get its hooks in our generation. A beach town at night was neon signs, music in the pavilion, strange little shops, and exotic food that was reminiscent of fair food.

Things are different today. Part of it is how our world has changed, but an even larger part is how many of us have changed.

One of the great challenges we face today is being able to focus on the moment and enjoy where we are and the people with whom we are present. Our minds are overloaded with email, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Then there are jobs, bills, home repairs, the arctic icecap melting, grid-locked petty politicians, your children, grandchildren and aging parents just to mention a few things that float through the mind of the average modern person. If like me, you had a job in a large corporation, you know what it is like to live in a pressure cooker.

When I was working for Apple, it got to the point that I needed the first week of a two week vacation to unwind or decompress. Unfortunately, after the first hour back at work, the stress was back.

Our pursuit of life after Apple had us searching the mountains of Western North Carolina and Southwest Virginia along with the coast from Chincoteague to Hatteras Island down to Southport.

In the end, we ended up on North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. It had the right mix of National Forest, National Seashore, farmland, and lightly developed beaches that made us feel comfortable. Yet at the same time, we did not feel isolated like we do when we visit Ocracoke Island which I also enjoy.

Eight years later, I am really happy with our decision. Development has not swamped our area, not that a few developers did not try. It helps to not be at the end of an Interstate and to have a town like Emerald Isle whose determination to remain a small town with family beaches helps set the character for the area.

The more in our “Beaches and So Much More” is not just one thing. To start with we are in a boating mecca. Whether you want to go offshore or fish our marshes from a skiff, the opportunities are unlimited. If you love kayaking, there is no better place to explore. From the marshes behind Bear Island to the two-miles wide White Oak River where I enjoy fishing the oyster rocks, there is no shortage of places to kayak. Then there are the hiking trails. Every morning I start my day by walking one and one half miles along the marshes of Raymond’s Gut. I often finish the day the same way. In the winter and spring, I often hike the trails in the Croatan or Emerald Woods Park on the Island. Then there are the beaches. Even on a busy weekend like this past June 29, 2014, it is easy to find accessible near solitude on the beach. There is no challenge in really escaping the crowds. All you have to do is be willing to walk a few miles into the sands by the Point on Emerald Isle.

Yet if we want most of what the modern world has to offer with the exception of a Target and Barnes and Noble, the drive is less than twenty minutes. It is another fifteen minutes for the Target or Barnes and Noble if you cannot live without them. Most of our restaurants are small family run ones like Santorinia Grill or Angie’s Lighthouse Cafe where Angie’s daughter Angie waited on us last night.  We live in a world where the people in the produce stands and garden centers remember you, even if they cannot recall your name.

There are no more dance pavilions, but you can still go walk on the pier in Emerald Isle.  Afterwards stroll over to the Sweet Spot for an ice cream cone, and  enjoy it outside while sitting in a rocking chair.  The chance to unwind is here in our towns and on our beaches. Some folks like the lady I saw yesterday hooked to her iPhone while trying to look for shells will likely miss the best parts of the beach, but that does not have to be you.

Take the time to listen to the waves, feel the sand between your toes, and at least let the warm salt water waves get part of your shorts wet.  A little saltwater will not kill you but it might help you connect with the natural world before you forget how to.

Whether I am standing in the surf, enjoying an evening on the beach, or fishing on the oyster rocks, there is plenty of Crystal Coast magic to suck the stress out of my mind.

The More we have at the beach out weighs any shopping mall in my opinion.  I sleep well at night.

There are always plenty of things to do at the beach, but it you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version which Amazon has listed for $22.46 and Prime eligible. Both books  include eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

Our most recent newsletter went out last week and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

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Waves on the Beach

Waves near The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Waves near The Point, Emerald Isle, NC

Walking along the beach is one of my top five favorite things to do. It is easy to think of reasons why this is the case.

First, here on the Crystal Coast, walking the beach is a great way to get alone with your thoughts. Our beaches are not crowded. One of the nicest walks I have taken was on a recent July 2. There were almost no people on the beach. I ended writing a post, Escaping the Crowds, about how uncrowded it was.

Besides being alone on the beach, the beach is the ultimate white noise machine. Unless there is a Marine jet buzzing you, it is easy to forget about the rest of civilization when you are on the beach. I remain confused by the people who need to be plugged into their iPods while walking the beach.

The beach is also the place to enjoy a perfect summer day. If you live in Eastern North Carolina, you are well aware of how hot it can get just a few miles inland from the coast. Yet by the time June rolls around, there is just enough coolness in the ocean water to make being on the beach the ultimate comfort trip.  The ocean is the perfect way to cool off.  There is nothing like a wave hitting you in the middle of your back to drain all the heat from your body.

Where is it perfectly okay to lie down almost anywhere and have a nap even in the morning? Obviously the answer is the beach. There are beaches where it is hard to find a spot for your towel. Those are not the beaches of the Crystal Coast. We have lots of room for you and all your friends.  We have so much sand, you can pick hard or soft sand for your nap in the sun.

Where is okay to get dirty feet multiple times and still have fun washing them off?  Of course it is the beach. In June the ocean water feel great on your feet. I find it a treat to slosh along with the water splashing on my ankles.  There is no better reminder of this is summer and we should truly enjoy it.  It you have a Labrador retriever, you might have seen the ultimate way for a dog to enjoy a beach.  First comes a nice swim in the waves, then a roll in the finest sand that can be found.  For even more fun, repeat until you are too tired to do it again.

There are other benefits to the beach that might not be so obvious. You can catch your dinner while getting a suntan. If you have some dead skin on your ankles, you take an exfoliating walk along the beach if you pick a nice windy day.

The beach is also a wonderful place to meet people. People in general are in a good mood when they are walking along the beach. People who might completely ignore you on a city street are likely to say “hi” or even smile at you on the beach.

Any trip to the beach is always full of surprises. Even experienced beach walkers like me are often surprised by what they find on the beach. You never know how the weather will turn out, how big the waves are going to be or even what color water you will find. Sometime you meet people covered from head to toe and other times you will see people with so little fabric on their bodies that you can only be amazed and try not to stare.

You can read more about walking on beaches at this post, Walking A Beach that I wrote back in 2009. I shudder to think about how miles of beach walking that I have done since then.  However, I have enjoyed them all.  I expect that I will back out there tomorrow afternoon if the weather holds.

There are always plenty of things to do at the beach, but it you cannot make it today, enjoy this video of the waves at the Point on Emerald Isle.  For more information about the beach, check out our newly updated for 2014, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The Kindle version is only $3.99 and it has the same 180 pages of content as the $24.95 print version. That includes eighty full color pictures and lots of detailed area maps.  Plus the Kindle version has instant access to over 150 links of additional information.

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A Beach Evening

Evening on the Beach at the Point

Evening on the Beach at the Point

You are more likely to walk outside and feel a beach evening than you are to know that it is outside waiting for you. A beach evening is more about the air and breeze than it is about how it looks outside. You can go outside in the complete dark and know by how the air feels on your skin that it is great evening to be at the coast.

When you have a beach evening, you feel embraced by the warm, moist air. Maybe it is a tropical evening with a touch less heat but the warmth is crucial to the sense of comfort that makes you wish that your time outside might never end.

After dinner on Friday, June 13, 2014, I went outside for my normal after dinner walk. The minute I felt the breeze, I knew that I was in for a treat. A warm wind coming off the water seemed to follow me on my hike along the marshes. It was a beach evening that erased any thought of turning around and heading back to my easy chair.

A good beach evening removes even the slightest memory of times when you have felt a cold wind off the water. Somehow the temperature on one of these special evenings seems to be perfectly regulated because you never get chilled or too warm. It is a night when being outside is a treat that stays in your memory for a long time.

Even the sounds of a beach evening get filtered through that warm, moist air and end up somehow less jarring to the senses.

When I think back to all the great walks that I have enjoyed on beach evenings, some great memories come sliding back into my mind.

There were many evenings on Ocracoke Island when I was camping there in my twenties. The beaches were endless and the only lights were flash lights or moonlight reflected off the water. Then there were the wonderful evenings with the family, first at South Nags Head and then down by the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. There were plenty of light along the beach in Nags Head but at Cape Hatteras. Still you could easily plunge yourself into the darkness but the darkness always came without any hint of fear. There are other memories deeper down but it is hard for them to find the light when there are so many pleasant recent memories.

You do not have to be on a beach to enjoy a beach evening. One of my favorite things to do when I have finished my walk is to sit on one of our neighborhood’s boardwalk benches that look out over Raymond’s Gut. A strong breeze coming in off the White Oak River can blow away a lot of cares.  I have had enjoyed many beach evenings on the docks at Beaufort, North Carolina.

Besides feeling a beach evening on your skin, it has a wonderful smell that is a mixture of salt water and other summer smells from a Carolina night. Sometimes there is a hint of pine or beach vegetation and other times the scent of marsh grass and tidal flats overwhelms almost everything else. Over on the beach, the smell is mostly ocean but the result is the same in both places. For a moment your worries are gone with the evening breeze and pleasant smells.

A beach evening with its warm winds and comforting smells puts you at ease and lets you enter a word where the sound of the wind, water, or waves often drives away the day to day worries that so often challenge our modern lives. The only thing that can make it more perfect is perhaps a few lightning bugs flitting across the lawn as you head back into your home.

Though it was a little early in the evening for a perfect beach walk, here are some slides from my most recent hike at the Point on Emerald Isle.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter and our current issue is late.  I ended spending far more time on my new 2014 Emerald Isle Travel Guide than expected so it will be the middle of June before my next newsletter gets sent. You still have time to sign up before I get it emailed.

The good news is that my effort was well spent.  There is a lot of new content including  40 of the 79 pictures which are new in this year’s guide.  There are also many additional new links, another beach map, and a few new restaurants that we discuss.  With a total of 14 Maps and 10 recipes, and the latest information on the beaches of the area, our guide is a great deal at $3.99. It is the only real travel guide for the area.

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