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 The small motels and cottages of the fifties have mostly been replaced by huge homes and wall to wall high rise condos along the ocean front.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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