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.
A world of sand to explore
We live in a world that perhaps except for the seas and some of the jungles has pretty well been explored. With today’s GPS systems and smart phones with built-in GPS, it would seem that not only is there little left to explore, but also there is not much of chance of not really understanding where you are.
Actually that is not the case if you are fortunate enough to live along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks which is also know as the Crystal Coast.
I love maps and have been fascinated with them since I could barely read. I suspect much of my reading and math ability came from being given the job of navigator at the very early age of six. My mom was raising me as a single mom, and I got the job of getting us to and from the beach or mountains whenever we traveled. While maps have not quite disappeared from gas stations, they have left the consciousness of most young people.
If you are under forty “mapping it” means something entirely different to them than it might to us older folks. I have been fortunate enough in life to have traveled many places including Alaska and Newfoundland. Mapping a trip to me often mean taking a pen and eventually a yellow highlighter and drawing a line on a paper map. Mapping a trip today often means going to a website and plugging in two destinations and having Google, Mapquest, or Bing print out instructions on how to get there with almost no thought on your part.
There are also people, my self included, who plug a destination into their GPS or smart phone and listen to a computerized voice tell them how to reach their destination. Sometimes it turns out those directions are not exactly optimized for the best travel time.
Once when my wife and I flew by float plane into the barrens of Newfoundland in the early eighties, knowing now to plot a course on a topographic map and follow it back to our rendezvous with the little Cessna kept us from either a long arduous hike or a very cold, lonely winter in the wilderness.
The media likes to worry those of us who live near the coast have built our homes on shifting sands which disappear in the next wind storm. While some of that goes on, there are plenty of people on the North Carolina coast who live in spots where the sand isn’t shifting and the barrier islands are relatively stable.
However, there are always places along barrier islands where sand is being moved from one place to another. The Point on Emerald Isle is one of those places. It is where ocean currents meet river current in a swirling battle of land and water.
I first visited the Point in the sixties. Then the only way to reach it was take a long drive down the beach in a four wheel drive vehicle. My uncle Austin and I did that for a day of fishing that will forever be memorable not for what we caught, but for where we caught it. We spent most of the day on the Point and saw no other person. Our biggest catch was a horseshoe crab.
Today the Point is much easier to reach, but it has become one of those few places where it is possible to escape the bounds of the modern world. While you can visit it on Google maps, what you see there or on your GPS or cell phone doesn’t really match what is is actually there.
Aside from me showing you my recently created map of the Point or asking one of the local who often walk or fish the Point, you are actually on your own at the Point. It is a huge expanse of sand that just a few years ago wasn’t there. It was only in 2008 when the access to the Point was repaired after having washed away. The water had actually taken away the dune at the end of the access ramp. Today there is over 1400 feet of sand to the nearest water by Bogue Inlet.
If you have a look at this picture taken in November 2007, you can get an idea of the magnitude of the change from then until March 5 when I took the picture at the top of the post. Last summer I was amazed to see people wading just yards from the boat channel at the Point.
So in a world that is increasing mapped, fenced, out of bounds, or inaccessible to most of us, the Point at Emerald Isle offers a rare opportunity to do some real exploring. I can tell you what it is like, but Mother Nature will make some changes each day. At a time when kids spend far too much of their time in front of computers, a walk on the Point can teach them that there is much to learn outside of a computer screen.
While marketers are trying to convince us that we need 3D televisions, I suggest visiting the original 3D experience, the out of doors. You might be surprised at how much everyone enjoys it. And if they start whining about missing their iPad or Playstation, it is probably time that you locked that stuff up for a year or two.
I will give you access to my Google map that was made on March 5, 2011. The red line is the track that I took, but it is just the outer boundary of the sand. What looks like water on the Google map is mostly sand, and some sand on the Google map is now water. The only way to really know what is there is to get some sand between your toes.
Even in 2011 still plenty of exploring at the Point in that huge expanse of sand mingled with the water of Bogue Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean. We are lucky to live in such place, and those who visit and take the time to explore will be richly rewarded.