Life without Walls

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

When you live in place like North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone loves the out-of-doors.  It is even easier if a good part of your life has been spent outside in the elements.

Perhaps those of us in our sixties are one of the most fortunate generations.  We grew up before television and the Internet took over the lives of children.  I can still remember the first television in our neighborhood.  I must have been six or seven years old.

One of our neighbors got the television, and we all crowded around it to watch Howdy Doody.  When it was over we went back outside to play.  It wasn’t something better than our imaginations so it never captured us.   We had creeks to dam and forts to build.  We stayed outside all summer.  Often we didn’t come home from our adventures in the woods until dark.  Then we would eat and go back outside to chase fireflies or play capture the flag.  We always played something after school unless it was raining hard.

As I was walking by the mostly empty campsites at Hammocks Beach State Park early one afternoon in June 2012, it occurred to me that today’s young adults might not have the same love of the outside world that was so much a part of our lives in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.

Yet most of the people living on the Crystal Coast do love the out-of-doors.  You can see people walking in our neighborhood at all hours of the day.  We see everyone from young mothers trying to get some exercise in before their husband leaves for the day to older people walking their dogs.  We even see teenagers walking.

Walking on the beaches, I see some familiar faces. Some people walk the beach every day weather permitting.  When I am on the water I even recognize a number of boats and a few kayaks that I have seen several times.  With water everywhere, miles of beach, and thousands of acres of forest, I wonder how you could live here and not appreciate the wonder of our magical world outside the walls of our homes?

Still even in our neighborhood here on the Southern Outer Banks, there are people that we rarely see outside.  I sometimes wonder if they are part of the television generation which prefers to visit National Parks by way of the Discovery Channel.

I know our area attracts many people who love the out-of-doors.  We are not a Myrtle Beach by any stretch of the imagination.  Most of the people living here would be horrified if this area became just another beach with wall to wall condos and shopping malls.

But I wonder if enough people are coming along in the next generation to replace those of us who love the natural world.   The outside world shaped our lives and how we respond to the challenges of life.  Television and the Internet have shaped many those following us.

After we quit building forts and creating ponds, my friends and I became Boy Scouts.  We loved to camp and would head off for an overnight trip to a campsite with the slightest excuse.  I carried that love of camping with me through much of my early adult life.  One of the most memorable summers was one where I didn’t have a job and was able to alternate camping on Ocracoke Island with camping in the Smoky Mountains.  It was a magical summer.

A camping trip to Nova Scotia over Thanksgiving one year in college probably had a lot to do with my decision to live in Canada for sixteen years.  I fell in love with Canada’s wild country.  I still remember pitching my faithful blue mountain tent on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  My first camping trip there was to celebrate scraping together $6,000 for my first farm and 140 acres.  I still remember the unique flavor a steak grilled over a driftwood fire.

Spending everyday outside for over twelve years while I took care of our herd of Angus cattle in Canada gave me a great appreciation for the world beyond the walls of my house.   I didn’t do any camping while I farmed but I was outside more hours than I want to remember.  Even while farming I still managed to catch a few fish between chores.

I camped some with my son when he was growing up, but the world had changed by then.  My trip to Hammocks Beach State Park brought back fond memories of waking up in the cool morning air along the beach.   I could almost taste the sand in the scrambled eggs from my days on Ocracoke.

The more that I walk the beach, the more convinced that I am that the culture of television and the Internet have thinned the ranks of those who want to see what is on the other side of that next sand dune.

We have amazing beaches here on Emerald Isle.  Yet once the beaches are closed for driving, you really don’t have to walk the miles that I do at the Point on Emerald Isle before the crowds disappear.  Thankfully there are always a few who are searching out that next interesting tidal pool or who want to know what is beyond that next curve in the beach.

That we learned much more than how to pitch a tent from Scouting and camping is unquestionable, but learning isn’t just confined to our youth.  When I came to the Crystal Coast, I was determined to learn the waters of our area like I once knew the fields and forest of my farm in Canada.

My wife and I weren’t boaters when we bought a Sundance skiff in June of 2007, but we managed to learn the waters well enough to have a great time safely. Most weeks I take my boat out four or more times.  I have a hard time imagining being cut off from the beautiful waters of Carteret County.

The land and waters of our area encourage people to get outside and enjoy a world they might not have experienced before moving here.  I have seen people come to the Crystal Coast and take up kayaking at age when some folks are comfortably settled in their easy chairs or assisted living homes.  Learning to love the out-of-doors can happen at any age.

There is a part of me that believes that children raised here on the Southern Banks will have an advantage in life because most parents here make sure their children spend more time outside than inside. There is so much to learn here, and it is such a wonderful place to learn.

As I was walking back from the beach to the ferry terminal at Hammocks Beach State Park, I was heartened to see a young couple obviously hauling their gear to the beach for an overnight camping trip.   Maybe there won’t be as many whose lives are shaped by the world outside four walls, but I will bet that those who do learn to appreciate the out-of-doors will have even more of an impact on the future of our world.

Just maybe some of those folks will come from the Crystal Coast.