The Outer Banks


IMG_3438I am good at being alone. Equally so in a crowded room as an open field at dusk. I am good at silence because it is never really silent. Not when you open yourself to the sounds of the vibrating bass the wind thrusts and pounds against your ears or the rustling and pushing of the grass like a crowd moving together and against each other. And I am good at noise. The screeching, clanking, swishing, humming, drumming of modern reality. It is music.

I am comfortable with my own thoughts. I chuckle audibly at jokes in my head, to the scathing, judgmental stares of others. Yet, I can easily navigate a gathering of diverse conversationalists. Admittedly, empathy makes the crowd easier than the singular mind because I am less forgiving of myself.

What I cannot abide is being stationary. I am not good at staying in one state too long. I need to escape because it acts as a large cartoonish RESET button on my mood and my inspiration.

Life started becoming a bit stale so we flew our toddler to my parents house, packed up our camping gear for the first and only time this year, and drove to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. A place many of my husband’s colleagues recommended over the year as “the place to go”.

DSCN5748In our fashion, we chose a spot that fit our preferences: a national campground, a small town on one end that you can easily walk end to end, and lots of uninhabited space. It took us twelve hours to get there and involved a dawdling island to island ferry. We did not know it at the time, but Okracoke Island is, apparently, one of the most remote places to get to on the Eastern Seaboard. I can’t prove that and I do not have a citation, just word of mouth. I assume it is solely because of the ferry ride necessary to get to the island. As a west-coaster, the word “remote” has a very different meaning. Nevertheless, this Hatteras island was exactly what I needed: a place on the east coast that felt like home.

It didn’t smell like home, look like home, or resemble home in any way. The Outer Banks are at the northern edge of the Gulf Stream where it veers away from the coastline. Go north towards Virginia and the ocean temperature drops significantly. But Okracoke’s ocean was warm. I am used to the North Pacific with it’s frigid waters that feel like ten-thousand needles jammed into your feet in summer. The trees were much shorter and the grasses much taller. The birds were wonderfully different and the bugs were awful little demon bugs that bit you at dusk. But the tent, my old sleeping bag and backpack, sitting outside without the hum of cars and shouts of neighbors: it felt like home in a way that only camping can.

Spent a long weekend sleeping on the banks of Okracoke. I attempted to eat fresh clams in my quest to force myself to be a seafood lover. It failed epically. I have since given up the quest. Various shellfish items may sound delicious on the menu, but my tongue disagrees.

DSCN5763The highlight of our island vacation was kayaking. I am obsessed with the activity for somebody that has only done it a few times in my life. But it is for lack of opportunity, not motivation. My wonderful husband is always quick to oblige and we kayaked out of the bay and into the sea, taking excursions into shallow rivulets where turtles heads popped in and out of the water and crabs scuttle away from our oars along the sedimented bottom. Cranes moved lazily in the tall grass and frogs croaked from the weeds.

We visited museums and, true to form, I quickly found the best coffee on the island. We cooked soup in cans over a campfire and drank summer ales. In the early morning I scoured the beach for shells, having never before seen such an assortment in one place! The Oregon coast has sand dollars and starfish, but the beach itself is sandy and bare. The color of Okracoke’s beaches were incredibly diverse. I was so content that I couldn’t stay mad at the children who stole my shells as their family packed up to leave. Although, I still refer to them as shit-heads and blame their parents. (Really, who does that?)

DSCN5817We took a tour to Portsmouth Island just south of Okracoke. Our little flat boat dropped us on the shore of this abandoned island and six of us chased our guide on ATVs through the sand dunes and shores, looking for shells and seabirds and sharks swimming off the shore. Once again, the bugs were horrendous and their bites would leave you bleeding, but we were all soon experts at whacking them with a local branch that acted as a repellent. And when the scent of the leaves failed, the stinging whip kept the bastards at bay.

On our way off the islands, far sooner than we would have liked, we stopped at three lighthouses, climbing to the top of the highest one. And, unwilling for the trip to be over completely, made one last stop at the Wright Brother’s National Memorial not thirty minutes before it closed. We scuttled along the park to see where man took flight at the intersection of history and a then-unknown glorious future.

We said goodbye and descended from our heights back into life, but here is to the now-unknown glorious future. May it never become stale.

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