Head Wins (for now)

 

I was in my Sis’s kitchen twenty minutes or so before my nephew’s first day of 5th grade. Knowing that I’d be over to witness the event, Sis had a hot cup of strong, perfect coffee ready for me. As I take my first sips I watch as she gathers lunch items for her son’s lunchbox.  She finishes by nestling a sweet note under his sandwich.  I think about the days eons ago when I did the same thing for my kids.

I joke with my nephew saying, “So…what’s up with a yellow bus in the neighborhood?”

He rolls his eyes.  He’s not ready for summer to end.

Truth is, I feel the same.  Honestly, my entire being is still back at the beach.  My toes are in the sand and the book I brought but never open is cast off to the side as I gaze out at the ocean.

Apparently, some of the kids I queried while standing less than a half hour later at the bus stop with my nephew feel the same.  They aren’t ready for what seems like an abrupt end to summer.  “It’s not even labor day and we are back in school,” says one youngster.   There were seven or eight kids all with new backpacks, lunchboxes, and noticeably of course, new shoes, along with their parents waiting for the bus.  It’s not yet 8:15 and we’re all sweating as we stand waiting with the kids.  The Poodle had plopped himself down on the sidewalk and is panting too from the heat.  The humidity level is already high for what will be another scorcher of a day.  For one little one it would be her first time on a yellow school bus.  Wearing a blue dress with pretty pink shoes she was, understandably, a very nervous kindergartener.  Both mom and dad were witnessing this milestone day for their daughter.  Mom carried her little pink backpack while dad did his best to reassure.  It helped that her big brother would also be on the same bus.

As the kids broke off into their own circle the parents stood together and chatted about their summers.  Most everyone went to a beach over the summer.

Ocracoke morning

“We went to Ocracoke,” I say to one dad.

“Where is that?” he asks. I was not surprised at the question as it isn’t necessarily a hot Outer Banks destination.

So off I went only too happy to babble on for a good five minutes about our beach week in rustic Ocracoke.

“…and at one point,” I continued, ” I could look as far as the eye could see on my right and again to my left…and as God is my witness…I was the only person on the beach!  I felt like I had been deposited on uninhabited island!”

“Really?”

“Yes, really! There are no houses or high-rises on the beach.  In fact, there are no high-rises anywhere on the island.  The only structure you’ll see on the beach is a small wood lifeguard stand” I replied.

“Wow, I’ll have to check that out for next year,” he said clearly interested.

Later back at the house over my second cup of coffee and a delicious banana muffin that my nephew had made the day before, I thought about our first beach evening just two weeks ago.  At the time, we were dining at the Ocracoke Oyster Company, one of the larger restaurants on the island.  As we sipped on wine, Sis and I had our wheels seriously turning and our heads high in the clouds about ditching city life for Ocracoke Island living.

Hmm.  We’d add five to the population of roughly 591, eight if you count the pets,” I say wistfully.  “But where would we shop?  I don’t even see a real grocery store around.  I mean, there is an elementary school and at least one church but I don’t see any non-tourist stores here.”

At that moment our young server comes with our appetizers.  Oysters, calamari, and a basket of onion rings.   Without a pause I begin peppering her with questions (something I’m more bold at doing now that I am in my 60’s).  She is happy to answer our questions as she refills our water glasses.  Coming from New York, she answered a help-wanted ad for Ocracoke and left on the spot.  She’s been living on the island for most of the summer.  She’s not sure of her future plans but she’s having a blast so far.

Sis and I marvel at her fearlessness.  Oh to be young again….

“So, where on earth do you shop for stuff?” I ask.  “I mean, it’s not like you can order from Amazon all the way out here.”

“Actually, I order stuff all the time from Amazon,” she replied.

“Seriously?”  Seriously.

I asked another person, an older guy, who has lived on the island for twenty years.  He confirmed that he gets most of what he needs from Amazon.  He even joked that being a Prime member doesn’t help the Ocracokers much as purchases obviously don’t arrive next day.  I imagine a UPS truck on the ferry and think that must be one uberly cool route for that driver.

But here’s the thing:  I’m not sure about my Sis but after four days on the island, as charming as it was, my island-living dreams lessened considerably.  I asked any local that would spare two minutes how they liked living year-round on tiny Ocracoke.  While most folks were very upbeat it was unanimous that winters were particularly brutal.  “It takes a special someone to like our winters,” said one.  “Winters are downright dead with nothing to do,” said another.   One spirited woman that worked in a tiny gallery summed-up what most people said: “It’s freaking bleak here in the winter plus, I’d be as big as a barn eating non-stop and watching Netflix 24-7.”  She added that she leaves the island every winter spending a month or two away, traveling to exotic locales.  Last year it was Thailand.  This year it will be somewhere in Europe.

Though we enjoyed, unexpectedly, an Italian white wine from Venice during one of our nights, I start to dwell on the remoteness of Ocracoke island living not to mention the memory of that terrifying lightening and thunder storm which sounded to me as if the world was coming to an end.

Wine from our neck of the woods in Italy!

Ocracoke has its unpleasant side then.  Dramatic weather, bitterly cold winters, dreary, depressing, and dead for months on end.  Ah…Reality bites.  My romantic bubble has burst.  Sigh.

So yeah…realistically, I don’t have the luxury of the peripatetic life of a twenty-year-old and truthfully, even when I was that age I didn’t live free and footloose.  My heart says one thing…my head says another.  And yes, often –admittedly, perhaps too oftenmy head wins.

Though I am not ready for the proverbial rocking chair just yet, as boring as it may sound, my head now is all about quick access to a good hospital, preferably by car or ambulance and not by helicopter.  And I need the fun of a zoo, lots of museums and the promise of attending concerts, cultural events, wine tastings, and so much more.  Plus, I like touching and feeling stuff before I buy.  How would I manage without Target (weekly), REI (frequently) and Nordstrom’s (once in a blue moon)? Not to mention reliable internet access!

Yes, my head wins, for now.  All is good.  As I sit here with my heart at the beach I acknowledge that it will just have to be enough.  At any moment I can sit back, relax, and close my eyes and…with a slow and steady breath…the ocean is right before me.  I can hear the crash of waves on the shore and the gentle peeps of Sanderlings skittering about looking for food….

My only Ocracoke shells

It will do, I think… until next time. 

And there will be a next time.

There is bliss in that.

 

Blissed-out (mostly) on Ocracoke

It’s been a little more than a week since returning from our second summer adventure yet it feels more like months ago.  I’m lamenting already but hopeful that more adventures will spring up in the fall and winter.  For now, though I am still tackling the sand in the car, memories of a lovely week with my sis and family will have to calm the itch to pack another bag and be off somewhere….anywhere.

I’m listless and finding it hard to get back into the groove after truly doing nothing. The beach does that to me every time.

This time our destination was a bit more rustic than other beach trips: Ocracoke Island, North Carolina.  We’re no strangers to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. We’ve done a fair amount of vacationing there, mostly on the northern part of the barrier chain in Duck and Corolla. Admittedly, we haven’t really explored a lot of the 130 miles of the thin strip of these barrier islands; we tend to drop beach chairs down into the sand and veg for the duration of a week.  We hadn’t for example, ever driven beyond Nags Head and Roanoke Island, the very spot where I married Rocket-man years ago. Yep… The Lost Colony island of Roanoke.

Sis is the one who suggested this particular beach destination.  She and her husband, on a whim, spent an overnight on Ocracoke last year when returning from a beach stay near Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.  They were immediately smitten with its rustic charm.

“How do you get there,” I had asked at the time.   “Isn’t it the most remote island in the Outer Banks?”

“You take your car and ferry over,” she said.  “It takes about an hour.”

Away we go to Ocracoke!

“Wow…you put your car on a ferry?” I said in wonder.  I’ve taken ferries before.  It’s not that I don’t know the concept of vehicles on a ferry it’s just I’ve just never put my car on one.

Before heading to our Ocracoke (pronounces just as you see it: like the vegetable Okra and the soft drink Coke) adventure we made a pit stop in Manteo, on Roanoke Island. Sis and I wanted to see our great-aunt, family historian, Auntie Lou and her husband, our Uncle Jack. Auntie is in her 80’s and now needs a cane to get around but her mind is still pretty much sharp as a tack. Uncle Jack sat mostly quiet as sis and I peppered auntie with questions. It was lovely to spend a couple of hours catching up on life and listening to some family-tree stories. 

After we said our goodbyes we explored the area a bit, shopped, and decided on an early dinner as we planned an zero-dark-thirty departure for the Hatteras ferry the next morning.

The early morning sun shined happy as we drove through the little towns and quaint villages along the thin strip of land flanked by the Atlantic ocean on one side and the Pamlico Sound on the other.  I was excited to pass through the tiny town of Rodanthe, the locale featured in Nicholas Sparks 2002 tear-jerker Nights in Rodanthe, which was adapted into a film starring Richard GereWe also inched out way through Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, and Frisco finally arriving to Hatteras where we would take the ferry over to Ocracoke Island.  I was positively energized with excitement as we pulled into the Hatteras ferry station.  As we queued-up behind a long line of cars sis stepped out of hers which was several cars ahead of us. I thought for sure we’d be the first ones here given that we woke up before the roosters.

How long is this going to take?” I asked sis.  “There seem to be so many cars!”

“The line moves pretty quickly,” she said.  “You’ll see…maybe a half-hour, tops.  We’re just waiting for another ferry-boat to pull in.  Don’t worry…this is going to be fun,” she added as she hopped back into the car.

Ah.  She caught that hint of nervousness in my voice.

And fun it was! I was amazed that some folks stayed in their cars for the ride. The weather couldn’t be more perfect with the wind calm enough to be gentle on the hair…and yet there are people, sitting in their cars, sleeping or on their devices. I had to catch my myself in that moment of judgement: who am I to critique these folks?  Perhaps they make the ferry trip often enough that the novelty of it all has worn off.

Standing at the front of the boat, rows of cars behind me, I inhaled the experience into memory. I breathed in deeply, feeling the subtlety salty ocean air far to my left and the Pamlico sound air directly to my right. As I strained to see land I caught sight of flying fish which makes all of us watching ooh and aah at the spectacle. Before an hour is up we are slowly pulling into the Ocracoke ferry dock.

At sixteen miles long, and at its widest point, three miles across, Ocracoke is barely five feet above sea level so flooding is always an issue.  In fact, it rained two of the four days of our stay and large pools and lakes of water sprouted everywhere. There are no high rises or beach mansions so it’s mighty rustic as beach towns go.  As of 2014, an estimated 591 people live on the island year-round.  This “sand bar” of a place has some interesting history too.  For example, It was, understandably due to its remoteness, a favorite hang-out for pirates back in the day.  Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, frequently anchored just off the island.  Apparently it was his favorite anchorage spot and it’s where he ultimately met his demise in 1718.

Vowing not to let rain spoil our time, we managed to get to the beach everyday.   We frolicked a fair amount of time in the water on day two of our stay. My nephew had oodles of fun body surfing with his father and Zio “Luigi.”  I also spent more time than usual in the water thanks to the peace of mind of my newly purchased Sharkbanz, a device intended to deter sharks by way of upsetting their electroreception.  On advice by my dear friend, Miss Cookie who used the product during her beach week, I purchased one literally three days before our trip with only a quick perusal of the official website and a couple of YouTube videos. You can check out their site here: https://www.sharkbanz.com/pages/how-it-works

I had my Sharkbanz strapped to my ankle which, at first glance, could easily be mistaken for an ankle bracelet monitoring device for someone on parole or under house arrest.  “HA….let’s give ’em something to talk about!” I thought as onlookers noted my accessory as I played in the water on my boogie board.

Of course, it was only after my trip that I delved into more YouTube videos to see that on occasion the device doesn’t work!  Miss Cookie, had warned that Great Whites appear to be unaffected by the strong magnet device.  They stalk from a distance and then purposefully aggressively strike to kill. Still, Ignorance is bliss, I say. Even if it was but a placebo effect, my “fashion” accessory allowed me to spend hours in the water without worrying much about what lurked below the surface.  Later that night as I tossed and turned in the motel bed to the loud drone of the window unit air conditioner, I thought about my Starkbanz safely back in its proper box for storage.  How about similar devices to deter snakes…and spiders…and frogs that fall atop one’s head?!   Alas, sleep eluded all of us that night as powerful thunder and lightning tormented the tiny island for what seemed like hours.

Foggy-brained in the morning due to lack of sleep, we were all dragging just a bit.  At a quaint coffee shop around the corner, the Ocracoke Coffee Co., people were all a-twitter about the terrific storm of the night and all the rain that came with it.  As I stood in line for my java fix I caught bits and pieces of conversation from folks coming and going.

“What a night, eh?” said one guy who looked to be in his fifties.

“I know, amazing right? I just love lightning storms!” gushed the barista gal behind the counter. She sported Shamrock green braids gathered into a loose bun at the base of her neck. While I don’t have green hair I think I am stylin’ with my well-worn Chacos and Lululemon capris.  Still, I feel like a fossil in that moment as the general consensus of the morning chatter in the coffee-house was just how “freaking cool” that lightning show was.

Am I the only one on the planet who doesn’t find it particularly soothing to be squarely under a thunder and lightning storm?  As a side note, By chance I happened to read that last week severe lightning damaged the steeple of the Ocracoke Methodist church.  It took out the wooden cross.

Ocracoke Methodist Church – now missing part of its steeple and it’s cross.

 

Ponder on the meaning of that weirdness whilst I think of more Ocracoke tidbits to share….

A Roanoke relic in the brackish marsh….