Exploring the Wrightsville Beach Loop, Unmoored

via Daily Prompt: Unmoored

I don’t enjoy housework. I don’t live in filth and I enjoy the finished product of a clean house, I just don’t like the process of getting it that way. It’s overwhelming to me. After working full-time, attempting to stay in shape, keeping up a yard and trying to find time to write, the last thing I want to do is clean house-which is ironic because I have many ideas about things I want to do with my home. I dream of a life where I am unmoored from housework, where I have lots of time to explore and write, to be active and creative. Lately, I’ve started putting some thought into what I can do to solve this problem. How can I have it all? In my own small and humble way, I have found some avenues for “outsourcing” some of my housework. Today, I benefited from taking those avenues and was able to tend to both my domestic duties and my need to get outside and poke around. I did two things: I ordered my groceries online and I offered to pay my cousin to come over for three hours to help me clean.

Did you know that for $5, you can order your groceries online and someone will do your shopping for you? All you have to do, at least for Harris Teeter, is set up an account online, select your groceries and select a time that you would like to pick them up. I ordered my groceries last night and opted to pick them up this afternoon. Earlier this week, I set up a time for my cousin to come over today and help me clean. By doing those two things, I freed up my morning to go for the 2.45 mile walk around  Wrightsville Beach Loop  and to explore Lee’s Nature Park along the way.

Parking for the Loop is located at Wrightsville Beach Park. WB allows two hours of free parking for anyone using the park or the loop. I parked my car, got my parking ticket and set off on my walk. Lee’s Nature Park is located along the Loop. I have walked the Loop many times and just recently noticed the nature park. Today, I detoured off the Loop to slip down the path into the park for a few minutes. It was small but quaint. I could see myself reading a book or eating lunch there. A sign at the entrance of the park states that it was created as a bird sanctuary and is home to egrets, brown pelicans and many types of butterflies. I did not see any of those creatures today. I guess they were either off hunting for food or quietly observing me from the trees. The park overlooks the marsh and is quite peaceful.

After I examined the park, I got back onto the loop. Today was overcast, but there were still plenty of walkers and runners out. When I crossed the bridge over Banks Channel, I saw boats, paddle-boarders and canoes dotting the waterway. I made my way along the back of the loop until I traveled to the opposite side. I looked over and spotted a path leading down to the marsh. I glanced at my phone and confirmed that I had enough time to check it out. Like the park, it was also a quiet excursion from the primary loop. I looked across the marsh and saw a row of canoes which presumably belonged to a business that rented them out. Good to know. Standing on the edge of the marsh, I remembered the Fort Fisher Hermit who lived in the marsh at Fort Fisher. I headed back to the loop but instead of walking on the sidewalk, I took the beaten path which runs parallel to the loop through a row of large swooping trees.


After the loop I collected my groceries and came home to meet my cousin. She was an ENORMOUS help to me. We listened to 80s music and chit-chatted while we worked which made the housework so much easier. Together, we thoroughly cleaned several key areas in my house and tonight I am breathing a sigh of relief to have gotten some of my housework done. Plus, I didn’t miss any fun 😉



The Fort Fisher Hermit

“Hermits are hermits at home before they hit the jungles. Everybody ought to be a hermit for a few minutes or so every twenty-four hours, to study, meditate and commune with their creator.” Robert E. Harrill (1893-1972)

Robert Harrill had some difficulties in life. He was born on February 2, 1893. His mother died of typhoid fever when he was 7-years-old and he was sent to live with his authoritarian grandfather and an abusive step-grandmother. As a child he learned to find solace in the woods, hiding among the trees and playing in the creeks, to escape his family.

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Originally, he wanted to be a Baptist minister. He didn’t have financial support from his family, though, so he worked on farms until he earned enough money to attend the Boiling Springs Baptist Boarding School. While in school, he acquired a “printing outfit” and worked for local newspapers as an apprentice. This lead to a newspaper career that lasted until he was 40-years-old when, according to The Reluctant Hermit of Fort Fisher, he began to have health problems from lead poisoning. After that, he worked an assortment of jobs in an effort to support his family. He and his wife, Katie, had five children total but lost two children, an infant daughter and a son, Alvin, who committed suicide as a young man.  


Robert battled what he called demons in his head for many years. On one occasion, his wife’s family had him committed to Broughton Mental Hospital in western NC, but the stay was brief and he left on his own. All of these factors produced stress on his marriage and eventually Katie left to accept a job as a housekeeper in Pennsylvania. She took the children.


At the age of 62, Robert hitchhiked to Fort Fisher, NC where he set up residence in an abandoned WWII bunker and eventually became the Fort Fisher Hermit. Robert was a curious “hermit”, though. Initially, he retreated to the marshes of Fort Fisher to escape the demands of the modern world and even judgement from other people, but he was a likeable man, well-spoken and described as a “gentle” spirit, and people were drawn to him. Whenever someone crossed his path in the marsh, he generally welcomed the company and before long, he was receiving many visitors. During his stay at the bunker, he received about 100,000 visitors and eventually he became the second largest tourist attraction in North Carolina behind the USS Battleship North Carolina. Had he been a blogger, I think he would have had a heck of a following.


Unfortunately, not all of his visitors came with the best of intentions. He was beat up and robbed on several occasions and on June 3, 1972, he died under suspicious circumstances. The only consolation those close to him could take from his death was that he died on his own terms and he died free.


“Millions of people, at some time or another, want to do just what I am doing, but since it is so much easier thought than done, they subconsciously elect me to represent them.”


For more information on Robert check out the following links to the book and film which are the sources for my blog:


The Reluctant Hermit 




Meandering along the Basin Trail

In case you haven’t noticed, I quite enjoy walks and hikes. My latest excursion, last weekend, was The Basin Trail at Fort Fisher. The Basin Trail (difficulty: easy) is 1.10 miles one way-so a little over 2 miles there and back.  It begins at the Fort Fisher Visitor Center and winds along the sound side of Fort Fisher across straw, wooded walkways and sand. It travels down a path surrounded by trees, shrubbery, the marsh, a World War II bunker and it ends at an observation deck overlooking the Basin.


Along the way, you can expect to see Spartina salt marsh, hermit crabs and an assortment of seabirds, including but not limited to, plovers and oystercatchers. There is also an abundance of fish, shrimp, clams and oysters. Depending on the time of year, you may also see loggerhead turtles, hawks, ducks and many more species.

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You will pass a WWII bunker that was originally built by the Army Service Forces in 1942 when Fort Fisher was part of a training and support facility for Camp Davis, located in Holly Ridge. Fort Fisher closed as a training facility in 1944 and the bunker was abandoned; but from 1956-1972, Robert Harrill, a hermit who lived on the salt marsh, found and occupied the bunker. Mr. Harrill fascinates me and I intend to talk about him further in a separate post. 

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Once you reach the observation deck, you will see Zeke’s Island across the water. You may also see Brown pelicans fishing, kayakers or even an occasional wind skier.  

After you walk the trail, you can do like I did and enjoy the beach. The parking at the visitor center is free and provides access to the beach. The visitor center also provides restrooms, tables and an area to rinse off when you exit the beach.

Not a bad afternoon for free fun.

Cape Lookout


My first visit to Cape Lookout was born from spontaneity. I’d previously had other plans for my weekend, but they fell through. Prepared for vacation but with nowhere to go, I sent my friend, Becki, a text for advice. She’s a bit of a traveler so I figured she would be a good resource.

Have you ever been to the Outer Banks? I wrote. I need a little trip and was thinking of driving up.

Yes. she answered. They’re beautiful.


If  you’re looking for a lighthouse… she continued, One of my favorites, Cape Lookout, is right near me. You could drive up and stay the night.

Ok!  I responded.

Happy to see that the weekend was salvaged, I drove to Becki’s the next day. 

The Cape Lookout Seashore is 56 miles of undeveloped barrier islands in North Carolina. It consists of the Core Banks and Shackleford Banks and contains the Cape Lookout lighthouse and the wild horses of Shackleford, among other natural treasures.


The morning that we visited Lookout, Becki, her husband, Jason and I drove to Harker’s Island, where we caught a ferry with several other passengers, including two dogs, for the three-mile trip to the island. One of the dogs was rather young, not well-trained, and clearly a dominant so I offered to trade places with his owner to keep him separated from the other dog. I sat on the back end of the boat with one group of passengers and the more laid back dog, a golden retriever, who made rounds getting his head rubbed when the waves weren’t too rocky. Becki and Jason sat on the front end with some other passengers, the dominant dog and his owner.

As we passed the barrier islands, we strained to see wild horses. I knew from a previous conversation that Becki was also looking for whales. We did see some horses in the distance, but what we mostly saw that day were pelicans, thousands of them. I’ve never seen so many in my life. Pelicans breed on barrier islands so perhaps it was mating season or maybe the fishing was just good that day. In a way, I regret not taking pictures of them, although I have the feeling that the picture would not have done them justice. I guess I sensed that in the moment which is probably why I chose to savor it instead of fumble with my phone. The next time, I will be prepared.

When we reached the island, the ferry driver, a young, handsome,  weathered man, helped us off the boat. We thanked him and asked him when he would return. He was a man of few words, but I detected a hint of the Carolina brogue in his voice.

Once our feet hit the sand, Becki and Jason were in their element. They had visited the island several times before. “We bring everyone here,” Becki laughed. They knew exactly where they wanted to go. We headed down a walkway toward the Cape Lookout lighthouse, a old lightkeeper’s residence and a dilapidated work building. We were visiting in the off season so the buildings were not open, but we climbed onto the porch of what appeared to be the residence and peeked through the windows.


I turned around and drank in the view of the ocean from the porch. In my mind, I could see the lightkeeper sitting on the porch watching the sea. I wondered what it was like to be a lightkeeper. Was it a lonely life or a life of freedom? Probably a bit of both. A romanticized vision sprung to my head like something out of a Daphne du Maurier novel. I imagined a story of a shipwreck or a ghost lingering around the lighthouse. 


Next, we approached the lighthouse. It was majestic with its large stature and clean design. At 163 feet tall, the lighthouse is brick and painted with a black and white checkered pattern to indicate direction. The black diamonds point in a north and south direction while the white diamonds point east and west.


I could see how it could withstand the hurricanes that often pelt the Carolina shores, not to mention countless adventures with pirates and wars throughout the years.


I so wanted to go inside and climb the 207 steps to its gallery and see the panoramic views from the top. But that would have to wait for another day. As we walked away from the lighthouse toward the beach, I looked behind me to see it adjust to the landscape in the distance.


We walked the beach with the remainder of our time. We saw horseshoe crabs, shells and even an entire shark washed up on the shore. We walked around the shark and investigated it in an effort to determine its cause of death. We found a wound on his underside that almost appeared to be a bite.

“These waters are a little different, “ my friends offered, “sometimes you see things here that you wouldn’t see on the beach at home”. They explained that the island sits a little further out in the ocean and is in closer proximity to the Gulf. The water is rather clear, very warm and offers a long fishing season and a wide variety of species.

When it was time to meet the ferry, we headed to the dock. We sat with our feet dangling over the water while we waited for the ferry. As we rode back to Harker’s Island, I understood why Becki and Jason have been to Cape Lookout so many times. There is much to explore. I will be back myself when I can gain entrance to the buildings and climb to the top of the lighthouse.


I think I was born with salt in my veins


I think I was probably born with salt in my veins. My father, a middle child of five boys, was born and lived at Carolina Beach, NC with his family during the 40’s, 50’s and part of the 60’s. During that time, Carolina Beach was steadily becoming a hot tourist area, but it was also still a very small town. (It’s still a small town during the off season). All of the locals knew one another, and to listen to my dad talk about his childhood, he had a lot of freedom to run around and explore the island with his brothers. My dad can talk for hours about his youthful adventures on the beach, from fishing trips to body surfing to hanging out with other local kids and watching the tourists on the Boardwalk. He even had several conversations in those years with Robert Harrill, the well-known Hermit of Fort Fisher.

I have very early memories of the beach, of being held by my father in the ocean as he taught me to relax and not be afraid of the water. I remember riding out on the beach in his 4-wheel drive Bronco, always an adventure, and sometimes one in which we either got stuck or had to pull someone else out of the sand. When my brothers and I were very young, our parents would drive down the beach and find a pool of water left over from the high tide. We played in the pool while my dad sat up his rod and reel and fished off the beach.

I inherited a love of the ocean from my father. I also inherited his light hair, light eyes and fair skin. For this reason, my relationship with the beach has been complicated. It was further complicated when both my mother and one of my brothers developed melanoma, and when I developed a basal cell carcinoma on my face in my 30s. All of us survived our skin cancers, but the scares made me aware of what I really knew all along, that I had to be very careful in the sun.

As a small child, my mother kept me in sunscreen, but I cannot tell you how many times I got sunburned as a teenager and young woman. I spent many summer nights battling pain as my sunburns brushed against the bed sheets; I  experienced chills from sun poisoning. There were times when I didn’t wear sunscreen, convinced that I could eventually tan. There were other times when I did wear it, but forgot to reapply when I lost track of time because I was having so much fun. Once I accepted the fact that I would never tan, I wised up. I stopped going to the beach for a while, but then later, I figured out how to handle my predicament. I started going later in the day.

The sun is hottest from 10am-4pm so now I generally go around 4pm when the people who bask  in the hottest part of the day start to leave. I call it the shift change. When it gets close to dusk, I call it swimming with sharks. On the rare occasion that I go earlier, I limit my exposure to a short window of time and cover myself with sunscreen. I could write a separate blog on sunscreen, I’ve learned so much about it, and probably will at some point. I have lots of tips.

Despite this quandary, I still love the beach. I enjoy swimming in any body of water, whether it be a pool, a lake or the ocean. I imagine if I’d been born in the mountains I’d be writing this gushing article about mountain streams, but I’ve grown up by the ocean so the ocean experience is my favorite. To me, the ocean truly feels alive. It is alive. The tide comes in and goes out. The waves pull me toward them then they wash over me. That sense of floating and bobbing over the waves, being a part of that moving life force, is a thing I crave. I love the game of the ocean, the one where I stand in the water and debate each wave as it barrels toward me. Do I go over this one or duck below it? If I duck below it just before it hits, I can feel the power of its force right above my head. It’s right there, but far enough away that it doesn’t hurt me..but right there. Afterward, I’ll head to the beach to dry in the setting sun, the salt evaporating on my skin. I’ll read or just sit there and think while I dry,  and in those moments I am filled with peace.

I’m the kind of person who has a constant dialogue running in my head. I’m sure a lot of people are that way. Once, I heard that women’s minds are like noodles. We have lots of ideas in our heads and they are intertwined. My mind is definitely like a plate of spaghetti noodles. One noodle for my job. Another one for work on the house then another for what needs to be done in the yard. Another noodle for finances and writing projects, books I’m reading, concerns over how I’m going to stay in shape in my forties.  Another for my relationships with other people (and each of those relationships has its own noodle) along with many other responsibilities and goals.

Last year, I had an experience on the beach I have never had before. Well, no, that’s not entirely true. I believe I have had this experience before, but very briefly and not in a way that I fully recognized or could articulate. I was sitting on the beach drying off after having been tossed about by the waves. I remember looking around and listening to the waves crash against the shore. Seagulls pranced in front of me, begging for handouts. Pelicans dove for fish in the distance and the sun was beginning to set with vibrant colors of blue, pink, orange and lavender. A child played in the shoreline and people walked by contentedly. Suddenly, I realized that the chattering in my head had ceased along with any actual thoughts. I’m not sure how long it lasted, probably just a few minutes, but for just a few minutes, I stopped thinking and was simply present. My mind sat back and allowed my soul to be part of the beach.Once I realized what had happened, I snapped out of it. I looked over at a friend who sat reading in a chair beside me and said, “You’re not going to believe what just happened to me”.

I believe this is what we live for. We live for the moments when we can shut out the chatter of our lives and just be one with God’s universe. We know there is something much much bigger than the day-to-day routine. I believe it’s a precursor to eternity. Maybe it’s even practice for eternity. Just remember to wear sunscreen.

Mailboxes on the beach

About a year ago my friend, Cheryl, and I drove south to visit the Kindred Spirit mailbox on Bird Island. Bird Island is in NC close to the border between North and South Carolina. From the pier at Sunset beach, we walked a little over a mile during low tide to reach the mailbox. Several articles have been written about Kindred Spirit and it was even featured on CBS News; I wanted to explore it for myself. It has since become one of my favorite outings. Recently, I was looking for something to do when I realized that Wrightsville Beach also houses a mailbox on the north end of the beach near Mason Inlet. I learned that the mailbox was originally placed on the beach in 2003 by a couple, was taken up for a while and housed in the Wrightsville Beach museum then replaced by university students in 2014. Just like Kindred Spirit, it is very popular. I decided I needed to make the trek.


On an overcast but unseasonably warm day in the winter, I drove to the beach, rolled up my pants and set out on my quest. There were quite a few people on the beach taking advantage of the nice day. I walked toward Mason Inlet and Figure Eight Island in search of the box, but did not see it. I walked as far as I could along the inlet away from the ocean toward the sound. The roar of the waves faded behind me. No mailbox. I turned around and walked back to the ocean and the dunes. I had assumed the mailbox would be behind the dunes, but they were sectioned off for nesting. Still, I kept my eyes peeled as I walked back the way I came. A flock of pipers ran along the water and hopped in the sand nearby. Well, I thought, if I don’t find it, I’ll be disappointed but today won’t be a total waste. After all, anytime you can stroll on the beach, admire the water and watch the creatures, you haven’t really wasted your time, have you? A young woman walking her dog noticed me and called out, “Are you looking for the mailbox?”

“Yes!” I answered.

“There are two of them”, she said “They were moved closer to the hotel because of the nests. I missed them, too, when I first looked”.

I thanked her and headed back to the Shell Island resort where I easily found the boxesfilled with journalsstacked one on top of the other. I noticed what appeared to be the original mailbox to the left of the stacked boxes, rusted out with a shell inside. I pulled a journal from one of the other boxes, sat on the sand, and flipped through the pages.


There are a few things that draw me to these boxes. First of all, there is always a little micro-journey involved with locating the box. Secondly, there is something about these mailboxes that brings out the best in people, from the couple who originally placed the box on the beach for the enjoyment of others to the girl with the dog, eager to help me because she wanted me to have the same experience that she had enjoyed; but what fascinates me most and probably everyone who is intrigued by them, is what they do for people. They offer people an opportunity to express themselves, to make their voices heard, and yet remain anonymous. It’s the best of both worlds. We all want to be recognized as special and yet we want to remain safe. The messages and emotions expressed on just the few pages that I read were as diverse as the people who left them.

Guilt and shame: Today I feel guiltI fear no one believes I can stay clean…I feel guilty for lying to her because I know I can’t be with her.

Hope: We are going to make it! Our love will keep us strong.

Praise: 44th anniversary. Praise God!

Mischief: I will if you will.

And mine: Thank you for replacing this mailbox. This journey to the end of the beach is going to be my first blog. We are blessed!

All of us reaching into the air, reaching out to God maybe or at least a stranger who is not already fed up with our antics, can see us objectively and might hope for our success.

I have started to wonder how many such mailboxes exist. I’ve found two in North Carolina. Are there others? Certainly, there must be. If so, maybe I’ll visit them one day. I’m always up for a trek.