Orange blush sunset
skies, salt swims through my hair, breeze
turns cool as we dry
Orange blush sunset
skies, salt swims through my hair, breeze
turns cool as we dry
From a shop at Carolina Beach, NC
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 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.
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 boxes–filled with journals–stacked 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 guilt…I 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.