“The Outer Banks of North Carolina are not of North Carolina at all. Any minimally detailed map, let alone a satellite view from space, shows they belong to the Atlantic Ocean, as much a part of the sea as fish and waves, and as much at the sea’s mercy as sandcastles on the beach. This is particularly true of Hatteras Island, a 50-mile-long piece of dental floss constantly being redefined by wind and wave.” – Ray McAllister, Hatteras Island: Keeper of the Outer Banks
This is where hubby and I and the extended family have been for the past week: Avon, also known as Kinnakeet, Hatteras Island, Outer Banks.
Vacation? More like enforced rest. In a place like this a person MUST slow down, because there simply isn’t all that much to do. Eat. Swim. Read. Sunbathe. Repeat. If you feel like it, grab a rod and go fishing, or grab a snorkel and go snorkeling. Then eat, read, sunbathe, repeat.
This is the life of a tourist, those of us who pool our resources for a week’s stay at a “McMansion” with a swimming pool and a private walkway to the beach, then return home leaving behind natives who are either slightly bemused or slightly irritated and somewhat richer for our having been there.
But this was our fourth visit, and as we get to know the island better, another Hatteras is beginning to emerge: the Hatteras that existed for centuries as a collection of small fishing villages accessible only by boat. The Hatteras that didn’t have an asphalt road or dependable electricity or phone service until the 1960s. The island whose landscape changes yearly, even daily. The island McAllister talks about when he writes, “It is wind and rain and sunrises and sunsets and blowing sand and churning surf and you’d-better-be-ready-when-the-storm-hits-because-it-ain’t-waitin’-for-you. Count on that.”
Hatteras is as famous for its hurricanes and shipwrecks as it is for its pristine beaches and picturesque lighthouses. Fact is, every time we come back the place has changed. And I don’t mean change as in, they painted the local grocery store (which they have — looks nice!). I mean change as in, fifteen miles of highway has shifted fifteen feet to the right from where it used to be. A bridge has been washed out in one place and another has been erected somewhere else. There’s sand where water used to be and water where sand used to be. And our friends at the Methodist church have spent the past ten months rebuilding their sanctuary after Hurricane Irene filled it with four feet of water and a foot of sand.
Life on a sandbar. It never stays the same. It’s always changing. There are glorious days, and there are nightmarish days. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. It’s irresistible. It’s dangerous. It’s life. On a sandbar.
Somehow those of us who live on the mainland are under the impression that our “real lives” at home are more solid, that the ground we walk on won’t shift beneath us, that we won’t ever feel our tires sinking into sand. Hatteras teaches otherwise. All of life and all of reality is always shifting, always changing, and there’s no stopping that process. Any appearance of permanence is just an illusion, and any attempt at forcing permanence results in damage to the environment we depend on.
The islanders have it right: there are days to enjoy and thank God for, and there are days to be amazed we’ve lived to see the sun rise. And no matter what happens we are in God’s hands and we have each other, and that’s all that matters. That’s the Hatteras way.
Life on a sandbar.