My mom and I walked down to the very southern end of the island today. We left from the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum and walked about 2.5 miles on the beach to the southernmost tip of Hatteras Island, where Hatteras Inlet cuts through to the Pamlico Sound.
Today was one of those days where the sky is impossibly blue, the clouds are impossibly white, the ocean is the color of topaz, and you say over and over out loud how beautiful it all is. There were a lot of people fishing on the beach, and a few people like us- beachcombers. It’s the tail end of the summer season. The family groups of tourists have gone home because the kids have started school. Now we have the retired couples and the fishermen who come for the legendary fall surf fishing. We talked to a few hopeful anglers, but no one was having any luck. No one seemed too worried about it. Sitting on the beach on a day like today is a treat, whether you catch a fish or not.
I must have said at least ten times that it looked like the Caribbean. The water was a brilliant turquoise, and it was flat calm, unusual for this place known for its high winds and changeable seas. Lately I’ve been getting into sailing because my son is in the Sailing Club here, and I’ve been thinking I’d like to learn how to sail well enough to take a boat down to the Bahamas and loaf around on the out islands- snorkeling, fishing and exploring. Today I realized there’s really no need. Hatteras in late summer (when there’s not a hurricane) is every bit as enchanting as the Caribbean, and I already live here- no need to travel!
When I was a kid in the 80’s, we would drive down to the inlet and set up for the day with a cooler and a grill. Hordes of local children would play all day in the water, get sunburnt, boogie board, eat watermelon and hot dogs, and drink Cokes. Kids knew how to play back then, before the advent of screens. The end of the island was shaped really differently when I was a kid. The beach on the ocean side wrapped around to a beach on the sound side, and we would run back and forth all day, depending on whether we wanted to play in the waves in the ocean or swim in the calmer waters of the sound. Now the end of the island drops off with a sharp sand cliff and there are piles of dead trees washed up and tangled into each other’s branches. You can go around the point, but you have to wade into the water and around those trees. The current rips through there as well, so it’s not the safest place to explore unless you know you can swim well enough to extract yourself from the current.
Still, it is a beautiful place, and a wild place, the kind of place that is rapidly being developed out of existence. The driftwood is like an art installation, just as pretty as anything you’d see in a gallery. We have plans to come back and do more exploring in the little maritime forest that somehow manages to eke out a living on what has to be one of the windiest places on the East Coast. There are gnarled oak and cedar trees, along with the ubiquitous “water bush.” I’m not sure what it’s really called, but it’s everywhere on the island because it’s a hardy little tree that doesn’t mind high winds and salt tide.
This kind of place is my favorite thing about living here. It still feels wild, like there’s something to be discovered. It isn’t exactly, but it feels untouched, and that’s important to me. The weather is always changing the contours of the island, and because of that it always feels new.