Sunday, September 15, 2013

Holy Hatteras

If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with all things seaworthy, so it should come as a surprise to no one that a few weeks back when I spent lazy days seaside collecting seashells and trekking up old lighthouse steps, that I was in the throes of nirvana. I have had a few places in my lifetime truly dear to my heart, that somehow have anchored themselves deep in the recesses of my soul with no intention of ever getting carried away by the tide. Though I have traveled quite a bit thus far, I would say only two places have ever taken up permanent residence within me, as places that call back to me time and time again--troublesome sirens they are--and never really seem to leave my mind. Those two places are the upper peninsula of Michigan and New York City. Well, Hatteras Island now has the distinguished honor of joining these two places that constantly duke it out for my most loved and yearn to go back to's.

How can I make you understand?

Well for starters, upon driving down the narrow stretch of highway late at night surrounded by sand dunes rolling down to the Atlantic on one side and the Pamlico Sound on the other, smelling the fresh sea air wafting in DC's window and right back out mine, I discovered something else, the night sky. It was vast, black, glistening with more stars than I had ever seen, and untouched by even a speck of artificial light to detract from its splendor. It was a perfect arch of night sky meeting earth, or in this case sea, and it was just as God intended, stupefying. I don't know how else to describe it other than it took my breath away and my words, so I stuck my head full out the window, let my eyes roll upwards, beamed, basked, and offered up a humbled prayer to God in my mind, of simple thank you's and you outdid yourself on this one, sir. It took me awhile to duck my head back in, and even after doing so I still shook it in disbelief. How was a night sky ever so perfect and how could anyone sleep with that outside their windows?
If my excitement was somewhat contained before, it now burst through the dam, unchecked and flooding everywhere.

The next morning, I greeted the sound from the back porch, shallow water and reeds straight ahead and giant four story houses, painted in Jamaican brightness, standing on stilts to my left. I loved it. After breakfast we made the short walk from the beach enthusiast's condo (pictures of lighthouses and fisherman's poems a delightful touch, the furniture from 1979 could have used a can of white spray paint to shabby chic it up but I wasn't complaining) to the beach, which was out our door, across the street and over a sand dune. The beach went on and on in both directions with very few people taking up space on the sand. I loved it more. I dropped my things and wasted no time, sprinting into the ocean and this time as I had DC to be my shark bait, I let myself enjoy swimming out to my waist versus staying only ankle deep.

Every day went a little like this:

Wake up, coffee, breakfast, beach, swim, sit in a beach chair in the surf, try and read but ultimately get distracted by enticing sound of the surf and end up going back in to laugh like a five-year old as waves knock me down and I utilize my got on sale for $5 goggles that allowed me to keep an extra vigilant eye for sharks and scope out the ocean floor for shells and other exciting treasures.
Lunch break at one of the many incredible local dives. Best part of the island, not a 7-Eleven, McDonald's, CVS, or any corporate chain of any kind in sight. Locals catching fish and bringing 'em in to be served up hot and scrumptious at the Hatterasman. Locals purveying coffee that wasn't Starbucks and was delicious at The Dancing Turtle. Locals making a lemon berry cake that finally made me break my anti-lemon bakery rule, umm, more than once, at Captain Beaner's.

Then it was back to the beach for more swimming, more of my trying to stay underwater for little schools of tropical-looking fish to stare me down while I stared them down, more seashell collecting and more of my sad attempts to read while ultimately just wanting to be lulled by the crash of waves meeting shore and then retracting back in a frothy sashay.
Dinner in the condo, then trigger-happy behind the lens of my camera for sunset or an adventure.
Repeat with added adventures like exploring the many shops on the island, kayaking, taking a ferry over to Ocracoke Island, touring the nearby lighthouses, with the added delicious bonus of a mere $8 and entering the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, climbing all 257 stairs, swirling up and up for an experience that I have been dying to have since my love affair with lighthouses began lord knows when.

Now there were a few downsides. I know you probably weren't expecting that but I will be honest with you. I'll start first with the least troubling and work my way up.

1. Because the island was so magical and enticing, (I saw dolphins one day when the sea was relatively calm, need I say more) I panicked nearly every day, because I knew every day was one day closer to going home and I was filled with a gut-wrenching dread that ultimately put a dreary raincloud on my living in the moment. My crazy fault? Of course. Why couldn't I just be present and enjoy it and not ruin it with worry? Well there was no doing! It was too delightful! I saw dolphins, storms roll in over the ocean, imagined I might see mermaids with my goggles, lighthouses, ate way too much lemon cake and drank cup after cup of hot and tasty flavored coffee with the likes of surfers! What else could I do but begin to dread going back to reality? Reality doesn't have dolphins. Reality isn't waking up on the ocean and swimming all day. Reality isn't lemon-berry cake for breakfast lunch and dinner! Oy but the panicky dread was a beast, but a small price to pay for Island life.

2. Then there was the seaweed in the sound. So the sound side of the island is mostly two-feet deep, with some spots where it gets ominously deeper, but then there was the seaweed. In fact there were whole sea forests down there, branches sticking up, and green patches of swaying plant life! In my kayak I was prepared with not only water-shoes, but a life-jacket in case I should've tipped for some reason, God forbid in the seaweed. The water shoes would then prevent my feet from actually feeling the slime of the plants caressing me, and because even though the water was shallow, surely the seaweed would attack me should I fall in and maybe just maybe the life-jacket would save me. Yes, I said it, were I to flip, I just knew the seaweed would wrap me in its creepy, malevolent, waving arms of hideousness and take me down while I screamed like a deranged banshee. I have been certain of this fact my whole life: that if seaweed ever so much as brushed my calve, it would sense my deep fear, therefor attacking me by wrapping itself around me and taking me down into its murky lair. I am not alone in this fear, either. Ask my sister Kia, who is even more scared of seaweed than I. This caused my kayak trips, though very fun, as I love to kayak, to be laced with an air of paranoia and rushing so that when I paddled back into shore, I felt a huge relief that I made it back alive.

3. There are ghosts. They come out at night and scurry about near the water's edge and up and over the dunes and it is horrifying. Well, they aren't so much ghosts as ghost crabs, but quite frankly after encountering a ghost crab I think I'd rather take my chances with an actual ghost. The first time I saw one, I was sitting on the beach at dusk talking to my dad on the phone with my camera around my neck, having just snapped several pictures. I saw this gigantic crab run up to the water in front of me and at first I was excited. I told my dad what I had just seen and told him to hold on while I tried to photograph Mr. Crab up close, but as I neared him, I saw him panic at the sight of me and run back to his hole and disappear. At this time I had noticed his almost transparent legs and the fact that he went back down into a hole I had seen before. On my way to the beach every day I noticed numerous holes everywhere but thought nothing of it. I had now realized they were crab dens and I was aghast. I looked around me and saw the eery crabs everywhere, most of them little ghost crab babies. I felt a tremor of instant heebs rush up my spine and no longer wanted a picture, I wanted outta there. I ran for the dune while dodging crab after crab.
A few nights later, DC and I made the mistake of deciding to go on a romantic moonlit walk, I hesitantly asked what about the crabs? And he told me he thought they wouldn't be bad. I spotted a few as we made our way over the dune but tried to be brave as I dug my nails into the flesh of his arm, hugging closer and closer to his body. By the time we reached the water I wanted to simply be on DC's back and not have my feet anywhere near the sand, and still I saw the ghostly creatures running to and fro from the surf.
"No. No. No. I can't do it! I want to go back! They are going to crawl up into my vagina!"
DC immediately burst out laughing and said, "That's not the kind crabs that go into your vagina."
"They could get up there somehow though! The baby ones. They are fast and shifty!"
"Why would they want to go into your vagina?"
"UM! Why wouldn't they?! Their home is already a dark, wet hole, my vagina is exactly where they would like to be!"
DC laughed harder and said, "Wow, I love you. And that actually makes sense."
He turned me around and we went back, as soon as I crossed back over the dune, I ran across the street, borderline convulsing over my fear of the ghost crabs while wondering if any of them had made a mad dash for my vajayjay. I slapped at my legs.

I loved the island but the ghost crabs haunted me my entire visit and if I was paranoid about seaweed and sharks getting me, at least I could take the proper precautions, but there was no way to protect my lady parts so I avoided the beach from dawn to dusk everyday, except the one day I did brave it to see the sunrise and still met a few lingering crabs running about, but I daresay it was worth my irrational fear of ghost crabs in my vagina to see the suns rays lighting up the whole sky with pink and purple hues behind clouds nestled on the sea.

All in all other than my paranoia over seaweed attacks, shark attacks, ghost crab attacks, my daily dread over leaving, and a building resentment that my ancestors hadn't decided to be lighthouse keepers so that I could now own one, I would say Hatteras was the tops. Oh, was it ever the tops. Go and see for yourself. But don't crowd the beach as I prefer it uncrowded, don't tell anyone I sent you as I promised to keep Hatteras a secret, gem that it is and don't say I didn't warn you about the ghosts!