I’m on the porch of our rented house in Duck, on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, separated from the Atlantic by one row of houses. It’s nice October weather, about 70 degrees, and sunny. White puffy clouds slide on a huge sky, north to south, parallel to the ocean. The light is special. It is creamy, penetrating every corner, and beautifying. My wife, who likes to take pictures, says that the light in the Outer Banks is ideal for photography. What can I say? I trust my wife of over forty years. In between the houses in front of me I glimpse the ocean, gray and blue patches, and I hear the surf, permanent, reassuring.
We are here for a week, out of season. The sun is milder, the crowds are thinner, and the rentals are cheaper. Dear friends of ours will be joining us for the weekend.
The first time we came to Duck in the early eighties, it was in the summer, and our children were 2 and 3 years old. We came back when they were 3 and 4, and 4 and 5, and every summer after that, until they grew up, and went to college. Friends of ours came along and loved this place also. We came here many times with family and friends to relax, swim, eat, drink, sing, and celebrate. My father and mother came here. Our friends’ daughter got married on a beach nearby. We lived through a hurricane here, and once I went deep sea fishing with my son and my daughter when they were 13 and 14, and we caught six tunas and seven mahi-mahis (or dolphinfish of bright rainbow colors). But mostly, as my daughter had once written in a school essay, here we allowed ourselves to become children again.
Yesterday, my wife and I walked on the beach, all the way to the pier of the Army Corps of Engineers Research Facility, about one mile and a half north of here. Walking there the sun was behind us and the wind blew straight in our faces. The waves were strong, white foam stretching on the wet sand like the tears of a frozen maiden. There were a few people on the beach, mostly seniors, all friendly, walking or sitting on folding chairs and reading. A few were fishing. ‘Catching dinner?’ my wife said to one of them, but I didn’t catch the response to her jovial and perhaps overused comment. A man with a huge fishing pole pulled a tiny fish out of the water. Such mighty tools and such a puny result, I reckoned, and then I realized the silvery creature wiggling on the man’s hook was his bait. Having a piece of metal run through your slender body, and being a fish thrown back in the familiar water only to be pulled out again, that’s got to be the pinnacle of an unfortunate fate!
The pier we reached after about 45 minutes is supported by forty or fifty double pillars, inverted U’s made of concrete encased in an armor of thick rusted steel, that brings to mind the decay of a forlorn era. If you stand on the shore and look straight at the ocean between the posts, you see a band of water with light and foam dancing on top of the waves — the lapping sea against old Venetian columns. Each pillar has a black cable hanging from it connecting to a longitudinal conduit under the walking platform. I wondered what the purpose of those cables was, and the engineer in me guessed strain gauges, while I realized that it didn’t matter. What mattered at that point was the sea, the gulls, the wind, and the soul within us.
Walking back, the sun blinded us, and the ocean looked like molten silver. The sea gulls cowed, the sand crabs hid in their little holes, and the wind caressed our backs. A man with a metal detector crossed our path. ‘Have you noticed,’ my wife asked, ‘that all treasure seekers wear snow white socks?’ I had not, and when I looked I saw that he indeed was wearing black sneakers and white tennis socks stretched over his spindly ankles. Later we ran into a second man with a metal detector who was barefooted. ‘The exception that confirms the rule,’ my wife said.
Yesterday afternoon we discovered the Boardwalk. It starts at Scarborough Faire and ends at Tommy’s Market. It’s a series of elevated wooden walkways and bridges skirting the shores of the Sound. I think that the name boardwalk is misleading, maybe because it suggests Ocean City, Rehoboth, and other places where commercialism reigns.
This boardwalk is beautiful and peaceful, and it is done in good taste.Nature is preserved. The sun set last night at 6:43 pm, and the sky over the sound was like butter (my wife said). On the other side the moon rose over the ocean. A few geese glided in the distance. Huge crabs crawled backwards under the bridge. On a petrified tree trunk, we saw a large grey heron that looked like the tree.
This morning we saw two dogs on the beach — a furry black and brown old retriever, and a milk coffee young lab (dog years being deceiving, I appraised him as a teenage pup) incapable of suppressing his excitement and circling happily around his much more mature friend, jumping high, and actually swirling in midair. The owner watched the young dog with a forgiving smile, while I felt jealous, convinced that at his age, fifty years ago, I would have flipped with happiness too.
Fifty years ago, I lived in Romania, and as a very young man, I used to go every summer to a place on the Black Sea called ‘2 May.’ My wife — she was my girlfriend then — came with me. The place is a fishermen’s village, a few kilometers north of the border with Bulgaria, rustic and full of charm. The rooms we used to rent had dirt floors, the beds were straw mattresses on squeaky metal frames, and every courtyard was equipped with an outdoor bucket shower and outhouse. The dust in the road was inches high. We didn’t care. It was cheap, and there were a lot of us, friends who loved the beach and the seclusion of a place not touched by propaganda. At night we lit bonfires, we drank, and listened to American folk and rock and roll. The name of the place — 2 May — is a date that might have some historical significance, but I don’t know it, and, like with the strain gauges on the pier, I don’t think it matters. And one more thing — at the edge of the village there was a nudist beach, and many times my friends and I went there. Years later when I mentioned this to some of our new American friends we were chastised with unmitigated puritanical vehemence. One would think that Sodom and Gomorra took depravity lessons from our remote little Romanian village. The outrage had no bounds. Mass shootings, bad, but we can understand, whereas a bare breast or buttock raise existential questions of morality. Yet we were young and beautiful, and for those who want to know, of the five or six male friends of mine who partook in basking naked in the sun with their girlfriends, most married them and are married to them to this day.
I guess there are places in life that become significant not just because they are unique and breathtakingly beautiful, but because they gain depth through our memories (incidentally and appropriately, the house we are renting now is called Memory Maker).
Sunrises in 2 May, sunsets on the boardwalk in Duck, we are lucky to have seen you.