Tuesday, April 16th dawned beautiful but crisp. I awoke refreshed after a good night's sleep following the long drive up from Florida, put on shorts and a sweatshirt and headed down to the ocean in the pre-dawn light to savor the sunrise as it rose from the deep blue Atlantic. It was one of my favorite times as a child and standing there as the horizon began to lighten preparatory to the sun rising, the memories of the old days were flooding into the forefront. About twenty other people staying in the hotel were there with cameras as well and the calm sea and the sound of seagulls starting their daily sustenance search filled the skies.
After a great breakfast, I walked on the beach, walked up the Wright Memorial to take some more pictures looking down on the beach, stopped at a few tourist shops to find a few gifts to take home, then headed down to the Pelican Cottages (the former home and cottages owned by that wonderful man so kind to me as a boy, Sherman Culpepper and his wife, Evelyn). Mrs. Culpepper sold the cottages to Bobbie Murray in 1989 before moving to Chapel Hill to live with her daughter.
As I drove in and parked at the foot of the oceanfront cottage, Bobbie walked up to me and we climbed the walkway together to the covered seating area at the top of the rise. She was very gracious and I enjoyed the view of the ocean and the briny air which became apparent at the top of our climb. She asked me a few questions about the good old days and I gave her all the knowledge on those subjects I had. I presented her with an autographed copy of "Summers at Old Nags Head" for her kindness to me and then I walked around taking pictures. Looking down at my old family cottage from up high, it looked very much like it did many years earlier except for the valley like location of the cottage. I could see that one could not see the ocean from the porch nor get the wonderful breezes from sea which would blow by up high. All access to the beach requires walking on a wooden walkway, the dunes must not be walked upon. So, while the cottage was on the oceanfront, you couldn't see the ocean, smell it or receive the breeze directly and it was probably twenty degrees warmer than up the dune and over and down to the beach. I tried to visualize what that would mean during the hottest summer months. Frankly, the ambiance was ruined and the crowded nature of properties nearby, plus their size, would have not been pleasing to a boy the age I was in the 1950's. But, then again, boys today can't experience what I did so I suppose it means they would never have my expectations of what a beach should be like.
I also took pictures of buildings across the beach road, including the former home of my Aunt Sylvia and Uncle Hal which had been restored and looks very much like I remember as a boy. And the cottages that were called the Dunbar Cottages as a boy next to her former home were also still there with their same physical appearance, yet remodeled and up-to-date and maintained in the old style of the 1940s and '50s in the immediate area was as good as anywhere in Nags Head. Somehow the pastels and modernity just don't have the classic look of the heavy wood shingles of old. And the presence of a few of the traditional high chimney homes of old added a luster as well.
Pulling out the driveway and turning south, I immediately spotted the old Snowbird, a place where in my childhood I consumed many a milkshake or ice cream cone after walking barefoot the short distance to the shop. Uncle Hal used to laugh at us for eating what he called "blowed up foam," and we shook her head and laughed with him. But compared to Aunt Sylvia's exceedingly rich home churned ice cream, especially her specialty peach, he was probably right. It didn't matter, however, for we loved the soft serve variety and it was especially good if we dropped by after climbing Jockey's Ridge and now Jockey's Ridge would be my next stop as I relived a part of my past.
Today, however, you can't walk there from the beach since the traffic is heavy and no one would let you walk across their property to get there. In the old days it was wide open and you could walk through the the road almost anywhere. There is, however, a parking lot at the now state park, but something just seems strange about driving to the dunes when we walked there several times a week. Maybe that's one of the reasons today so many of our children are obese. Could it be too much smart phone and not enough exercise?
Regardless, as I got out of the car in the parking lot that was now adjacent to a live oak forest in front of the dunes, I couldn't believe it. Even from that location in the old days it was a flatland of scrub growth where the dunes stood up as three giants, but the front two looked small compared to that large dune at the back that we called Jockey's Ridge. First I saw the flight school for hang gliders and now they are launched from a dune that is quite small compared to the past. Of course, it is obvious the sand has flattened out dramatically with many small dunes that in some ways resemble desert canyons in the Great Southwest. I made the climb to where the hang gliders were launched, taking pictures from that vantage point toward the ocean, then walking to the west to take photos of the Roanoke Sound. In the old days you could see all the cottages up and down the beach road but no longer. And the rear dune used to be like a nearly two hundred foot cliff on the sound facing side, but no longer that as well. It used to take about twenty minutes to huff and puff your way back up from the bottom since your feet slid down nearly as much as you advanced with each step in the soft sand. The area is still pretty, but it has lost its charisma with its shrinkage, and I think the inability of sand to move above as in old since so much of it is now locked by macadam, building foundations and concrete and grass has resulted in nature largely giving up on those dunes. And another classic landmark continues to bit the dust.
Tired when I finished, I drove further south, made a brief stop to honor my Great-Granddad Peter at Bodie Island Light, then drove out on the causeway just to view to Roanoke Sound. It told me that one thing remains always constant. When I could actually see and stand by the water, I knew that the power of water is always waiting for its moment and that will undoubtedly come again. I only hope that all of those new residents realize what can happen to their sandbar, for when the weather hits with the perfect storm nature will always be the winner.
I finished my day with a walk on the beach near my lodging. It was chilly but invigorating and with a hooded sweatshirt I was quite comfortable. I walked barefoot in the cold water and just thought about how lucky I was as a boy to experience the beach as it was and I always think was meant to be. That's just my view and I admit it is not for everyone. But the spirit of the Outer Bankers was developed in those days of yore and many a young man became captive of the love of the sea, be it as a fisherman, a Coast Guardsman or a naturalist supreme. That spirit captured many, including me, and I was reminded that once you have the blood of an Outer Banker flowing through your veins, it never lets your heart go. So, I headed back to my lodging, reviewed my notes and things for the next day, and I would go to sleep contemplating my book review and signing session which would come on that day. And I was proud that I had written those two books that have been published as I planned for even more. It was another wonderful day of remembrance of some of the best days of my life.