Wednesday, October 29

Colliding Currents

Hatteras Island Disconnect Posted by HelloVirginia Beach in the summer is full of traffic and tourism; local surf and turf invaded by binoculars and bad bathing suits. Relatives from the Midwest would comment on how lucky we were to live so close to the beach, right before they would make reservations to stay in our home for a week in August. If it was luck that I lived close to the shore, the luck became far less apparent to me as I gave up my bedroom to Aunts and Uncles, cousins and old family friends each summer. A week of seeing the same overpriced attractions and turning their milky white Michigan complexions to a painful pink was considered pleasure in paradise to the camera wielding home invaders. They would finally stop coming and going in late August and I would migrate from the crumb filled couch back to my bedroom. The washing machine would rumble for the next 3 days trying to rid my linens of the oily aroma of Coppertone SPF30. I live in Virginia Beach, but it really belongs to those who suffer the landlocked blues for nine months and then come here seeking the salty sea air to clear their sinuses of the acid rain reality of a Midwestern existence.

I’m not really much different I suppose. Hatteras Island always provided me with that escape and solitude, with 50 miles of beach stretching from Oregon Inlet in the north to Hatteras Inlet in the south. Beautifully undeveloped land, 85 percent of this slender barrier island is unadulterated federal property full of rugged dunes, wide beaches and a brackish sound of wetlands; forever protected from development by Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. There really wasn’t anyone to call for reservations and I never forced an otherwise comfortable bedroom dweller to the uneasy slumber of the family room couch. Mother Nature always had plenty of room on her earthen beds, arranged under a southern sky, softened by sand that was freshly spread by an intoxicating Outer Banks breeze.

My father introduced me to Hatteras Island in the late seventies. The first excursion was full of discovery. We traveled the weaving, sand dusted narrow road through the wildlife refuge in our battered and rusty 1969 Jeepster Commando and scaled the winding stairs of the storied lighthouse. I ran frantically from the pursuing foamy wake that seemed a willing participant in a child’s game of wet feet and sand filled toes. I built royal castles of sand while my father cast his homemade “Hatteras Heaver” over the breaking waves of the Atlantic, hoping to wrestle another bluefish onto the beach. The beach where I would sleep at night, exhausted from the relentless pursuit of the tide. Most fascinating to me about that first adventure to the island was something my father had shown me, the actual point of land which juts into the Atlantic at Cape Hatteras, known locally as Cape Point. We stood there together and spoke of the two currents that come together there: the Labrador Current, which flows north to south, and the mighty Gulf Stream, which runs south to north. My eyes followed his huge arm to the tip of his index finger and watched as he explained that the two currents collide just a few miles off Cape Point at the Diamond Shoals. The currents will sometimes form a gentle mix; but sometimes they come together with such force that they throw fish and shells far into the air, sink ships, and flood the land.

It is 30 years later, and I can’t be sure if I really saw it, but my memory fills my mind's eye with a picture of two waves charging at one another. I stood in total awe beneath my father’s outstretched arm, and watched as the waves crashed into each other, spewing salty foam high into the air. It seemed so vivid at the time that it never really escaped me. I would return to Hatteras Island countless times with family and friends, taking in more and more of what nature had to offer, but those two colliding waves always created the backdrop for everything I saw. I fished with my father and vacationed with relatives; even took a stab at becoming the next local surfer that people crowded the beaches to watch. I rarely caught a fish and was never really comfortable looking in at the beach as I rushed in on a rolling wave. Fishing and surfing were simply reasons to put myself on that sandy point, standing under a father’s arm, anxiously awaiting the next confrontation of the currents.

I was young then and have never again heard anyone tell the story of the colliding currents. I thought I needed those “excuses” to be there, in case it was my imagination that spewed the salty foam above my head. I’m older now and know better. I don’t know that what I saw was real, but I do know that it’s possible.

Hurricane Isabel came ashore little more than a month ago, September 18, 2003. Like many others, I was prepared. My family braced for the worst and wondered how our lives might be different after she was gone. For many, things were different, and for a time I felt very lucky as we didn’t lose power, didn’t have debris strewn about our yard, and none of our loved ones were injured or taken from us. I felt unaffected by such a huge and dangerous storm. But as the news of devastation up and down the east coast started to emerge, I realized I may have been affected after all. Hurricane Isabel ripped through Hatteras Village and opened a 1700-foot gap between Hatteras Village and Frisco. On October 24th, the local newspaper displayed a view of Hatteras Island on the front page that was difficult to look at. The beautiful land that provided me with a lifelong memory of escape and solitude had been ripped to pieces by a devastating storm surge. I went on to read the article that accompanied the photo and realized I probably shouldn’t panic. In just one week of dredging, about half of what was lost had already been replaced. By mid-November, engineers expect the inlet to be filled with sand again, and the state will then begin rebuilding the washed-out road that provided access to the southern tip of the island. But I realized I shouldn’t panic because I can always just close my eyes and I’m once again a small boy on the tip of a sandy beach, watching from beneath my father’s outstretched arm as the currents collide before me.

Road to Hatteras Island;Posted by Hello