It’s been one month since I departed the Outer Banks, the place that holds my heart and soul and dominates my wildest dreams. Each vacation to this whimsical beach town is special for different reasons, usually because of a new discovery or adventure. But this time the reason my trip was so important was simply due to the fact that we got to go at all.
In the weeks leading up to our mid-September vacation, the Caribbean, the Atlantic, and the Gulf of Mexico fell victim to an unrivaled hurricane season. At the end of August, Harvey decimated the islands off the coast of Florida and flooded Texas. And right behind him was Irma.
By all accounts, Irma was massive. Her projected path changed hourly with meteorologists predicting her to make landfall from as far west as Texas to as far east as the Carolinas.
So while my family and I had been eagerly planning our vacation for thirteen long months, we were now forced to wait with baited breath to see if Irma was going to impact or flat out ruin our vacation.
My anxiety, of course, reared its ugly head in those few weeks. When I should have been happily tossing tank tops, flip flips, and sunscreen into my suitcase, I was checking my phone every ten minutes for updates from The Weather Channel. Instead of making reservations for wild horse tours and scoping out great kayaking spots, I was making a mental list of emergency items we might need to bring instead.
My husband and I didn’t make a final decision until the last minute, when it seemed as though most experts were agreeing that Irma was going to hit Florida – and hard. We decided to make a go of it with our extended family meeting us at the beach house we’d rented in Nags Head. We had half-assed back up vacations planned, but I was understandably unenthusiastic of the prospect of fleeing my favorite place on earth for something like D.C. or Williamsburg, VA.
Luckily we were able to spend our entire week in the Outer Banks as planned. And while nothing extraordinary happened during our trip, perhaps the best part was that I learned to take a step back and appreciate being there at all.
It Was . . .
. . . waking up on the first morning and greeting the angry sea and beautiful sun breaking through the clouds, wiping tears from my eyes as I ate cereal on the deck.
. . . . discovering new things like Ocracoke Island and the Elizabethan Gardens.
. . . seeing my dog frolic in the sand and chase ghost crabs and sand pipers.
. . . . lying on my back on the deck of our beach house, looking up at the millions of stars in the night sky and listening to the waves crash in the darkness.
. . . watching the sunset over the sound behind the little shops in the quirky village of Duck and seeing the wild Spanish Mustangs roam peacefully along the sugary soft sands of Corolla.
. . . about conquering fears – my husband climbing the Bodie Island Lighthouse despite his fear of heights and actually being able to enjoy the view, if only for a few seconds. One morning I woke up early, and with nothing else to do, I grabbed my self-published novel, set the GPS for a Little Free Library in Kitty Hawk, and drove on the bypass, despite the fact that driving on highways, especially in unfamiliar places, normally leads to a panic attack. I managed, with much coaxing from my husband, to get into the ocean further than my hips for the first time in over ten years. I swam out until the water was over my shoulders and I couldn’t touch the bottom, just so I could hop on a sand bar and marvel at the natural formation and rolling waves. Once closer to shore, I floated on my back, squinting up at the sun, letting the ocean’s waves roll gently beneath me. I rose and fell with the water, relaxing in its salty arms and smiling, until the inevitable rogue wave came rolling in unexpectedly and crashed over my head, stinging my eyes and burning my throat so that my smile became a laugh, and I remembered that the unpredictability of the sea is one of the reasons I love it so much.
Because of, Not in Spite of
This was, I believe, my twelfth visit to the Outer Banks since 1996. And while I’ve explored half a dozen Caribbean Islands and waltzed down Main Street in Disney World three times, the island is still my favorite place on the planet. I cry when I get there and I cry when I leave, so I’d like to think that I’ve never taken advantage of visiting the place. But after this near-miss of a vacation, I realized that isn’t exactly true.
Each and every vacation, I admire its beauty, its rich history, its uncanny ability to calm the mind and ease the soul. And even though I’ve read about how many storms the tiny strip of land has weathered for centuries, I never really understood how much its resilience played into why I loved it so much.
The Outer Banks, physically and logically speaking, is an enigma. It is a narrow strip of land jutting out from the east coast into the violent and ever changing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Unpredictable waters batter its beaches, shifting sand bars sink its ships, and its remote location make it seem much further from the main land than it actually is. But all of those things also contribute to its appeal. Its isolation is, of course, one of the reasons it is such an ideal vacation location. But considering it is only accessible by bridge, and its hurricane season lasts from July through November, that also makes it a precarious place for plans of enjoying the sun and surf.
The Outer Banks is only three miles across at its widest point, making it seem as though any large storm would surely swallow it up completely, making it a modern day Atlantis. But despite all these factors, it is still a living, breathing, thriving piece of heaven. Its residents embody the resilient spirit of the Outer Banks by building houses and businesses mere feet from the ocean and rebuilding quickly and efficiently after a strong tropical storm or hurricane. They are almost comfortable with the threat, knowing that it’s a small price to pay to have the privilege of living in such a stunning location.
That spirit, that resiliency, that respect for the natural world and all it brings, made me seriously reconsider my ultimate dream of living there one day. And after all was said and done, nothing has changed. I still hope that one day I can make the Outer Banks my home. Give me the hurricanes, the Nor’easters, and floods. Give me high insurance costs, crowds of tourists in the summer, isolation in the winter. It is not in spite of these things that I love this place so much, but because of them.