We rented a house on the Outer Banks (“OBX”) of North Carolina, which is a place in and of itself accustomed to change despite the earnest and feckless desires of mere mortals who decide to defy Nature by building houses yards from the Atlantic.
We arrived on a cool March afternoon after driving several hours from our roost near Washington, DC. The two younger sons traveled with me and my husband in our giant SUV. They in the back seat enjoying their various iDevices and occasionally participating in conversations as we collectively listened to the entertaining and dubious Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff.
The sky was overcast, the winds pretty fierce and the shoreline was booming as the high tide was due in a couple hours. My youngest son, known as “Thing 3” to anyone who’s familiar with my writing (which has taken a back seat to my 11-times a week yoga teaching schedule) has been renamed “Tech Support” from time to time because of his interest in all things technological. (Don’t confuse “interest” with “competency” as he’s still learning and when I got a new computer a few weeks ago he scrubbed my old one and it took a shit ton of data supposedly stored on the “CLOUD” with it… but it’s only 1s and 0s right?).
When we pulled in to the OBX driveway, he said, “we’re under a storm surge warning which will cause high surf from tomorrow night at 8pm until the following evening at 8pm.” He was correct. The waves were truly the highest I’ve ever seen and the accompanying winds gave me pause to recall my numerous dreams I’ve had wherein I’m in a seafront home and utterly surrounded by sea water. I haven’t had one of those dreams in a while, and as stirring as they can be, I don’t wake destroyed as one might expect.
Back in early March, most of the east coast endured a nor’easter named “Riley” (is it me? When did they start naming winter storms? Are they like the names of Mother Nature’s children? I think we should rename them things like “Scott Pruitt”; “industrial age” and “Valdez”) and what about gender neutral names? “Riley” is safe, I must say, different from “Katrina” or “Hanna” or “Andrew” I believe most storms used to be named after females, but it’s not so far off when we will have a Storm Robert or Nor’Easter Stan… I digress (get used to it).
Riley slammed where I live with 70mph gusts and 40mph sustained winds for an entire weekend. Power went out all over the region, but not at my house. My father stayed with us overnight and that was probably enough for everyone, mostly him. His power was restored the next afternoon. Where I’m from, Buffalo NY, my cousins got slammed with several feet of snow. Boston got hammered … it’s how it goes. But down here, in OBX, it appears that the seas still have not receded. Riley pushed the sands up the shore; buried in-ground pools and turned 6′ privacy fences to knee-high shin scrapers. Pools installed behind some of those now-demolished privacy fences are overcome with sand.
Here’s my view from the deck of the house we rented… the “bush” below is what’s left of the first dune garrison. I’ve marked up the photos immediately following to explain what the what used to be what.
In this next photo, the steps leading up the walkway used to take you to another “bridge” over the first dune garrison and then you would descend a second set of steps to sit access the beach. Locals tell me these steps, walkways and bridges were installed last Easter. Bummer. These first two photos are of the same property; the one immediately to my left (north). You’ll notice that things look relatively normal and typical for a winter recovery. What you won’t notice is the missing dune line because it’s been so completely taken out. Nor would you notice that the shore’s depth to the water is probably 100 feet shallower.These next photos so perfectly depict for me the example of the objective “luck of the draw” that Nature and Fate so deftly provide at every moment. This is the seaside of the house immediately to my right (south). I’ve marked it up to explain what the what used to be what. If you examine closely, in the area marked “pool” and you don’t believe me, you’ll see a set of entry / exit ladder handles for access to that pool (almost in the dead center of this photo). The fence line outside the pool and hot tub used to be 6′ off the ground. I doubt the owners of this property have personally viewed the situation. I can’t say I blame them. Slightly “above” the box marked “pool” is another box that denotes what used to be a pool next door.
This is what used to be the entrance driveway belonging to house to my right (south). The red area denotes a driveway. The green denotes the grass / foliage and the blue is the water that said ” HAHAHAHAHAAAAA!” to all those ideas of driveways and gardens.
While these situations certainly aren’t’ catastrophic and none of these properties are a total loss, these are changes. Most people who own beachfront property usually just have to clean out the cobwebs, freshen up the carpets, steam clean the curtains and wipe down their windows to prepare for the rental season. The owners to my south are probably wistfully recalling those days of such burdens. We met a man one morning during our walks who owns a home several doors south on the shore here. His name was Bob. (For reals.) “It was the most beautiful property on the island,” he said (and I get it, we all think our home is the best or our kids are the smartest and best looking), but even what survived the storm wasn’t terribly impressive to me… it looked pretty weathered and neglected compared to other properties around his house. He had “a gorgeous pool” since surrounded by and filled with sand. Hanging at a 45˚ angle was a woeful five-and-dime “TIKI BAR” sign hanging and flappimg from one nail. Just below it was a faded and operative rainbow-themed windsock that somehow fared better than his obliterated privacy wall. It’s weird what survives these storms. “I’m screwed,” he crowed. I nodded in sympathy even though I didn’t agree with his summary. The house is still standing. He’s not exactly homeless and the lot alone is worth at least $2mm. And it was not t his only residence — he chose this lifestyle to rent their home in OBX to vacationers and then travel by RV the rest of the year. But who am I to decide who’s screwed and who isn’t? Bob was sad, but he was feeling sorry for himself. I heard later from neighbors drinking beers on the 20′ of boardwalk in front of our house that Bob opted to NOT have the maintenance and cedar fortification of his dunes and now he’s reaping that. Walking by Bob’s place a few days later I noticed that all evidence of the pool is gone and the sand is flat where it used to be. It seems that everyone has a Tiki Bar here.
Riley and its ilk are largely organic phenomena. I have little doubt that humanity and our “advances” have greatly sped up the oft-debated climate change process, but by and large, isn’t all change, effected directly or indirectly by humans, thus organic seeing as how we arent’ exactly inorganic to the planet?
I miss writing. I enjoy the yoga teaching, but I really miss the writing. Things have changed so much in my life (as I’m sure it has in yours) in the last several months that at times I feel as though I’ve aged 10 years. In my little tribe we’ve experienced a fair amount of turbulence, but what is life without change? And change without turbulence really isn’t change, it’s just “different.” The short of it is that parenting is not for wimps. The long of it is that it’s been difficult being a parent. Three boys, all teenagers now, and the boundary-pushing, shitty attitudes and straight-out rebellion is exhausting. I’m not so absurd to say that “I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it is a blessing…” because trust me, I’d change plenty. Kids make stupid choices and end up hurting themselves. We all did it and we will all do it again and those of us who managed to get here, this far, I guess are the norm… there are a lot of us still out there, aren’t there? So does that mean that the odds my kids will all make it to 90 with fun and compelling stories but not horrific ones of personal destruction and devastation? I sure hope so. I don’t like change. I don’t like my kids growing up and I don’t like my dad getting older. I can fight it, like an idiot, or I can continue to look for the silver linings (not necessarily the blessings) of even the most crushing experiences, for every experience is a teacher.