Outer Banks Musings…

It’s a warm December here in the Outer Banks – quite a bit warmer than previous winters spent here.  This means that we have been able to walk around in shorts and a tee-shirt most days we have been here.  We’ve also enjoyed warmer water, which means that while wetsuits are required for brave souls venturing into the ocean, gloves and hoods are not.  Here are some of the other things that we’ve enjoyed this week in the Outer Banks.

The Solitude

One of the remarkable things about coming to Hatteras Island in the wintertime is the sheer emptiness of the place.  During the summer, the rental homes are filled with families seeking a beach escape.  In the wintertime, the homes are mostly empty.  Looking out over the community from the top deck of our house at night reveals very few lit homes.  Salvo, the town that our house is in, has a population of only 229.  This is evident when we are in town in December.

My favorite aspect of the solitude of the winter season in the Outer Banks is appreciating the region’s unique characteristics.  Hatteras Island and its southern counterparts, Ocracoke and Portsmouth Islands, are skinny barrier islands that are separated from mainland North Carolina by between 20-30 miles.  Additionally, for years, there was no bridge to Hatteras Island (and still isn’t to Ocracoke and Portsmouth).  As a result, the community was isolated for many years and developed a distinct identity.  Until tourism to the area began to boom in the 1980s, there were scarcely any rental homes in the area.

Nowadays, despite there being many more homes on the streets, the off-season provides a glimpse into what it could have been like back then.  Stores closed for the season, empty homes, barely a need to look both ways when crossing the street.  On these days, it’s enjoyable to wander around the island, picking up bits and pieces of local culture.  At the edge of the old Salvo campsite by the sound, you can find a peaceful little cemetery.  This co-mingling of gravestones and simple markers reveals the few remaining memories of Outer Banks residents from past centuries, some who only  lived for a year or two.  Featured prominently is the Midgett family, who have occupied Hatteras Island for several centuries.  (If you visit today, there is a good chance you’ll pass by Midgett Realty, Midgett Campground, or a street named Midgett.)

Driving through the Rodanthe-Waves-Salvo trio of small Hatteras towns reveals other local gems: the Rodanthe Pier (in a state of perpetual repair due to the constant battering of storms), soundside sunsets (one of the few places on the East Coast where you can watch the sun set over the water) and various examples of Hatteras wildlife (crabs, dolphins, and the like.)


The Wildlife

Speaking of wildlife, this week has yielded the most prolific dolphin-viewing results of any of my trips to the Outer Banks.  Unfortunately, I haven’t had my camera available for most sighting, but I did get a couple of shots.  On other trips to the beach, we caught sight of dolphins frolicking in the water, even some “surfing” the rolling waves.  We even caught sight of several common housecats, who use this time to catch up on their napping.

The Surf

Dad and I have enjoyed plenty of nice waves this week, and the unseasonably warm water has allowed us to venture out at times without a hood, gloves, and booties.  Conditions were perfect for a longboard this week.  (Sweet action shots courtesy of Merle Preston.)

The Culinary Delights

Being here in the wintertime also poses a plethora of threats to our collective waistline.  Since it gets dark so early, it encourages us to spend hours in the kitchen, cooking up enjoyable meals that take several more hours to consume.  Some highlights included Jolyn’s homemade sushi and Mom’s lobster.

“A Valuable Substitute for Vegetables”

We also enjoyed quite a lovely selection of beer to share throughout the week, courtesy of yours truly.  Among the choices were St. Bernardus Abt 12, Founders Breakfast Stout, Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, Schneider Aventinus Eisbock, Trappistes Rochefort 10, and one magnificent bottle of the ultra-rare Bourbon County Stout.  (The Bourbon County stout was a hit with the family and well worth my search to find a bottle).  Beer was described by the United States Sanitary Commission in the 1860’s as a “valuable substitute for vegetables,” so it seems like we ate quite healthy on this trip.

Dad was our sommelier for the week, providing a variety of wines from around the world (and a blurb about the vineyard and region).  He also kept the tunes cranking all night long, courtesy of his Sansui SP-2500’s, acquired in the early 1970’s from a friend in Vietnam.  (They still work great.)

So while it would seem that there is not a lot to do in the Outer Banks in December, this past week has proven otherwise.  After all, while we are often guilty of being too busy when we’re on holiday, sometimes the best vacation is one where you actually relax.


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