17 August 2011



I may have grown up embraced by blue mountains, and they will always make me feel at home. But the beach is my soul's place.

I know my parents feel the same way, or we wouldn't have somehow made it to the beach almost every year when I was a child. Sometimes we'd go during spring break to save money, and we'd walk along the chilly shore in our winter coats, balls of yellow foam rolling across the sand like tumbleweeds.

I was insanely lucky last summer -- I made it to the beach three times (unheard of!). Now that this summer is drawing to a close and I'm languishing in the city heat, I'm sorely missing the restorative power of North Carolina's beaches.

But honestly, all I have to do is remember the times we had by those beautiful, still-wild dunes, and I feel the same swell of euphoria I always get when we're crossing the bridge to the Outer Banks, frantically cranking our windows down, dying for that first whiff of sea breeze.

We usually try to rent a beach house for the week, basking in kitschy shell-themed decor that's been bleached by the sun. We take turns cooking dinners each night in "teams," living on groceries, fresh seafood, coffee, picnic snacks, and wine.

We walk along the shore at sunrise looking for shells and dolphins, we swim in the afternoon until the ground's too white-hot to walk on, and we eat with gusto at sunset, freshly showered and scrubbed raw by wet sand, glowing from sea water that's icy green even in July, the heat of the sun now resident in our skin and bones, our bodies content and sleepy but not too tired for corn hole in the driveway, or riotous, hysterical walks under the starlight, just us kids. The round full moon makes a clear golden trail on the water that's impossible to believe, impossibly hard not to follow. We jokingly wade into its light only to run out squealing, afraid of twilight sharks. We shine a light to watch out for scuttling sand crabs and sneaky clear jellyfish squishing horribly under our toes.

I remember climbing every lighthouse on the coast, though red-bricked Currituck is our favorite. How I prayed to see a wild pony there when I was a girl; how I longed to find just one gold pirate coin. How I shivered at tales of shipwrecks, and ghosts and widows' walks (they creep me out to this day).

I remember the Old Baldy lighthouse, and how it doesn't meet safety regulations in order to "maintain integrity." I remember an island where no cars are allowed,  where we puttered around in golf carts and avoided alligators living in the ponds. Remember fossilized black shark teeth, which we would hunt for in the gravel beside the road. Remember mint-green ice cream on the dock, "crabbing" on a speedboat, endless green marshes and blue-black crabs clinging to raw chicken skin strung on wire. Remember riding a tandem bike with my sisters, looping around the whole isle in less than an hour.

Remember camping last summer on Bear Island, where a ferry ride carried us beyond any other human life. Remember the empty dunes, surf warm as bathwater, sea turtles, whole whelks, endless shells where tourists never find them. Remember our family's true home, the adorable shops and docks of Duck, homemade fudge, soundsets and trashy beach books and the simple life.

Where's your soul's home?

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