Tonight’s pictures were uploaded in the rain on the front porch of the Loggerhead Inn — about the only place I could get decent reception; Internet access at the Loggerhead Inn is powered by gerbils, I’m pretty sure.
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“Good morning! It’s like this every day!” I’m standing outside on the deck of my 2nd-story room at the Inlet Inn at about 7:00AM, watching the sun light up Taylor’s Creek, when I hear this from the sidewalk below. I look down and see a man likely in his 80s with a sturdy cane and walking shoes looking back at me and smiling. He’s clearly happy to be in Beaufort, and happy to share his love for this place with anyone he can find. “Wish I could be here every day,” I respond, and then he is off again down Front Street.
Later on, in Salter Path, while waiting for a Big Oak shrimp burger (of course), I stare at the houses adjacent to the drive-in’s property. I often look at these houses when I stop at Big Oak and wonder who lives in them. They are clearly year-round residents and probably people whose families have owned property on this stretch of sand since long before it became cost-prohibitive to do so. I watch an old black lab amble around the yard before settling down for a nap. I think about the piles of fireplace wood stacked against the stone chimney and about the winter to come, even here on the coast where it is perpetually summer in our minds. (I have seen dozens of personal pictures this week, taped to desks or hanging in dimestore frames, of the beach covered with snow with a date scribbed in blue ballpoint.)
The night before, while walking around Beaufort, I found a small waterfront house for sale in a neighborhood with families whose roots extend back generations. On a lark, I looked it up online: a cool $1.7 million. While it is not as cost-prohibitive as some might think to find decent housing along the coast, buying access to the areas where the long-time residents I met today live is a luxury reserved for only the very few. What will happen to — what already is happening to — the communities sustained by generations of legacy landowners as, one by one, they sell their land to strangers? I don’t intend for that to sound like a cliched, angst-ridden question of the “What will happen to the barrier islands when the dunes finally give way?” variety; it’s more a reflection on the quicklly-shifting personalities of some of the communities along the coast.
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I made it to Surf City in time to visit the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. The center is a working hospital that is not really set up for tourists, but the steady stream of visitors who shuffle through the main rehab room to meet the patients helps to pay the bills. I talked to some of the volunteers there — mostly high school students who live in the area and college students majoring in environmental science, but also retirees — and all expressed gratitude for the opportunity to work in a place like this.
Dinner shortly thereafter in Surf City with my friend Catherine and her family. Catherine and I taught high school English together for a year in Durham way back in 2004. Good to see her, and good to meet her husband and kids — first of several catch-up visits I’ve got lined up for this and future drives.
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Accommodations: Loggerhead Inn — By far the cheapest place I’m staying; despite being very basic, it has some up-sides, including location (six blocks from the Surf City causeway, and only a block from beach public access). Reminiscent of early ’70s trips to Nags Head with my family.
Dinner: Sears Landing, with Catherine and her family — family-friendly waitstaff.
Drive music: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Pack up the Plantation — ends with a really nice interpretation of the John Sebastian song, “Stories We Could Tell.”