Well, we might be able to consider this mystery solved. The reason there have been so many shark attacks along our coast this summer does not appear to be rocket science. The water at Wrightsville Beach — notoriously rough surf and often a touch colder than elsewhere along the coast — was not only placid today but also salty, bathwater warm, and so clear that I could easily see the bottom at a depth of 4 feet or more. Add that to my experience at Corolla earlier this week and at Emerald Isle earlier in the summer — where conditions were as warm as I can remember in my 40+ years of beach-going — and I’m not sure why we are so mystified by the high number of shark encounters this summer.
My day ended with natural history ruminations of the carcharodontal variety at Shell Island but began with avian observations. I answered a sunrise wake-up call in Surf City from my alarm clock at 6:30 and responded with a quick dash down 210 and 17 to Airlie Gardens in Wilmington. For those of you who have never visited, Airlie is reminiscent of Duke Gardens, but with a direct connection to the coast via Bradley Creek. I went there early to meet up with the Cape Fear Audubon Society for their monthly bird walk.
Perhaps not surprisingly, even at 45 I am on the lower end of the age distribution. I have always enjoyed birding, but I know it is not exactly the most popular spectator sport among people my age and younger. My experiences with other birding groups typically have been defined (and marred) by the loudest and proudest know-it-alls in the group, but the Cape Fear group is refreshingly different. There are a few birding pros in the mix, but they do not lord it over the others, and some of the attendees are just pleased to see mockingbirds and thrashers (standard fare in most North Carolina backyards), much less the night herons and green herons we spend much of our time stalking. Our group is escorted by Airlie staff and a proprietress of a local birding store, all of whom are engaged and approachable. Many of the participants are recent transplants to North Carolina — a theme carried over from some of the older volunteers at Karen Beasley yesterday — who have moved to the state from some of our neighbors to the north. The term “snowbird” is a well-worn and sometimes derogatory description of Florida retirees, but it does not seem to apply to this group. These people don’t appear to want to carve out a little New Jersey amongst our live oaks but instead are trying to figure out how to “go native.” The 90-minute walk passes quickly, and I leave with a sense of pride in the types of transplants North Carolina appears to attract.
I ended my day chatting with another coastal transplant — this time from in-state Mooresville. Sam, a bartender at the Oceanic in Wrightsville Beach, is an aspiring boatwright and sustainable farmer who just completed the boatwright program at Cape Fear Community College — the only one of its kind in the state — and is beginning a sustainable technologies program. Despite pressure from his relatives to enter the family business, Sam has his heart set on making boats and starting a farm. Based on my brush with coastal history at the Core Sound museum on Harker’s Island (see earlier post), he will be carrying the torch for not one but two quickly-disappearing crafts in North Carolina. Best of luck, Sam.
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Accommodations: Shell Island Resort — Bit of a splurge, and likely not worth paying the premium over other North Wrightsville options, but good to get a chance to spread out one last time before I dive back in to the Loggerhead’s ugly step-cousins in Kure and Sunset.
Dinner: Oceanic — Not exactly four-star, but you can’t beat the boardwalk, the view, and the live music.
Drive music: Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Better Days — Jersey Shore beach music at its best, ca. 1991, with guest appearances from La Bamba, Little Steven, Jon Bon Jovi, and the Boss.