I miss North Carolina. There's this empty space in my soul that longs to have it back. So much of my life happened there... so many important things in my life. I fell in love in North Carolina and with North Carolina. It was my place of refuge when I had nowhere else to go, when I had to get away from Utah (and so often I HAVE to get away from Utah). And I think every time I had to leave, I left of a part of me behind.
I love the smell of the air here and the way the humidity makes the sun appear like a giant grapefruit ready to burst. I love how storms roll through in the mid afternoons and evenings and how it rains. It rains like I've never seen it rain before. I love the tall grass that speckles the sand dunes on the shores of breathtaking beaches, and the old wooden fences that line these dunes that are now practically covered from sand and falling down. So much character. There's something about the beauty of this place that is unlike any other. It's not a tropical paradise, but that's what makes it paradise.
Last night Michael and I were unpacking some of his boxes that remain in our basement when we came across two clear rubber maid containers full of objects disguised in packing paper. They were heavy to lift and then Michael realized that these containers cradled the shells we had gathered off the coast of the Outer Banks, Beaufort and Sand Dollar Island.
Michael carried the two containers into the guest bedroom in the basement where I'm decorating with a beach theme. He placed them on the bed and I opened the container. Immediately I could smell the beach, the sand, the salt, and I begin to unwrap the delicate shells carefully. I was flooded with memories of when we gathered these shells.
It was in August, and Michael and I got up early to drive to Beaufort (not a long drive from his home on base in Jacksonville). I dressed in my swim wear and wrapped a lava skirt around my waist, put on flip fops, a tank top, sunglasses, tied my hair back and grabbed a towel. Michael put on his swim trunks and loaded up the trunk with the shelling gear (a large beach bucket to carry the treasures we were hoping to find) flippers, goggles, snorkeling mask, and sunscreen (mostly for him because the Italian in me doesn't burn too often).
We had to make a stop at the local Walgreen's in Emerald Isle so I could get a pair of cheap aqua shoes. Some spots on the Outer Banks (particularly the good shelling spots) don't have the ideal soft beach sand. Instead, you end up walking on a bed of shell fragments and they can hurt when the under tide is constantly pulling them out from under your feet, thus my need for the aqua shoes. I also managed to buy a deck of playing cards that had pictures of my favorite places in North Carolina, and two ceramic refrigerator magnets that had a boat and lighthouse on them.
Upon arriving in Beaufort, we caught the ferry heading to Sand Dollar Island and there our adventure began. We spent close to two hours on the small island and it's crazy because you feel like you are walking out in the middle of the ocean. The island is basically a strip of sand that runs approximately the length of a football field (it feels much smaller than that when tide is up and you're surrounded by nothing but ocean on all sides). But there you can find the most wonderful sand dollars. Of course we left the live ones (you can tell they are live because they are actually reddish brown and fuzzy on the bottom). The dead ones are the hard white ones that most people are familiar with. They're not easy to find because the sand tends to cover them up, but Michael put on his snorkel mask and took to the deeper ends of the sand bar, while I put on my aqua shoes and scoured the more shallow waters. In all, we collected 12 sand dollars that day, of various shapes and different shades. We were very pleased.
From Sand Dollar island, we caught our ferry and took a trip over to Shackleford island where it was time to get down to some serious shelling business (say that three times fast). Upon departing the ferry, Michael and I made our way to the point of the island where you can see nothing but ocean. The waves are giant and every time they crash upon the shore, remnants of a life unknown to us cover the sand. Many people rummage through this shell debris but Micheal and I dove into the waters to find the much larger prizes.
Michael is a much better sheller than I am. He'd surface the waters with a giant white or yellow shell almost every time he'd come up for air. I played it safer and stayed close to the shore, picking up the large shells that tide would deliver to my hands. It was a wonderful day. There's something magical about holding a shell, wondering what creature made it home, and what parts of the ocean floor this shell has been delivered from. When it was time to catch the ferry that would take us back to Beaufort, most of the tourists that had spent the day swimming in calmer waters were admiring our bucket full of huge conch shells, tiger shells, and queen helmet shells. We were very proud of our treasures.
Now, almost 8 months later, I am in our basement unpacking those meaningful shells. And with that, I'm unwrapping memories of not only that day, but of North Carolina in general. There's something to be said for this wonderful place. For me, it's a place unlike any other, full of rich blue coastal waters, rolling dunes of soft white sand, wooden beach houses in shades of coral, turquoise, yellows and purples. It's a land of flip flops, swim suites, and meals in modest diners overlooking the Atlantic coast. There's a smell in the air here, of ship wrecks and seaweed, hush puppies and sweet tea. The light is different in North Carolina. The sun seems richer, the stars seem brighter, and there's always a light house to guide you home. HOME.
I think that's what I miss the most...