After the front passed out to sea, a clear and cool day dawned on the Outer Banks. The Atlantic Ocean, still in turmoil from the passing storm, was thundering ashore, and the crescendo and decrescendo of each wave as it collided into and retreated from the beach carried easily a half mile inland.
The waves were not that large, yet there was a thunderous power to them as they crested and then crashed into the surf with the slowly retreating tide. At its highest point the storm had pushed the sea’s waters to the very base of the dunes, but those mounds of sand held and the ocean never encroached upon the homes or road along the shoreline.
As the tide recedes the detritus of waves sparkles on the beach—shards of mollusk shells that lived in the Atlantic for millennia sparkle in the sun. Driftwood litters the beach, most of it deposited almost at the base of dunes—the buoyancy of the remnants of trees and seaside construction riding the sea foam until it disappeared into the sand. Egg cases from skates are everywhere. Their brown rectangular shape with corners extending to a point, are a testament to a thriving unseen ecology beneath the surface of the sea.
Seagulls skim the water with a grace in contrast to their awkward gait on land. Along the beach couples stroll in quiet contentment as they walk side by side; friends deep in conversation amble at the edge of the surf. There’s a family that stands by the beach access. Their kids squeal with joy and run to the surf only to retreat as fast as they can, laughing as they barely avoid the grasp of the rolling surf.
Beachcombers are out in force, and it’s easy to tell who they are. They’re the ones wearing calf length rubber boots who stand at the very edge of the surf. You see them bending down to retrieve something, then a quick study followed by a decision to drop it back on the beach or stuff it in their pocket. The more serious beachcombers carry bags with them, but this group seems more casual and intent on finding the occasional keepsake.
Mixed in with the seashells is the odd fragment of sea glass, shards of bottles in colors and shapes no longer made; most of it slightly worn, the shattered glass from modern beer and soda bottles.
It’s too soon after the storm for the metal detectors to be on the beach. They usually come after things have calmed down a bit and the beach is wider, giving them more area to scan.
A dog runs up to me, pulling her master along. “I just got her from the Currituck animal shelter,” she tells me. “I’m trying to acclimate her!” As they walk away, the dog does as most dogs on the beach are inclined, leaning as far away from the surf as possible.
It’s winter and there are not that many people here, just a sprinkle of families, friends and couples enjoying the warm sun after the rain. In the summer that will change, of course. Yet even then, there will be the same sense of the joy of discovery at the edge of the sea.