February 7, 2008

Five reasons why winter is great on Hatteras Island


It’s 40 degrees outside.

All of your relatives up north are terribly jealous, since they’ve been stuck in the 20s range for months and would love to spend a day at the beach in 40-degree weather, without shoveling snow or maneuvering SUVs over icy roads, or whatever else it is that northern people do.

But what they don’t understand is that there’s “a good blow out there.” When translated, this means that small sand particles are being shot through the air in 45 mph gusts, having the same affect on your skin as, say, a paintball gun at close range.

Shoveling snow doesn’t look too bad now, does it?

Not to mention that even if you actually wanted to go out in this skin-removing weather, there is nowhere to go. Everything is closed, and barring a magical evening spent milling around the Food Lion parking lot, the best you’ll be able to do for entertainment is to go to one of the last restaurants still open, drink beer after beer, and compare notes with your friends and neighbors on bad weather and being bored. Get used to this conversation, because you’ll be having it in every social encounter until spring arrives.

Meanwhile, your buddies up north (who are starting to look annoying, aren’t they?) are skidding said SUVs to fast food restaurants, shopping malls, outlet centers, bowling alleys, petting zoos, and any one of 30 Starbucks, which are all within a two-mile radius of their home.

I don’t know about you, but I’d gladly risk life and limb skidding down an icy road if it meant I could hit up a Taco Bell in fewer than five minutes.
And this little “off-island life versus island life in the winter” scenario I just described brings us to our inevitable conclusion, which is that northern people are stupid, lucky jerks.

But island residents, take heart, and think about how we arrived to the winter of our discontent. If you’re anything like me, you spent the bulk of the summer season miffed because everything was too crowded, and the heat was too much, and there was too much to do and not enough time, and there were stupid, lucky jerks with the audacity to drive through the villages at 30 mph. You spent days pining for the simple, laid back lifestyle that can only come with the glorious return of the off season. Ahhhhh.

Well, here it is. And now I wish summer would hurry the heck up and get here.

But this little grass-is-always-greener cycle can’t be healthy, so perhaps it’s time to stop ranting, and just count the many reasons that winter on Hatteras Island is such a magical time of year.
I can think of five. So let’s start with the most important:

1. People look goofy when they’re fishing.

I just love seeing people in Wanchese bedroom slippers and those odd rubbery coverall things that, for some reason, only come in shades of green, khaki and camouflage. Obviously, this must be because if you’re wearing camouflage, the fish can’t see you.
My long-suffering boyfriend, who by now is used to me making fun of his fashion choices and no longer cares, has all of these fabulous pieces of attire, as well as a brand-new red Union suit.
That’s right. Actual long johns, with the weird butt panel and everything. This alone keeps me amused, if not laughing hysterically behind his back, for hours.
So now that we’ve all but guaranteed an argument in the Crist household once this gets published, let’s move on to the next important reason why winter is so great.

2. There’s time to play poker.

Poker is quickly replacing baseball as the national pastime, and no wonder, as we Americans love losing lots of money in irreverent ways to prove that we’re cool. And man, am I cool.
I can single-handedly lose upwards of $100 in a game of three-card drop guts with a million wild cards that started with a nickel ante. And I can keep raising during a game of Texas Hold-em when I’m sitting on a 3 and a 5 simply because I believe no one can figure out that I’m bluffing. (Turns out they can.) But I’ve never walked away from a game, no matter how slim my chances of winning may be, and because of that, I have spent many happy winter evenings hunkered down at the poker table with a few of my nearest and dearest friends. And also I owe at least two people my first born.

3. Outdoors People Love it for Some Reason.

I will attempt to explain this as best as I can, while disclosing that I am in no way an outdoors person.
See, apparently there are these odd outdoorsy-people who do outdoorsy things, such as birdwatching, surfing, hiking, fishing, beachcombing, windsurfing, kiteboarding, kayaking, and so on. When they talk about these activities they use words like “fun” and “fresh air” and “exercise.”
I have one kooky friend who swears that winter is awesome because she can jog up and down the beach, or along the sound, and not see a soul. She says it just feels like she has the beach all to herself, with no one around, and it’s a heady, wonderful feeling, almost spiritual.

I naturally reply, “Jog? Huh? Interesting,” as I twirl my index finger in the crazy motion near my temple. Personally, the only time I “jog” is when one of my aforementioned poker buddies is trying to extract payment. But these outdoors people seem to love winter, so what the heck, more power to them.

And I suppose, on the total opposite end of the spectrum, there are benefits for us indoor people too. After all, there’s a new wave of reality TV series coming up and sports events. This is especially important because grocery stores will run coinciding “game day” specials on Doritos, so I’ll enjoy many happy afternoons relaxing in front of the TV with multiple open bags of chips and building what I like to affectionately call my “hibernation gut.” Bet you outdoors people are so jealous right now. And this reminds me of another important reason why winter is a great time of year:

4. If you put on weight, no one will notice or care because there’s still several  months before bathing suit season.

Enough said.

5. The only people you run into are people you know.

If you’re notorious for borrowing cash and then conveniently “forgetting” to pay the person back, this is a bad thing. (And for those of you who know me and are rolling your eyes while reading this, I swear I’ll have your money to you by next week. For real this time.)
But for most everyone else, this is a pleasant part of winter.  Every time you go out to the store, or to the beach, or to a restaurant, the only people you run into are people you know. Granted, this changes the time spent in line at a store or a bank from five minutes to 20 minutes, as everyone has to “catch up” with everyone else in line, but who cares? It’s winter and where do you have to be in such a hurry anyway?

The winter also features another way to reconnect and create new, stronger bonds with your island community with a wonderful local tradition called the “gossip mill.” This is a fabulous system of entertainment where you might tell your neighbor in Hatteras village that you went to the beach and dipped your toe in the water to feel the temperature, and by the time your buddy in Rodanthe hears the story, you were skinny dipping in the middle of the ocean with half the Coast Guard.
Of course, the grand thing about the “gossip mill” is that anyone can participate, and everyone is fair game. Not that I completely condone rubbish like gossiping, but as the line goes from one of my favorite movies (and if you outdoors People spent more time in front of the TV you would know this too), “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, sit next to me.”

Hopefully, the majority of you who haven’t lost interest yet are not offended or annoyed by my point of view, but I have a feeling that’s not the case.
Some of you might be thinking that I complain too much, and, well, that’s a given. (Just ask my long-john-wearing boyfriend.) Some of you might even think that by the time summer comes around, I’ll write a new ranting article about why the in-season is so bad. Well, that’s actually a really good idea. And some of you might be thinking, “Hey, she just called me a stupid, lucky jerk.” Well, yes, I did, and I can because I was born one. (Go Pats.)

But the moral of the story is that while I might not be able to find hundreds of reasons why I love the off-season, or any season really, most normal people can. (I bet you’re making a mental list right now, aren’t you? And I bet you’ve already gotten up to at least 10 reasons. See, it took me two days to come up with five.)

So go out into the 40-degree weather, people, and go for a nature walk, or go beachcombing, or go bird watching, or go visit an old friend, or go enjoy an uncrowded restaurant, or go do whatever it is that you normal islanders do.
But if you get a little bored, and you start looking for a poker game -- and you aren’t very good at poker -- then, do give me a call.

(Joy Crist, native New Englander, now spends her winters in Avon.)

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