June 9, 2015
Island Living:   A short list of Hatteras obsessions

By JOY CRIST


Typically, the first thing that my new mountain buddies say when I tell them I’m from Avon is, “Do you miss it?”

Actually, that’s a lie.

The first thing they say is, “Where?” So I repeat, “Avon.”

Then they say “Where’s that?” And I say, “It’s a small town on Hatteras Island.”

Then they say, “Where’s that?” And I say, “It’s a beach vacation spot off the Carolina coast.”

Then they say “Oh, like Myrtle Beach?” And I say “Yes. Exactly like Myrtle Beach”

(Apparently my hometown is not as world-famous as I always believed.)

Anyways, when our verbal dueling finally gets to the question “Do you miss it?” I usually smile and say, “Yeah, parts of it.”
This is also a lie.
I pretty much miss every damn thing about Hatteras Island -- with the exception of mosquitoes, saltwater flooding, traffic, and driving five hours to go to the dentist.

But the reason I give this answer is twofold: 1.) Nobody likes the chick who constantly talks about how her hometown is SO much better than wherever she’s at now. That lady is never the life of the party. And 2.) When I think of the things I miss, it always filters down to a short list of a few things I wish I could always do, on a daily basis, which I’m no longer able to.

I call this short list my “Hatteras Island Obsessions” list, and it’s the stuff I miss most when I’m daydreaming about home or skimming through those tortuous Facebook photos my buddies post of their happy families and friends on a crystal clear beach day. (Seriously, guys! Have a heart. Can’t you at least counter-balance these with pictures of your friends and family getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? Or looking bored while you’re 20th in a line of vehicles going 35 mph over the Bonner Bridge?)

Regardless, it seems worthwhile to share my personal short list of Hatteras Island Obsessions, which always came in handy for me as a wake-up call after hurricanes, flooding events, and who knows how many day-long dentist trips.

Because after these, ah, “adventures,” most seasoned locals, in an act of internal frustration, will often second-guess their reason for staying on the islands and ask themselves, “Jeez, why am I here?”

Well, I have a perfect perspective on how green that grass is on the other side of the state, and I’m happy to share my own personal reasons why Hatteras Island will always reign supreme when it comes to incredible places to call home.

SHELLS, BY GOD, SHELLS

Man, I miss shelling. And I used to be such a dedicated and downright vicious beachcomber.

I would get up at 5:30 a.m. on a Saturday, hit up Red Drum for coffee, and go to the neighboring shelling beaches with the single-minded intention of being the “first” one to scoop up the helmet conchs, scotch bonnets, and whelks that would drift ashore. It became an obsession, to the point that I was fighting pelicans or inadvertently glaring at other poor beach-lovers who were in my territory.

In fact, I have a fantastic example of how deep my love of shelling runs.

Several years ago, I was beachcombing along Hatteras Inlet on one of those perfect January days where the outside temperatures were ice-cold, but the sun was shining and the ocean waters were Caribbean-clear.

While strolling, I spotted a gorgeous pink lightning whelk located just offshore, about 50 yards into the water, and I had to ask myself the question that all dedicated beachcombers are forced to ask themselves at one point or another:
“Do I leave it, or do I take my pants off and just go for it?”

As any dedicated shell-lover will tell you, it wasn’t even a contest. You take your pants off.

And so I did, and waded out to the inlet -- with no other beach-goers in sight cause it was January and all -- to score my treasure.

Well, just as I was on my way back to the beach from the water, while sporting a newfound awesome whelk, a warm hoodie, and my tangerine-colored granny panties, a caravan of fishing trucks started to make their way down to Hatteras Inlet.

This heart-stopping moment led me to the second question that all dedicated beachcombers must at some point face in their life:

“Do I remain in freezing cold ocean waters, or do I show a bunch of strange fishermen my granny panties?”

Well, the fishermen essentially got a show, and I got a lot of honks getting out of the water.

But I am proud to say that the aforementioned whelk has a place of honor on my desk and was definitely worth the effort, as well as any embarrassing YouTube videos that I haven’t found and deleted yet, despite hours of searching.

Everyone has a Hatteras Island activity they’re willing to show their drawers for, whether it’s shelling, kiteboarding, surfing, fishing, or any of the hundreds of things you can do on the shoreline.

And I assure you, unless you’re willing to dig 1,000 feet into the ground and look for fossils, it’s a heck of a lot harder to go shelling in virtually all other parts of the state.

SWIMMING IN THE OCEAN

I’ve mentioned before that jumping into the ocean Absolutely Cures Everything. From hangovers to heat waves to hypertension, all you have to do is head to the eastern side of N.C. Highway 12 and dive right in to find your cure.

This has been my self-prescribed remedy for years -- Did I mention I’m scared of doctors? -- and it bothers me that these days, I can’t utilize this prescription without a seven-hour drive beforehand.

Like most locals, the ocean is just in my blood – “salt in the veins,” as they call it – and it’s an activity that I’ve enjoyed for almost my entire life.

Case in point: I remember my dad bringing me to the beach when I was 5 or 6 years old, and letting me run to the ocean, swim out for yards and yards, and hang out there until my heart’s content and / or I eventually drifted to England.

Naturally, back then, people were more lax with their kids, which is why I have enjoyable childhood memories of steel-and-metal playgrounds, and being thrown around, sans seatbelt, in the back of a truck on long road trips.

But in any case, it clearly fostered a life-long love of being in the ocean. And while my adult self has new-found worries about impending shark attacks, jellyfish, fish poop, or garnering a dislocated shoulder from being hit too hard by an encroaching wave, if I just relax, I can get back to that happy mindset of just enjoying being in the world’s second largest swimming pool.

FRIENDS, BY GOD, FRIENDS

Have I turned into a broken record on this subject? You betcha.

But the fact remains that the coolest people I know all live on Hatteras Island.

I adore that when I come back, I get to see so many people that I recognize, and love, and haven’t seen in years, and can unabashedly hug in public without fears of weird stares. (Old friends, you’ve been warned – I’m a hugger.)

And the best thing is that despite the minimal year-round population on Hatteras Island, you’re constantly meeting new and unique people who are charming, funny, inspiring, helpful, or who are just fun to share a beer with on a Friday night.

As a prime example, the last time I visited, which was sadly in January, I went to a fancy* party in Frisco that was attended by local writers.

(*translation of “fancy”= had to wear a bra. And also pants.)

While I was there, I got to meet several of my long-time local writing icons, including Pat Gerber and Catherine Kozak. Naturally, being the perpetual professional, I interrupted their clearly intimate conversation and said something like the following:

“OH MY, GOD. I love you guys. You write so good. Like, so freaking good.” (I am clearly nothing if not articulate in social settings.)

But, thankfully, they and everyone else at the party overlooked my awkwardness and welcomed my silly self into the fold. (They also welcomed my better socially-suited husband, who actually impresses people with his knowledge the island’s fishing industry, as well as his ability to construct sentences without using the word “freaking.”)

It made me realize that there are so many people I want to connect with, and re-connect with, because we all have that singular stellar thing in common – our love of island living. And it makes me want to greet and not glare at my shelling competitors, buy another round for a newfound colleague at the bar, and just dive into that friendly island life.

This is my elongated answer to the question “Do you miss it?” and it’s the answer I won’t share in my new locale, 'cause let’s face it, the people I was talking to would have left the conversation 20 minutes ago.

But it’s also the reason why I’ll come back, and why everyone who lives on Hatteras Island needs to construct their own personal list of “Hatteras Island Obsessions” to remember why they live in such a remarkable place -- regardless of hurricanes, skeeters, and those frustrating drivers going 35 mph on the Bonner Bridge.

I promise you, if you leave Hatteras Island, you really will miss it all – from acting like an idiot in front of your professional idols to showing your granny panties to total strangers.

And personally, I’m looking forward to coming back home and a future of not having to miss a thing. (Well, I’m going to at least try not to flash unsuspecting beach-goers. No promises, though.)

(Joy Crist currently lives in the western North Carolina mountains, though she is threatening to return to Hatteras full-time by fall.)

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