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Outer Banks, NC - August 2011

Sun, Sand, and Surf

sunny 85 °F

Every two years, my family (parents, sister and her family, brother and his family, and my family) spend one much anticipated and very restorative week in Ocean Hills on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My brother and his family missed out this year because they were welcoming a new baby boy into their family. We happily excused their absence just this once.

Ocean Hills is situated a few miles north of Corolla at the end of the paved road. While it can be a real bugger to get to on a Saturday afternoon when everyone on the East Coast is trying to get on the island, the location plays a huge role in the feel of the trip. We've rented the same beach house for the last five trips. The house, called Sea the Light, sits on a small cul de sac with four other homes. My kids refer to it as "our beach house" and when we arrive it really does feel like home. While it is not beachfront, we have an unobstructed view of the ocean from any of the front windows or porches. The back of the property is adjacent to a wildlife refuge. Over the years we've seen timid deer, small grey foxes, and numerous wild horses. As a matter of fact, this is the first year I didn't see a single horse. Even though there are homes near us, there is a very real sense of privacy and wild beauty.


I've heard that there are many things to do and see in the Outer Banks. I can't really testify to this. I don't travel to this spot to shop, dine, or tour. I make the arduous journey to Sea the Light to just be still. My days are filled with reading, swimming, napping and soaking up the sun. Most evenings we cook dinner at the house because no one can be bothered to pull themselves together to go out on the town. Nights are filled with movies or games. There is laughter and peace and no pressure to do anything at all ever. Sometimes, the ladies will spend a morning browsing at the fun shops of Timbuk II or Scarborough Faire. That's as ambitious as we get. Of all the travelling I do, the Outer Banks is the one place where I can completely relax. I don't put on makeup. I don't fix my hair. I have no pressing desire to see or do anything beyond the beach. I'm with the people who know me best and love me regardless of my many faults. For an entire week the pressure is off. And I love it.

Our daily schedule went something like this:

Mornings were generally for relaxing and goofing around.


One morning my sister and I did manage to walk down to a boardwalk trail that travelled into the sanctuary behind the beach house. For very minimal physical effort we were rewarded with this.

This is a lovely spot for sunset viewing as well because it faces west.

Late every morning we would slather on the sunscreen, make our way to the beach, fight the crowds for a meager patch of sand, and settle in for the day.


The kids usually headed straight for the water and didn't emerge until they were scrubbed raw by the sand and completely water-logged. The adults tended to take a more moderate approach to the ocean but we all enjoyed it. From what I understand, the water temperature the first few days was pretty cold. My sister stated that it was so frigid it made her bones ache. By the middle of the week we could walk right in without pain. The waves were calm and gentle for most of the week - somewhat disappointing for people who like to body surf and boogie board. The water was sea foam green and crystal clear. In chest high water I could still see my feet. We saw numerous groups (are they called pods?) of playful porpoises just off the beach. One man ran down the beach, grabbed his kayak, and rowed out to them every single time they swam by.


A bit of excitement happened Wednesday. A short distance down the beach, a beaked whale had washed ashore and was causing quite a rucus. The experts who were on site believed that the whale was ill and beached itself to die. It was dark grey with a lighter belly, had teeth and was about fourteen feet long. It's tail had barnacles and its entire body had long white marks like scrapes. To me, the whale looked like an overgrown dolphin. For curiousity's sake I did a bit of research when we got back to the house. From what I understand, very little is known about beaked whales because seeing them is a pretty rare occurrance. They reside in deep water and could be the deepest and longest diving of all whale and dolphin species. Recent research has discovered beaked whale populations near the Bahamas. Perhaps this whale came from that area. Needless to say it was an interesting sight.


By early afternoon, the kids were ready for lunch and pretty much finished at the beach. (They really need to learn to pace themselves.) They would often hang out at the house alone or swim in the pool if an adult stayed at the house with them.


Jay and I preferred to return to the beach for the rest of the afternoon. Why would I want to be anywhere else? Seriously. We were so blessed with weather. I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.


There was a fence made of heay duty wire rope and telephone pole posts that separated our beach from the 4WD beach. Our attention was constantly being drawn to the 4WD beach because someone was always getting stuck in the sand. People are funny. There is a very large sign with the warning not to attempt the beach in anything but a 4WD vehicle. People drive right past that sign in their four door sedans and promptly get stuck up to their axles in sand. Or big tough 4WD drive trucks get stuck because their owners fail to let some air out of their big boy tires. How humiliating for them! How hilarious for us.

The fence itself was an object of fascination for me. Pelicans perch on the posts and wires. I entertained myself a couple of afternoons taking photos. The posts, by the way, are brown. You can use your imagination to figure out how they became so white. My sister, Kelly, thought she wanted to plank the top of one of those poles. Ew!


Reading was an integral part of the vacation for most of the participants of the party. Since I was only in the Outer Banks for half the week (unforseen scheduling conflicts with band camp), I read just one book - The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The ending is incredibly sad. How could it not be? The setting of the story is WWII Germany. I sat on that perfect beach in the late afternoon sun and sobbed. Although it is marketed as a young adult book, I found it to be an incredibly satisfying and original read.


We usually left the beach around 5pm for supper. We all took turns making supper and everyone helped to clean up. Who was it that said, "Many hands makes light work?" The evenings usually included another jaunt down to the beach - either to do some surf fishing, take a walk, or find and catch the little ghosts crabs that come out to play after all the giants vacate the beach. I love dusk on the beach. The quality of the light and the peaceful atmosphere are soothing to the soul.


Our last night at the house is always capped off with family portraits. This year's portrait is a little skimpy because we're missing my brother's family. And it will always be incomplete since my sweet niece passed away almost four years ago. We miss you Molly!

The proper, mandatory photograph:

The much more fun, silly face photo:

And so, another wonderful week at the Outer Banks came to an end. We said "Good-bye" to Sea the Light and began the journey home at the crack of dawn Saturday morning. And we didn't get home until 3:30 in the afternoon! I love everything about the Outer Banks except the drive. There just is no easy way to get there and back again to Lancaster County. It is a true test of patience and perseverence that my children seem to handle far better than I do. However, no matter how horrible the traffic is or painfully slow the going becomes, I will continue to go to the Outer Banks. It is my true respite from this crazy thing called life.

Posted by sjyoder 00:19 Archived in USA Tagged ocean beach family_travel corolla outer_banks beach_house

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