Danielle Yerdon brings us to Oak Island, North Carolina, where the ocean breeze is as warm as the locals.
Your feet are flying over the wooden boards of a deck, down a small flight of stairs, and finally landing on soft sand. The waves are now in sight, beckoning you with each energetic crash. Before surrendering to their allure, you pause for a moment to simply look around at the blue sky, bask in the sunshine, feel the warm breeze on your skin, and wiggle your toes deeper into the grains of sand. The vast ocean, spread out before you as it merges with a distant horizon, enacts its mysterious power of making you feel both microscopic and enormous, insignificant yet immensely empowered.
Mornings are spent lounging in a wooden rocking chair on the cozy covered deck of the beach house your family rented, savoring a bowl of what has become the traditional breakfast of North Carolina vacations: oatmeal topped with fresh peaches and brown sugar. Seagulls or pelicans flying in packs frequently delight your view, as do the occasional fins of passing dolphins and the ringed splashes of stingrays jumping from the waves.
You spend nights walking along a dark beach with your mother, father, and brother, path illuminated by flashlight, until reaching the markings of a sea turtle nest. A sign attached to a post stuck in the sand which reads “Do Not Disturb” records the date the eggs were laid, and offers suggestions to protect the turtles. Minimize beachfront lighting. Fill in any holes above the high tide line. Remove all objects from the beach at night.
A smoothed-over “runway” of sand extends from the sign, flanked by a small grouping of beach chairs inhabited by volunteers and other turtle-lovers. Hours that week are spent lying next to one soon-to- hatch nest. You chat with white-haired volunteers, members of a group who dutifully ride down the beach in golf carts each dawn to check for a mother sea turtle who has buried her eggs sometime during the night. The volunteers mark off these nests, protecting them from foxes and beach walkers alike. Once the expected hatch date of a nest approaches, they sit neat it each night to ensure that the palm-sized hatchlings safely reach the water. The sea turtle hatchlings, they tell you, immediately know which way to go.
One day, you climb 131 steps to the top of the Oak Island lighthouse. Whereas the typical lighthouse contains one long, continuous spiral staircase leading to an observation deck, Oak Island’s features a series of steep ships ladders that are nearly perpendicular to the ground. You diligently place one foot above the other, taking even, purposeful breaths and refusing to look down before reaching the solid ground of the top deck. Once there, you discover a view that is, combined with the heavy wind 169 feet above sea level, both gorgeous and dizzying.
During exploits to Oak Island’s neighboring village, you are greeted with a sign that reads “Welcome to the Happiest Seaside Town in America.” One day, you take the Southport ferry to the aquarium at Fort Fisher and explore tanks and tanks of dazzlingly-colored fish, stony-faced sharks, and the aquarium’s unique albino alligator, Luna. You visit Southport’s quintessential coastal shops, investigating countless rows of dried sand dollars, beach-themed jewelry, miniature lighthouses, and hand- painted coffee mugs. You find that the locals are just as warm as their enthusiastic signs would have you believe.
What is packed between oatmeal-and- peach-mornings, occasional off-the-beach adventures during the day, and turtle nest-nights is equally enjoyable. We gather enough shells to fill gallon-size plastic bag. We read books in the comfort of a low-to-the-ground, lime green beach chair. Time wades like the ocean current. Finally, on the last day of vacation, which also happens to be your birthday, you and your brother sculpt a giant sea turtle in the sand, bigger than the two of you combined. You feel as if you were simply made for warmth and sunshine and sea, as if your instinct leads you to the water’s edge. You’re dragged off the beach on the last day of the trip, unwilling to leave your beloved sunshine and ocean behind.