A few days with the waves’ white hair

Published 8:09 pm Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We are “master” naturalists, which means we love to spend time in the outdoors, appreciating God’s creatures and creations.

In western Tidewater, that means that we, like nearly everybody else in Hampton Roads, spend time at “The Beach.” And, of course, “The Beach” means OBX. In our case, we are fortunate to spend time on Hatteras Island.

The senses are assaulted by the sights, creatures, and creations not in our usual sphere of Dismal Swamp and coastal plain.

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Most of our time is spent on the beach itself.

The sights?

Ghost crabs scuttle sideways into their holes, tiny or huge. Pelicans in groups of five or so soar six inches above crashing breakers at 40 mph, their five-foot wingspans motionless as they cruise on the winds.

We see shells of all descriptions — from commonplace clams and oysters to exotic olives, angel wings, sea pens and lightning whelks. Sand fleas and tiny clams bury themselves rapidly in the retreat of every wave.

Ospreys fly overhead with their prey carried longitudinally — and we saw them every single day this trip. An offshore wind blows the tops off breakers as in T.S.Eliot’s “Prufrock” — “the white hair of the waves blown back.”

But there were no dolphins this trip.

Meanwhile, inland, the deer roam freely and boldly early every morning. White ibis, increasingly common as the climate warms, walk through rain-flooded yards, picking and pecking insects and polliwogs.

The live oaks — huge, ancient, low, and spreading — shade the sand, hosting dozens of species of small birds in every tree. And the skeeters.

But there are other beach town attractions, too: the local shrimp, the sights of kite boarders, windsurfers and standup paddleboarders. There are beach paraphernalia sales, fresh produce stands, bike rentals, kayak rentals, saltwater taffy emporiums and on and on.

But the most prevalent sight on any summer foray to the beach is the horde of vacationers — from Kansas, from Cleveland, from Quebec, even inland Virginia and Carolina — people not acclimated to the strength of our sun, the prevalence of our mosquitoes, the power of our waves.

These bring the tourist dollars that are the lifeblood of the Outer Banks economy. Hatteras Island businesses must make a year’s income between May 1 and Nov. 1.

Let’s hope and pray the island does not get cut in two again, that the new bridge is built well and swiftly, that the economy stays strong enough to support vacation rentals, restaurants and travel in general.

They support a lifestyle that “we locals” love. Our family has a vacation home there, so we enjoy “The Beach” and nature there year-round.

The beach is best in January, when you can spend an entire day shelling and never see another human being. Millions of cormorants, the occasional hammerhead shark carcass — but no people.

The deer, the live oaks, the crabs, the dolphins and whales, the fish- — they’re still there. The rentals stop. The restaurants close. But the beach? It’s still “The Beach.”

And the “white hair of the waves” still gets blown back.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.