Pea Island, an area on the north end of Hatteras Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, is a place that I have visited throughout my life. Yesterday, I returned there with Bruce, after a long time away. Visiting the Wildlife Refuge there, and driving south to the town of Rodanthe, brought back a plethora of memories.
To reach the island from our house in Nags Head requires a drive across the Herbert Bonner Bridge, which crosses Oregon Inlet and connects Hatteras Island to the mainland. Many times, I went to the beach on the tip of Oregon Inlet with my dad to surf fish. I wonder how many hundreds of pounds of fish we caught there through the years.
Actually, I remember the days before the bridge, when there was only ferry service. The shifting sands beneath the bridge, however, have made it very unstable; the state DOT ranks it as a 2 on a scale of 1 to 100 for safety. Yet, a trip over the beautiful marshes and ocean make the benefits far outweigh the risk.
The only highway on Hatteras Island, NC12, has its own challenges with shifting sands and storms. The beaches that were once wide are now narrow, with inlets forming between the ocean on the east and the sound to the west. Water from Hurricane Irene, in August, completely washed out the road in some areas, and there are now temporary bridges built over the water. Homes in parts of Rodanthe had their foundations completely washed out, so many of them are literally dangling at the water’s edge.
As soon as we parked at the Wildlife Refuge, I headed across the street to examine the beach. There was the spot where I learned to drive; on the beach, in our Toyota Landcruiser with “3 on the tree” manual transmission. My dad said that if I learned there, in that vehicle, and could shift without sand flying out behind, I would be ready to drive any car, anywhere. So far, that has proven to be correct.
Our walk through the refuge for bird watching was successful, as there we saw Egrets, Great Blue and Green Herons, Brown Pelicans, Cormorants, Red Winged Blackbirds, and a variety of waterfowl species that we also see out front on the beach. The most amazing sighting, however, was several American White Pelicans, with their long yellow beaks and large pouches.
When we couldn’t stand the mosquitoes – yes, mosquitoes in November – any longer, we returned to the car for our drive back to Nags Head. As we drove back across the bridge, I relived the many times I’d driven that route with my dad, who thought that the view of the Bodie Island lighthouse from the top of the bridge was the most beautiful sight in the world. I shed first a tear and then smiled, knowing that I came by this love of Pea Island and the area around it, honestly and genetically.