Seining With Val
5 June 2022 | 10:20 pm

Most of the interesting things I've ever done have started while I was waiting to do something else. Waiting is possibly the best part of traveling really -- it's how you meet people. You wait for the right weather, you wait for the place to open, you wait for the guy to get back with the thing, there is always some waiting. It's like life moves a bunch of things into position and then hits pause and sees what you'll do with it.

We met Val waiting for the ferry. To leave Ocracoke you line up along the only road and wait. Our spot in line happened to be right next to a marsh, so I got my binoculars and stepped out to bird watch for a bit. A woman came up and started talking to me, and then Corrinne, about the bus. This isn't unusual really, it happens about every day when we're in the south, where strangers still talk to each other. In this case though we found we had a lot in common, and we just kept talking. Before too long we were making plans to meet up after the ferry ride.

But then the weather happened, and then we went back to Ocracoke.

It wasn't until we came back up to Oregon Inlet for our last week in the Outer Banks that we finally met up with Val again to go seining. That might sound random, but Val is a marine science illustrator (you can buy her books from Johns Hopkins Press), and the kids wanted to see what was under the waters they're always playing in.

We met up at our campsite and headed down to the broad tidal flat on the other side of the Oregon Inlet channel to use Val's homemade seining rig. A seine, for those that have never heard of them, is a fishing net that hangs vertically. Big seines have floats at the upper edge and sinkers at the lower. Val designed and built her own portable siene. It was small enough that it didn't need weights or floats, instead it had a very clever roller system. That way a single person could push through the grass and anything living there would be swept up in the net.

Once you've pushed it about 8-10 feet you pull it up and see what you've got. Val even built this super clever viewing box, which allows you to see the larger things like fish and shrimp right where you are.

To see the smaller things we collected out in the water, we put them in the floating bucket, and then came back to a dissecting scope we set up on the beach for a closer look.

This kids had so much fun we did it again the next day. This time Elliott had his own setup, consisting of a net he found on the beach and a lot of enthusiasm. The net proved a bust, but the enthusiasm carried him through.

We also did a bit of fishing. The kids pulled in some of the smallest sea bass I've ever seen, but anything is better than nothing -- our usual catch -- so they were excited.

A few days later Val's friend, who's a graduate student at the NC Coastal Studies Institute, invited us to come by the CSI open house. There were all sorts of things for the kids to do including getting some more microscope time with water samples from around the area, and building what amounted to a wave-drive alternator. The girls worked together and managed to generate a bit of electricity with their design.

A couple of days later we went to check out the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park. This is the tiny sliver of the island that still looks like what things probably looked like in the Wright Bros's days. It was hot, dry, and barren, but peaceful and beautiful in a stark way.

And then it was time to say goodbye and hit the road. This is the tough part of traveling, having to say goodbye, so we don't. We always say, see you later, see you again, see you down the road.

Back on Ocracoke
25 May 2022 | 5:57 pm

The storms were still clearing out when we headed back to Ocracoke for another two weeks. The ferry ride over had some of the strangest green waters and stormy skies I've ever seen.

The next day the clouds blew away shortly after sunrise and we didn't have anything but sunshine for nearly two weeks.

The only downside to perfect weather and endless days at the beach is that there's not much to say about it. We found a routine of working in the mornings and evenings, and spending the day at the beach. It's a hard life out here, but someone has to do it.

We did spend a bit more time exploring the village of Ocracoke this time. There was a mass transit system running now, which in this case was an extra long golf cart you could ride from one end of the village to the other. Just barely faster than walking the same distance, but the kids loved it. They also somehow talked Corrinne into buying them candy and swords.

Mostly though, we spent two weeks enjoying the weather, the sand, the sea. Aside from food and good company, there's not much else in life you need.

18 May 2022 | 12:36 pm

After two weeks on Ocracoke we took the ferry back over to Hatteras and settled into another two weeks there. After a week Corrinne had to take the car and go back to Atlanta for family reasons. The kids and I stayed behind in the bus. This sounds pretty innocuous, but this is the Outer Banks, never forget that.

Corinne left on a Friday. I finished up some work that morning while the kids played games, but I took the rest of the afternoon off and we headed the beach. My solo parenting guide starts with: find water, find sunshine, ... Don't forget food and water.

We had a good day at the beach. It would have been a perfect day if Corrinne had been there. As you might imagine, we are not apart much. When we are nothing feels right. Still, we managed.

The next morning we woke up to clouds. I had checked the weather and noticed that there was a chance of rain. I hate driving the bus in the rain, and we needed to dump and move to a different campsite, so the kids and I got up early and got underway. We spent some time talking with Corrinne over by the lighthouse since the internet is much faster there (there's only one cell tower on Hatteras and it's not far from the lighthouse).

After about an hour the clouds turned much darker, you might say ominous if you were writing a bad novel, but I'll just say that as the wind picked up and the clouds darkened, getting back to our campsite seemed like a good idea. We did stop off at the store on the way and pick up a few extra groceries and some new books for the kids to read.

The latter turned out to be an excellent (if unwitting) strategic purchase, because by the time we got back to camp and set up in our new site the wind was a steady 35 MPH and gusting much higher. We spent a few hours indoors, but then we decided to head to the beach and see what it looked like. Less than 24 hours after our near-perfect day of sunshine and light winds, the beach looked like this:

The wind was so strong at the top of the dunes that the kids had trouble standing up. A bit of internet research suggests that would make it around 50 MPH. It didn't let up as evening wore on either. Instead it turned colder. Cold enough to cook inside the bus, which we haven't done since we left Myrtle Beach months ago. That was when I realized that all our winter sleeping gear was stashed in the back of the car, which was now in Atlanta with Corrinne. Luckily we were able to dig up two extra blankets and no one got too cold.

That night the storm picked up steam and at high tide the ocean washed out the road from Oregon Inlet down to Hatteras. The ferry service was canceled due to wind and just like that, we were cut off from everything.

Luckily we had plenty of food and water, so we hunkered down the played games, watched a couple of movies, read, and kids drew while I wrote. For four days the bus did not stop rocking with every gust.

I know I've gone on about the wind once already, but the wind here really is fantastic. It is a thing worth experiencing if you ever get the opportunity. I don't want to sound too enthusiastic about this storm, since it did wash away several homes, I'm not saying that's fun, but if you have a safe place to hunker down, it's a rather amazing experience to be out here in the wind -- to feel what our lovely planet is capable of doing with something as invisible and mysterious and yet powerful as the wind.

Unfortunately Corrinne's time in Atlanta was over before the storm. She went ahead and drove back, but had to spend an extra night in a hotel in Nags Head before the road opened again. After 5 days of storm it finally let up and the kids and I enthusiastically packed up to go dump and get out of the bus for a while. We were headed up the little hill that leads out of the campground when the bus died. It caught me off guard, the bus has been running so well, but I figured maybe I hadn't warmed it up enough so I cranked it for a bit, but nothing happened. And then it hit me: there's nothing wrong with the engine, we're out of gas1.

bus out of gas in the campground photographed by luxagraf
Stuck in the middle of the road.

Finally the roads are open the storm is lifted, we can get out, and what do we do? We run out of gas.

Fortunately the very nice camp hosts at Frisco (who we'd camped by way back at Oyster Point) came to our rescue and made a gas run for us with their gas can. An hour after we ran out gas we were on our way again. And at the same time Corrinne was on her way down. Our plan to meet up at the lighthouse and go to the beach didn't work out, but we ended up all back together again, and that's all that matters.

That turned out to be good timing too, because somewhere back in the Pamlico Sound an undersea cable was cut and Hatteras and Ocracoke lost all communication with the mainland. No cell service, no land line service, nothing. It was fixed about 36 hours later, but it was interesting to see how much of day to day life ceased without that connection. The current world is pretty much the opposite of resilient.

Luckily at least some parts of our current existence are still functioning because someone got out there and fixed the cable. The next day we were in line for the ferry, headed back to Ocracoke.

  1. For those keeping track at home, that's only the second time I've run out of gas in five years, which is pretty good for not having a gas gauge. 

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