(Lori’s photo. I’m in the water out there.)
I’ve been back for the beach for two weeks, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the water. The ocean was great when we were there, calm a few days, good for watching the sky, and white-capped on others, good for jumping over or under a steady rush of waves. The water was even warm most of the time. But I keep thinking about where the water is going to be.
While we were down there, the Post ran a long piece, “On N.C.’s Outer Banks, scary climate-change predictions prompt a change of forecast.” In short, the 100-year outlook showed rising seas swallowing up our part of the island: the house we rent each year, the burger and ice cream places Lori and I went for my birthday lunch, the old shell shop on the causeway we went exploring, and just about everywhere else my family’s gone there for the past decades. Meanwhile, the article explained, North Carolina politicians were lobbying to ignore the 100-year data and base property outlooks on a shorter, far less impactful amount of time: 30 years.
The week after we returned from the beach, my aunt and uncle had their 50th wedding anniversary. For the party, the cousins had put together a slideshow of all the years, and Nags Head figured prominently. We saw my oldest cousin, now with kids in college, as a toddler, walking on the beach. Then we saw the succession of cousins, the siblings of the oldest, and then later me and my brother. My immediate family had been going to Nags Head probably 25 years or more. The cousins must have been going on 45.
A 30-year outlook? Blink of an eye.
While we were at the beach, I drove Lori down to where we used to stay on the island, back in the day, near the southern tip before Oregon Inlet. The neighborhood was called Goosewing, where we had stayed and where the cousins had taken pictures, and Goosewing had changed. The loop that ran to the beachfront houses didn’t loop anymore. Sand had overtaken most of it, with storms driving the low dunes from underneath the front houses. These houses were all vacant. All lacked stairs up from their old driveways to their old front doors. County had condemned all of them, and several were no longer there. We had seen the first ones go a decade or more ago.
When a maintenance man came to fix a broken sliding door on our house this year, he told us more of the story. Before he fell into a mini-rant about the immigrants who’d taken over his former home of Southern California, he said the authorities had condemned Goosewing’s beachfront houses when the storms had blown the sand and exposed their septic tanks — instant legal trouble, apparently. But complications had arisen since. The city’s replenishment of the beach several years ago had given all these houses new protection. Their owners were now fighting to get back in.
While that battle rages on, while the extended family waits another year to return to Nags Head, the family’s favorite time of year, I keep thinking about the 30-year outlook and what’s supposed to happen after that.
The 100-year outlook says the water will not abide. The 100-year outlook says the water will swallow whole your homes, memories and futures.