For someone who has always lived in arid areas — in Denver at the foot of the Rockies, in the high plains of western Colorado, or in the parched Mojave Desert of California — it’s hard to believe that this is a water planet.
I’ve been to the ocean, of course, and visited various other bodies of water, but always the water seemed an afterthought, as if it merely decorated what was essentially a landscape. This trip, however, has shown me a different side of the world. Well, just a different side of the United States since the U.S. is the only part of the earth I have ever been to, but the eastern part of the country does seem as if it could be a different world.
Water. Water everywhere.
Besides seeing torrents of water falling from the sky (such an strange occurrence for someone from drought-ridden climes), on this trip I have seen almost every sort of water body there is.
Oceans. Gulf. Sound. Bays. Lakes. Swamps. Marshes. Lagoons. Inlets. Ponds. Pools. Puddles. Rivers. Streams. Creeks. Waterfalls. Runoffs. Reservoirs. Rills. Irrigation ditches.
I hadn’t planned to go to the outer banks of North Carolina (hadn’t really planned most of what I have done, to be honest), but it seemed an adventurous thing to do, especially since I’d never camped within earshot of the Atlantic Ocean, spent much time on an island, or been on a narrow spit of land between two immense bodies of water. (No matter where you live in continental United States, you are living between two great bodies of water, but the country can hardly be called a narrow spit of land.)
I wasn’t particularly fond of the drive down to Cape Hatteras — too much development for my taste — but I was impressed with the Cape Hatteras National Shoreline. I camped on Hatteras in the woods where I became a walking buffet for the mosquitoes that lived there. The next day I took a ferry to Ocracoke Island, which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I stood at the prow of the boat, where only a narrow mesh fence separated me from the water. I let the sea breeze and the sight and sound of the placid water wash away all thought. Just stood. Watched. Felt.
I camped at the National Park Service campground on Ocracoke, took walks over the dunes and along the beach, and made a friend — another woman tent camper.
Then came the best part of this leg of my journey, the thing that turned my Outer Banks adventure into pure gold (and worth every one of the hideous 50+ mosquito bites I got along the way).
The ferry ride from Ocracoke to Cedar Island across Pamlico Sound.
Oh, my. Two and a half hours of pure bliss. Twenty-two miles (the same as the English Channel) of open water.
Although I have no fondness for wind, I stood at the front of the ferry and let the strong chill winds blow through me. Swayed with the boat as the restless waves rocked it from side to side. Imagined myself out on the open seas, and then suddenly I no longer had to imagine it. We were totally surrounded by water, not a bit of land in sight. What a treat!
Although I had never been on a ferry before visiting the Outer Banks (except perhaps in New York when I was too young to remember), I had a conception of ferries being boring. Tame. Not worth the time. This came, I am sure, from all the movies I have seen of oblivious people on ferries, reading newspapers, drinking coffee, talking, doing anything but paying attention to the ride. And so it was with this particular crossing. Most people sat in their cars as if they were in a stalled traffic pattern, while boys ran around as if on a playground. (Don’t kids go to school any more? I thought spring breaks were over with, but apparently not.)
But me? I was totally enthralled and awed by the experience. Couldn’t bear to tear myself away lest I miss a moment of seeing water, water everywhere. Of being on the water. Of being.
(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)