By Bill Morris
Last weekend the unusually warm weather here in the Mid Atlantic finally gave way to winter. As my neighbors headed to the slopes in West Virginia or North Carolina to ski on man-made snow, I took off with two friends to visit one of my favorite destinations in any season: Cape Lookout National Seashore.
The Seashore is a 50-plus-mile string of barrier islands located just south of the better-known Cape Hatteras National Seashore. For most of the year the beaches of Cape Lookout are served by small-boat ferry services. But in the winter the only way to get there is by private boat. There’s no bridge. No roads. Just sand, a few abandoned cabins and the lighthouse.
Last Friday I hitched a ride on my friend Crawdad’s skiff. The sky was overcast, the temperature in the low- to mid-50s. A gale warning was up for the next 24 hours, with a forecast calling for the season’s first real cold front to drop the thermometer about 40 degrees. But we had only a 10- to 15-knot breeze for Friday afternoon so we crawled into our neoprene chest waders and layers of fleece and set out to try to catch a fish. The worst we’d get would be wind-burned faces from a long walk on the beach.
Crawdad (b. 1950) and I (’53) were the only true Baby Boomers on this excursion. Our companion, Bill, is somewhere past age 75. The boat ride over is almost 30 minutes. The walk across the island from the sound to the ocean is a half-mile through sand dunes and swales. On a day when this 58-year-old keyboard jockey may have been tempted to whine about my creaky back or arthritic knee, having a man 20 years my senior to lead the way was just the ticket.
Reaching the ocean side we put down our gear below the high tide line and spread out, with Bill heading a quarter mile west, me in the middle, and Crawdad several hundred yards east, nearly to the lighthouse. When you fish on a boat you’re forced into close quarters. When with friends, that is almost always pleasant. But it is also pleasant to come and go as a group but do your fishing in solitude, the way it’s meant to be.
We spent three hours wading out into the breaking surf to cast, retrieve, and cast again. A few gulls and gannets passed by overhead and a squad of dolphins patrolled just beyond the outer bar. They, too, were looking for a school of sea trout or red drum and their luck appeared to be no better than ours.
Last August the eye of Hurricane Irene had come ashore very near where we stood, leaving the beachfront dune line noticeably eaten away. In the 20 years I’ve been going there regularly, Bertha, Bonnie, Dennis, Floyd, Isabel, Ophelia, and Irene have all hit Cape Lookout. The sands move but the Cape somehow stays.
As the sun grew low and the temperature began to drop, we joined up again and shouldered our burdens for the hike back to where we’d anchored the boat. Crawdad told stories from the ‘70s, back before Cape Lookout was a national seashore. Bill’s earliest memories of that place come from the 1950s. He could recite the provenance of most of the old cabins that now sit empty.
With a nod to those memories, and even better ones — those still to come — we climbed aboard Crawdad’s skiff and zipped our jackets up tight for the boat ride home.