In late June we went on a trip to Emerald Isle, NC. It was my fourth time visiting North Carolina beaches, but my second visit to that particular area of the coast. I like it because there is lot of vegetation and trees there – I think that’s why they called it Emerald Isle in the first place, but I’m not sure about that. The coastline is called Crystal Coast and at times it looked like the Caribbean with white sand and jade greenish blue waters on the best sunny days. When the waves were too rough we stayed close to shore due to rip current warnings, but luckily the conditions got better as the week progressed and lots of boogie boarding ensued.
We visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and I loved every minute of it! One highlight was the huge tank that had an actual old sunken marine vessel in it, surrounded by several species of fish, including sharks. I also loved to see the otters playing and various ethereal looking jelly fish in some other displays. When I was a kid, we had neighbors who had a huge aquarium in their living room – I remember being excited to see it every time we visited. I was a bit frightened of some of the creatures but mostly in awe. I still feel that way when I go to an aquarium or the sea, as I’m sure many people do. It really is like being in another world when you take time to be still and closely watch.
I was so inspired I created some encaustic pieces to commemorate the experience. They can be found in my Etsy shop linked here.
After traveling to many different beaches over my lifetime so far, it’s interesting to recall the various types of landscape, vegetation, and creatures I’ve come across with each vacation. New England beaches had a lot of rocks to explore at low tide when I was young, but the water was numbing from what I recall. During trips to the Caribbean I remember seeing the most sea life on a glass bottom boat tour and a snorkel outing, and seeing an iguana asleep in a tree is a sight I’ll never forget. On our honeymoon in Jamaica, we actually went on a night snorkel that was exhilarating, but we didn’t see much other than some bottom feeders. (When you are snorkeling at night with a flashlight, you just know a shark is following your every move!) Virginia Beach had lots of crabs scurrying across the sand and it was a lot of fun to stop them in their tracks with our flashlights. Holden Beach in North Carolina is a turtle sanctuary so there were no lights allowed after dark – that place is where we unfortunately discovered “no see ums” – if you know, you know! Florida is beautiful, but I can’t remember seeing a lot of nature on my trips there other than dolphins and the occasional gecko on a wall. Hilton Head is so full of people, I think the sea creatures have long gone – or at least left the areas where we stayed – it is interesting to see their birds and the occasional alligator there. On our trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia, last year we saw sea turtles at the local aquarium as well as several dolphins that came quite close to the boat.
Back to Emerald Isle – life on the beach there was enjoyable to me in so many ways, but mostly by combing through sea shells every day. Many shells are small and broken, but they are plentiful. Occasionally groups of pelicans flew by, but I didn’t see very many birds on shore. On a boat we took to an island near the Rachel Carson Reserve we did catch a glimpse of some wild horses. And during a sunset boat ride our last day there we saw several dolphins, and a couple of them did flips!
I didn’t go too far in the water for fear of the creatures I ironically love to watch. My favorite beach pastime was looking for what I call “sand puppies” (also called sand fleas or mole crabs). You can find them by digging under air holes left in the sand after a wave subsides – the sand puppies tickle your hand trying to get back to the wet sand. At low tide the tiniest fish get trapped in warm pools and my daughter was mesmerized watching dozens of minnows nibble at our legs. We tried catching some but they’re so small they went right through the net.
One very memorable day my daughter ran up to me carrying the net and dropped it to show me what was in her other hand – a big, beautiful live starfish. I asked her to put it back in the ocean after we took some video. You might think this a bit wacky, but whenever I see shooting stars I believe they are sent to me by my father who died when I was a toddler. When that happened I really felt like he was sending a gift to us and telling me he was glad to see me enjoying life with my husband and his granddaughter, both whom he never met.