Mirlo Beach, After Irene

Who can be serious or sad when THIS is going on? Yes, the front of the house flooded today in the rain.

I am on vacation, so I’m not going to spend a lot of time on doom, gloom, and rumors of boom, unless I decided to do a whole post about this house, which I will call “Carping About Carpe Diem II.”  But last night I indulged one of my favorite beachy pastimes, showering in the open air. This house, new to us, is a cross between a disappointment and a major irritation (Carpe Diem II — no expense expended), but the shower is wonderful, and THAT is because it’s brand new.

So I stood there last night, trying to imagine what it was like last August, when Pamlico Sound roared through here in a wall of water eight feet high. I have a good imagination, but it’s not really necessary. The rear ground floor of Carpe Diem was ripped off, including the shower and the first four feet of the interior stairway.  Every single house on the Sound has a new walkway to its dock, AND a new dock.  All that lumber became battering rams that knocked Swan’s Nest off its foundation and pushed two houses into the sea.  (A third fell in because the brief Mirlo Breach destabilized its foundation after the storm.) Two houses on the Sound side of NC 12 have fallen into the holes created when their swimming pools apparently sank into the earth.

Two driveways down from us, the site of the majestic, (not to say completely-over-the-top) Sentinel on the Sound is a grassy patch. The lot is for sale; the house will not be rebuilt, and who can blame the owners?  They were riding out Irene when a generator caught fire, and they were forced to flee their retirement home in the raging water, struggling to swim the 400 or so yards to the next inhabited house, while their own was an inferno behind them.

Next door, at our beloved Surround Sound, owner Steve and his wife are in residence, still making repairs. Surround Sound has a ground-floor bedroom, or had, anyway. It temporarily became a roomful of water, and then, nothing.

Irene, “only” a category 1 storm, hit Rodanthe exactly wrong, piling up the Sound and then letting it go in one gravity-fueled push. The water surged back toward the east, washing over Pea Island and creating a new inlet at (I am not kidding) New Inlet and a breach right here.  The breach didn’t last, but the inlet went tidal, carving a channel and requiring a bridge.

And that’s where the doom and gloom stop.  The inlet is a wondrous thing.  Every time we go by, it is lined with people fishing, crabbing, and birdwatching.  The Sound and the beach have benefited from the exchange, and we have noticed more fish in the Sound even down here.  The pelicans are back, and every morning we see them dipping into the Sound for their breakfasts.  The beach, meanwhile, has been replenished far more effectively than the Army Corps of Engineers can do it, and has a gentle slope, not the eroded mini-cliffs of last year.

Overwash is what barrier islands are supposed to do on a regular basis.  The Mirlo Beach area of Rodanthe is a textbook example of the pros and cons — nice beach, wrecked houses.  I don’t know what we do in this tenuous place, this ribbon of land caught between sound, sea, and sky.  Hang on, I suppose.  I mean, we’re back this year.  We could have gone traipsing off to some other beach, but it would feel like infidelity.  We KNOW this beach, some of the people, many of the places.  We don’t like high-energy beaches, like Myrtle, where the natural world long ago gave up the struggle and left the ocean to be a kind of backdrop.

Here the ocean and the Sound are the main players, in the center of the stage all the time.  Birds wheel, fish jump, and swamp mallows nod their beautiful pink heads in the sunshine.  We fall effortlessly into the lazy rhythms of beach life — breakfast overlooking the sound, a day of kayaking or volleyball and swimming in the ocean, evenings making communal meals and watching the sun sink into the water over Swan Quarter.  This year we’ve added some Olympics excitement, but even that is hardly an interruption in a low-key, relaxed life.

I was at the Liberty Station on Monday, looking for items that, oddly enough, they didn’t have.  As I was leaving, a hairy man was leaning into someone’s car explaining that his skiff unloaded its fish and shrimp in Wanchese, and the occupant of the car could buy some there.  Two yuppie looking men were buying beer and Red Bull (bad idea, guys), and flirting with the hired help.  Libby was on the phone to a vendor.  It was just like any other summer afternoon.  It ain’t nohow permanent, but it’s good enough for now.


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