The Road to Shackleford Point

“You long to return to that intangible thing that is hard to define, but you feel in your soul. You look around and realize the closest thing to that feeling you remember is the feeling you get when you are experiencing something new, or something you’ve done many times but never get tired of. These pursuits provide a portal back to that feeling you had; not necessarily a place or experience, just a feeling; the feeling you had when everything was new and exciting and your physical and mental faculties were fully and completely engaged. That time when you were learning, living, and experiencing things for the first time.”

The house wasn’t anything to brag about. They had found it almost by accident, tucked back into a thick grove of mangled coastal live oaks that kept it almost invisible from the road. There wasn’t much to it; it was a single story, cinderblock rambler, maybe 1,500 square feet, that resembled the tract houses built during the fifties after the wars.

But it was solid; of that there was no doubt. It had apparently survived half a dozen hurricanes over the decades and not once been damaged significantly. Whoever had built it had done their job very well. It was low slung and spread out, which enabled it to withstand the high winds, but it did need some work in a few places.

But the best thing about it was its location. It sat just off the south side of the only road that transited the island and had an easement across the protected state park land to the beach. The easement was one of those funky quirks of property law that permitted a landowner who had been in an area first to retain right of access to surrounding property.

For example, if you owned a farm and your only path of access to the main highway was a driveway that ran across another piece of property, a person couldn’t purchase that other property and close off your access to the highway. Since you had already been there and had been using the easement, you retained it, even over the objection of the new property owner. Much of this depended on what was in the deed or the contract of sale or even state law on the matter. But an easement could also be created simply by virtue of the holder using an easement without the other property owner’s permission; if the owner of the property across which the easement ran never complained or “sat on his hands,” the trespasser could very well be granted a permanent easement by the courts.

In the case of the house near Shackleford Point, the state had given all property owners along the coast an easement out to the beach back in 1960 after the state had by eminent domain taken sizeable parcels of the land running along the coastline in order to create protected areas. So the easement out from the “backyard” — as it were — out to the beach was maybe the biggest thing the small house had going for it. That and the additional fact that the closest commercial or rental properties were over a mile in either direction. The neighbors on both sides were private citizens too, and their homes were similarly tucked away, back from the main road. It was almost too good to be true. And despite its age and need of repairs, it was exactly what they had been looking for, for several reasons.

It was six a.m. He got up as quietly as he could, moved into the small living room, and gathered up the gear he had set out the night before. He flipped the switch on the coffee maker and watched in the half-light as the amber liquid began to drip.

He flipped up the screen of his notebook and looked at the weather report; 65 degrees already and rising. A slight off-shore wind. Perfect conditions for this time of year. He’d already laid out the body suit before going to bed. The water here was always so much warmer than anywhere else, except south Florida, or maybe the Gulf off the Pensacola pier. The Pacific was always cold, even in summer. Here, he could enjoy it year-round, even during the mild winters.

He walked out the sliding glass door in back, locked it behind him, and sat down in one of the Adirondack chairs on the back deck. The modest deck needed work, he observed. He’d get to it. He wasn’t certain yet whether it would remain; they might just tear it down and build something new. But that wasn’t important right now. It was covered with a pergola of sorts, but the wood was weathered and rotting in places. The lattice work across the top provided decent screening from the sun which this very minute was just starting to rise over the horizon to the east.

He enjoyed the quiet solitude of these early morning moments that seemed to play on the senses so much more acutely in a place like this than somewhere back in the larger world. His late father had once observed, “If you miss the morning, you miss the best part of the day.” And time had proven his Dad correct in this observation. It was as if each sensory organ was on a heightened state of alert. He could hear, see, and smell better somehow. The senses seemed more open to the tunes of the environment.

He could see the sea off through the live oaks, the waves softly breaking against the beach. He lifted the camping mug with the fresh, steaming coffee. He let the warm vapors slowly fold across his face, put his nose into the cup like one might do at a wine-tasting, hesitated, then lifted it to his lips. Oh it was good. So good. In a few long draws, he finished the cup and set it down.

The waves probably wouldn’t be big; the swell out here was usually just enough to drive a long board forward at a decent clip. But just as he started to grab the longboard, he felt a gust hit out of the north that shook the gnarled live oaks ever so slightly. He looked up at the towering loblolly pines that dotted the property here and there, and noticed they were now swaying in the strengthening breeze. He pondered it for a minute. A wind like this coming from the north would hit the waves coming in from the Atlantic to the south. This was the classic off shore wind. The waves might actually be a little bigger if the wind held.

He left the long board behind and grabbed something smaller and more maneuverable, a board he could turn and play around with if the opportunity presented itself. He then walked back across the property through the live oaks and sand, careful not to trip on the exposed roots that permeated the path to the open beach. This was the easement, and small signs on both sides proclaimed, “STATE PROPERTY. PROTECTED AREA. KEEP OUT.” It was very nice buffer, he had to concede. It kept interlopers from getting too close.

At last, he emerged from the tree line and made a few observations. There were a few early walkers with dogs in both directions, but he was essentially alone; no one was in the water yet. At the water’s edge, he stood for a few minutes and looked out. As his eyes continued to adjust in the slowly emerging light from over the horizon to the east, he could barely make out the white caps of some pretty nice waves breaking over the submerged sandbar in the distance.

It was time to paddle out. He secured the board’s leash to his right ankle, picked up the board, and walked out into the water, sometimes the most difficult part of the entire endeavor, fighting the tide and the few waves that managed to make it all the way in to the shore. He struggled to get to the depth where he could start paddling, and finally, he was paddling out, slowly but surely.

After about five minutes of paddling, he was where he needed to be. He sat up on the board and rested. He scanned the water to his left and right and saw no one else. He had it all to himself.

And so he sat, drifting on the board, scanning the sea for the next possible set. And on this day, he was lucky; after a while, they begin to arrive. The waves were “rights” meaning they break from left to right from the surfer’s perspective. So being a right-foot back rider, he was able to face the waves as he surfed them. This allowed him to see what the wave was doing and adjust.

He continued this pattern for a while: Paddle out. Wait. Catch a wave and ride it in. Paddle back out. Sit up. And wait. Look around and think. Ponder. The time between sets allowed him to think and observe things in quiet repose.

He was right where he wanted to be. Out here, he was anonymous. There were no ties to the past. The name wasn’t known and did not conjure up memories in people of things that were faded history. It was different here than any place they had ever lived. People knew him only by what he was now. And the entire situation was refreshing. It infused him with a new sense of contentment and gave him a much-needed feeling of regeneration.

Everything was new again.

This was the main reason they were here. It was one of the few places they could go to live the way they wanted to live. They knew a few people in the area with whom they’d been friends for many years. But it was a small circle. And it would remain that way.

When they were here, the pull of the world slackened. The old commitments still existed, but they weren’t the top priority. The old things that the world deemed so important just seemed to fade into the background. And the comfortable feeling of being separated from all of the “noise” was palpable.

He considered all of these things as drifted and felt the swells pass under the board. The sun was now fully awake and rising, warming everything around him. Their little corner of Shackleford Point was coming to life. In these moments, whatever was happening anywhere else was not important.

He locked himself inside the moment, soaking in the silence, the clarity, the sea, the salty air, and the solitude. He realized he could make the moment go on as long as he wanted. And as long as he was locked inside the moment, none of what else might be going on outside it mattered.