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Magic at Cape Lookout

August 20, 2019

What an absolutely magical experience. Magical...that is the best word I know in our language to describe my night spent at Cape Lookout in North Carolina. 
I was really excited about this escape. And when the ferry came to pick me up at Harkers Island, I started to board right after the last returning passenger departed, "Wait a minute, got to gas up...give me 5 minutes" the captain yelled. "Sorry, I am just really looking forward to this trip" I replied back. He didn't seem too amused and I am sure at 5:15 on a Sunday evening he was probably very tired of dealing with people. Daily, the ferry transports hundreds back and forth from either Shackleford Banks or Cape Lookout. I knew at 5:15 I'd be one of the last trips to the island and as it turned out, I was the only passenger. 
After about a 20 minute ride crossing the channels and passing by fishermen and boaters we made it to the island. 
I knew it was going to be tough...I had about 80 pounds of gear to tote to a campsite; one large army duffle bag with tent, sleeping pad, a sheet, cooking gear and some freeze dried red beans and rice. Two camera bags; one filled with 35mm DSLR gear for night photography and video and the other, an old Crown Graphic Press Camera retrofitted to take panoramic stills of the landscapes I'd encounter. Attached to my belt was a pack and my tripod was hooked into that.

This was not the time to walk the island scouting for a spot. I was sweating profusely and could feel myself overheating in the humid and sticky weather. Stopping every 20 or 30 yards to drink water and rest, I finally found a spot around the middle of the island in between a small woods and the sand dunes. Around me were Gaillardia pulchella or "Firewheel" flowers.

 

 

Bright in yellow, orange and red, they light up the landscape with their color and aroma. After I pitched my tent, I sat for a minute as I watched the sun set and the late afternoon light and long shadows highlight the flowers, making them stand out even more. Nearby, and a little closer to the water, a wall of sea oats swayed back and forth in the continual ocean breeze. A sweet breeze smelling of salt and marsh grass which always makes me feel at home.

I sat there on the beach looking out into infinity with not another soul anywhere nearby. But I wasn't alone. To my left were a number of small shore birds...Grey Plovers gulls and Whimbrels. A plover came very close and stood facing the horizon just like me. Then a wave washed ashore and the little bird retreated to a higher part of the beach, only to move forward again upon the recession of the wave. The gulls swooped low over my head; darting and squawking as they skimmed the banks, watching for an evening meal below them.

At about 8:00pm the sun dropped below the horizon and the night began. But it really wasn't dark...the moon was almost full and it provided me with ample light to see wherever I was going. Which was good in some respects, but for photographing the stars, conditions were really not great...the moonlight tends to overpower the sky and eliminate any distant stars from view.

I made my way to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and as I passed through a brushy area full of small pines and undergrowth, I noticed hundreds of fireflies flying about. It was beautiful! The look of the nearly full moon and these greenish-yellow slashes of light all around me was surreal. I tried to capture the view in one of the pictures below, but it is not nearly as wonderful as being there. As I walked, behind me was the sound of the pounding surf against the beach and within the woods a tree frog barked away. 

 
Later that night, as I lay on my back inside the tent, I could see the big dipper and other constellations above me. I could almost read by the moonlight, but soon I grew sleepy and the waves just a few yards away lulled me into deep sleep.

Because of the moon, when I awoke early the next morning, things looked almost exactly the same in my tent. It was still bright as day, but I could see orange in the distance amidst the white, almost neutralizing moonlight. The walk to the beach was a short one and I hurriedly set up my tripod and camera as I made my way across thick sand. It was one of the most beautiful sunrises I had ever seen! The dark storm clouds interspersed with the deep oranges and purples of that pre sunrise view were ethereal.

 

 

 
I fumbled with the wind, changing lenses, adjusting angles, trying to hurry before the light changed as I knew I only had seconds before it would. "Got it!" As I fired off the shots on my camera and then video of the same scene I breathed a sigh of relief. Never to see this again in this array and only a few minutes before the burnt-orange richness turned to yellow and then to tan. Once done, I bagged the camera again and stood there. Just breathing in and out. Smiling and laughing to myself as the emotion overwhelmed me and I felt a tear on my cheek. Thank-you God. No one had to tell me what to feel. No man-made structure was needed, no choral singing...none was needed. This was perfection and a direct line to the creator. The dramatic clouds produced a warm rain and I left the beach for shelter.

 

If some who read my posts think I am overreacting to the rollbacks which this administration are putting in place, this is why I write. This is why it cuts my soul like a knife when I hear about a wild area being mined or an oil pipeline running across a beautiful waterway. We have to save our wild spaces for those who come after us. This is a gift, a gift that is as much a part of us as we are of it. Please look at more than just how much financial gain a candidate could bring you...we only have one earth and we owe it to our children to leave something behind.

 

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