There’s a mountain ridge, runs southwest to northeast. It’s where the bad weather comes from, a shoulder against winter. Wet and cold spill over the rim in slow motion, flowing down through the bare tree tops into hollows and coves, where houses are huddled inside by fires to keep warm.
All week the ridgeline has been hidden by low clouds, clear below; clouds that sometimes rain, sometimes mist, later sleet or snow, but never much.
The top of the ridge could be gone. Maybe it will just be changed somehow, and we won’t know what is different, it will just feel different. I saw a fox this morning, and an owl last night. Both had somewhere to go.
I have a handful of friends and family who I hear from around this time every year. It usually begins with emails, arriving in mid-October, with subject lines like “Has it started yet?” and “Almost Time!” They’re people who, for one reason or another, now live in places where they have no autumn to speak of, no explosion of fall color like we have in Virginia.
Last Fall I began playing with Final Cut Pro. I started out with a bunch of rough footage shot with a cell phone on a trip to NYC, along with some snaps from the same trip.
While playing around with the program, I was listening to some new music from Vector Trio, an improv piece from their Basement Tapes called Dream Dogs. The piece seemed to fit the footage, so I kept replaying it. Before long, I was subconsciously making edits and cuts to fit the music.
Eventually, the two just sort of merged into one thing.
South of Ocracoke, across the inlet, is Portsmouth Island and a ghost town of the same name. Though as a community it began and survived alongside Ocracoke for hundreds of years, Portsmouth’s more limited access proved it’s undoing. It was abandoned almost 40 years ago, and came under care and control of the National Park Service. There was never any electrical power on Portsmouth, though a few small generators operated when needed. Mostly the residents continued to live well into the 20th century much as they had in the 18th. Many of the houses are preserved intact, as are a church, a general store, a school, a post office, and the decommissioned life saving station once manned by the Coast Guard. Almost all are open to the public and cared for by volunteers alongside the Park Service, who only seems to provide assistance when funding is available.
The last ferry from Hatteras leaves at midnight. It’s then a forty minute ride through a deep and disturbing darkness to the northern tip of Ocracoke Island.
These are some of the most treacherous waters on the Atlantic Coast. In recent years, the Coast Guard has averaged 10 rescue missions a month in Oregon Inlet just north of here. Charts for the region don’t show channel markers; instead are displayed just warnings such as this:
“Hatteras Inlet is subject to continual change.
Entrance buoys are not charted because they are frequently shifted in position.”
On the way back, when we got to the Spillway, there was a group of Boy Scouts setting up camp for the weekend. They had arrived back at the landing just as we were pushing off, and behind us had paddled the three miles to the Canal Tender’s camp with all their gear. At the camp, one of them found a rope swing and promptly broke his leg. The Scout leaders (a couple of dads worried about what their wives would say, no doubt) had called 911, and a rescue boat and helicopter were on the way. There was no room to land the helicopter, so they were going to have to take him back to the landing by boat. As we motored down the Feeder Ditch the rescue boat came roaring up the canal, and we got to the ramp just as the helicopter arrived, so we watched them load the hapless fellow into the back and take off for Norfolk.
The cypress trees rising up from the lake have been separated from shore for a very long time, in some cases centuries. Even when they die, their stumps remain longer still, as cypress is a very rot resistant wood. The result is that each tree, and it’s remaining stump, isolated from the rest of the swamp for so long, becomes a complex ecological microcosm, with insects, plants, fungi, etc., all living interdependently. They’re beautiful, like little Zen bonsai gardens.