I have had the privilege of living in North Carolina since 1995. It was a good move for me on many levels at the time, and I had no idea how much I would come to love her mountains and coasts. While I am more inclined to head out for a hike, I do enjoy the ocean. I am sad to say that I had never visited the Outer Banks before a few weeks ago, one of this state’s most beautiful natural wonders. It’s a bit of a trek from Charlotte, a lame reason in retrospect. So when my best friend invited me to go with her and her husband for a long weekend, I was happy to finally be going.
We stayed at Oscar’s House, a bed and breakfast on Ocracoke Island. The owner, Ann, is not your typical inn keeper and offers a unique respite. She might serve an unorthodox breakfast of eggs and tabbouleh, for example, but every meal starts with a moment of silence after the soft gong of a bell and then a question posed by Ann to facilitate conversation around her circular breakfast table. She has an outdoor shower, which I used every day, even when it was sprinkling. The forecast called for a lot more rain and cloud cover than we actually got, and we ended up having pretty good weather for most of our stay.
Ocracoke Island is 16 miles long, according to the 2015 Walking Map and Directory given to me on the ferry ride over from the mainland. The island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park and offers up mile after mile of undeveloped beach, sand dunes and beauty. Ann provides bicycles to use, and so I was afforded the freedom to explore the village of Ocracoke on my own as well as enjoy long walks along the shoreline.
On one such walk, I was combing the beach, deciding that the rounded and smooth fragments of conch shells made good “worry shells” to use in place of a stone. A worry stone is the ancient tradition of taking a smooth rock between your thumb and index finger and transferring your anxiety and fear to the inanimate object in your hand by rubbing it back and forth. It is also a way to self-soothe. And the shells off of Ocracoke are dreamy and varied, adding to the appeal of the substitution. As I walked and rubbed different shells, I was contemplating some of the difficult decisions I need to make. I’m sad about these changes, and yet I know that they are necessary.
Hunger brought me out of my shell hunting and I realized that I had a lot of walking to do to get back to where I had parked my bike. I was just about to turn around when something dark on the sand caught my eye, and I bent down to see what it was.
I was looking at a set of brown and grey bird wings, lying flat, intact and side by side. The wings were still knit together by a single pink and bare bone attached to each, with some tangled strands of sinew gnarled in between. I turned the wings over and there was a thin, translucent sheath of breast cartilage attached to the end of each bone and the sinews. The color and pliability of the connective tissue and the pristine condition of the wings suggested that the bird couldn’t have lost its life that long ago. It felt as if a small part of its little spirit remained suspended still between the two wings, something unable to be eaten away by whatever had scavenged the rest of its body.
The wings were beautiful, but at the same time kind of tragic. Not unlike my life right now. The heart of my world, as I thought I would live it, is gone. All the remains are tenuous and fragile connections to it. And yet, there is quiet hope for me. I still have wings and Spirit. I just have to figure out how to rise up and fly without the body of what I once had and treasured.
I don’t know how, but I will. I still have some soaring I’d like to do.