William EvansComment

Today and Yesterday

William EvansComment
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If you’re after a putting green lawn on the Outer Banks, soil’s imported; otherwise all is sand.

Instead, years ago we let loblolly pines establish a beachhead in the yard, and now they block view of the street and most of the ocean–though they also block sight of the large red gravel parking lot of the mini-hotel sitting next door. Right before the bottom fell out of the housing market in 2008, a developer bought the recently renovated one story beach cottage next door, paid something like $700,000 only to knock it down and build a yellow paean to poor taste. Complete with swimming pool covering the entire back yard, home theater, elevator and golf cart for those not inclined to walk to the beach two houses east–all on 1/3 acre. It was foreclosed less than a year after it was completed and is owned to this day by the bank. I wrote a poem watching the whole process, Unfavorable Shift of Wind.


So we let the pines grow. I miss the more wide open view of the ocean, but very much like the windbreak the pines provide in big storms–like the Hurricane Dorian variety. The pines took a beating in that one, but they all survived.


There are also three live oaks amidst the pines–one is ten feet tall, and about as wide. I have hopes for the volunteers oaks, though we sit in the ocean wind zone so the salt has to be a struggle for them; the salt eats paint and nails, so why not trees? The live oaks on the Banks began life as ground-hugging bushes, spreading low and so slow growing you hardly notice them until one day, still with their ground level skirts of branches, they announce themselves as live oaks. Least that’s how they seemed. Live oaks don’t grow tall; they grow wide–and slow as hell. Stretches of Route 12 live oaks shade the bike trail. Big uns, been through many storms, gnarly and thick limbed ones.


A well-preserved forest of live oaks is just down the road in a development called Sanderling. Planned by architects from the DC area, Sanderling compares to Northern California’s Sea Ranch for its environmentally-conscious design, preserving the oak grove nearly reaching the dunes. There’s a wetland pond that’s been allowed to be overgrown, not manicured like the typical Carolina golf course, and there are for-real, written-by-architects building design standards.


The Nags Head ‘Gray Ladies’ are named as Sanderling’s design inspiration. Though the houses in Sanderling also borrow from the west coast wood cottage style popularized by Sea Ranch–with the addition of all-important overhangs and covered porches. It’s not known to rain as much in Northern California.


You don’t see too many anymore, but back in the 80’s, up and down the beach there were still cedar shake cottages with sloped-back porch benches canting out from the deck, replacing sections of railing. Once they’d been converted to screened porches, they took on a geometry I’ve not seen anywhere else. And now, sadly, I don’t see them anymore.


In Sanderling, only cedar shingles and wood plank siding is permitted. No artificial materials. No asphalt drives (pea gravel only). And no cutting down the live oaks.

When you’re on the beach, the wide open lines of sand running off into the distance in either direction and marked against the ocean’s expanse is a singular sight. Further from the shore, the pines and live oaks create shade oases, not quite like upland forests, but enough so the sun doesn’t feel so brutally close to your skin.


All week the red No Swimming flags have been snapping crisply in the wind. The wind driven surf is breaking further out than normal, quarter mile or so. When the afternoon sun strikes the waves, they seem whiter than white.

While walking the beast, we came on a couple photographers by the US Army Corp Research Pier. Tripods, telephotos, the works. Evidently I’m not the only one to try shooting down the line of piers reddened in a late afternoon sun. The day before, I saw banking seagulls launched from the beach ahead of us, with the Research Pier as background, it would have made a great shot, if I’d brought along the camera.

Corps of Engineers’ Research Pier.

Corps of Engineers’ Research Pier.

A blue and cloudy sky
brilliant western sun
lighting pines like cactus fingers
the clouds are pushing off.

She’s poised–on point–still watching
It’s hypnosis to a dog
on deck as lookout
And whoever might be with her.

Love grass like soft cotton
and yucca growing wild
half the moon is sunlit, pale
with clouds of moving light

and on the hill a blue house stands
pines rising high as to the deck
beyond the clouds are sailing
fall winds blowing colder

birds gone back, the dog remains
as vigil to this dreaming
she’s lost last year’s fur for new
with winter’s coming soon.


Layla on deck

Layla on deck

Late Deck

Late Deck

Herculaneum

I found the brochure from when we visited Herculaneum during our Italian adventure last April. Stacked with other quasi-serious stuff. Herculaneum we could tour in a day! We took a train around the Gulf of Naples from Sorrento to the burbs of Naples–Ercolano was what the train tickets said. The train ride was interesting–old train cars and cast-in-place concrete stations adorned with year of graffiti, people boarding and leaving like they knew the environs as well as we do our own, it’s all such good entertainment. If you stay inconspicuous, you get to watch the parade.


Though the town possibly predates the Etruscans, according to the guidebook, Herculaneum was known in Roman times as a beach resort near Pompeii. Sadly from that same time when Vesuvius went and lost it in 79 AD.

Once landed in Ercolano, we trudged the Via IV Novembre downhill from the train station in the hot sun. The street is on axis with the Parco Acheologico’s entrance announced by a not so distinguished triumphant arch. According to our brochure, only 4 ½ hectares (11+ acres) have been excavated of the estimated 20 hectares, the rest. First buried under Vesuvius’ pyroclastic flows, it was built over by later resettlement. Seen from the Google sky map, Vesuvius appears as an enormous pustule, still unresolved these several thousand years later.

Vesuvius from across the Gulf of Naples

Vesuvius from across the Gulf of Naples

The Herculaneum archeology park is entered from the north, but you’re led paralleling the excavations on a raised pedestrian way to approach the first ruins from the south, nearest the sea (now 400 meters further out, presumably from the lava flow). This initial pedestrian way parallels the Roman gymnasium, still largely unexcavated beneath it.

The first ruins we encountered were the so-called Barrel Arches built at the base of two terraces.[1] Described as warehouses or boathouses, they are a series of twelve brick-arched ‘cells’ built beside the beach of that time, discovered in the early 1980s. These were where some fled the volcanic eruption, probably seeking the protection of the sea. They huddled in these niches (at least that’s what they look like today) praying to their pantheon, and whatever overtakes a body in peril.

Barrel Arches from above

Barrel Arches from above

Two thousand years later, they still are cying

Two thousand years later, they still are cying

Nearly two thousand years ago, this many histories and societies later, yet I winced as I took the shots. And hoped that their last minutes were of family, love and regret. About the only things any get to take with us. Life is good–that’s my mantra. I’m grateful I’ve witnessed a bit of it–the good and bad–not the ugly. To hell with the ugly.

[1] Ara di Marco Nonio Balbo and Ara Sacred are the two main terraces above the Barrel Arches.