We decided to let the weather organize our day, and because it began with blue skies, we headed for the beach. Our first stop was Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. The pier I had known was a wooden pier, suspended over the surf on wooden pilings. After Hurricane Isabel destroyed that historic structure in 2003, the state approved funding for the reconstruction of a 1,000-ft pier with classrooms, concrete pilings, three wind turbines, and all the amenities of a modern welcome center. It is a beautiful facility and sits lightly on the landscape and water.
But the rest of modern development of the Outer Banks communities does not sit so lightly on the sand. Built out, landscaped, bike-pathed, with upscale shops and restaurants woven between closely-spaced, expensive beach houses, OBX seems a city dropped upon the shore. In the absence of damaging storms, Man has won. The wild, vegetated places seem neutered.
The Cavalier Motel in Kitty Hawk, where we stayed in the Fifties and beyond, still stands, dwarfed by new construction. Once I was a child in that very same spot, my mother pushing my hair away from my face, but the place as it was in that time, and the people who inhabited it, have been lost.
The randomly-built past has been replaced by a kind of homogenized affluence.
I am still trying to process why I was so saddened by the present, with its overwhelmingly density of development. I’ve considered that so much change triggered some big mortality blues, but I didn’t feel that way about Manteo, where the transience of tourism blends with the permanence of a small town, and where I could imagine myself living in a vintage home on a quiet street.
Ultimately, I think I was saddened by the level of development, the triumph of the built environment over a place that once seemed wild and unwilling to give up its scrubby vegetation and mosquitos for high-end rentals.
I would have plenty of opportunity to see untamed land on this trip.