Our farm in central New Brunswick was remote enough that we didn't bother with fences in the back of the property. There was nowhere for the cattle to go.
You know that you are back in the boonies when 200 head of cattle don't need to be completely fenced. Calling on family to help is a little hard if they are 23 hours away by car.
Today we live on the eastern edge of the North Carolina. Before settling down, we looked farther to the east, but we chose not to live on Ocracoke Island or the extreme eastern part of Carteret County which is often called "Down East." Part of the reason we picked our spot on the Southern Outer Banks was the availability of services and the chance to be close to people.
Where we live near Cape Carteret overlooking the White Oak River, it takes us just seven or eight minutes to get to the closest of four grocery stores that are within ten minutes or so from our home. The same circle of ten minutes will get us to a number of hardware stores including a Lowe's Home Improvement Center. Walmart, Sears, Belks, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond are on the edge of Morehead City about twenty minutes from our home. SAMS Club, Target, and Barnes & Noble are thirty minutes away in Jacksonville. Our hospital is twenty five minutes away, a little closer to the center of Morehead City.
Our current home is far different than the spot we lived in the wilderness in the seventies and eighties. Everything there that you didn't grow or make yourself required at least a half hour drive.
Our home today is a comfortable spot with all the things you need for a civilized life. The feeling of civilization here is welcome though very different than it was in our home of the past twenty years on a mountain looking down on Roanoke, Va.
Subdivision living whether in Roanoke or Cape Cartert is very different than when you are out on your own in the boonies. There you learn to do almost everything but there are few neighbors close by. Even if you could get a plumber on the phone out in the boonies, they likely would be reluctant to drive 40 minutes into the wilderness if they have plenty of business in town. Here in Cape Carteret, our plumber lives a few houses up our street.
Living on the edge of wilderness is a different way of living. While you become very independent, you also end up being closer to your neighbors because neighbors helping neighbors is often the only way that anything gets done. Most subdivisions don't have that same degree of closeness unless real tragedy strikes.
If people in a subdivision lose their power, they light some candles and hunker down to wait for the utility company to get the power fixed. Usually the power comes back on in a matter of hours, and sometimes people don't even know if they neighbors have lost power. When the power goes out far from the reach of town, people check on each other.
Our first experience living almost off the grid was on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. One September in 1974, we had a heavy early snow storm. It took out the power for a week in our tiny settlement of Saint Croix Cove. The road to the small town of Bridgetown was closed with huge snowdrifts. There was no such thing as city water, every home had their own well with a pump. There were under a dozen houses stretched out over a mile. One neighbor figured out how to run our shallow well pumps with his chain saw. There was never a question of whether or not he would help others, that was his first thought. We survived that week with his chainsaw pumping water and by cooking in our fireplace.
Having spent time in wilderness long ago, we chose a rural but well within the grid spot, Cape Carteret, for the next chapter of our lives. We wanted easy access to services had become part of our lives while living near Roanoke. Being near several restaurants wasn't important in our younger years, but now we like to enjoy the option of an meal cooked by someone else. This area near Emerald Isle was also an area where we thought people might enjoy visiting with us. That has proved to be the case.
Still we are not in place without risk. Even in our cozy spot with south facing beaches, we could have a bad hurricane, but so far we have only watched them swing by us and head for the Northern Outer Banks or even Nova Scotia.
Still when I stand on the westernmost edge of the Point on Emerald Isle where the picture at the top of the post was taken, I am mindful that the web of life that supports us all is easily disrupted or even ended. As I look out in the Atlantic Ocean from the Point, I know that I am standing on a beach that isn't on most maps and could be gone after the next Nor'easter. Still you don't have to be standing on movable sand in the Altantic to be at risk.
On April 8, 2011, two tornadoes touched down in Pulaski, Virginia. By all accounts these are the first two tornadoes in the town's recorded history. Approximately 400 homes were damaged or destroyed according to the Roanoke Times. According to a report from a friend, one tornado came across the mountains before touching down in downtown Pulaski and then crossed Interstate 81 and damaged a local service station. On Saturday, April 9, Pulaski enforced a curfew and thousands are still without power. Our friend living there tells me that the number of trees destroyed is hard to comprehend but that people are pulling together to help each other.
Weather like life is something that we cannot predict. This past winter with its snow on the coast is further proof of that.
This winter turned out to be the coldest one in 100 years here on the Crystal Coast. We were not alone in the deep freezer. People in the Northeast are just starting to thaw out. The first week of April there was snow in the mountains around cities in southern California. On the morning of April 9, 2011, it snowed in Arizona.
There really isn't much in this world that is very predictable except that there is a good chance tomorrow will come with its own set of challenges.
That is, tomorrow will come if we are lucky. By the time you past the milestone of sixty years, you have seen a number of friends pass away. Many have left unexpectedly, and some have gone without giving us time to say a proper good-bye.
A few years ago the first college classmate that I knew well died. It was a shock to me even though we hadn't talked for over thirty years. Somehow I always expected that we might have one more conversation. We both led very busy lives so it never happened. There was no fault on either side, but it did convince me to complete every circle that I can while I am lucky enough to still be here on earth. If I can make the time for a beach walk, surely I can search out a few old friends. I am proud to have renewed connections with a high school Latin teacher whose friendship meant a lot to me. I have even driven up to visit him in Ronceverte, WV, a few times.
Not long ago, a childhood friend of my son was killed in a tragic car accident. She was a well-loved teacher just in her thirties and had two young children. It was only this last Christmas that we had reconnected with her family and sent them a scanned copy of a wonderful letter our son's friend wrote to our family when we moved from Canada. She was probably seven years old at the time. I am sorry we never got to talk to her again.
While it is easier than ever to touch people using technology, I know that a Facebook conversation is not as satisfying as getting in a car and visiting or hearing the person's voice on a phone. Recently we visited my wife's aunt who turned 82. We made a special trip to be with her on her birthday. I am glad we made the time. We will always have that memory and those of regular phone calls that my wife made to her aunt who now is suffering from dementia.
Most of us are very fortunate in having a lot of people touch our lives. The challenge we face in modern life is making sure that the touch which might have meant so much to us doesn't go unreturned while we still have a chance. Keeping in touch is hard work but well worth the effort.
We have just had two sets of Canadian friends visit with us in the last three months. One set we had not seen in 22 years, and the other we last saw 25 years ago. Our lives are much richer for those visits. The memories that we made long ago now have been refreshed or enhanced, and a few new ones have been added.
I am glad we managed to get together while we all were still watching the sun come up each morning. Breaking bread with friends is one of the true delights of life.
Update August 2014: In the fall of 2012 my wife and I made a trip back to Canada to visit with some friends. The trip formed the basis of our book, A Taste of the Wild, Canada's Maritimes. It was a rare privilege to go back and reconnect with people who were part of our lives nearly thirty years ago.
In the three years since I wrote the original post, we have been blessed by our time on the western edge of Carteret County. While we have seen hurricanes, Irene and Arthur, and been brushed by a tornado, we have watched our community and our list of friends continue to grow.
The friends we have made in the community and through our church continue to enrich our lives. We live in a place where many people still think about their neighbors and are always willing to lend a helping hand. I had a neighbor help me cut down a big pine tree last summer. I shared tomato plants that I had started with several people in the community. We were blessed with a great tomato crop. We grew enough tomatoes to supply all the tomatoes for our Men of the Church annual hamburger cookout which fed over 140 people.
We live in an area that cares for people. I will not forget a stranger wandering into the parking lot of our church when we were having a work day. After we fed him and our pastor, Ben, talked with him, Ben put him in his car and drove him twenty miles to Morehead City to make sure he had a place to stay that night. It is a far different reaction than might have happened in many cities.
When we are doing our regular landscape days at the church, we never have as many volunteers as we would like, but we always have enough to get our work done. Our last monthly fellowship dinner at our church, Cape Carteret Presbyterian, had over 150 people in attendance. While we do not pull in numbers as impressive as that with our neighborhood parties in our small subdivision, we are pleased that we can still get together and talk about things.
Beyond that I am pleased to know the owners of many local businesses including Winberry's Produce, Clyde Phillip's Seafood, Redfearn's Nursery, S&H Feed and Seed, Angie's Lighthouse Cafe, Cedar Point Tire, Coastal Outlet, and Lil Johnny's Crabshack. Having a local connection with these folks is a lot different than shopping in a Walmart.
You can find out more about most of them in our book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. Some are detailed in my post, Swansboro-Cape Carteret Information.