Life is always changing. Cling on to things as we may, inevitably change occurs. In Buddhism it is called Impermanence, and understanding it is a way to reduce suffering. Simply, we must accept that things change and be willing accept it. The more we try to hold on and capture relationships, glory, wealth, beauty etc., we find that when they are gone, change, or no longer ideal this creates pain and yearning. Instead, it is better to understand that things come and go, life is constantly in a state a flux, and it is better to savor each moment rather than trying to capture it. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a place of constant visible change and demonstrates the temporary state of things.
The Outer Banks are a geological case study in impermanence. The forces of erosion do not take decades or years to observe. In the course of hours, on a windy day, sands can cover roads, dunes shift, and three feet of beach is swept away. During large storm events the islands will reshape dramatically. Land is constantly being taken away from one location and redistributed else where, as the islands steadily march south and westward.
There are many places in the natural world where change is observable, but few where it is so rapid and dramatic. The Outer Banks’ barrier islands were created from sea level rise after the last ice age 18,000 years ago, and the islands we recognize today were shaped in the past 500 years or so. A map 50 years old will indicate large scale changes. Ship wrecks 200 yards from shore were once beached. Homes that were built behind the dunes are now at risk of washing away. There is a temporary bridge where just a few years ago it was roadway. Chunks of asphalt in the sand indicate places where US 12 has been washed away multiple times. The US Army Corp of Engineers is constantly dredging channels in a seemingly futile effort to keep them clear. As some of the locals say,”You never truly own a home here, at best it is sort of a lease but not something you can expect to pass down to future generations.” Visitors regularly ask where something is that was here 10 years ago, and look astonished when they are told that it is covered, washed away or just gone.
The weather here too is not something you can count on. It is not uncommon to head down the beach towards blue sky with a gentle breeze, only to look behind 15 minutes later and realize a thunder storm has ambushed you and need to take cover. Not far from the shores of OBX the cold Labrador Current mixes with the warm Gulf Stream. On some days the ocean looks similar to the clear water of the Caribbean, and the next rough churned up surf of the North Atlantic. This is also ground zero for more than a fair share of hurricanes and Nor’ Easters which can have dramatic and devastating effects. Many of the locals think it is absolutely crazy to build on the ocean front, and feel it is senseless to try to build “permanent” structures. There is a general knowledge that everything is only one storm away from being sent in to the Atlantic or the Pamlico Sound.
For several decades in the last century there were efforts to hold nature at bay, but these were largely abandoned when it was realized that these cause more harm than good. While some efforts continue and are a constant source of controversy, the “Bankers” have largely decided to let nature take its course. Some of the families here can be traced back to the 1700’s and are highly adaptable and resilient. Perhaps after all this time here they know something that people inland and in urban areas try to deny: Nature always wins, and change is inevitable.