My first full day meandering through North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands started out in the best of all possible ways with the daily special at Big Nell’s diner in Ocean Isle. Two eggs over easy, bacon, grits and a biscuit cost $2 and change, and the way “Big Nell” makes them is divine. In addition, the woman who waited on me couldn’t have been more delightful, and she knew everyone in the restaurant from the school kids at one table to the police and emergency personnel at another. It was like a town hall meeting, only fun.
From there I headed a few miles south to Sunset Beach, where I stepped out onto what I thought was a perfectly beautiful beach with sunlit Carolina blue skies, a deep blue sea, and the entire white-beige-brown spectrum from dune to surf. Little did I know, however, that once I entered the bird sanctuary and pretty much left civilization behind, the beach would become even more stunning than I could imagine.
I don’t usually stray too far from the neon glare, so I don’t have much to compare this to, but the bird sanctuary is by far one of the most peaceful and calming places I’ve ever been. There are no houses, very few people, and a lot of birds, many of them taking center stage and doing a well choreographed hunter-gatherer dance with the surf.
Scores of sandpipers flowed in and out with the shallow edge of the tide. Their tiny legs moved with the speed of Irish dancers, but as a whole they glided back and forth as if their main mission in life was to provide an avian border for the sea.
Meanwhile, the pelicans did a more balletic dance. As they skimmed over the crest of the waves, they adapted to the rise and fall of the surf while flying in perfect formation, creating an effect that would take professional dancers (could they fly) years of practice to achieve.
In addition to the birds, there was what appeared to be a postal service outpost. Little by little, a flag, a couple of benches and a mailbox emerged from the dunes. Up close, however, it turned out to be something very different.
The words “Kindred Spirit” were printed on the mailbox, and inside there were pens and several notebooks. People from near and far, many of them in anguish, had stopped there to write down their prayers.
One writer was getting ready to graduate from college and worried about “making it” in the real world; another had just broken up with her boyfriend; and another was taking care of a dying parent. All of them were seeking relief from the fear and the pain.
It occurred to me while sitting there that the postal sanctuary was the antithesis of Facebook, where, hiding behind a computer, “friends” tend to put on a happy face. But there, out in the middle of nowhere, people went to shed their facades, to ask for help, and, of course, to watch the birds do their dance with the sea.