It takes almost eight hours via highway and ferry to reach the campground at Ocracoke Island, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Run by the National Park Service, it costs a pittance a day to rent a camping spot. This sum also gives one access to wooden rest rooms, potable aqua, stunning beach, the ever-present sound of water, and a parade of human characters served up fresh every day.
The campground is its own society. If you want electricity, bring it with you, but don't run that generator after 10 p.m. There is no shade here. Bring your own shadows. The beach has been voted one of the best in the U.S. and I am happy to tell you that you will not find miniature golf here. There is not even a washateria on the island. You have to get on the ferry with your dirty laundry and head north to Kitty Hawk to commercially clean your clothes. Ocracoke wants to keep the crowds away by not changing itself very much. A local artist, David Freed, writes about the island, "...one still senses that the area has been loaned to its residents and that anytime, nature can foreclose."
Doug pulled his trailer here, to camping spot B3, right along the dunes, so near the water. After living on the beach in Mexico for so many years, he knows the right of ways, the memories such a life can bring. I drive to the place in a rented van, and Walt yelps and fusses to be let out when he sees Doug's truck. Walt thinks Doug is the kind of person one should hang around. Marg presses her big soft head against Doug's leg when she greets him.
Just before sunrise, I walk Marg and Walt along the beach, and then the campground road. Walt is on Greenhead Patrol, trying to snap the flies that bite at him. There is a family camping at the other end of the compound that has seven Jack Russell Terriers in tow. They are all walked together morning and evening, and are a leashed, yappy mess of sound.
In the spot next to ours, there is a retired gent from New Jersey named Ed who is proud to tell you -- first thing -- that he has fathered 14 children, and raised them all on his electrician's salary. ("And my wife never had to work," he said.) Ed has brought along a Labradoodle named Doogie who swims with great strides in the ocean, and an African Grey Parrot that can imitate over 300 sounds, including the sound R2-D2 makes in the movie Star Wars. One of Ed's sons is an opera singer. Through cedar trees that separate one camp site from the next, one can hear a beautiful male voice singing scales, and a certain parrot whistling a perfect imitation of a phone ringing.
There's a woman in the spot across the way who is camping alone, and limping around on a broken foot. She chain smokes. There is a priesthood of young guys from New Jersey who hang around outside the restrooms, hoping to strike up conversations with young tattooed Dead Head women who camp in different spots along this circle of ground. One youthful lady dresses in black in the 95 degree heat, long hair and skirts flowing. She proclaims herself a witch. The Jersey Boys stay clear.
And around the corner, one sees a woman in the soft morning light, drinking a bottle of Bud at a picnic table just before 6:45 a.m., her husband visible through the screen door of their camper, brushing his shoulder-length hair, using long languid strokes.
PHOTO: Ocracoke Island Campground, Ocracoke NC. Filtered with Photoshop.