Thursday, September 30, 2010

Caitlin Washburn's Place Essay

The ocean and I have an ongoing long distance relationship with one another. Since before I had memories, I’ve been going to visit it. For a few days the sea and I'd do everything together, but it required quite a financial investment to stay so our partings were always bittersweet. The place I'd meet it once a year was Emerald Isle, North Carolina, when the air is still cool and the magnolia trees are just beginning to blossom. I think it’s too beautiful for anyone to consider just a space; because the moment you see the sun rise above the waving horizon you know you’ll never forget that day as long as you live.

The Emerald Isle is not quite an island so much it is a sandbar known for foiling pirates for decades. It is apart of a larger chain of sandbars known as the Crystal Coast. After Blackbeard’s famous blockade of Charleston he ran his ship the Queen Anne’s Revenge into the Beaufort Inlet (part of the Crystal Coast) and abandoned it there. There is a Maritime Museum located in historic Beaufort that has a map marking all the places where pirates have run their ships aground. This makes the Crystal Coast not only a place rich with history, but literally rich with pirate booty. The residents of this area take pride knowing that their towns were once a hotbed of illegal activity; though it is a much calmer place today.

Place is partially defined by aesthetic value it holds for people. Emerald isle is beautiful in the rarest definition of the word. The beaches are cleaner than any I’ve visited in Florida, and whiter than some in the Caribbean. It is one of those places that seems untouched by humanity most of the year, except when you go there during the summer and you’re lucky to find a spot to sunbathe. I only visit during the Spring when the weather is still cold, but you may be lucky to have a sunny seventy-five degree day. Most people do not associate North Carolina with beaches; in fact I’ve been asked if they have any coastline at all. On the contrary I have walked down their shoreline until I physically could walk no more, and still had miles to go. Unlike many tropical destinations, the water there is always a steely blue and instead of palm trees there are tall shrubs that grow all along the beach. It rivals many beaches for its fauna. On one of the smaller sandbars resides a heard of wild horses; which today are considered much rarer than the toucans you see in the tropics. They spend their days happily chasing one another up and down the shore as on looking tourists take pictures of them from a boat. The whole area has a bubble of calmness surrounding it. Like the sleepy little towns along the Mississippi, nothing is in a rush here; unless of course you are trying to make money off the tourists.

People also partly define the value of the place. This particular beach does not have any major hotels, but instead is lined with houses and condominiums. This is a place where you have to take your time to visit, and do so living as the locals do. My grandparents have been staying at the Isle to escape the cold New Hampshire winter for over twenty years now, and have come to be natives themselves. Once when my fiancée and I were visiting, we were invited over for dinner to meet their friends. We met their landlady who had lived in North Carolina all her life, growing up on a tobacco farm on the mainland. Unlike the southerners I’m accustomed to she didn’t mind northerners whatsoever, as long as they paid the rent on time. While she told her stories about her family and tenants, her husband sat in the corner silently drinking his white lightning. He didn’t talk much, but my grandfather occasionally picked on him enough to utter, “Damn Yankees.” Besides the people at this party we were introduced to so many of the business owners in the area. They all were proud and quite competent in what they were doing. Unlike some tourist destinations, this was their main job and they aimed to please every customer. It’s rare to vacation in a place where a family lineage still exists. It seems that the more people consider this to be their place, the more it becomes a place to outsiders like me who only live there a week out of the year. (The picture is from my last trip to the T&W Oyster Bar in NC with [from left to right]; Rachael's Boyfriend, Aunt Rachael, My Fiancée Ryan, Grandma Bette and Grandpa Hass).

What ties these two factors is emotional attachment to what makes the space memorable. I believe this is completely dependent on the person. Though I am attached to Emerald Isle because of my family, another person could be attached because they got married there. I also don't believe it's limited to the positive. Blackbeard probably didn't like this place much when he ran his boat upon it, however it was still the 'place' he did so. These emotional attachments that make us more inclined to care for a space and turn it into a place. If Emerald Isle was just a beach, there would be no T&W Oyster Bar, no Pebble Beach Condominiums, and no historical districts. Emotional attachment to a space creates the urge to signify that it is a place. Without someone's love or hate, it would just be a sand bar; maybe with some wild horses running on it.

Emerald Isle is much more to me than just land meeting water. It is a place I spent my childhood making sandcastles and getting sun burnt. It is where I first played with horseshoe crabs. It is where I took my first road trip to. Place is defined here as a spot which has emotional meaning for someone. In comparison to space which is something you cut through to get somewhere, place is the destination you’re intending to go to. It’s all relative to your perceptions, and what you find meaningful. This gives truth to the old saying, “Home is where the heart is” and this beach is part of my home.

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