Winter, Carolina Beach

One of my favorite times at Carolina Beach is the off season, generally from late September to Memorial Day. While businesses like the summer crowd and their cavalier spending, by the end of the summer it’s a relief to say goodbye to Cousin Eddie and his RV of oddball relatives. So long folks, see ya again next year. Everyone heaves a sigh of relief as the last visitor disappears over the Snow’s Cut bridge.

The water stays warm enough to swim without a wet suit until early November. The shops and restaurants have plenty of parking, no crowds, and people call you by name. The sharp tang of fireplace smoke is in the air. Winter has the best waves for surfing. Best of all, at any hour, you can walk your dog on the beach again…giving the leash laws a very liberal interpretation…and actually chat with the locals.

There’s no hurry and as the pooches rub noses and sniff at interesting parts, there’s all the time in the world to get caught up. Everybody’s chill and there’s a general feeling of bon volonté in the air.

Was out on my walk today and ran into a friend sitting cross-legged just above the tide line. He seemed very focused and I was hesitant to break some sort of reverie…but I knew that the closest he’s ever come to Warrior One is reaching for the clicker while holding his beer. Finally I turned to look where he was looking.

There was no wind and the sea was glassy. Just offshore, maybe 75-100 feet, several dorsal fins and then the sleek bodies of eight to ten dolphin emerged and then smoothly submerged again. I was surprised; I’ve seen them up close out past the sand bar on my board, but that’s like 2-3 times the distance. Never this close. And it wasn’t like they were chasing a school of baitfish in the trough; they were just cruising along, checking stuff out, making their blowhole noises. Even the wildlife slows down in the off season.

Just one of several; the waves in the foreground are breaking on the beach.

I sat down next to my friend and we watched them in silence for several minutes as the shadows grew longer and the horizon turned rosy. It was a comfortable silence; no need for small talk. Finally, the sun set and another photographic “golden hour” slipped away. Jon cleared his throat. He continued looking out to sea, but his voice sounded sad. “I got told today,” he said. “They’re calling me back. No more working remotely. I gotta leave by the end of March.”

Well, that sucked. In late 2019, he had gotten the OK to work remotely on a temporary customer IT project up in Wilmington. He was from some place up north, a crummy, dirty soulless place as he described it: No beach, no rosy horizon, no dolphins. Then Covid struck and three months turned into three years.

He got bit by the surfing bug. He became a regular at The Spot, a good beach bar. He played his guitar in the lifeguard tower. A keen practitioner of carpe diem, he squeezed every bit of life he could out of his time here. I knew he was crushed. We sat there pretty much in silence until the first stars appeared.

Rising, we dusted the sand from our legs and backsides and shook hands. “Well,” I said lamely. “You’ve still got almost three more months.” He gave me a half smile and headed off.

Carolina Beach at sunset
The best place to think about everything…or nothing.

As I walked back home along the shore in the gathering darkness, I noticed Orion and Taurus in the eastern sky. Mars was in Taurus, a bright red star that had no business being there; planet is from the Greek for “wandering star.” It will be there for a month or two and then move on to bother Gemini; it will be back in Taurus in about two years.

I wonder where my friend will be in two years.

Somewhere with beach bars, a good point break and friendly off-season locals, I hope.

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