“We all leave home to find home, at the risk of being forever lost.” -Philip Hoare from The Sea Inside
I recently went out to dinner with a couple members of Cohort 8. I always enjoy spending time and sharing a meal with the cohort outside the classroom. It helps us strengthen the bonds we have formed throughout the program. Additionally, the food is always delicious. When I paid for my meal during this particular outing, the waitress noticed that I had something quite non-Oregonian about me.
“You are not from around here. Where are you from?” the waitress asked.
“I’m from North Carolina,” I tell her.
I have introduced myself as a North Carolinian numerous times throughout my graduate school experience in the Master of Science in Environmental Education program at Southern Oregon University. Although I originally hail from Illinois, North Carolina has been home for the past eleven years. I drove over 2,900 miles from my hometown of Greenville, North Carolina, to start a new chapter in Ashland, Oregon. With that long distance move came sacrifices. I traded longleaf pines for ponderosas and coastal plains for mountain views. The hardest topographic sacrifice I had to make, though, was trading the Atlantic Ocean for the Pacific. On my first trip to the Oregon coast I asked myself, “This doesn’t seem right. Where are all my sea oats?”
I felt out of place during my visit to the coast because it was so unlike the North Carolina shores and barrier islands I have grown to love. Barrier islands along the coast of North Carolina are shaped by the wind and rain of storms that constantly change the landscape. They serve as protection to mainland coastal communities during hurricanes. One typical ecosystem of these islands includes the dunes. The dunes may seem sparse of vegetation, but sea oats and other plants have deep roots that stabilize those systems.
The most striking contrast between the dunes of North Carolina’s beaches and Oregon’s coast is elevation. While the dunes in North Carolina may resemble rolling hills, they do not compare to the majesty of the tall coastal mountains in Oregon. The vegetation on these coastal mountains is comprised of coniferous forests and includes stands of Douglas firs and cedar trees.
Observing the tall stands of conifers along the Oregon coast greatly confused me, especially when I could hear the roar of the ocean. The stark differences between the natural history along the coasts of North Carolina and Oregon also presented an opportunity for a personal study of coastal ecosystems. I felt like Philip Hoare, author of The Sea Inside. Hoare traveled across the globe detailing the world’s oceans and the personal connections humans have with the water. From Southampton Water in England to New Zealand, Hoare presents natural, cultural, and personal histories of the ocean. I dove into his prose while I read his book, and I took reflections of his travels to heart. Hoare felt at ease in the water and the coastal communities he visited. Like Hoare, I began to reflect on my own experiences. I realized that I too have a connection to the sea.
In his book Hoare writes, “The sea sustains and threatens us, but it is also where we came from.” I lived and worked as an Environmental Educator on the barrier island of Bald Head Island, North Carolina, during Summer 2014. It was full of amazing, and sometimes contradictory, experiences. The crashing waves and high tide of a hurricane brought stormy weather to the island, but when the storm moved, the sea was calm, plovers ran along the tide line, and tide pools exposed the intricate design of shells. Bald Head Island changed me, just as the winds and storms constantly shaped the barrier island. Those experiences are a part of me and have helped mold me into the environmental educator I am today.
I continue to return to the coast because I know that it is forever a part of my soul. The roar of waves crashing on the beach is a familiar noise whether on the East coast or the West coast. When I visit the beach and close my eyes, I am unable to differentiate between the shores of Bald Head Island and Cape Sebastian on the Oregon Coast Trail. I return to what is familiar, and the coast forever represents home.
Whenever I introduce myself as a North Carolinian, such as I do to numerous people who fancy the conversation, they usually mention that I am a long way from home. They are correct in that statement. Home is not one place, though. I left North Carolina and found wonder in Oregon, and I continue to do so every day. I look towards the coast and listen to its sounds to remind myself that I am not lost. I am home.