I was enjoying the day on the beach. It was late August, nearing the end of my wonderful summer on the Outer Banks. I was mesmerized watching the beauty of nature unfold. For me, no place on earth is as glorious as the Atlantic shore. Nothing else can project the wonder and power of Godís creation so well.
The beach sand was golden in the mid-afternoon sunshine. It was warm on my feet and felt good between my toes. Near the waterline it had an added hue of purple and pink due to the abundance of shells.
The gentle waves were greenish blue approaching shore. They were soothing to my ears and appeared white with foam as they slowly hit the beach.
Offshore the sea was dark blue, almost black, and glassy between the occasional swells. I could frequently see dolphin schools swimming by searching for food.
The sky was crystal clear. It was a lighter shade of blue than the ocean below, the contrast apparent at a glance.
Small, fluffy white clouds began to slowly drift ashore in the light onshore breeze. I imagined various cartoon characters and animals in the shapes of the passing clouds. These changed quickly as they floated by creating fast moving shadows.
The onshore breeze kept the humidity from being unbearable. It kept me from breaking out in sweat. The mixture of salt brine and fish in the air created an aroma only appreciated by beach lovers.
The small birds were also enjoying the calm afternoon. I watched closely as the sandpipers darted about in the shallow backwash. As the water receded with the undertow, they searched for air bubbles in the wet sand. The bubbles identified their prey, the small clam, borrowed under the sand.
The birds then drove their sharp beaks into the sand, spearing and devouring their meal in one swift motion. Then they renewed their search.
Above, large seagulls and pelicans patrolled the breaker line looking for schools of fish. They followed the passing dolphins, knowing that fish were nearby. They would occasionally dive headfirst into the water with speed and grace, surfacing with a prized catch.
Looking seaward, I could see a gray haze on the horizon. It looked like a foggy mist and was far from shore. I periodically renewed my gaze as it gradually came closer. I planned to keep a close eye on it for a possible weather change.
Refocusing closer to shore, I slipped into a mystical fantasyland as I imagined being a great fish or bird enjoying the freedom to roam and explore endlessly. The open air and sea offered an exciting home.
I asked myself a question. Would we continue to nurture and protect this beautiful combination of sand, surf and creatures that God had so graciously given us? My mind pondered this as I remained in a peaceful and relaxed state.
Suddenly, I was brought back to the present by a strong gust of wind. Looking up, I could see a large line of dark clouds getting close to shore. The light gray appearance near the surface indicated that the clouds were dumping heavy rain.
The many birds had vanished. They had flown inland, a sure sign that a storm would soon arrive.
From a light breeze that was pleasant, the wind increased significantly and continued to strengthen. Realizing that I was in the stormís path, I quickly donned my gray slicker jacket and pulled its hood over my head.
Looking at the water, the waves had grown massive and were crashing on shore in rapid succession. The breaking surf sounded like cannon fire and the foam was now starting to fill the air. It blew in like large gobs of wet goo and stuck to everything it touched, including my face and legs. It felt like a greasy lotion.
Now the wind had reached gale force. This kicked up the beach sand, which was now blowing like a Sahara sandstorm. Barefoot and wearing Bermudas, my legs were taking a pounding. The sand was biting and cutting and I knew I had to find protection.
I trudged over the barrier dune toward the cottage, my breathing rapid from the exertion of the climb though the deep sand. I entered the building and found and put on my goggles and slicker pants.
Now being protected, I returned to the calm side of the dune line to continue watching the unfolding storm. I wasnít going to miss the action.
By now the rain was coming down in buckets. Mixing with the still blowing sand, I could only see a few feet ahead. The pelting rain still stung the part of my face uncovered, but otherwise I could at least experience the sounds, if not clear sight, of the storm.
The wind became too strong to stand, so I found a spot to crouch behind the dune line. Between lulls in the gusts, I could see and hear the roaring surf. The waves were at least twelve feet high and the tide was rising higher and higher up the beach. There was erosion starting near the foot of the dune line as the angry surf chewed up the beach.
As the wind gusts grew even stronger, I heard several ripping and crashing noises. Looking back inland, I saw shingles flying off roofs and unsecured outdoor furniture sailing through the air.
Then I heard a window break and a strange popping and hissing sound. Scanning the area to identify the source, I saw that several telephone poles had collapsed and their live wires were sparking on the wet roadway. A sparking transformer was dangling precariously from a pole.
The beach road was absolutely empty of traffic, a rare sight in August. Anything moving on the road would be seriously hurt or damaged by the blowing debris.
The storm raged on. The protective dune line from where I watched was taking a beating but continued to hold. Further down the beach, however, I could see that water had breached a smaller section. At that location ocean water was rushing inland and combining with standing rain water to create large pools. The beach road at that point was underwater and several homes on stilts had become islands.
The onslaught continued to inflict damage. I watched one roof come apart and heard the crack as several power poles split and fell. Another house lost a door and a storm shutter. Blowing sand covered driveways and made the road impassable in spots.
And then, just as suddenly as it started, the wind started to relent. The rain lightened up and I could see the sky becoming light gray instead of almost black. Within an hour it was a routine rainy, windy day at the beach.
The entire ordeal had lasted about four hours. To me it seemed like days.
That night it was completely dark and eerily quiet. The power was out and no one was moving around outside. Everyone was being cautious until they could inspect things in daylight.
Thankfully I had a hurricane lamp and canned goods and water. I listened to a battery-powered radio for news and information and turned in early.
In the morning I awoke to a beautiful sunny day. I decided to take a walk down the beach and survey things.
At the oceanfront, I was amazed at how the wind was now calm and the sea smooth. The dune line had done a pretty good job except for those low spots. Lots of seaweed and driftwood was on the beach as well as several large timbers.
Looking down shore I saw where the timbers came from; the local fishing pier had lost the last twenty feet to the sea.
Most of the home damage, while an inconvenience, had not been life-threatening and did not render the home uninhabitable. Either self-help for those so inclined or a good carpenter could fix things quickly.
The county government would bring in a grader, bulldozer and several large drainage pumps to make quick work of road repair. That could be done in one day.
The damage to the electrical system was the biggest problem. The sheriffís department informed us that power would be out for several days.
A group of us decided to have a community cookout. We would cook all of our frozen meats and usable perishables before they spoiled. Everyone brought out everything that we could use and we set up charcoal grills to get the party started. We called the occasion the after storm celebration.
Thankfully, the local grocer had ice since he had auxiliary power. So we loaded up our ice chests and decided that what we didnít eat that night could be used the next day. After that we would all be departing for our various permanent homes.
The grill out was memorable. We all shared stories of how we weathered the storm. We marveled at how well things had held up and were thankful that everyone was safe. We talked late into the night. We really got to know each other. We would all be much closer next year.
As I lay in my bed on my final night at the beach, I thought about the storm. What had it taught me?
Well, it was clear that God is truly the power and the glory. He gives us a beautiful world to live in, enjoy and to take care of. But He also is all powerful. We might think we are smart enough to do things without Him, but every now and then he demonstrates His power in a way that should be unmistakable to each of us.
Maybe an experience like the storm at the beach is just His way of reminding us of who really is in charge. The evidence of the wonder and power of the Lord is always there to be seen. All we have to do is look.
A PRAYER FOR THE SEA:
Dear Lord: We thank you for the majesty of the sea. We also thank you for providing us its bounty, its resources for recreation, and its sheer beauty. Help us to preserve, nurture and conserve it while also respecting its power. We know that this power is a manifestation of your strength and we humbly beseech Thee to give us the wisdom to use this vast resource wisely.
Be with and protect those traveling and working on the sea and bring them safely home to their families when their journey is done.
We ask in the name of Thy Son, Jesus Christ Our Savior, Amen