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By Steve Melov

I live on a five square mile island, Colington Island, one of the smaller barrier islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Maybe you’ve heard of the Outer Banks, perhaps not. For those of you who don’t know where the Outer Banks is or for what it is known, let me give you an introduction to this glorious watery part of the world before telling you about our Spring.

The Outer Banks is a series of narrow barrier islands in northeastern North Carolina. The largest island, Bodie Island, is really a 72-mile-long peninsula that starts at the border of Virginia and extends southward to Oregon Inlet a two to three miles wide opening that was created by a hurricane in 1846. Bodie Island includes several towns, the best known of which is Kitty Hawk where the Wright Brothers first flight took place in 1903. The site of that flight is now in the town of Kill Devil Hills which broke off from Kitty Hawk and incorporated in 1953. The town of Nags Head includes the tallest sand dune on the East Coast, Jockey’s Ridge famous for hang-gliding. 

South of Bodie Island across Oregon Inlet is Hatteras Island, a 42-mile-long island famous for its Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, the site of which is often a National Hurricane Center and Weather Channel marker for how far away East Coast hurricanes are once they get north of Florida. Further south is the sixteen-mile-long Ocracoke Island, reachable only by ferry or private boats. Its claim to fame is having been the lair of the pirate Blackbeard (Edward Teach) in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. The last of the Outer Banks ocean-facing islands is the unpopulated and isolated Portsmouth Island, from which the last two residents left in 1971. Each of these four islands faces the Atlantic to the east and an extensive system of approximately 475 square miles of Sounds to the west, including Currituck, Albemarle, Roanoke, Croatan and Pamlico Sounds.

One more island bears historical and present-day mention. Eight-mile-long Roanoke Island includes the site of the first English colony established in North America in 1587 and the site of the first English child, Virginia Dare, born in North America. This attempt at colonization of the island became known to history as the Lost Colony as an expedition in 1590 found it abandoned and the colonists were never found. Roanoke Island today includes the town of Manteo, the county seat of Dare County. During the Civil War, Manteo, under Union control, became home to the Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island, which was a haven for formerly enslaved people seeking freedom.

My last historical reference is very recent history. In 1994, while an Outer Banks restaurant owner was vacationing on Nantucket Island, he noticed that island’s three letter airport designation “ACK” had been adopted widely as an oval bumper sticker. He came up with a symbol for the Outer Banks (OBX) that has since become not only a bumper sticker, but ubiquitous on t-shirts, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, etc. It even has become the first three letters of the North Carolina license plates of residents.

Now that you all know more than most people know about the OBX, what is Spring like here? It is, as in many locations nationwide, a mercurial season. Here it can be 80 one day and 45 the next. We can think that Summer is getting an early start and then must deal with a chilly Nor’easter and high wind and coastal flood warnings. Given that our maritime forests are made up largely of loblolly pines and live oaks, we have a fair amount of green year-round. However, Spring dots these forests with dogwood and magnolia blooms and our yards with crape myrtles, camellias, azaleas, daffodils and yuccas in bloom. My home’s waterside beach sees the greening of weeping lovegrass which as of mid-March still looked like a hill full of Addams Family’s Cousin Itts. 

What makes Spring on the Outer Banks special is that it is the season of returning. On the water it is the return of lines of crab pots that promise a bounty of soft-shell crabs in May. In the water it includes the return of pods of porpoise. Boat ownership is common among residents and Spring also marks the return of all kinds of watercraft to the Sounds and the Atlantic. There is nothing quite like the maiden power boat cruise or windblown sail of the year where one can get away from the worries of the world and be surrounded by water as far as the eye can see. 

On the beaches, volunteers find sea turtle eggs and flag them for protection. Volunteers also pitch in to clean the beaches before the summer rush. Surfers and kite-surfers return in wetsuits until the ocean water warms up later in Spring. In the sky, the season marks the return of OBX’s raptors the osprey (fish hawks). These birds that usually mate for life return in pairs to the same nesting place every year from their winters in Central and South America. These include towers with nest-friendly platforms built by the power company parallel to the bridges to the islands. On Colington Island, I spied “our” harbor’s ospreys in early March building their home for the next five or six months. Later this Spring we will hear the chirps of the hatchling(s) and see the parents head off, one at a time, on fishing expeditions. They soar, sometimes awkwardly, and dive, usually dramatically, and carry their catch, often clumsily back to feed the growing family. In addition to the many ospreys, our Spring sky is also marked by the return or reappearance of pelicans and sea gulls galore, blue herons, snowy egrets, brown thrashers, woodpeckers and cardinals, among others. Geese and goslings, ducks and ducklings add their voices to the avian chorale. Of course, with geese in particular, Spring also brings the return of poop minefields to grace many a parking or grassy area.

OBX Spring also means the gradually increasing return of the tourists who are the lifeblood of our beach communities. Spring includes the re-opening of those restaurants and watering holes that close for a few weeks each winter. This includes my favorite, Kill Devil Custard, and the return of the best frozen custard that I’ve had since I was but a lad in 1959!! 

Each week, the number of visitors increases during shoulder season and reaches a crescendo as Spring turns to high season and, finally, Summer. During July 4th week, the OBX population temporarily increases from approximately 35,000 to more than 300,000. Of course, this means that OBX Spring also brings an ongoing increase in traffic making a great adventure out of timing grocery shopping and other errands to “miss” the crowds. Thankfully, for me, Spring also brings the reopening of our local Colington Island seafood store, “Billy’s” which is easily accessible and greatly expands our food options. For me, Spring on the Outer Banks always means soft-shells, fresh Ahi grade tuna, North Carolina jumbo shrimp, lump crabmeat, and local oysters (at least through April, the last of the “r” months until September).

One final additional return of recent vintage that can’t be overlooked and can’t be unheard is the return of the pickleball crowd to the tennis court just up the way from our home. The resonant and reverberating thwap of the pickleball meeting a racquet, or vice versa, is a new and undeniable sign that Spring has arrived on Colington Island, OBX North Carolina and everywhere else where there is an available court on the Outer Banks.


Steve Melov was born in Brooklyn, New York when the Dodgers still played at Ebbets Field. He began a southward trek when he left for Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania where he played four years of varsity tennis and somehow graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in history. Subsequently, he moved further south to a career in Washington, D.C. spanning four decades with the Department of Health and Human Services and its predecessor Cabinet agency HEW. Following retirement he volunteered, along with his mother, with Equality Maryland testifying for several years before House and Senate Committees in Annapolis for LGBT rights with a focus on civil marriage equality. Following passage of marriage equality legislation in 2012 he and his husband (of 49 years as of May) finally could legally marry. They have enjoyed life at their home on the Outer Banks since 1993, first as a summer/getaway residence and for the past dozen years as permanent residents. They and their family also enjoy time spent at an apartment in the Museum District of Richmond, Virginia.

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