Life at the Outer Banks is remarkably different from Chapel Hill. The people are more laid back. The seasons change more slowly. And you learn to accept nature, and whatever it might throw at you, as part of your daily life. I realized coming in that storms had always been a part of this area’s history, and that we might experience them since we’re here during hurricane season. But major storms don’t happen here often, and since there was one five years ago, there couldn’t be another this year, right?
About two weeks before Fall Break, my assumption was proven wrong. Hurricane Matthew, which peaked at a Category 4 in the Caribbean, was predicted to strike our coast and hang around a while before turning east. We were advised to head inland for a couple days to wait it out and return for a full week of work before Fall Break week so we would lose as few valuable class days as possible.
Unfortunately, high rivers and extensive flooding in the flat coastal area kept us away for six days, with many of us staying in Chapel Hill in an awkward limbo between off-site work and early break. We all figured we’d have a lot of ground to make up in both class and Capstone work with all the time lost. And maybe for your typical college classes, it would have been a loss. But the classes here work pretty much the same way everything else does, surviving and adapting to whatever nature throws at them.
After returning, we immediately began making up lost classes outside the classroom, discussing the hurricane’s impacts on both the environment and culture of the place while seeing firsthand how the infrastructure was being rebuilt. Trips to Nags Head Woods and the Kitty Hawk beach accesses showed us exactly how badly the environment had been damaged, but also exactly why this place is so enduring and resilient.
The whole environment seemed a little different, maybe a little more fall-like, after the weather settled down. New insects and birds appeared, and the plants seemed spurred into rapid change after the relative drought we had up until the storm. The experience was a great example of why adaptability is so important here, and how even a hurricane can have some positives if you get used to taking what nature gives you.