OBXFS ’21: Settling In

It’s my turn for the blog post! Since my friend Rebekah already wrote about our *cough* amazing experience at Buxton woods, I think I’ll write about another one of my favorite memories here at the Outer Banks Field Site. But as I’m reflecting, I think this is more an overall feeling that I’ve come to realize while staying at the field site, but still an important one I’d like to share nonetheless. 

It was the evening of August 23rd and we had finished up our first Community Advisory Board meeting of the semester. It had been a long day filled with classwork, first introductions, and get-to-know-you games with the group of community members who were excited to assist us with our capstone research. They were kind, informative, and excited to meet this new group of young students who wanted to learn more about their home. After the meeting and despite the long hours, spirits were high, and someone suggested “Let’s go to Surfin’ Spoon!” and I swear I saw almost all of our eyes light up immediately. 

We all promptly hopped in our cars after a quick group consensus and set off for froyo. Woo hoo!! A short car ride later and all eleven of us were standing on the porch lit exterior of the joint, relaxing, unwinding, and talking amongst ourselves. I looked around, at everyone who came and who I had spent the last few weeks with getting to know, and I realized that these people felt like a family to me. Which was so crazy! I had known them for about two calendar weeks but I already felt right at home! I kept my little realization to myself and happily watched the conversation develop and shift throughout the evening. We slowly meandered through the line, chatting about class, surfing, and what flavors of froyo we wanted (along with favorite toppings!). Everyone eventually filed outside and we circled up contentedly, munching on froyo and enjoying the warm summer air. Behind us, there was a silly wooden cutout of Sebi the Spoon, Surfin’ Spoon’s mascot, where you could take a picture with the logo. Almost immediately we had everyone chanting “Mackenzie in the spoon!,” “Jason in the spoon!,” and taking pictures of us posing with this character, laughing the evening away. 

“Blakely in the spoon!”

That was the first night that I felt like our group was a little family. Since then, the feeling has only grown stronger. Through late night stargazing, epic Mario Kart battles, difficult (yet supportive) days in the field, and cooking dinner together in the evenings. It’s truly been amazing to be in such a unique ecological environment and also find a very supportive and encouraging group of individuals which I get to share my experiences with! So, if you are reading this as a part of the 21’ cohort, I appreciate you very much 🙂 If you are reading this in the future, I implore you to spend time with your cohort, get to know them, and appreciate the little day to day things during your stay at the OBXFS!

Despite a dreary lab day, Kenan, Franchesca, Rebekah, and Steve were all smiles!
Every Friday we try to go out as a cohort. This day, we checked out Greentails on a sunny afternoon after class.
The group, leaving Buxton Woods, and happy with our research progress.

Finding My Footing (Among Other Things) In the Outer Banks

Whenever I go to a new place, I find exploring is the best way for me to find my footing in my new surroundings. At the minimum, I want to figure out how to get to where I need to go. At best, I want to find secret little spaces that I can claim as my own. So I was very grateful when we were assigned an Outer Banks scavenger hunt during our first week of orientation. Its goal was to familiarize us with the Outer Banks, geographically, historically, and culturally. Beyond that, it gave me a purpose to my explorations, a map of sorts to direct me along the Outer Banks.

Our scavenger hunt
Unpainted aristocracy

Before I could start off on my adventures, however, I needed to do my research. The first item on the list, “Unpainted Aristocracy,” had me stumped. One google search later (https://www.ourstate.com/the-unpainted-aristocracy/ ), I learned “Unpainted Aristocracy” was the name for a row of old, wooden beach houses in Nags Head. These houses were built more than a century ago, surviving hurricanes, nor’easters, and Nags Head’s rapid development. Excited to see this part of history, I set out for Nags Head one morning before class. Driving along Virginia Dare Trail, I passed the rows of wooden houses, a stark contrast with the newer development around them. They seemed a testament to the resiliency of the Outer Banks, and a reminder of a simpler beach experience. One quick photo later and scavenger hunt item one was completed.

House in the surf zone

The next morning, I woke up ready to do some more exploring. I grabbed my keys and headed for Rodanthe. The scavenger hunt item for this trip: houses in the surf zone. The weather for the trip was perfect, a bright blue sky and light breeze rustling the sea oats. Crossing Oregon Inlet, I marveled at the beauty of the waves breaking on the shore and the brilliant blue of the ocean. Everything was so picturesque. Before I knew it, I arrived in Rodanthe, where I immediately noticed the mounds of sand along the road, indications that this town was slowly moving closer and closer to the ocean. I found my way to a beach access, and only had to walk a little way before I found what I came here for: a wooden house stood jutted beyond the dunes, the water lapping at its stilts. I noticed a rental sign in the window, indicating this result of rising sea levels has now been turned into a quintessential tourist experience. Another quick google search as I write this lets me see exactly how it’s being marketed, as a beach home with “waterfront views from almost every room” that’s “only steps from the beach.” It just shows one of the ways the Outer Banks have adapted to situations thrown at them, a resiliency I’d learn a lot more about in the weeks to come.

Throughout the next week, I got to explore downtown Manteo with Jason, where we were able to check more things off our list. One item, however, differed from the rest, as it was time dependent, requiring us to get up early enough to see the sunrise. A group outing was made of it, with plans to leave the house at 5:55am to get to the beach in time to see the sun rise over the ocean. And so the next morning a group of us left the house in our pjs or other cozy attire, perhaps not all the way awake and missing our beds, but committed to seeing the sunrise nonetheless. We went to Jennette’s Pier, layed out our towels, and settled into the sand. We didn’t talk much as we watched the sun make its way above the horizon, but that space was filled by calls of gulls and the waves crashing onto shore. We all just sat there, taking in the beauty of the morning. After the sky’s colors faded, we picked up our towels and headed towards breakfast, chatting and laughing amongst ourselves.

The sunrise group. Left to right: Jane, Fran, Joseph, Rebekah, Nathalie, Me, Anna. Photo creds: Mackenzie

The rest of the scavenger hunt items were slowly collected during the next week, on everyday trips with various members of the group, but it still served its purpose. From road trips to sunrises, each item helped me get a little closer to the Outer Banks and my classmates.



OBXFS ’21: Woods and Waves

I convinced myself that each wave was washing the ticks right off of me. We were swimming in ocean water so turquoise, it looked straight out of a Caribbean island tourist magazine, and the shore was glistening with shells.

The very blue waters that revived us at the end of the day.

The exaggerated luxury of this swim and the false assurance that being pummeled by waves washed away ticks was in contrast to our day in Buxton Woods. We had finished our first day of fieldwork for our Capstone research project in Buxton Woods down on Hatteras Island. With the help of GPS coordinates from a 1988 survey and Lindsay’s bushwhacking a few days prior, we made it to our plot area. We were conducting vegetation surveys, which included measuring tree diameters, taking plant samples, and digging soil samples.

Loaded in the back of the truck on our way to our site! (author Rebekah pictured on far right)

Going into this day, there was a nervous anticipation amongst the group. All we kept hearing about Buxton Woods was that it was the breeding ground for the peskiest mosquitoes, the most Lyme diseasiest ticks, and the best place for poisonous snakes to test out their fangs. It was going to be hot, humid, and we would be pestered non-stop all day with bugs. We had mosquito nets covering our faces and layers upon layers of deet soaked clothes in our best effort to prepare for the day.

Despite our best preparation, we faced several logistical and methodological challenges throughout the day. We were all amateur plant identifiers. We constantly had to ask Kathy, our guiding plant expert, questions and consult our picture-less wordy guidebooks to determine each specific species. It was hot, the bugs were biting rampant, and we had a bit of logistical confusion. It was the perfect recipe for group discord, frustration, snappy attitudes, and irritation.

However, even after several hours in the woods, I heard Jane, Steve, and Nathalie laughing from the other side of the plot. Jason was still yanking on vines and Blakely continued to measure tree trunks with patience and accuracy- yelling out our absurd and incorrect pronunciations for each species’ Latin name.

Nathalie, Steve, and Jane could be heard laughing from across the woods! 

Any tension or nervousness going into the day had disappeared. I was continually encouraged by the flexibility, perseverance, and genuine spirits of the group. I was proud of how we not only managed to stay sane and support each other throughout the day, but many of us actually had fun. I stepped out of the woods exhausted, but happy. Our swim on the beach at the end of the day was just the cherry on top of a great day.

Jason and Blakely held our team together recording tree diameters.

This short anecdote is merely one day of laughter and friendship. In the first month here, I have loved getting to make new friends, learn outside, and try new things! I am soaking it up and am enjoying each day here. Here’s to the rest of the semester of bug spray, laughter, friends, the woods, and pummeling waves!


OBX 2021: My Experience So Far

Reading the previous blog by our fellow classmate Jason really warmed my heart and I feel great getting ready to write this blog out on the white porch in this autumn-like summer morning. And I see Jane! She looks happy cycling back from her trip to somewhere. Future OBX students, it seems September is a great time to go walking or cycling, so go use those sidewalks and trails. Anyways, I feel like we’ve had multiple FDOCs (First Day

2nd Floor porch of the Friends of Elizabeth Guest House II where I wrote this blog

of Class in case this isn’t a thing anymore for our future reader) these past two weeks: we started our first class, our first internship, our first capstone trip to the Buxton Woods, our first group Mario Kart, and so much more. I want to talk about my experience with my internship at the Nags Head Planning Department, but I hope that our readers will be able to read about our Buxton Woods experience from future blogs because it was a very special one.

Looking for one of our friend’s house on an aerial map of Nags Head

I was very nervous on my first day. I couldn’t help but fidget around in my chair as I waited for Michael Zehner, the director of the Nags Head Planning Department. Soon, I was ushered into a room filled with cabinets bulging full of files, big maps and arts taped onto the wall, desks clustered with blueprints, and the planning staffs, Kate, Kelly, Kylie, Holly, and Michael, typing away in their offices; everyone was so friendly that I felt my sense of nervousness melt to excitement. I’m going to plan something!

We started to talk about the community of Nags Head and went on a tour around the town. Nags Head is a town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks that has a community centered around the coast, tourism, art, and parks. Most residents and industries rely on

Information about Typical Residential Driveway We Received During our Meeting about Sewage

septic systems, with the exception of the village of Nags Head, which means water quality control is an important task for the planning department. Nags Head is also vulnerable to floods, yet due to inconsistencies in floodplain mapping and modeling standards, many residents do not carry flood insurance, hindering the department’s vision of a resilient community. Next, to get a better scope of my ideal project, I attended meetings with the Public Works department, the local arts community, and the coastal federation and listened in to their projects.

I’ll be honest, I still have no idea what my project will be about. I don’t know whether I’ll be filing paperwork, doing fieldwork, researching law, or making maps. But from talking to the planning staffs and watching their hard work, I got the sense that they have done a lot for the community but that there is still so much more to do. Maybe my project will make a big change. Maybe it’ll just be a small blimp. But I know that whatever I do, I’ll be working to improve the lives of OBX residents and their interaction with the natural world. I am grateful for this opportunity.

My First Day at the Nags Head Planning Department






OBXFS ’21 (so far!) and fun at Jockey’s Ridge State Park

As I try to think of some way to introduce this post, I can’t help but realize that I’ve only been at the OBX field site for three weeks; but that isn’t to say it hasn’t been eventful! Already I’ve been on multiple exciting trips to new places, participated in fun activities, and made memories with the great people I’ve met so far. I would like to now walk you through some highlights of my time at OBXFS.

I’d like to start by commenting on the amazing and supportive people I’ve met at the field site. I mention supportive because I will admit there have been some challenging moments so far. But through any personal or professional hurdles, I’ve always felt that I have people who are willing to listen and help me get through it. From my fellow classmates to the directors, professors, and community members, I always feel welcomed and appreciate the strong sense of community that even a new member such as myself can feel at the OBXFS. I look forward to strengthening the bonds I’ve already made throughout the rest of the semester!

Besides a few enjoyable trips to the beaches and other local spots, I’ve been able to explore and learn a great deal about the OBX through visits to historical sites such as lifesaving stations, parks, and communities such as Buxton, home of Buxton Woods. I’ll leave the specifics of those trips to other students who I’m sure have better photos to go along (I’m not always much of a photographer myself), but I will say that the OBX has a rich history and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve gotten to experience and learn so far. Learning history through the stories of locals is unique in itself, and comparing it to other things I’ve heard creates a better picture of the living history of the OBX. One of the living sites we visited that was one of my favorite activities, was Jockey’s Ridge State Park!

Jockey’s Ridge was a short field trip but I enjoyed it so much because it emphasized one of my favorite aspects of being near the coast: the view of the horizon. As an active dune system, sand is continuously being moved and reshaped by the wind. This results in the formation of some large sand dunes that make for great views of the rest of the park and beyond. From the different peaks, I was able to see the maritime forest within the park, the Sound, and the human structures surrounding the park. I personally also enjoy just being able to see such large areas of open space, especially when it is storming outside (thankfully it was a clear day when we visited!). 

Although I don’t have a picture of one of those views, here’s one of a few classmates and myself walking toward the peak of a dune, as well as one of the many picturesque trees (I believe a loblolly pine) in the more forested regions of the park. These regions were just as interesting to venture through, as we could easily see how small elevation changes resulted in dramatic differences in vegetation, one of the key aspects of a maritime forest. It also gave the ranger time to provide some background to the park and share fun stories in her time working there. What I found to be the most interesting bit was about the low-lying areas and how they often hold vernal ponds in periods of higher rainfall. Although we came during a drier time and were unable to see them, it was still fun to learn about the frogs and other organisms that can call these transient ponds home. 

(Above; right to left) Blakely, Anna, and me making our way to the top of the dunes at Jockey’s Ridge! The blue sky itself was one of the many beautiful views from the day.

(Above) A tree that certainly stood out for its simple beauty, if my short experience with taxonomy and plant identification serves me well, we are seeing a Pinus taeda, or loblolly pine tree!

Overall, I enjoyed my time at Jockey’s Ridge, much like I’ve enjoyed my time at the OBXFS. In many ways, the field trip is a good representation of the field site as a whole: some challenging moments, a great deal of time outdoors, learning a lot about the environment around you, and friendly and knowledgeable mentors to lead the way! I truly have had many fun experiences at the OBXFS so far and can’t wait to experience more as the semester goes on. In addition, the capstone project so far has been interesting and looks to provide me with great field skills to complement the program coursework. Although I still have many weeks to go, I’m sure this field site will provide me with great professional skills and development.

But beyond this development and what I’ll leave you with has been personal development. In many ways, this program has pushed me far outside of my comfort zone. I’m far away from home, meeting many new people, putting in some long days, working on new projects in new concentrations, and more. As I mentioned earlier, I have had some personal challenges so far, but I have felt a sense of community from the members of the field site that has pushed me to take things in stride. The best example I have so far is when we all had the amazing opportunity to go surfing. I didn’t think much about it at the moment, but a few years ago I was pretty afraid of the ocean, and just a couple of weeks ago I spent a few hours out surfing in deep water, having a great time, and subconsciously conquering and burying that fear. Moments like this make me glad I chose to come to the field site, I look forward to many more of these and certainly encourage anyone looking for overall growth in themselves to apply for the program!