Returning to the Scene of the Crime

[No spoilers, I promise!]

Earlier this year, for the first time since publishing Pea Body, my husband and I returned to the book’s setting — the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina, home of awesome beaches, seafood, and Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge.


Not only was it great to be back alongside the Atlantic Ocean, but I was eager to revisit those special places that got mentioned in the book and — especially! — eat some key lime pie!

Of course, the ocean was still there, the tides stretching and shrinking the beach back and forth, shorebirds like this oystercatcher foraging in the wet sand…


…and kiteboarders trying to tame the waves:


Despite the usual, crazy weather that hit the OBX in the years since we’d been along its shore, those big colorful rental houses still lined the water’s edge…


…though when I tried to spot the one that inspired Walt and Betty’s call to a real estate agent, the only one that seemed to fit the bill seemed much more modest than the one I described. Ah! The imagination at work!

Overall, the economy along the Banks seemed much healthier than it had in 2012 — more traffic, more cars parked in the driveways of these rental and summer homes. A brand new dollar store was being built and shops were open, though they never seemed crowded. Had it been like this when we were here before, *Pea Body* would have been a different book.


But portions of the beach were still closed, so that part of Pea Body can be witnessed in person. The signs — at least in this spot — actually indicated the Piping Plovers and sea turtles weren’t the only reason, but terns and other birds as well.


The local fishermen and women — and those drawn to the OBX to cast their lines in the ocean — were of the same opinion about the beach closings: that the best spots were inaccessible, and the areas where people crowded along the shore weren’t delivering up much bounty.


This year there was an added twist — something that could have been a neat addition to the plot of *Pea Body.* About 20 years ago anybody could take a fishing pole and try their luck in the great open waters of the Atlantic. Then the state decided to require licenses for ocean fishing.

This year we discovered the state had instituted another requirement: a beach access permit to drive on the sand. We could pay $50 for a week or $120 for the year. Since we’d decided to stay at least a couple of weeks and maybe a full month, we opted for the annual permit.

We met several local residents who were so upset about the idea of having to pay to drive on the beach they’d been able to travel for free their entire lives that they decided to boycott. It seemed to be a badge of honor to refuse to pay the government the required cost to drive the beach. Despite the controversy, long lines of vehicles stretched along the edge of the water — we could see why some people might have thought a fee would thin those numbers.


We roamed the backstreets and though we didn’t pay the small fee to revisit the Avon Pier mentioned in the book, we did wander near this closed pier…


…but of course, the one place we couldn’t wait to go back to was the Dolphin Den. That’s where we liked to go for the owner’s special key lime pie — and so did Walt and Betty Rollin in Pea Body. But when we drove up we found peeling paint, an empty parking lot, and an ominous sign:


WHAT?!? No key lime pie?? No key lime pie with that amazing graham cracker crust with just a touch of coconut? What a disappointment.

The good news? That fantastic produce stand where we not only found great fresh fruits and veggies but some awesome bread was still open! I wish I’d remembered its name to include in the book — you don’t find many businesses called “Sticky Bottom” very often!


And if you were wondering if people do, indeed, carry their fishing pools in gizmos attached to their front or rear bumpers, here’s proof:


Now you can even rent a Jeep or truck to go out on the sand — or just the fishing pole attachment and put it on your own vehicle. Look like a local! (Just don’t forget to let the air out of your tires before you venture onto the beach, or you’ll give your tourist status away… along with hundreds of dollars to get pulled out of the soft sand.)

More on our return next time… Till then, if you haven’t read Pea Body, it’s available in print and e-book versions. Just click the “Books” tab at the top of the screen to find out how to order.

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