Enjoy the sunrise

It’s 6:32 a.m. I am sitting on our concrete patio in the community of Bettie, Down East, in Carteret County, on a mottled aluminum bench facing directly east. The distinct odor of exposed mud flat and salt marsh permeates the air, indicating the tide has passed low and is now rising. I am gripping an ancient ceramic coffee mug impressed with some artwork representing a hard crab and designed to hold an ungodly number of highly caffeinated fluid ounces.

It’s on the cool side for September, as my wife joins me, and we direct our attention to the eastern sky. The morning glow silhouettes the distant stand of pines on the other side of Wards Creek, in addition to another, at first, unfamiliar object forming a higher line behind the trees. As the illumination increases, it becomes apparent that this object is the high clouds out in the Atlantic over the Gulf Stream.

First, the high wispy clouds begin dark gray, then progressively become brown, orange, pink, and red, eventually becoming a bright yellow iridescent. Then the tops of the Gulf Stream clouds become highlighted with a brilliant red outline. All fading completely away eventually, into the background, and out of sight, as the bright burning object of their herald appears to take care of the business of presiding over another brilliant day.

Throughout my life, there have been 24,112 other sunrises, of which maybe I have purposely witnessed one percent of one percent. So, this one, though unique, as all of them are, is probably not necessarily special over many others. However, it is special in that this sunrise occupies the “present.” The present being that hot, hissing, sparking spot along the cord of the burning fuse of time. That continuously moving moment where we experience our existence.

This burning fuse leaves the ashes of the past and has its way with the future without delay, pause or hesitation. It burns only in one direction, and when it eventually stops, for us as individuals, or for mankind collectively, in the “final filter,” as described by some theoretical scientists, that’s the place where eternity begins. As sure as the tombstone, clocks, and the other timepieces all around us, measure our progress along the burning cord as we all progress towards that inevitable and certain end.

Occasionally, we visit the Missionary Baptist Church Graveyard down Bettie Path Road. The graveyard is in the heart of Bettie and presents a serene coastal scene for which few have an appetite, and even fewer will experience. Meticulously kept, some of the large, expansive live oaks shade a sizeable barren area in the center, where the ancient wooden tombstones have long since rotted away. But encircling this large barren area is the more recent white limestone and gray granite monuments, some marking the last stop of close family and friends.

As we tidy up our family markers, pluck up any weeds the landscaper may have missed, and freshen up the silk flowers, we reflect on the lives of our ancestors and the heritage they left. We consider the different chapters of their books, written on our hearts, finished, and left behind in that sandy loam and the gray dust of the burning cord.

Generally, coastal graveyards are sited with a lot of care. Typically, they are found on dry edge soils adjacent to natural drains. The grounds can range from yellow sandy loams to speckled white sands, but the soils have at least some cohesions, because you can’t make a grave with sharp edges if it keeps caving in. And the drier the soils, the better, because you don’t want someone in an adjacent county calling to tell you they found the casket of a dead relative floating around in their yard after a big storm. The coastal area has its own set of issues to consider; just saying!

Graves are also generally oriented so the deceased face east, demonstrating their faith in the Christian understanding that Jesus will resurrect their bodies from the grave when Christ returns. Once, I observed a few graves oriented north to south in a graveyard where every other grave trended along the normal east-west alignment. Besides disrupting the pleasant, uniform landscape pattern, it made me consider that, depending on which direction they were facing, either Santa Clause or Mickey Mouse may have been their idea of eternal salvation. Currently, nothing would surprise me these days.

But in rural areas like Bettie, graveyards can be found anywhere that reasonably meets the criteria. There are two graveyards within sight of our home. Heck, one of those is in our yard. 

But if you are contemplating buying a property and are concerned about having the tombstones of strangers on that left front corner, take it from us. They won’t keep you up at night with partying and loud music. And they won’t litter or let their goats come over and graze on your hydrangeas.

Instead, you may want to consider the idea that others, in the past, had a deep personal connection with that piece of land and would likely, if they somehow could, wish you all the best in however you choose to experience the same.

Nelson Paul is a real estate agent, former NC Coastal regulator, inventor, husband, father of four, and a grandfather of seven.