Seining With Val

Exploring the underwater worlds of Pamlico Sound

Most of the interesting things I’ve ever done have started while I was waiting to do something else. Waiting is possibly the best part of traveling really — it’s how you meet people. You wait for the right weather, you wait for the place to open, you wait for the guy to get back with the thing, there is always some waiting. It’s like life moves a bunch of things into position and then hits pause and sees what you’ll do with it.

We met Val waiting for the ferry. To leave Ocracoke you line up along the only road and wait. Our spot in line happened to be right next to a marsh, so I got my binoculars and stepped out to bird watch for a bit. A woman came up and started talking to me, and then Corrinne, about the bus. This isn’t unusual really, it happens about every day when we’re in the south, where strangers still talk to each other. In this case though we found we had a lot in common, and we just kept talking. Before too long we were making plans to meet up after the ferry ride.

But then the weather happened, and then we went back to Ocracoke.

It wasn’t until we came back up to Oregon Inlet for our last week in the Outer Banks that we finally met up with Val again to go seining. That might sound random, but Val is a marine science illustrator (you can buy her books from Johns Hopkins Press), and the kids wanted to see what was under the waters they’re always playing in.

We met up at our campsite and headed down to the broad tidal flat on the other side of the Oregon Inlet channel to use Val’s homemade seining rig. A seine, for those that have never heard of them, is a fishing net that hangs vertically. Big seines have floats at the upper edge and sinkers at the lower. Val designed and built her own portable siene. It was small enough that it didn’t need weights or floats, instead it had a very clever roller system. That way a single person could push through the grass and anything living there would be swept up in the net.

Once you’ve pushed it about 8-10 feet you pull it up and see what you’ve got. Val even built this super clever viewing box, which allows you to see the larger things like fish and shrimp right where you are.

To see the smaller things we collected out in the water, we put them in the floating bucket, and then came back to a dissecting scope we set up on the beach for a closer look.

This kids had so much fun we did it again the next day. This time Elliott had his own setup, consisting of a net he found on the beach and a lot of enthusiasm. The net proved a bust, but the enthusiasm carried him through.

We also did a bit of fishing. The kids pulled in some of the smallest sea bass I’ve ever seen, but anything is better than nothing — our usual catch — so they were excited.

A few days later Val’s friend, who’s a graduate student at the NC Coastal Studies Institute, invited us to come by the CSI open house. There were all sorts of things for the kids to do including getting some more microscope time with water samples from around the area, and building what amounted to a wave-drive alternator. The girls worked together and managed to generate a bit of electricity with their design.

A couple of days later we went to check out the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. This is the tiny sliver of the island that still looks like what things probably looked like in the Wright Bros’s days. It was hot, dry, and barren, but peaceful and beautiful in a stark way.

And then it was time to say goodbye and hit the road. This is the tough part of traveling, having to say goodbye, so we don’t. We always say, see you later, see you again, see you down the road.


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