Getting Outside Saturday: The Unmanly Retreat of a Lighthouse

categories: Cocktail Hour

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Here’s a little teaser from my current article in Outside:


We drive south to the famous Hatteras Lighthouse, which Orrin and others fought to have moved back 2,900 feet from the eroding shore in the late 1990s, despite the fact that many North Carolinians found the retreat unmanly. “There was one powerful local woman who was virulently opposed to moving it,” Orrin tells us as we approach. “She said, ‘Someone is going to get hurt if they move it.’ A fellow scientist misunderstood and tried to reassure her. ‘No, Mrs. Dillon, we can move it perfectly safely.’ I had to explain that that was not what she meant.”


We pull in at the lighthouse and walk from where it was first built in 1870 to where it was moved in 1999. It rises above us like a giant barber pole.


“Mrs. Dillon always claimed that moving the lighthouse killed her husband,” Orrin says. “The stress, you know.”


I ask if Mrs. Dillon has also passed away.


“She’s still alive. Unfortunately.”

Beach-town people aren’t always thrilled with Orrin’s message, since his bottom line is: You shouldn’t be here. He tells them that their natural urge to defend themselves, to build a wall or pile up sandbags against the encroaching water, is wrong. That by building barriers they’re keeping the beach from doing what it wants to do, what it needs to do, which is to move up and over itself. This movement is how barrier islands have always defended themselves from storms, through a kind of elemental rope-a-dope. Storms actually help islands grow, pushing sand from an island’s front to back, expanding its marshes on the bay side.

Read more here.





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