There has not been a house on this island since the late seventies, when the northern inlet migrated and swallowed up the two human attempts to tame this barrier wilderness. The island’s shorter sister to the north, Wrightsville, has been smothered under the usual concrete and cement- big block hotels, houses, roads where once there were dunes, Spanish bayonet, sea oxeye daisy, Salicornia virginica. But Masonboro remains wild. Visiting is like finding a portal back through time to when pirates roamed the coast, and the Cape Fear Algonquian tribe made their homes in the dense oak forests of the mainland.
In modern summertime, rather than native canoes gathering shorebird eggs and clams, the back bay of the island crowds with rows of identical white powerboats, all with grey-hooded outboard engines, waxed fiberglass and polished aluminum sparkling in the July sun. The quiet rustling of the Spartina grass in the warm south wind is overpowered by top-forty, post-Buffett country warbling, blaring through boat radios. The calm bay becomes choppy with boat-produced wakes. The yellow-white sand is populated not by willets or plovers, but greased-up pork-fed neo-southerners and seasonal émigrés from north of the Mason-Dixon line, here for the sun with no connection with the landscape it shines on. They wear too-tight swimsuits and bask on brightly colored towels.
But these are only temporary visitors, limited in their stay by evaporating vacation days and a lack of fresh water. Return in late autumn, when the fishing is still good and the water has cooled enough to go pick oysters, and the island is the way it has always been- desolate, deserted, forgotten (by most). A commercial crabber and I are the only humans here. The birds return, white clouds of terns and brown pelicans, resting on sandbars at low tide. The grey head of a heron peers over the marsh. Water ripples at the edge of the Spartina, disturbed by a school of finger mullet. Masonboro is the place where I go to be alive. And at night, the old light of stars shines on, bright as always in the eternal sky.