Sunday, February 17, 2013

Old Quawk's Day

     As the calendar draws nearer and nearer to spring, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss a not so well known tradition on the Outer Banks of North Carolina (more so the Southern Outer Banks). The day, almost exactly one month away, March 16th, is known locally as "Old Quawk's Day". The dubious holiday also symbolizes the equality of the sun and moon, as the vernal equinox draws near, in which the sun completes its journey back to the equator, only to make its way 23 and a half more degrees north over the course of the next three months. On this day, daylight and darkness vie equally for attention among us Earth dwellers, resulting in twelve hours of daylight, and twelve hours of darkness. What most people don't know however, its that March 16th, snuggled between the Ides of March and the Equinox, represents a day in which one should remain at home, thanks to the legend of the Old Quawk.
       I first came across the legend of Old Quawk in Bob Simpson's When the Water Smokes: Tides and Seasons on a Wooden Boat, a book I highly recommend for anyone interested in the Crystal Coast/Carteret County or anyone with a hankering for the slow pace of yesteryear. According to Simpson, Old Quawk was a described as a "South American Indian" who ashed ashore during a storm in the 1880's. Local legend has it that Old Quawk as he would come to be known (for his voice that "the bankers could compare only to the voice of the black-crowned night heron" pg. 24), was somewhat of a wild card, yet over time, earned through hard work, the respect of the hardy banks people. As many who have spent a winter on the Outer Banks know, early March can be a volatile  time, and this was no exception during the years of Old Quawk. Any sensible coastal folk, Simpson notes, know to stay away from the waters and the outdoors in general during this period, and essentially let nature take her course. However, Old Quawk, undaunted by the impending harsh weather, decided to venture out into the elements, in stern disagreement with local lore and the local people. The people of the banks urged him not to go, yet Old Quawk did not yield their warnings. The Old Quawk ventured out into the teeth of the storm and was never heard from again.
       If there is one thing to draw from the story of Old Quawk, it is to always respect mother nature. Especially on the Outer Banks and surrounding islands and coastal plain, spring can be (and most often is) a time of great change in the area. The return of March symbolizes the return of the strong Carolina sun, which will remain prominent until the late days of October. The leap from winter to spring also signifies the revitalization or rebirth of life along the banks, and once again the area comes alive. Despite the warmth and sunshine that can kiss the banks in the spring, one must remember that it can also be a time of harsh weather, something Old Quawk found out the hard way. After a little further research, I sadly discovered that the prominence of Old Quawk has since disappeared, and isn't known by many bankers anymore. Whatever the case may be, I would not be surprised if the weather on March 16th around the central banks wasn't seventy and sunny.


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