According to Geoffrey Chaucer, “Time and tide wait for no man.” But perhaps they do wait for two books that share the same title to be released around the same time. 

Justin Cook and Tim Hatcher published their books in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Hatcher’s is called Time and Tide. Cook’s is called Tide and Time. Both focus on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. 

Hatcher, a Tennessee native, confesses early in his book to falling in love with the Outers Bank during his first visit. He now resides there, and the book is infused with his enthusiasm for a place dear to his heart. 

Because of this, the book reads like a compendium of facts about the region from Currituck all the way south to Calabash. This is more of an observation than a critique. Other books offer a deeper dive into the coast’s flora and fauna or a more in-depth investigation of the region’s past and future. But I can’t imagine another text that covers the expanse of the region as well as Hatcher’s.

With its numerous contemporary and historical photographs, Hatcher’s book could be accused of presenting a rosy, romantic view of the Outer Banks if not for several chapters that portray the challenges and problematic history of the region, as well as its uncertain future. 

For example, Hatcher offers an excellent history on both the Black men who served at segregated lifesaving stations and the struggles between local fishermen and outsider environmentalists in the fight to protect the nesting grounds of the piping plover. He also does a wonderful job of balancing contemporary issues like paid parking and public water access with the ways in which race and class have long been used to divide people along North Carolina’s shores. In the last chapter, any lingering sense of romance is splashed with the cold, hard reality of climate change and coastal erosion. 

Cook’s book uses intimate photographs and interviews with the residents of a small community on Hatteras Island to tell the story of the erasure of a place due to climate change and human intervention. 

The book opens in the threatened Salvo Community Cemetery, which was plotted in the 19th century on the Pamlico Sound side of Hatteras Island. It’s the final resting place for many of the area’s natives, including descendants of the first European colonists who founded the village of Salvo. For the past several years, the cemetery’s human remains have been washing into the sound. 

Jean Hooper lost most of her old photos when Hurricane Irene flooded her house in 2011. She still has this photo of her with her sister and cousins at their grandfather’s grave at the Salvo Community Cemetery, which she keeps with her family Bible. (Photo by Justin Cook)

This wouldn’t be happening if the Outer Banks had been left to nature’s course. Untouched, the islands would naturally and slowly shift westward. But since Highway 12 was laid across the spine of the islands and local governments have focused on beach renourishment, the sand that once washed over and advanced the islands is now held in place, forcing the sound’s rising waters to encroach on the cemetery. In our attempts to save the beaches, the islands are being destroyed, as well as the history of the people who live there. 

Dr. Stanley Riggs, a coastal and marine geologist at East Carolina University, predicts that waters along the state’s northeastern coast will rise between 3 and 4.5 feet by 2100. Meanwhile, according to Cook, Dare County spent a record $99 million in 2022 on beach renourishment, which addresses “the symptoms but not the causes of climate change – nor the island’s erosion.”

Aside from Cook’s gorgeous and haunting photographs, the book is most powerful in introducing us to the lives of the residents–people like 85-year-old Jean Hooper, whose ancestors and husband are buried in the cemetery. 

A fleeting sense of place can be romantic, but as Dr. Susan Clayton, a psychologist who studies the mental impacts of climate change, says, “Relationships with place can be as significant as relationships to people. In that sense, “losing a family homestead can be like losing a family member.”

Dave Hallac, superintendent of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, has an even more visceral response: “It’s romantic unless you have to be the guy who has to manage the bones on the beach.”

Wiley Cash is the New York Times bestselling author of four novels and the founder of This Is Working, an online creative community. He’s been a fellow at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony, and he teaches fiction writing and literature at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. He lives in North Carolina with his wife, photographer Mallory Cash, and their daughters.

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