My friend Jack Dudley in Swansboro recently sent me a package of historical photographs from the North Carolina coast and I’d like to share a few of them with you today.
Fishermen hanging a haul seine at one of the state’s last shad and herring fisheries, possibly Avoca in Bertie County, on Albemarle Sound, ca. 1930. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
Jack is one of my favorite coastal historians. I’m especially fond of his book Swansboro: A Pictorial Tribute, which I find a model of how to use historical photographs to tell a town’s story.
Net house on the Roanoke River, ca. 1950. This may be at the Ben Everett fish camp. Courtesy, Jack Dudley
I am finding that something about living through this coronavirus pandemic has me looking at the world a little differently.
Roanoke River, probably near Jamesville, ca. 1950. Courtesy, Jack Dudley
Far more than I usually do, I am noticing the beauty in even the smallest, most everyday parts of my world.
Father and son drying gill nets ca. 1948, place unknown, maybe Currituck Sound. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
This poor, confused, beaten-up world where right now everything seems so fragile and vulnerable and precious.
Fisherman and gill net sitting on a boat’s stern. This is by a fish camp near Southport, N.C., either on Bald Head Island or Caswell Beach. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
When I opened Jack’s package, the photographs of the fishermen and their nets stood out to me more than all the rest.
A pair of fishermen are mending a mullet net at a fish camp near Southport, N.C., probably on Bald Head Island, ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, N.C. Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
The prayerful women in their backyards mending nets, the silent old men sitting on the dock, net needles in hand.
Woman mending a gill net, Sneads Ferry, N.C., ca. 1938. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
The gill nets dangling down from net spreads, their floats looking as beautiful as the beads in black women’s hair.
Working on a purse seine, Southport, N.C., ca. 1940s-50s. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
The herring nets spread out in a river bottom forest.
A fish camp on the Roanoke River, ca. 1940s-50s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley
The pogie fishermen and their purse seine at the end of a long day.
Menhaden (“pogie”) fishermen gathering a purse seine at the dock, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55. You can see a row of pogie boats in the background. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
A purse seine wrapped around a net reel for the night.
Menhaden nets drying on a reel, Southport, N.C., ca. 1948-55. Photo by Bayard Wootten. Courtesy, North Carolina Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill Library
The bow nets that look like giant butterfly wings in the morning light.
Fisherman with a handmade bow net on a creek near the Roanoke River, probably in Martin County, N.C. in the 1950s. Fishermen typically made the frames using green ash wood. Courtesy, Jack Dudley
As I Iooked through the photographs, I was aware that I was seeing them with new eyes.
Salter Path, N.C., ca. 1937-40. Fishermen often used their old nets to build chicken coops and garden fences. Photo by Charles A. Farrell. Courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
Usually I would think about their construction and purpose, their length and mesh size and where and how they were being used.
Bow netting for shad or herring on the Roanoke River, 1950s. Courtesy, Jack Dudley
But not this time. This time, when I looked at these men and women and their nets, I just thought to myself: how did I not notice before now their frail grace and luminous beauty?