Last week on Caswell we had the most beautiful warm weather give us a spring teaser. So I was so happy to capture this early sunset portrait on the beach for the year 2022.
Caswell Beach, North Carolina, sits at the eastern end of Oak Island at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Bald Head Island lies just to the east.
I love this place because my family lived here near the lighthouse for years and the beach was like our playground. Back then we would say we lived 2 houses down from the lighthouse. That makes me laugh now because so many houses have been built there since and it seems every empty lot has filled in. Now it’s probably 4 or 5 houses down from the lighthouse.
Most people know of Caswell because of the lighthouse that used to be worked by the Coast Guard. My family lived there when then old white Coast Guard house still stood. At one time you could say it was the brightest light in all of the Americas and the 2nd brightest in the world. Now those facts probably have changed since I left but it was always something to be proud of when I thought of home.
Back then there were wooden utility poles up and down the beach. I still remember the day we came back to the beach after one hurricane evacuation in the 80s to find every single utility pole snapped in half from the winds. Sometimes we thought it might have been a small tornado. That’s when the town decided to bury the utilities underground. My brother’s sketch of the lighthouse shows the old utility poles as they once were. The small house that sat at its foot was owned by the coast guard and had a red roof. It’s no longer there.
Past the lighthouse at the end of the island lies Fort Caswell where you can find the remains of an old civil war fort and tunnels inside the dunes. Fort Caswell serves now as retreat and convention center owned by the Baptist. I think my brother worked there some one summer, my nephew went to preschool there, and we used to have friends from church who worked at Fort Caswell. Makes me want to schedule a chance to revisit the area and see how it has changed with renovations.
At the other end of Caswell lies the country club and golf course by the older bridge to Southport. Between the club house and the main beach front road is a road with a thin barrier of maritime trees and shrubs between the road and the beach. I remember when it used to extend out further, until a hurricane washed away part of the road, took down the house at the end of the beach front homes, and they had to buy land from the Barbees to rebuild the road. I still remember that house bending over into the sand. It was so sad, but we all saw it coming.
Back in my day, we could only get to the beach on Caswell by walking up a public access walk down the road or climb up the sandy path over the dunes in front of the lighthouse. Fortunately we had neighbors who only came down occasionally from Siler City who let us use their pier. Now they have cut out a lot of dune and maritime shrubbery and built two parking lots – one for public beach access and the other for visiting the lighthouse area. I love the new timber walkway built in front of the lighthouse now. You can avoid all those sandspurs!!
When my family bought our home on Caswell Beach, Margaret Rudd helped us find it. Her real estate office is still one of the first places you see when you come onto the island.
One of the first crazy things I remember about being at the beach was the coming of Hurricane David. After the storm left us we enjoyed a glorious fall and winter season of seashell finds. The best time to go was at night. We’d carry a bucket a piece, let the 4 lights of the lighthouse guide us, avoid the sand crabs, and fill our buckets to overflowing. We discovered huge whelks, scotch bonnets, tulip shells, and sea biscuits like you would not believe. They were gigantic! I’ve never seen them at the beach like we saw that year.
Speaking of the unusual, I remember seeing a blue marlin when swimming at Caswell Beach. I was young enough to sit on top of my dad’s shoulders. We had gone out one summer day when the sky was so blue and the tide was low and calm. We would walk out to the sandbar and then go swim in the deeper water past the sandbar. At low tide the calm water was more fun to swim in. I used to hate getting knocked down by the waves at high tide. We could also feel the sand dollars with our feet when past the sand bar because they were fuzzy and alive.
Well, that afternoon, I was on Daddy’s shoulders enjoying the sunshine in the water past the sandbar. The water was up to his chest I guess. When out of nowhere while facing the lighthouse in the water, out jumps the most glorious long nosed blue marlin twisting and turning high into the sky out of the water over to our right. I’d say he was almost a little more inland than we were. I gasped and got excited. I wanted to see it jump again. Instead I felt my dad grip my knees tight and start walking strongly toward the sandbar. I was so disappointed, but in hindsight, I understood his fear. But gee, I wish you could have seen it.
Daniel Chaffin’s dad used to be our family’s pastor in Southport, before they moved back to Oklahoma. I still remember when Daniel and Christy were teenagers dating. LOL admitting my age…
Last week the Chaffins met me at Caswell Beach to help me test out the fantastic technology of the Canon R6 camera with its AI eye tracking. I put on it the mammoth 28-70mm lens to enjoy not having to change lenses. So thank you CHAFFINS! for helping me learn this awesome piece of equipment.
Note… the camera found their son’s (Pax) eye’s first! I loved how it knew where to focus and caught the amazing details of the sky. I didn’t have to photoshop in a new sky… the sunlight you see is original – that’s the R6. I’m in love with this camera. What will they think of next?
The strand here on Caswell Beach is wide and the dunes seem well kept. Sometimes you can find the roped off areas of sea turtle nests.
I once told a friend from California about walking on the beach in North Carolina and enjoying the sunset. They tried to correct me and tell me that North Carolina being on the east coast doesn’t have sunsets over the water. Ah, we all need to do some geography study once and a while. You can’t get this view at Wrightsville Beach except as a sunrise. (Bald Head Island offers both, by the way.)
If you would like your family to celebrate with a portrait session on Caswell Beach, I would love to help you make that happen. Please contact me here.
If you are in the Wilmington area ask me about sessions at Carolina Beach, Kure Beach, Wrightsville, or Fort Fisher. Read more about planning for a family photo session.
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