By Connie Leinbach
In Pat Garber’s latest book, the reader will get a glimpse of two Ocracokes—the one since Hurricane Dorian hit in September 2019 and Ocracoke of 37 years ago.
Garber this year sold her beloved home Marsh Haven and has left Ocracoke, although she said she does plan to visit each year.
It’s the island’s loss of a writer who for all these years has captured Ocracoke’s singularity in numerous books and articles with her lovely prose.
This book, “My Shining Palace: A love song to Ocracoke Island, 1984 and 2019,” is available at Books to Be Red and other island locales.
It reveals an Ocracoke of yesteryear and a somber look at Ocracoke since Dorian–a storm that, “in less than an hour, changed everything: the landscape, the village, the lives of all who called it home,” she writes.
The book is not long. It is sprinkled with her charming drawings, a few photographs and provides a delightful way to spend a few hours in her company, listening to her tales of a bygone Ocracoke and her post-Dorian travails of trying to put her “shining palace” back together again.
Garber’s writing is lively and insightful, and those who like to read all they can about this island on the edge of North Carolina will revel in these tales.
One Garber fan, Harry Lineback of Chula Vista, Calif., said, “I couldn’t put it down; I didn’t want it to end.”
Garber’s storm-related reflections parallel the year she relocated to Ocracoke. That was 1984, and though she found her home, her “shining palace” here, it was a time when she had very little money or possessions.
She sketches a history of the island as she discovers it.
“All of Ocracoke was new to me then, a gift being unwrapped slowly, layer-by-layer and day-by-day,” she writes.
It was a seminal year.
“That year danced like sea foam, iridescent and ephemeral, along with waves of my destiny,” she writes. “The years I have spent here since then, much as I cherish them, seem languid and pale in comparison.”
She learned that “living on an island was like no other living,” and chronicles her various adventures: working as a server, motel maid, meeting locals and men, riding a bicycle everywhere; discovering the myriad wildlife and natural rhythms of an untouched island.
The island lends itself to going barefoot, something Garber has enjoyed doing all her life while growing up in Virginia and later in Europe. That first year she discovered “Ocra-toe,” achieved through frequent stubbing of the big toe.
During this year, she found a small shack to rent in which had a spectral visitor that she chronicles in the chapter “Ghost,” which was excerpted in the May issue of the Observer.
She fed herself by learning to catch crabs, oysters, clams, and from a job at Murray’s Fish House heading shrimp and where the workers got to take home pieces of broken shrimp.
“I never ate better in my life than I did that year on Ocracoke!” she writes.
Vignettes abound of colorful locals for whom she worked or was friends, trips to Portsmouth and Beacon islands, rescuing wildlife, such as “Mulligan The Pelican.”
After that year, Garber got a job teaching on the most isolated Indian reservation in the continental United Sates—with the Havasupai, located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. It was a journey to another isolated spot.
This is where her book ends followed with a closing chapter reflecting on a year after Dorian struck.