Winter’s Back Is Broken

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Icy Raymond's Gut, February 25, 2015

Icy Raymond’s Gut, February 25, 2015

I am going out on a limb to suggest that the persistent cold weather that has camped in the eastern half of the country is finished at least along the southern coast of North Carolina.

Actually I am basing my prediction on what happened on February 27, with our high temperature here near the White Oak River not far upriver from Swansboro, North Carolina.

For the first time in a long time our high temperature ended up being higher than what was in the forecast. Our forecast was actually changed upwards at least a couple of times. I did not capture the image the first time I saw the forecast, but I did get the next time and the time after that. I also grabbed the image when the temperature got above the forecast.

This did not surprise me since I have been expecting better weather in spite of the ice in the picture above that I took on Wednesday, February 25.  Winter is done even with this February 27, 2015, snow coverage map which shows all of North Carolina covered with snow except our tiny piece of land from the Southern Outer Banks down to the South Carolina border. March can start with a fair amount of cold, but it is unusual in coastal North Carolina.

Both my wife’s family and my family have their roots in the western foothills of North Carolina near the Virginia border. One of the things I remember about February is that my father-in-law always planted his potatoes and onions around the third week in February. Like my mother, he was a renowned gardener and could be counted on for great crops.

In general March is a great month in North Carolina and I have even suggested that my Canadian friends pack their bags and head our way. While our ride to spring here on the coast can be something of a roller coaster, the journey is pleasant enough and the destination is well worth the ride.

March is usually when we start getting out on the water and our beach walks become more regular as March goes along. We can even end up with some water that you can wade in by the end of March.

Spring is pretty special on the coast but most of us are dreaming of salt water as March arrives. March is a teaser month with enticing waters and almost irresistible beaches.

While March might not be warm enough to get in the water, being on it and along side it is a pretty good start. It is also a good time to do our yard and gardening work while dreaming about fishing when the water warms up a little.

If I am right about the weather, everyone should be pleased as I announce the end of this cold winter. My first priority is getting my peas in the ground and tuning up my fishing tackle.  Hopefully the onions and radishes that I already have in the ground will not have to be replanted.

There are also some more pleasant trips out on the river to contemplate.  While I never stop boating here on the coast, it is a whole lot more comfortable on the water in March especially in a kayak than it is in February.  A ride in the skiff in March can be very nice.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after Valentine’s Day.   Our first newsletter of  2015 can be found at this link.  Our last newsletter of 2014 is still available on the web.

We will be getting another newsletter out around the end of March after the first of the season’s festivals.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

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Posted in Beach, Boating, Crystal Coast, fishing, General Information, Kayaking, Out of doors, water, Weather | 1 Comment

Coastal Roller Coaster to Spring

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Bogue Sound, February 11, 2015

Bogue Sound, February 11, 2015

Over the decades I have seen few springs arrive without a little weather drama. I was once surprised by snow when I was trying to mow our yard in April in Roanoke, Virginia.

Another time we endured breathtaking lows on the way to the hospital when it dropped to minus twenty Fahrenheit when our son was born in the middle of March in Canada.

Here on the Carolina coast it is not too much of surprise to get some very warm days well before the official start of spring. March of 2012 had enough heat to get me thinking about wading in salt water. At the other end of the spectrum we have gotten a touch of snow in the first few days March. With that kind of record even we coastal residents stay on snowflake patrol until mid-March. This year February has been a real roller coaster.

We always thought that the cruelest month of the year in Maritime Canada was April. You would get warm sunshine one day and the next day you could wake up to a few inches of snow on the ground. It was not unusual to have snow hanging around in the woods in early May.

Just over 1,200 miles south of Fredericton, New Brunswick, on North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks the weather is understandably a little different. I bounce back and forth on our most challenging month, but most years here on the White Oak River it is February. February’s cool weather can linger into March. It can be a very cold month sometimes bringing us ice which is much more common in January. Yet even with that history, we can often easily slip into spring before February is over.

Last Sunday, February 9, 2015, we managed to sneak over 60F. I took my skiff out on the river on Saturday the day before our sixty degree Sunday. The air temperature was nice but the water temperature was sobering at 44.5F. The river water did not even look inviting and I love being out on the river. This coming Sunday, February 16, 2015, our predicted high temperature is only 31F. That night we will drop down to 18F. Two days later the forecast is for a couple of days in the sixties. I will not be out on the water for any length of time until we have put together a week of those warm days with no nights below fifty.

I have often joked that spring unfolds quickly in the mountains compared to the coast where it takes longer for things to warm up. We get signs of spring at the coast much earlier in the season than our friends in the mountains. However, once the spring starts in the mountains and Piedmont, it almost explodes while we can wait weeks for our coastal spring to reach its peak.

We have a small crocus patch that has been blooming for a month and this week our first daffodil decided to bloom but that does not mean that spring is here yet. The daffodil managed to survive twenty four hours of strong winds. Since it appears determined to survive I will help it through the spell of cold weather scheduled for this weekend.

Valentine’s Day is rapidly approaching and I already have seeds in the ground and tomato plants growing in my office. This first week or so of February 2015, has not been one of those which seduces you into thinking about being on the water. I did get a hike in over at the Point on January 19 and the pictures will keep me going for a while, but it is true warmth that will signal the coming of spring and we just have not had any of that yet.

However, I remain on alert for some serious heat and at least in my dreams, I am expecting it any day now.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Boating, Kayaking, Out of doors, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | Comments Off

Icy Marsh Edges

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Cormorant Swimming By Ice

Cormorant Swimming By Ice

We look at life and places through many filters that we have gained through years of living. Sometimes what you see today brings back memories of what you experienced years ago and far away. Being able to separate the context of today from yesterday’s memories is perhaps a mark of sanity.

Walking along the edge of the marshes not far upriver from Bogue Sound is a treat that I enjoy summer and winter. An early morning walk in late January can even bring back flashes of spring in Canada many years ago. I first saw a cormorant when I lived along the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  As I see the melting ice in the early morning sun, I am reminded of late April on our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick.

Little brook as we called the stream down the hill from our barns was relentless in working its way through the built-up ice of winter. Usually it was April before we would see melting ice and glimpses of running water.  Only then could I put away the axe that I sometimes used to chop watering holes for the cattle.

Canadian spring can be harsh. Our son was born in mid-March and the temperature that night dropped to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit. The largest snow we ever got on our farm just north of Fredericton, New Brunswick, came one day early in April 1973. It was thirty-three inches of heavy wet spring snow. Most years the grass was not long enough to turn the cattle out on the pasture until the first or second week in May.

Our coastal winter is pretty nice to us.  Spring here in the marshes along the big rivers of eastern North Carolina  is not nearly as harsh as it is in the hardwood hills of Canada’s New Brunswick. Actually our marsh and Raymond’s Gut, the inlet which drains it towards the White Oak River, is something of a wildlife refuge especially in winter. We need no weathermen or weather ladies to tell us when the weather is getting ready to turn nasty, the big birds will start showing up. There is nothing worse than a five egret storm with a great blue heron kicker.

We have a small salt marsh pond tucked in behind the marsh grasses just off the gut. It is sheltered almost on three sides by pine trees. In the worst storms the little pond provides an effective haven for great white egrets and great blue herons. They know it and they will often spend the night before a storm roosting in what I like to call the heron haven. I have written about the spot in an article , Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide.

It does not take much of a mental twist to say our marsh is also where those of us who shoveled too much snow and faced too many brutally cold days have come to permanently escape real winter.

Even now at the end of January we have lettuce growing outside and a few dandelions are already blooming. This evening I saw some daffodils pushing  their way through the ground.  We even have an amaryllis that lives outside and seems to thrive here by the marsh. It is already sending out a new shoot even before the ground hog gets to rule on winter.  Of course nothing the coastal winter has ever thrown at them has ever bothered our pansies.

While the rest of the world is focused on the super bowl, here in the marsh we are eager watching the signs that dictate the end of winter.  As spring and the warm mid-February sun gets closer and closer, it will not be long before ice on the edges of the marsh will be gone for another ten months.  Before we know it, there will be ripe local strawberries.

Here on the Southern Outer Banks we will continue to be on alert for our big marsh birds, but do not panic if we almost ignore the super bowl.  With a sunset like this one that closed out January 2015, who needs football games.  Spring and warm waters cannot be far away.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in birds, Crystal Coast, Out of doors, Weather | 1 Comment

Snowflake Patrol

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January 2011 Snow

January 2011 Snow

Even as we get older there remains an inner child in each of us that loves to see a little snow once in a while. Having grown up in North Carolina close to the Virginia border, I got to see my fair share of it.

Apparently it was not enough. College in New England only seemed to make me want to move further north and I ended up in Maritime Canada. After a decade and a half, we came back to the side of mountain in Roanoke, Virginia. In our nearly twenty years there, we “enjoyed” a number of memorable storms including the one of December 19, 2009.

A move to North Carolina’s Crystal Coast put an end to annual snow that rarely disappointed us in Roanoke. I have not really kept track of the snow here on the coast because it does not last long enough to be truly memorable. Most of the time it is gone by noon of the day it arrives.

We have seen snow a few times and I searched back and found a few pictures from the winter of 2011. I know that when it snows here, I always hurry out to get some pictures before it melts. That seemed to never be a problem in Canada because sometimes it came in November and never left until May.

There is a chance that we will see some snowflakes tomorrow morning, January 26, 2015. That is how I got the title for the post. When we lived on the mountain in Roanoke, it was often hard to get the Virginia Department of Transportation to come up our steep hill to plow. We used to joke that they were patrolling for snowflakes on Highway 419, the main four lane road on the western side of the Roanoke valley.

Snow can make things beautiful but it can be treacherous if you are not used to it. We never worried very much in Canada because the ditches were filled with huge snowbanks. You could slide into them with almost no damage. That was not the case in Roanoke and certainly here at the coast if you slide off the road, you might end up in the water.

We do have some northern experts here who claim the problem along the coast is that no one knows how to drive on snow. While there might be a degree of truth in that because what little snow we get turns almost immediately to ice. As any good Canadian will tell you, the secret to not getting hurt driving on ice is to not drive on ice unless you have real chains.

The snow that we get here is almost always soft spring Canadian snow. The snow that you get in Canada in January or that will hit Boston during this storm is not soft spring snow. It is very fine snow that blows but actually provides pretty good traction on the roads unless the road folks are trying to melt it. Then it too usually turns to ice.

A cold snow-packed road in January in Canada is a good driving experience. Actually there are many times when the snow-covered roads in January are actually better than the pavement when it starts to break up in April as the frost goes out of the ground.

I hope to never see a storm here on the coast like some that I endured in Roanoke and in Canada. We certainly do not have the equipment to handle it and it could be very dangerous.

Surprisingly I know some Canadians who will welcome this batch of snow. Frost often penetrates to six feet or more in eastern Canada. If there is no snow on the ground, the frost can go down even farther. My Carleton County, New Brunswick, friends alerted me that they had little snow on the fields and were hoping for some to protect the young trees they planted last spring. Snow is a great insulator and deep snow which leaves quickly in the spring is much preferred over deep frost which takes forever to disappear.

Still I will remain on the alert for our snowflakes because I know they will be fleeting.  Once they hit the ground which is probably still a warm 50F, they will melt. I am sure if any flakes show up on the coast, they will be all over the  social media sites. Here it will all be in fun fortunately.

However, farther north where blizzard conditions are expected, there will be people itching to try their new four wheel drive vehicles. Some of them will be convinced that their expensive vehicles render them nearly invincible. Unfortunately few understand that a good four-wheel drive vehicle just lets you get stuck in a more difficult way in a place farther from help.

My favorite response to the people who were really stuck used to be, “I can get your vehicle out of this mess as long as you do not mind it coming out in two pieces.”  That always made them pause.

The worst I was ever stuck was when one our 16,000 pound 100HP tractors slid into a shallow pond when I was blowing snow late one night. I had to leave it there in the minus twenty Fahrenheit weather. The next morning I drove back to it with our D4 bulldozer. I carefully used a chainsaw to cut through the ice that had claimed one huge tire. Then I hooked a 3/4 inch log chain to tractor and pulled it out with a neighbor driving it and me on the heavier bulldozer. We had hooked a portable generator to the tractor’s recirculating block heater to get the diesel engine started.

The moral is that it is better to not get stuck at all if possible unless you have lots and lots of equipment. My advice for those in the path of the blizzard arriving Tuesday and Wednesday is just sit back and wait for things to get cleaned up. No work or appointment is worth the mess that you can get into doing battle with a blizzard in a vehicle.

There is something nice about being trapped, warm, and having nothing you can do about your situation so enjoy it while you can. Work and outside responsibilities will be back soon enough.  Hopefully most of you will continue to enjoy electricity and the ones who lose it have learned to prepare for that possibility. It happened often to us on the farm.

Here on the Southern Outer Banks we will continue to be on alert for any stray snowflakes but do not worry, we will survive if none show up and we certainly do not need any extra northern snow sent our way.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Crystal Coast, Out of doors, Weather | 1 Comment

A Coastal Winter’s Gift of Warmth

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The Beach At The Point

The Beach At The Point

While I did not move to coastal North Carolina to escape the cold weather that has defined much of life, I appreciate every day of warmth that we get to enjoy here in western Carteret County and that includes the heat of summer.

I figured out before we moved here that the beaches of Bogue Banks are a little unique in that they are south facing. I have always hoped that little twist of nature gave us something of an upper hand on winter but I have no real proof.

What I do know is that we are in our ninth winter here on the North Carolina coast, I have yet to shovel any snow. While we have seen some snow and even twenty-four hours of ice, all the frozen stuff has been very transient.

All but one time, the frozen stuff melted before noon of the day it arrived. The one other time it melted by noon of the next day. Given that I have lived through weeks when the temperature did not get above freezing, I can handle twenty-four to thirty-six hours of cold weather.

That is especially true when we get a few breaks from winter like we have enjoyed in January 2015. The last time we were below freezing was Sunday, January 11 at 8 AM. It will be January 21, by the time I publish this post and the only freezing temperatures in sight are around the end of the month.

While some are calling this a cold winter and perhaps it is compared to some when we hardly got below freezing, so far in January 2015, we have endured a total of 42 hours below freezing. That puts us at 9% of our time below freezing. It looks like we might make it through at least part of January 28, before dipping back below freezing. That could put us at 93.5% above freezing through the first four weeks of January.

Aside from interesting numbers, the gift of warmth makes winter noticeably shorter. Instead of being held prisoner by cold, snow, and ice, we get to do much of what we do during the rest of the year. That includes hiking, boating and walking the beaches.

We are headed into our fourth straight day of above sixty degree temperatures. On Monday, January 19, I did a two mile walk along the beaches of the Point on Emerald Isle. The Point is a spot you try not to visit on a cold winter day. It is a huge expanse of sand and because of the distances to the parking lot, you are at the mercy of the elements if the weather changes.

Fortunately January 2015 has been kind to us and the elements  were very nice when I took my latest walk on the Point. It was also pretty nice when I took a ride down the river just a few days ago.

Still I never mind some brisk weather. It just makes me appreciate the really great weather when it gets here.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Beach, Boating, Crystal Coast, General Information, Out of doors, water, Weather | 1 Comment

Wintering At the Coast

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Sunset in Bogue Sound Seen From Emerald Isle Bridge

Sunset in Bogue Sound Seen From The Emerald Isle Bridge

When we moved to the North Carolina coast, we were not under the illusion that we would completely escape winter.  We were looking for some of the benefits of four seasons including the beautiful sunsets that are one of the treats that come with a little cold weather.

Perhaps all the childhood memories of snow in North Carolina’s Piedmont prepared me for the taste of snow we sometimes get at the beach. Then again it could have been the years living in Nova Scotia where it was normal to see snow and beaches in the same scene.

I have forgotten which was the first winter that we saw some snow at the beach, but I do know we got a real coastal winter back in 2011.

In spite of that tough winter in January of 2011, it did get better and I hung onto my belief that the Crystal Coast of North Carolina is a nice place to winter.

We are in the depths of winter currently. We have endured a day when it hardly got above freezing and seen a night when it actually got down to 15F which is the coldest temperature that we have measured in our over eight years here.

Fortunately we have not gotten any frozen precipitation to go with the cold temperatures yet this year. However, the possibility of snow will remain with us for a while. We have seen snow at times in December, January and even once for a few hours in early March.

In spite of the threat of a little winter weather, winter is far from unrelenting here on the coast. Our first ten days in January, 2015, have given us four days with highs between 50F and 59F. We have enjoyed another three days with high temperatures between 60F and 68F. There were even a couple of days when our low temperatures did not get below 60F. That leaves us with one day when we only got to 30F and another two days when the temperature reached 43F and 44F.

Usually if we can get to the middle of February, the sun starts making a huge difference. Most folks living here consider February warmth to be a birthright. We have managed to protect a couple of lettuce patches which we hope to enjoy in late January and early February.  Our tomato plants make it into garden most years sometimes as early as the middle of March.

The winter weather also brings lots of visitors to the marsh. Just today in my walks, I have seen our inlet’s kingfisher, a great blue heron, a great egret, a pelican, some blue birds, and the usual assortment of chickadees and other small birds. Earlier in the week I saw a river otter and another day we had a falcon perch outside our window. The otters can be very entertaining as they work the inlet for their seafood meals.

I will bundle up a little for a few more weeks and hope this year will be no worse weatherwise than 2014.  Even so I know that I will likely be back in my coastal uniform of shorts and t-shirt in a couple months if we are lucky.  Certainly in less than three months I will be wandering the beaches and testing the water for wading.  Even now I am keeping a sharp watch for a warm couple of days when I can head over for a January beach hike. Much like my January boat rides, the beach hike in the heart of winter is a tradition that I would like to keep going.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out just after New Year’s Day. This is the link to it.  Our Thanksgiving newsletter is available here on the web.

We hope to get our next newsletter out around Valentine’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Beach, birds, Boating, Crystal Coast, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | Comments Off

Nature’s Peace Will Flow Into You

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Fall in the Raymond's Gut Marsh

Fall in the Raymond’s Gut Marsh

John Muir once said the following.

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings, Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

I wish that I could have invited John Muir to join me in a walk along the salt marshes of North Carolina. I have seen my share of mountains from those in Alaska to the Canadian Rockies, the Tetons, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, and the Alps of Austria and Switzerland.

No mountain has ever brought me the peace that I feel walking or paddling the edges of the salt marshes. The sounds and beaches of North Carolina that surround the marshes are part of that world that I love so much. It is a world that has helped me renew my soul and achieve a balance in life that had escaped me for so many years.

I do not disagree that the redwoods and the tall mountains of the world are wonderful cathedrals to nature. However, I think marshes are even more important to our lives and what they give back to those who treasure them is priceless.  The marshes have certainly given me a new outlook on life.

The wonderful thing about the salt marshes and the waters that touch them is that they are alive with creatures that touch our existence in so many ways.

It is easy to fall in love with the beautiful feathered friends that I find on my trips through the marshes. However, it goes far beyond that. The other day I saw a fox chasing something along a marsh pond. I have watched river otters play on the shores of the marsh. I have been lucky enough to have an osprey dive straight into the water just yards from my kayak. I have caught fish in the marsh. I have seen an osprey  eat mullet in the trees along the marsh edges and watched great blue herons and great egrets stalk their prey in the shallows. I have stood in awe as fish and crabs fight over scraps we feed them.

The marsh is a world in itself. Birds and fishes live and die in the marsh. Nothing is wasted in the marsh. Whatever falls there is always recycled. An area of marsh which has been either undisturbed or repaired is a powerful source of life, food, and even healing for the soul.

Walking through the marsh, I see swirls of bait fish, ducks and other birds feeding in the marsh, hawks and osprey hunting for food, and sometimes from the edge of the marsh, I can even see bottle nosed dolphins feeding on fish that were born in the marsh.

The marsh can be covered with ice, stirred up by a strong wind, or nearly sucked dry by a strong storm, but given time it will recover. I have seen it flooded with over twenty inches of rain. Hurricanes have whipped it with winds, but the marsh is always there unless man attacks it and tries to drain it.

While I will always enjoying seeing mountains, I will always feel at home in the marsh. The salt marsh is a much more hospitable place even when winter finds us. You can live on top of a mountain, but you have to work very hard during three months to survive the next nine months. In the marsh there are only a couple of months a year when life is difficult. Much of the year our salt marshes are producing food that we can take advantage of relatively easily. Some years we have harvested vegetables from the salt marsh almost twelve months out of the year.

So if I had to pick a place to live, it would be here on the salt marsh. My odds of survival are much better and the peace that I have found is better than I have found on any high mountain.

If you want to find out more about this special area, we send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It is available here on the web. You can read our October newsletter online at this link.

We hope to get our next newsletter around New Year’s Day.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in birds, Crystal Coast, fishing, Kayaking, Marshes, Out of doors | Comments Off

Mixing Traditions With Waves

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White Oak River

White Oak River

North Carolina is an interesting place to live for more than just the spectacular scenery and friendly people. It is a mixing pot of traditions and people that is never boring.

That North Carolina is an attractive, diverse area was confirmed by “Which of the 11 American nations do you live in?,” a recent article in the Washington Post.

You will find North Carolina to be one of the few states to have three of the nations within its border. Greater Appalachia, the Deep South, and Tidelands are all well represented in North Carolina. Beyond that we have a healthy representation of people who have moved in from Yankeedom and the Midlands. More people are moving in here than are leaving.

Our area, the Crystal Coast, is more than just a popular vacation area. It is a home to many of us and a place where we enjoy the mix of traditions that are North Carolina. While there are some unique holiday traditions like Christmas Flotillas here on the coast, many like neighborhood caroling are familiar to everyone. We do have some interesting food traditions that have a long history.

The cultural tidbits we see the television show, A Chef’s Life add weight to my view that people just don’t come here for the pleasant weather. The Chef and the Farmer Restaurant tries to make use of locally grown food prepared with an eastern touch. North Carolinians have a long history of great food which I like to think comes from being close to the soil. Some of those old traditions come out in the television show and many of them are part of our family’s life.

Much like some of the characters in a Chef’s Life, I still have cousins in their late seventies who continue to grow and preserve food much like their parents did at the turn of the last century. Almost everyone that I know grows a few tomatoes. While none of our older relatives are still killing hogs in the fall like I remember from my youth, they still enjoy their country sausage and sugar cured country ham.

In a certain sense we are defined by the traditions that we treasure and often in a place like North Carolina those traditions go through a lot of cross pollination.

Our family grew up in the western part of the state with most of our family history centered around Yadkin, Surry, and Forsyth counties. Even in the days when that was area was a long way from the North Carolina coast, my father used to enjoy a barrel of oysters each Christmas. My wife’s father used to enjoy salt fish from the coast. As soon as I could drive I was making summer pilgrimages to the coast and returning with fresh shrimp and flounder.

Now that I live here on the Crystal Coast, I enjoy attending oyster roasts. An oyster roast is coastal tradition where you feast on all you can eat steamed oysters. The last steamed oysters that I enjoyed came from the Boiler Room, a sister restaurant to the Chef and the Farmer. While oysters are popular and shrimp are never far from our plates, there are many other Southern foods that form the basis of our family holiday meals in North Carolina.

One of the holiday traditions in our family is to have country ham for one of our breakfasts. It goes back to the days when a treasured ham was cut to celebrate the season. We also try to have some country sausage during the holiday week. This course is a throwback to the days of killing hogs in the late fall. Instead of killing hogs, we usually we settle on Neese’s Sausage as the closest thing that you can get to homemade sausage from a grocery store. It is appropriate that Neese’s is a North Carolina company and the distribution of Neese’s does not go much farther north than southwest Virginia. I have killed hogs but not since I left our Nova Scotia farm many years ago. However, I still make my own sausage regularly.  I was never successful in curing my own bacon, but I certainly know how to cook it.

During the Christmas season my mother always made some sugar cake which I suspect had something to do with all the Moravians in the Winston-Salem area where we lived. My wife and I had our sugar cake early this year. We bought one from Dewey’s Bakery in Winston-Salem.

We try to do something a little different each year, but it usually revolves around pork and sometimes beef. They were the cold weather meats in the early days. Chicken was hot weather food.

Along with all the meat, our meals always have plenty of vegetables including either Irish potatoes or sweet potatoes. Each area has its favorite greens, but it turns out that collards are enjoyed in both the east and the west. There appears to be something of a cultural divide on green beans. Few folks in eastern North Carolina have even heard of white half runner beans, but many folks from the west will not eat anything but white half runner beans. Greensboro seems to about as far east as you can buy them.

There is no doubt that cornbread probably united the whole state and any corrupting sweet cornbread probably has a Yankee origin. Then there are grits. I grew up in western North Carolina and was unfamiliar with grits until I went away to high school in Tennessee. Grits are a staple in the east and I enjoy them with any dish but they are especially tasty in shrimp and grits.

I would be remiss to not discuss one of our comfort food winter favorites, Chicken and Dumplings or Chicken and Pastry as it is called in the east. There is a fair bit of disagreement on whether western Chicken and Dumplings has flat noodles or puffy biscuits, but I will live by the rules put down by my mother who called the chicken dish with flat noodles Chicken and Dumplings. Life is simple on the coast, the dish is without debate Chicken and Pastry.

I like to think that one of the most unifying treats is peanut brittle. It is a great challenge to make in the east but in the west with its colder temperatures and slabs of granite, candy making is a natural thing during the holiday season. Peanut brittle made in the mountains would not be the same without those fresh peanuts from eastern North Carolina.

I could talk about how the western chicken stew is roughly equivalent to an eastern chowder party, but it has been so long since I have been at either that I will let that topic pass until I can attend some to refresh my memories.

Our state is very ecumenical with its hush puppies and rolls. Hush puppies go with barbecue or fried fish and rolls go with everything else.

North Carolina is a wonderful spot for enjoying some great holiday traditions beyond food. We have even shipped a few crab pot Christmas trees to the west where Fraser firs seem to reign supreme.

As Christmas 2014 slides away, we will remember some wonderful meals and family time. Maybe we even added a new tradition, the flying of the drone. My son gave himself a drone and we got some amazing pictures of our beautiful area with it. The one included with the post is courtesy of my son’s drone.

The Crystal Coast is a wonderful place to spend the holidays. You can even back off your social media activities a little since you will be surrounded by friendly people and scenery that is hard to top. If you are lucky you might be eating some of our traditional holiday meals.

Several more of our family recipes including one for shrimp and grits are in our Emerald Isle Travel Guide available as a Kindle book for $3.99 or as a color picture filled paperback for around twenty dollars.

We also send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It is available here on the web. You can read our October newsletter online at this link.

We are a week late sending out our next newsletter but we hope to get it out the week before the New Year.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Crystal Coast, General Information, Southern Outer Banks, Special Places | Comments Off

December On The White Oak

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Headed Out Raymond's Gut To White Oak River

Headed Out Raymond’s Gut To White Oak River

When you live next door to the spawning ground of Nor’easters, life can be interesting especially if your home borders some water like ours does.

We just had another storm form off the coast. We did not get a lot of rain from it like the folks farther up the coast and even into Canada but we had plenty of wind for a couple of days. We are used to wind here, but sometimes it even surprises us. This time the wind was strong enough to push one of the heavy chairs off our patio. It only took a minute or two to locate it and return it to its spot, but I should have taken the missing chair as a warning to check around the house.

Instead of doing that, I went on my normal morning hike around the boardwalk that surrounds our neighborhood clubhouse. Much to my surprise I saw a kayak paddle floating in the edge of the marsh grass on the other side of the water from the boardwalk. I knew without thinking that my spare kayak paddle had blown off our dock into the water. I also knew that if I did not retrieve it pretty quickly, it would likely head down river.

Seeing the paddle in the water sent me scurrying home. I quickly let my wife know that I was going to put the boat in the water and retrieve my paddle. Fortunately our skiff is on a lift just behind the house.

It took only moments to put on my life jacket,  load my gear, get the boat in the water, and head over to where I spotted my paddle. Retrieving it involving cutting the motor off, drifting over to it, and fishing it out with the boat hook.

I was happy to have my paddle back but since I already had the boat in the water, I decided to ride out to the river and check the water temperature which I try to do regularly. There are only a handful of weeks, usually in January or February, when I do not make it out on the river.  Even during the winter is river is good for your soul.

Last week when I went out on the river, the water had warmed back almost to 60F. On this December 10, trip I had my suspicions that it might be a lot colder. On the day before my trip, our high temperature was 42F.

Most of the time the water that is close by us is a moderating influence to our weather. The ocean takes the longest time to cool down as we approach winter. Then there is our neighbor, the White Oak River, which cools down faster than the ocean. Finally there is the water in the marsh or the gut that leads to the river. The water temperature there fluctuates more than the river or the sound because it is the shallowest water. It can warm quickly on a sunny day but cool quickly on a chilly night.

Since I expected my trip to be a short one, I did not bother to track down my gloves which I have not used since last spring. The stainless steel wheel on the boat was definitely cold, but I managed get out the inlet and take a quick trip at 31 MPH trip down the river. I did not go far before I was quickly reminded that out on the river your air temperature in a boat is pretty close to the water temperature.

Our average high temperature for December 10, is 57F. When I went out on the river, I found the water temperature to be just under 46F. I am guessing today’s high of 55F was probably a little cooler because of all the cold water that is around. It was certainly cooler out on the water.

In the winter the water around us makes our air temperature a little cooler during the day, but it also helps us stay a little warmer during very cold nights.

The river is a quiet place in the winter. The fish have either gone up the creeks or headed off shore.  That being the case the fishermen have followed them.  About the only sign of life on the river would the water birds and the occasional commercial fisherman checking his crab pots.

While it is easy to tarry out on the river for much of the year, usually December through February does not offer up much weather that invites you to relax out on the water.  We do get some ice sometimes and with the river already this cold, the right conditions could bring us a skim of early morning ice any day now.

Even when the water is cold, the river still is a powerful attraction. I will often leave work a little early and go out and enjoy the sunset. Sometimes I will bundle up and make the ten minute run down to Swansboro where the river meets Bogue Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway. There is something really nice about zipping down the river if you can manage to keep from freezing while doing it.  An open boat at over 30MPH creates its own windchill and if you add a cold north wind, things can get frosty quickly.

Still as you can see from this slide show of a White Oak River boat ride from January 2013, it is not unusual to see water temperatures in the fifties instead of the forties.

Living along the White Oak River not far from the Emerald Isle beaches gives us lots of options even during the cold part of the year and one of them is to enjoy some winter boating when the sunshine, winds, and temperature cooperate. I have found that some time on the water even when it is chilly helps make winter just a little shorter.

If chilly water is not concern and you are ready to visit, you will find some great information in our free online guide to Emerald Isle.  It is a great time of year to visit and enjoy the peace that comes to our Crystal Coast waters.  If you think you might be interested in living here, try visiting The Crystal Coast, Saltwater on my feet.   There are 129 posts there.

We also send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  It is available here on the web.  You can read our October newsletter online at this link.

We will be sending out our next newsletter the week just before Christmas.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Boating, Out of doors, Southern Outer Banks, water, Weather | Comments Off

On The Beach After Thanksgiving

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Emerald Isle Beach near the Point

Emerald Isle Beach near the Point

While there are people who would never consider going to the beach for Thanksgiving, our North Carolina beaches get many visitors.

Somehow things seem to slow down here at the coast as the holidays approach. We locals slide into our late fall routines and our visitors seem to enjoy the unhurried way holidays play out here on the coast.  It is all part of the quiet small town life that is the essence of Carteret County.

You do not have to be a visitor to enjoy the beach around Thanksgiving. Even in a year like 2014, when the first cold weather arrived a little earlier than normal, the beach is not off limits.  You can usually find people on the beach in November and December.  Sometimes even January provides us some great beach days.

I have been biding my time for a beach visit. With some unexpected cold weather, the thought of a hike at the normally breezy Point at Emerald Isle just did not seem like a good idea.

Our seasonal reversal when the beach area becomes consistently warmer than the mainland has yet to arrive.  That being the case, figuring out what to wear on a late November beach hike was the biggest challenge besides actually finding a nice day for a hike in this strangely cool November.

Since our unusually cold weather around the third week of November, our weather has been working its way back towards more normal temperatures. Sunday, November 30, appears to mark the beginning of some mostly normal weather with high temperatures in the mid sixties and low temperatures in the mid forties.

I took advantage of November 30, the warm Sunday afternoon that ended the month, and headed over to Emerald Isle for my beach hike. It was sixty-one Fahrenheit when I left our home near the White Oak River. I watched my car thermometer and it bounced to 62F going over Bogue Sound but fell back to 61F by the time I parked at the Station St. parking lot.  The whole trip only took about ten minutes since there is little if any traffic this time of year.

My normal hike at the beach is about two miles. It often depends on what looks interesting and what else I have planned. I stuck to my two mile hike this Sunday because I hoped to get back home for a quick boat ride on the White Oak River.

As always I found changes at the Point since my last hike. I think the most dramatic difference is the disappearance of this water feature that cut across the end of the Point earlier this fall.  The area now is just sand.

A close second is the elevation of the sand by the beach vehicle access ramp at the end of Inlet Drive by Bogue Court. The height of the sand just keeps growing in this area. Considering that seven years ago there was no sand there, it is even more impressive.  If you are down on the lower portions of the beach, new dunes growing make it impossible to see what remains of Coast Guard Channel.

The beach was very peaceful with only a handful of trucks and just a few visitors walking. There were two guys kite surfing over by the Point, but I did not see a single boat in the Inlet.  There was a friendly brown pelican, some sanderlings, and a couple of rudy turnstones.

I solved my clothing dilemma by wearing a swim suit, long-sleeved t-shirt and a light nylon windbreaker. I might have gotten by with just the t-shirt but as soon as the sun starts dropping things cool off quickly at the Point.  There were places the windbreaker felt good.  I did see some tracks of someone who had walked the beach barefooted earlier in the day.

My walk lasted less than an hour so I was off the beach before four PM and headed home to take advantage of the last light.  As the sun started dipping below the pine trees, I headed out our inlet, Raymond’s Gut.  I planned a short run to test our boat since we just put it back at our dock after some repairs.

Everything worked fine, but the water temperature in the river was down under 53F which I think is considerably colder than last year at the same time. Water that cold usually means there are no fish lurking on my favorite oyster rocks.  There were no clouds in the sky so waiting around for a sunset did not make a lot of sense. I headed home knowing my wife had some tasty Senate Navy Bean Soup with Kale waiting for me.

It was a great day which started with a 1.5 mile hike around the marsh early in the morning. Next came the first Sunday in Advent at our church. We enjoyed some tasty  leftover turkey for lunch and I followed that with my nearly 2 mile hike at the beach which did not include walking on water in spite of the Google map.  The day finished with a short but fun trip out on the river with the return ride being just in time for a nice sunset filtered by some pine trees.  The first week of December looks as good or better than Sunday, November 30.  Certainly December 1, has turned out very nice.

If the water warms a little and it should, I can think about taking the kayak out one last time before winter.  It would not be that unusual.

If you are ready to visit, you will find some great information in our free online guide to Emerald Isle.  It is a great time of year to visit and enjoy the peace that comes to our Crystal Coast waters.  If you think you might be interested in living here, try visiting The Crystal Coast, Saltwater on my feet.   There are 129 posts there.

We also send out an almost monthly newsletter. Our most recent newsletter was sent out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  It is available here on the web.  You can read our October newsletter online at this link.

We will be sending out our next newsletter the week just before Christmas.

Sign-Up for monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Posted in Beach, birds, Boating, Crystal Coast, Out of doors, water, Weather | Comments Off