Every year we get to a time when it make sense to declare it winter at the beach. It doesn’t happen with the first shot of cold air, but some years it does come earlier than other years.
In 2010-11, winter descended onto the beach early in December. It only began to relent a little by the last week of January. This year has been completely different. We have not had the snow that made last year’s winter one that we will remember.
This week we did finally get an inch of rain that reminded me of the rain that came last year towards the end of January. With 2012 starting out dry, we needed the rain.
This has actually been a very nice winter so far. We have seen a number of days including today, January 12, 2012, make it into the sixties and sometimes even the seventies.
Still, even here along the peaceful shores of the Crystal Coast, winter eventually touches us. When there is a near blizzard in Chicago, some of those cold winds usually make their way down the slopes of the Appalachians to our coastal plains.
When the cold winds come after the water has cooled well below sixty degrees Fahrenheit, it becomes winter at the beach. It’s not that it is a bad time to be at the beach. It is just very different from those days when wearing shorts and wading in the water is standard practice. Of course in the winter, there are no crowds.
I had hoped to go for a walk on the Point today, but I was delayed by some things that needed doing. We didn’t even head over to the beach until after 4 PM. By that time it was too late to attempt a long hike at the Point since we lose our daylight around 5:20 PM.
With the dwindling daylight in mind, we headed up to Third Street since it is a short walk to the ocean from the parking lot. Our trip east along the beach gave us plenty of hints that winter has come to the beach.
While there are few people over the beach this time of year, usually on nice days there will be a handful of cars in the parking lot at Eastern Regional Access. We only saw one. When we got to the Third Street parking lot, there were no other cars.
As we walked up the ramp to the viewing platform, I could hear the waves crashing. It wasn’t long before I felt the bite of the wind and zipped up my light jacket. I knew that Glenda, my wife, would be back in the car in moments. As I walked down on the beach, I saw the characteristic coarse red sand that we often see after the wind has blown a lot along the beach.
Then I looked down the beach and saw the mist in the air. As the waves were crashing, little bits of foam were being blown towards the shore. Then I got the final sign that winter had arrived at the beach. My hands started to get cold. My hands are like little heaters so when they start feeling the cold, the wind has to be blowing off some chilly waters as it was today.
My eyes scanned the beach, but I didn’t see a single bird or another human being not even a fisherman. Glenda had retreated to the car almost at the moment that I walked down the steps to the beach so I wasn’t really surprised to find myself alone on the shore. The water was pretty stirred up but not stormy by any means. Still even with the blue skies and sunshine, it was clearly winter on the beach.
I didn’t stay very long on the beach, and I enjoyed the sensation of my hands warming as I got back to the car. While I know that days for beach walks will have to be carefully chosen for another month or so, there will be days when the wind isn’t blowing, and the beach will be very pleasant. I will manage to find some of those days.
As we drove west along the beach toward the town of Emerald Isle, our windshield got a covering of the mist that often blows in from the shore during the winter. It is usually so light that it is hardly noticeable until it builds up for a few days, and then you wonder how your windshield got so messy. While it seemed that few businesses were open in town besides Jordan’s Seafood, there were some signs of life at Food Lion and Emerald Plantation. However, I suspect most summer beach visitors would not recognize the Food Lion parking lot in January. I was sad to see our only local bookstore has closed, but that is just reality in the days of Kindles.
As we crossed the bridge, I was reminded that winter is that time of year when being over on the mainland has some real advantages. With the shelter of the pine forests and the luck of having a large south facing area along one side of our house, it is rare during winter when it isn’t pleasant by our home along Raymond’s Gut. On a warm afternoon, it can be ten to twenty degrees warmer in my tomato beds than it is over on the shore.
It will be June or July before the coolness of the ocean breezes will be a benefit once again. Until then I will wander the woods along the marshes near our home and watch for those sunny windless days when the winter beach is an inviting place.