Hello from Emerald Isle


bougesoundwmThe season is officially open and our first visitors are here on the coast.   All of us would be happier with better weather but you take what you get with weather.  Fortunately this cooler than normal first day of the beach season did not scare away our early season visitors.  This last weekend of March, 2013, was actually one of the warmer set of days during the last half of the month.  Sunday would have been a very nice day without the constant wind blowing at ten to twenty miles per hour.

We have enjoyed only a few really nice days in March including the Saturday of the annual Emerald Isle Saint Patrick’s Day festival.  However, even the nice days have been cooler than normal.  In March of 2012 most of our temperatures were above normal.  This year most of the temperatures have been ten to twenty degrees below normal.  We did get a cool spell in early April of last year.  Maybe this year we will get a warm spell.

Spring 2013, has not given us a consistent period of warm temperatures like we got in the spring of 2012.  The result is that the area’s waters remain relatively cold and when the wind is blowing off the water like it is today, it feels cold even when the thermometer tells you that it is not particularly cold.

My tomatoes went into the ground just one day earlier this year, March 18, 2013, than they did in 2012 when I planted them on March 19.  However,  they have grown very little and today’s constant wind will not help them any.

Last year, the final week of March was so warm that the water was begging to be waded.  This year, we had three days that started with frost.  It took until the end of the week before we managed to barely work our way into the sixties.  The water just does not looking inviting yet.

Still spring is moving along at its own pace while Carteret County and its beach towns are getting the last few details ironed out before a new beach season.  The beaches look to be in great shape to start the season.  Just a few days ago there were still pipes on the beach from the winter beach nourishment projects.

Given the less than desirable weather, I was wondering if the crowds would still come.  Finding an answer was almost easy. I was doing some mapping of trails late on Friday afternoon so I was across the bridge a couple of times.  Fortunately the bridge repair project is on hold for a few days because there was a lot of traffic coming across from the mainland. Traffic on the bridge is always a good way to judge the number of beach visitors.

I took the time to drive down to heart of the town of Emerald Isle, the stoplight by Bogue Inlet Drive which leads to the fishing pier.   On my short trip there I noticed all the signs of a good early season crowd.  Jordan’s Seafood looked to be packed and the Food Lion parking lot also had  only a few unoccupied spaces and it was busier than I have seen it since the holidays.  When I drove over on the mainland to T&W’s Oyster Bar and circled through their parking lot, there were no open parking spots and plenty of cars were parked on the grass.

While the trails at both the Croatan Recreation area in Cedar Point and the ones in Emerald Woods were not crowed, they are in great shape for the season.  I walked the big loop trail at Croatan and the Emerald Woods trail late Friday afternoon. They are two of my favorite trails.  I love the bridges across the marshes on the Croatan Trails and The Emerald Isle Bridge also looks nice in the afternoon sun from the little pier at Emerald Woods.

The Food Lion grocery store on Emerald Isle might be a little crowded, but I suspect all the grocery stories are busy with all the holiday meals being planned.  I know the stores  in Morehead City were packed on this holiday weekend.  Saturday I picked up a toner cartridge at Staples and we drove over to Belk’s but decided not to stop when we saw the packed parking lot.

The vast majority of us welcome the tourists back with open arms each year.   Tourists are our area’s lifeblood and help justify some of the stores and services that we enjoy all year.  Our visitors are not here very long.   At best they have three months or so to enjoy the beaches and area waters before they leave everything to us.  Those of us who live here enjoy the beaches and water almost all year.

Even during the peak season it is pretty easy to get away from the crowds here on the Crystal Coast.  All you have to do is walk out on the Point and go beyond the houses.  The number of people drops off dramatically.

I am hoping to have the 2013 version of our Emerald Isle Travel Guide ready in the next week to ten days so a cooler than normal start to the season just gives me a little more time to finish.  Even with the cooler weather it is still beautiful here on the coast along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  The picture at the top of the post was taken from the pier at Emerald Woods looking east along Bogue Sound. Consider it a  welcome to the beach picture.

I hope our visitors will love the area enough to want to know more about it and perhaps even get one of our travel guides for 2013.  The new one will be available before the middle of April and will be priced at $4.99.



Our Coastal Spring Is On Track



All it takes is a little slightly cold weather and the warmth loving souls living along North Carolina’s coast start to believe that spring has forsaken us.  The truth is that it is just weather. If you can be patient and wait just a little, the weather will change.

This spell of cool weather is not like a drought which can start in the spring and get worse as the year progresses.  We will be shedding clothes here on the Southern Outer Banks long before the memory of these cool nights has had a chance to fade away.

This is nothing new.  I offer up as evidence a few tidbits.  This comes from a post, Spring is Getting Here,  that I wrote on March 27, 2009.

Spring always takes its time arriving here at the coast.  We get some of the trappings of spring.  The Bradford pear trees bloom. Dandelions bloom.  Our daffodils bloom so early that they almost seem like a winter flower.  In truth spring is a slow event on the coast because the water warms up slowly.

Inland spring seem to happen quicker.  The inland varieties of grass even turn green quicker than ours.  In the end the slowly warming waters moderate the summer heat for us usually until July.  Even then we get cool ocean breezes which usually protect us from the heat extremes.

That statement pretty well covers what happens in spring here in Carteret County.  Our normally protracted spring is not a bad way to have spring. It is also not the only way that spring is experienced down here on the coast.

Last year I wrote a post called Spring on the Crystal Coast.  In it I had this to say about spring.

The spring of 2012 is my sixth spring on the Crystal Coast.  They have all proved to be different.

I enjoy spring unfolding along the coast. It is a lot more subtle than spring coming to the mountains.

While each spring has been different, there are things we can count on in our roller-coaster of spring weather.

Those things are “wind, blue skies, and moderate temperatures.” I would add that in most years we experience an abundance of sunshine.  I will certainly take our coastal spring to what you might find in the mountains or the areas to the north of us.

We are on track with our weather.  The Bradford pear trees are blooming and the daffodils are struggling to get all their blooms open.  My tomato plants are in the ground and they went in only one day earlier than I planted them last year. There was a threat of frost this week but it was just a threat which is often the case here by the water.

Spring in the mountains or the North is not so nice.  It is punctuated with snow and sometimes lots of it.  All you have to do is look at this picture sent by our friend, Alberta, who lives between Hartland and Florenceville, New Brunswick.  It was taken the morning of March 20, 2013 just after a snow storm delivered 20 inches of snow.  It was enough to keep her husband, George, busy moving snow for a few hours.  Or you could glance at this picture taken by Brenda, another New Brunswick friend, who lives a little over 70 miles away in Tay Creek, New Brunswick.  Brenda told me that her husband, Kerry, only reported 16 inches of snow.

Actually you don’t have to go that far away to experience March snow.  For over twenty years we lived in Roanoke, Virginia on the side of a mountain.  It is just over 300 miles north and west of the Cape Carteret area.  Spring snow is nothing unusual in the Virginia mountains.  In fact those very same mountains and perhaps even parts of North Carolina might be in for a taste of snow this next to last weekend in March, 2013, as a big storm swings across the country.  Roanoke has a winter storm warning with the possibility of one to three inches of snow.

Fortunately snow just slows down spring but never stops it.  One of my favorite things about living in the South is that you can watch spring unfold more than once if you plan your travels carefully.  We have often traveled from Roanoke, Virginia, to Cornelius, North Carolina, and then made our way back to the beach.  You can leave Roanoke with spring breaking out all over the place, descend back into winter as you climb the mountains to Hillsville, Virginia, only to have a full blown spring unfold in front of you as you come down Fancy Gap into North Carolina’s Piedmont.

In 2012 we did one of those trips.  By the time we got to Cornelius we found dogwoods in full bloom and our granddaughter wading in the water in Lake Norman. It almost felt like summer.  When we got to the coast, things had cooled off and we got to enjoy another spring.

Every year is different.  You can read about March, 2011, and March, 2012, and compare them yourself.  I know only one thing for certain about the weather.  It will not be long before we will be playing the heat pump game.  Only weeks after that we will be hoping for any cool air that we can find.  Then we will retreat to the water, and none of us have a problem with that.

I for one am not going to wish away the pleasant spring breezes so quickly.  While spring has been cool this year compared to 2012, it is predicted to warm up once we get through the last week of March.  Heat is welcome, but it eventually becomes an unwelcome guest sometime in August.

Still enjoying the differences in the seasons is one of the reasons we live on the North Carolina Coast and plan to stay here.  I will choose August’s heat instead of snow and cold temperatures any day. Variable weather in the spring and heat in August is just part of living on the Crystal Coast.


Life on the Marsh Edges

By the marsh's edge along Raymond's Gut

By the marsh’s edge along Raymond’s Gut

I really enjoy living here on the North Carolina coast.  With all the hiking on the beaches that I do during the non-winter months, some might think that we put down roots here only because of my love for the sandy beaches of the Southern Outer Banks.  There is some truth to that, but to be honest the marshes of eastern North Carolina have my heart.

I love to visit the beaches but having a home in the marshes is like being in the center of the action.  As this Fairfax County, Virginia,  public school website explains “Marshes probably support more life than any other type of habitat.”

To live along the edge of a marsh is a real privilege.  We see a great variety of creatures.  It is easy to find feathered, finned, and furred creatures here along the marshes of Raymond’s Gut most of the year.   We also have our share of shelled critters as well.  All you have to do is scroll through one of my photo collections from the last three months to get an idea of all the activity that happens in the marsh.

With so many aquatic birds around, it is safe to assume that we also have a lot of fish. You can confirm that by visiting my fall 2012 album which shows some of the red drum, trout, and flounder that I had fun catching mostly from my kayak last fall.

While I love getting warm saltwater on my feet over the beach,  an early morning hike along the marsh edge can only be beaten by sliding my kayak in the water and paddling along the marsh grasses.   The view from the water in a kayak is often stunning.  It is not unusual for me to park my kayak in some marsh grass and just enjoy being part of nature.  Sometimes I will just sit in the kayak and watch the sun slide down below the horizon.  Other times I enjoy gliding through the waters of Raymond’s Gut.

The fall of 2012 was truly a great time for kayaking and fishing here in the marsh.  I will remember it for all the puppy drum I caught if for no other reason.  The winter of 2012-13 has also been a really special time in the marsh. Many birds and creatures seek protection from the harsh winds and weather and this year has been no exception. I have enjoyed a Kestrel which has been visiting this winter.  Our many bluebirds have been even bluer than normal.

Spring can be an even better time of the year because we often get to see some new life.  We are already seeing some baby fish and we have high hopes that our pair of river otters might have some babies where they have been staying most of the winter.  We usually have one pair of Canada geese that give us some babies to watch.  Last year I found a nest of pileated woodpeckers.  This is a picture of one of them poking his head out of the nest.

Once summer is here, things get really special in the marsh.  I did this summer morning in the marsh slide show called Mackerel Morning not too long after we moved here.  When the water is nice and warm beyond the marshes, the marsh  just becomes a base for other trips like the one described in the post called Blue Water mornings.

One thing that often surprises people about our marsh is that we seem to have very few mosquitoes.  I cannot explain it, but I know homes in the woods not far from us seem to have more of the biting insects.  I am not going to try to explain why that is the case.  I am just going to enjoy it.

The marsh has turned out to be a great place to write.  The natural beauty helps to sharpen your focus and certainly makes it easier to write about other natural areas.  I just finished my third book, A Taste for the Wild, Canada’s Maritimes.  I know living where I live now helped me remember those beautiful and surprisingly similar places we lived earlier in our lives.