The North Carolina Miracle

North Carolina Waters

North Carolina Waters

The other day someone commented to us that the state where they were born was a good place “to be from.”  The implication was that their home state was not a good place to live.  Somehow those of us who were born in North Carolina have never had to worry about that.

When you are young, you spend very little time worrying about where you were born.  Just about all my world was North Carolina and I thought about little else.  In the summer when we vacationed, we either went to the North Carolina mountains or to the North Carolina beaches.

I cannot remember meeting anyone from outside the state in those early years.  I do have vague memories of one of my teachers not being from our state but I think she went to college here.   I can remember a few students moving to school but if they were from outside the state,  that did not stick with me.

I can remember going for a vacation once at Virginia Beach and another time at Folly Beach in South Carolina.  Both trips just reminded us how lucky we were to be living in North Carolina.  Sometime after I was ten years old, I remember visiting Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  At the time it was a quiet, small town in the Smoky Mountains, and my mother developed a fondness for it.  Even at that early age, North Carolina’s Outer Banks still had my heart.

I loved to go to the beaches.  My mother would fill her 1952 Ford with my teenage cousins and off we would go with a picnic basket and thoughts of sand and surf.  Visiting the beach for those of us from rural North Carolina and in the fifties and sixties that covered just about the whole state was a magical journey.

It was so different from the rest of our summer that its impact stayed with us for a long time.  Our lives in North Carolina’s Piedmont were not bad by any means, but they were lives defined by small towns.   In Lewisville, North Carolina, where I spent my early years, the town had a feed mill, two general stores, a hardware, a post office, a doctor who made house calls, eventually a small grocery store, and a tiny restaurant.  We did have a lot of churches.  Everyone went to church.  In the summer, we wandered the woods, fished if we could find a spot, and dreamed of going to the beach.

Only when I turned twelve did we find a Boy Scout troop to join.  It was several miles away but in a year or so we started our own troop in Lewisville.  Being a Boy Scout was a wonderful thing for the boys that found their way to the troop.  You got to go off to summer camp.  If you added summer camp to a beach vacation of a couple of weeks, and some swimming lessons via the old activity bus at school, you ended up with a pretty nice summer.  Sunday afternoons were always for visiting relatives and mine who were centered in Yadkin County always seemed to have homemade ice cream or watermelon for us to enjoy under the shade trees.  That we had a friend who used to bring us some of his vinegar-based barbecue from Kernersville to sample just completes the picture.

It was a North Carolina life which kept me from being worried about others having a better life.  We had lots of fried chicken on Sunday, plenty of summer tomato sandwiches and home-canned green beans all through the winter.  That others might be living a different way was of no concern.

When I got sent off to military school in Tennessee at the ripe old age of thirteen, the whole experience reinforced my love of North Carolina.  In North Carolina after school in the fall we put shotguns on our shoulders and walked the woods and fields looking for small game.  On the weekends we often went camping with other Boy Scouts.  In Tennessee, I marched with a M1 on my shoulder and we only got to leave campus on Saturday afternoon for a little fun and then again on Sunday morning for church.

For reasons I still do not understand, I ended up in college in Cambridge which somehow led me to a life in Canada.  That I married a North Carolina girl is no surprise.  The first time that we vacationed with our children on a North Carolina beach, I suspect the seeds were planted for us to come back to North Carolina and eventually live near the beaches.

That our state has changed a lot in the last fifty years is unquestionable.  I take some degree of pride in the fact that one of my college roommates from Massachusetts now lives in North Carolina.  In those early years he sometimes kidded me about being from North Carolina. Now he is learning to appreciate our great state.  Going to college in the Northeast from the South in the sixties meant you were one of a very few from our state who made it into what had been almost private clubs for many students from the Northeast.

While some might have challenged my birth state, I do not think I was ever ashamed of being born in North Carolina.  That I once ran barefooted on red dirt roads is something that I remember with pride.  I can still hear the shouts of fun as we played capture the flag at night with fireflies all around us.  I remember the cold mountain waters that we swam in as Boy Scouts.  Most of all I remember the smell of the salt air and the warm ocean waters on my feet as we wandered the beaches.

North Carolina has changed but in a sense it still has much of the charm that it had in my youth.  Perhaps youngsters can no longer roam the woods after school like we did, but they can still walk North Carolina’s wonderful beaches and still camp in its magnificent mountain parks.

I am proud that it is still possible to have a wonderful vacation on North Carolina’s coast.  I might even argue that you can even have a vacation reminiscent of those we had in the fifties and sixties if you leave the smartphone and iPods at home.

To me, that it is the real miracle of North Carolina.  Fifty years of transformation have not destroyed the beauty of our state. It is still a good place to be born and a great place to live.  I hope that does not change.

As for those beach vacation of my youth, do not miss the free download days, May 1 & 2, for our new A Week at the Beach – The 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is a beach lover’s guide to loving the beach.

Spring Waters


Raymond’s Gut Inlet from my Kayak

Each spring presents its own challenges.  The spring of 2013 has shown us yet another pattern.   There is not nearly as much warmth as we enjoyed during the spring of 2012.  Moisture also has not been lacking like it was in the spring of 2011.  Even during the last days of April we have seen some early morning temperatures in the low forties.

Still it has been a pleasant spring and the only serious heat we have endured was on a trip to Northern Virginia during their brief hot spell around April 10.  It has been a while since I have managed to slide my kayak into the water, but a few days ago I felt the need to change that.

Maybe it was just the nice day and the blue sky reflected on the water that got me motivated to paddle out to the river.  It could have been the fishing license that I renewed earlier in the day or just the desire to get away from my desk and the computer.

The computer has been my ball and chain recently as I have worked to finish our revised Emerald Isle Travel Guide for 2013.  Writing a book can be a very solitary experience but with all the technical challenges of self-publishing, it can also be frustrating.

I certainly needed some time in my kayak.  It was also nice to wet a line even though I did not see a fish other than a mullet which seemed to be trying to jump into my kayak.  I have never had a lot of early spring fishing luck.  However, as I have often said, you do not need to catch fish to benefit from some time fishing.

It takes me about ten to fifteen minutes to paddle from our dock to near the middle of the White Oak River. The wind direction makes a big difference and it is a little hard to tell exactly the where the middle of the river is when you are sitting on the water in a kayak in a river nearly two miles wide.  I started my paddling on a falling tide late in the day so I knew from the start that my journey would last less than two hours.

Still those two hours broke the routine that I had faced.  The time on the water cleared my head and gave me renewed energy to tackle the final details of the book.  I will have more time to fish now that the book is done in time for the travel season.  My self-imposed deadline of the the third week of April was a challenge given that I just finished another book, A Taste of the Wild, Canada’s Maritimes, on March 1.  Actually the hardest part is promoting a self-published book, but I do not plan to let that get in the way of my season of fishing.

I moved to the coast to live a different way and part of that is learning the right balance of play and work.  I have worked very hard getting the books out.  Now I hope to have some fun in my kayak and skiff as the waters warm up.  There are some fish that need to be caught.

The best part of kayaking is always coming back into the inlet.  On my recent trip, the blue reflected in the dark waters made for a great picture that I used in this post.  Once inside the inlet, I was away from the winds out on the river.  The few degrees of extra warmth felt nice as the day began to cool.  With no wind I could glide along towards my home dock with almost no effort or thought.  It was a good way to end the day.

The short kayak trip made me anxious to get back out on the river and spend some time sitting on my favorite oyster rocks.  Hopefully it will not be long before the winds and weather conspire to get me out on the water once again.  Being on the water is part of life here, and it does provide some balance that is sorely missing in many urban areas.

The End of the Sand


Looking South from the Northern End of the Point

The more complex our world gets, the more we need to distance ourselves from it.   I am blessed to be living in an unbelievably beautiful place where I can easily escape the daily pressures of life.   Retreating to nature has always helped me and living where nature is at my doorstep keeps life’s irritations mostly under control.

Things were different before we moved here. When life in the corporate world got tough, I would retreat to a hiking trail I maintained high on the side of a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia.  There with my Labrador pal, Chester, I could recharge my batteries and find some insight to help me survive another quarter.

Even the mountain trail was not enough at times.  More than once I can remember fleeing to Cape Hatteras and checking into a motel with only pay phones and no cell service.  My situation was far from unique.  Modern life takes its toll on humans.  Sometimes getting away from our connected world is the only solution.

I actually can easily tell the symptoms in others.  You send them an email and the only thing they read before they respond is the title.  Years ago people would take two or three weeks of vacation and try to decompress.  Today folks are afraid to leave work for that long because they might not have a job when they come back.  If you only take a week away from your job, you probably have not really left it behind especially if you are working weekends just so you can go on vacation.

While money is a lot harder to come by outside of corporate America, life is much more rewarding.  There are still pressures and things which need to be done and make no sense, but you do have more control and that in itself is rewarding.

Now when I seek out a wild place, it is not so much to help me recover but just to appreciate the beauty of it and to share it with others.  I consider myself extremely fortunate that I can still take the long walks needed to find the wildness that has helped me so much during my life.

Living in a special place like the Crystal Coast gives me a lot of choices when I want to go view our world as few see it today.  Whether I put the kayak in Raymond’s Gut and paddle out to the middle of the White Oak River or take my skiff down the river to the marshes between Swansboro and Bear Island, I rarely have trouble finding a private place.  Not many people wander the salt marshes.

Yet among all the wild places that I love, one stands head and shoulders above the rest.  It is the Point on Emerald Isle.  Perhaps having over forty years of history with one piece of sand helps, but I think it is more than that.  First, it is one of those places where civilization seems a lot farther away than it actually is.  Second, it is never the same and I know that the ocean can reclaim it at any moment.   The stunning beauty that I see at the Point never fails to inspire me.

I doubt there is any other place on the North Carolina coast where you can park your car and walk less than two miles along the beach and find yourself in a place so unique and so much a part of nature.

The Point is a battleground where the ocean and sound vie for position. Wind, water, and waves continually change the battlefield and we get to watch.  The stark beauty of the sand and water stretching as far as the eye can see is impossible to convey in just a few pictures.  A recent online photo album which I am preparing for our updated 2013 Emerald Isle travel guide has nearly ninety pictures in it, and I still feel that it barely let you taste the Point’s beauty.  You can sample a few of the pictures in this album.  You will have to wait for my new Kindle book to see the full photo album.

There are some other places in the world where I have perhaps dreamed of hiking, but unfortunately I would have to go through far too much civilization to get to those places.  It would take something very spectacular to get me to travel very far from these beaches that I love so much.

Spring has just gotten here so the best part of the year is still to come for beach lovers.  It will not be long before I will be wading the waters along the shore and sometimes even carrying a fishing rod along with my camera.  First the water will be a shock to the system, then it will feel refreshing in the heat of July, and finally in the fall, the water is sometimes warmer than the air.

I know that I am lucky to living where I am living.  You give up a few things to live in a place this beautiful and peaceful, but you get so much more in return.  As my t-shirt says, “Never Look Back.”