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

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

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

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