Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak

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Raymond's Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

Raymond’s Gut, Just Off The White Oak River

I consider myself very lucky. My kayak is usually within 15 feet of the water. Going kayaking on a Saturday morning is something that I can do with little planning and not much more effort than the paddling.

For years when we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I kayaked in Carvin’s Cove. It involved putting our very heavy two person kayak on top of a car and driving thirty minutes while hoping the weather stayed calm.

The opportunity to live by the water was one of the many things that attracted us to Carteret County. It is that same piece of North Carolina that the tourism bureau likes to call the Crystal Coast.

One of the first things we did the fall we moved here eight years ago was to get a new kayak. It has not been on top of the car since we brought it home, but it has been in the water more than our other kayak ever was. Some of the first pictures that I took that year are still online. I managed a few trips that year but learning the ins and outs of kayaking on a coastal river took a while. Kayaking on a big tidal river like the White Oak is completely different than kayaking on a relatively tame and captive mountain lake.

Both are great experiences but I have found kayaking on the White Oak very rewarding and perhaps the most relaxing thing in the many choices of things to do here along North Carolina’s beautiful Southern Outer Banks.

Sliding my kayak down through the marsh grass is always the beginning of a wonderful adventure. As I am paddling out Raymond’s Gut, I can usually tell what the river is like well before I get there. There are always a few surprises along the way. It might be an osprey that disappears before you can focus on it or a great white egret that lets you get tantalizing close before flying. On my most recent trip, I saw an oystercatcher on a small island in the river.

Even the way the wind is blowing once I get out on the White Oak is often different than I expected. Sometimes on weekends I find a boat or two out in the two or three miles of the river that I like to frequent but often I am the only craft on the river. If the wind or weather turns rough, I can usually dodge it by either staying close by some oyster rocks or retreating to Raymond’s Gut the inlet that connects us to the White Oak.

The tides, current, and wind always combine to make each trip unique. The White Oak is a big but short and relatively shallow river in its lower reaches. You can see the oyster rocks that I often frequent in this picture. I am very comfortable sitting out on the oyster rocks and there is nothing wrong with the view. However, the view there on the river is by nature transient. The water and clouds and light are every changing. If you sit on the oyster rocks too long, you might end up grounded there as the tide goes out.

On a really good day out on the river, you can take advantage of the current, wind, and oyster rocks to relax and fish. There are days when you have to work harder to fish or even hold your boat in position to make a single cast. Then there are times when the river seems to let you do just about anything that you want. Still a body of water that large is not the place to completely let down your guard. When the tide really gets moving, you have to make certain you do not get sucked into some of the cuts in the oyster rocks. The combination of the tide and the current especially when it is going out can be a formidable challenge.

Usually two to three hours out on the river is about all that it takes to wear me out. Most days when I get back to our dock, I have paddled two to three miles. Usually one way of the trip is pretty good exercise while I most often have either wind or tide helping me on the other way.

If I am really lucky, I can bring home enough fish to fill a cooler. Most times I stop fishing after I catch my first keeper fish of the day. We try to be judicious about using the resources of the White Oak River. Fortunately many of the places that yield the most fish are hard to reach. We are blessed to have clean, uncrowded river at our doorsteps.

The one thing I can always count on is that as soon as I am out of my kayak, I start thinking about when I can slide back into the water and start paddling once again. I have already enjoyed so many perfect days on the water, I have confidence that another great one is just around the corner.  That first kayaking trip each spring is always a treat and I usually manage to kayak well into November and most years December.

Here are some pictures from my most recent, July 2014, trip and some more photos from last fall that have GIS information embedded so you can see their locations on a map.

Our most recent newsletter went out just over two weeks ago and can be read at this link, Summer Is Here.  You can also read what has been happening in the last few months on our Southern Outer Banks site.

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At Home On The Oyster Rocks

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One of my favorite fishing spots

One of my favorite fishing spots

We humans often look at natural obstacles as something to remove. We cut down forests, blast roads up the sides of mountains and somehow think we can bend nature to our will.

I even have a neighbor who thinks that if he keeps cutting the marsh grass and cattails that they will go away. The marsh grass will be waving in the wind long after he is gone and the cattails continue to spread in the wind every chance that they get.

Certainly I cannot lay claim to being a purist when it comes to the environment. We cut down our only pine tree last year before it got too big to handle. I justified it by the statement that pine trees always fall down. It is just a matter of time.

When we had our farm in Tay Creek, New Brunswick. I was in a continual battle with spruce trees. While the cattle would eat any invading hardwoods that managed to sprout in the pastures, our Angus had more sense than to eat spruce trees. I spent a lot of time bush-hogging pastures to keep the spruce trees at bay. When we lived in Roanoke, Virginia, I saw pine trees take over a meadow in five or six years so I know how fast trees can takeover territory.

Still I have mellowed over time. When we first moved to the Crystal Coast in the summer of 2006, the oyster rocks in the White Oak River seemed to be a challenge to navigating the river.  The first time I saw one just inches underwater from my kayak, I was impressed but it was just the beginning of learning to live a great big coastal river.

When we got our skiff in 2007, avoiding the oyster rocks became a priority. While I learned to tolerate the rocks after a year or two, it has taken me a lot longer to really appreciate how wonderful the oyster rocks are. They are actually part of the reason we have such a clean river.  The long beds of oyster shells help us have plenty of bait and enough fish to keep most of us happy.

All sorts of creatures find the oyster rocks useful. I have seen oyster catchers nesting on them. Crabs and all sorts of small fish use them as shelter. In the winter, the rocks are full of birds at low tide.

From late spring through late fall, you will also find sport fishermen working the oyster rocks. Commercial fishermen often place their crab pots in deep spots around the rocks. The cuts through the rocks channel the bait into the range of waiting predators like red drum, flounder and trout. Fishing the oyster rocks has become my favorite way of catching fish. Last year I brought home my fair share of flounder, trout, and red drum from the oyster rocks that start about a third of a mile from our home and dot part of the lower three miles of the White Oak River.

This year, I have already caught a couple of nice drum off the rocks. I am sure there are folks who would like to get rid of the White Oak’s oyster rocks but I am not one of them.  Besides fishing them, sometime I just like to sit out there on one of the rocks and enjoy the peace and quiet of the river.

Fishing the oyster rocks is not without its challenges. The White Oak is nearly two miles wide where I fish it. Wind can keep you busy and there are days when paddling out to my favorite oyster rocks seems like a long trip when you are fighting the wind and or the tides. Then there are days like May 28, 2014 when the wind, waves, current, and tides cooperate. The 1.25 mile paddle to my favorite took me only fifteen minutes.

It was very pleasant out on the river. The current and tide were close to offsetting each other and there were only a few mild swells on the river. There were no other boats or kayaks in sight, so the river was mine. It did not take too long for the river to get me under its spell once again.

When the current is just right you can slide along the oyster rocks looking for a wandering drum. On May 28, I had only one thing on my mind and it was getting back to where I caught my first drum of the season just a few weeks earlier. The ride was pleasant and I only made two or three casts to test my gear before I arrived in my favorite spot which is a cut between two oyster rocks or more correctly oyster bars.

The current was just right to hold me lightly on the side of the oyster bar with my target fishing area within easy casting range. I made one cast with a white swimming mullet gulp and something got the tail. I switched to a Tsunami plastic with a similar but tougher tail. I made one cast just up river of the cut in the rocks. The next cast was in the middle of the cut. I got an immediate hit and I knew that I had a nice drum on my line.

He made one run down river and then miraculously turned and came back through the cut and was on the same side of the oyster bar as my kayak. Then it was just a matter of time. I let him take runs until he tired enough that I could slip the net under him. When I saw the drum I knew that he was at least 21 inches and was carrying a lot of weight.

I had forgotten my stringer but I just made a stringer out of my paddle safety line and headed home. I was back at the dock just an hour and ten minutes after leaving. My wife brought the cooler with some ice down to the dock and I handed her the stringer with the drum. As soon as we got the kayak in the yard, we took some pictures and I got my cleaning gear. The drum was a snug fit in the cooler.

By 1:15 PM, I had cleaned the drum, showered and was getting the grill ready for a lunch-sized serving of drum. I just cut off the thinner part of the tail and saved the thicker fillets for another couple of meals. We will get three meals out of this one drum.

I feel lucky to have oyster rocks which continue to get in our way. I have learned to love them and work with them, not against them.  I certainly no longer fear the rocks.  I even love the way the water can be blue when the sun hits the water around the rocks one way and a beautiful amber when it hits the water from another angle. We are fortunate to live in such a wonderful place.  The oyster rocks are just another blessing.

If fishing among the oyster rocks is not your cup of tea, perhaps thoughts of standing in the surf might entice you to visit the Crystal Coast. You will makes some memories and you do not have to wait because it is already officially beach season.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  The guide has been newly updated for 2014.  I am working to get Amazon to allow people who purchased the 2013 version to get a free update and hope to do the same thing next year. We have just received the first batch of our inexpensive 2014 print version. It has all the same information, it just comes without the 80 color pictures to keep the cost down.  I hope to have them placed in local tourist venues soon.  The print version without color pictures is currently available on Amazon for $8.96 and is Prime eligible.

There is no greater place to vacation with a family than along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.  Come visit, you will not regret it, and you might be like us and never leave.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter.  Now that I have the travel guides finally updated for this year, I will finally be sending out the next newsletter around the end of May.  You still have time to sign up before I get it emailed.

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Late Spring Crystal Coast Magic

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Spring waters of the White Oak River

Spring waters of the White Oak River

We are finally beyond the reluctant part of spring 2014.  Now we are enjoying those precious days here on the Crystal Coast when we can live with the windows open.

The spring windows-open season does not last as long as the one in the fall, but it seems to mean more.  Our winter weary souls survived a full frontal assault from the pine pollen just as winter’s cold winds tried to sucker punch us one last time.  Now we have warm days and cool nights. We owe the great weather to the surrounding waters which moderate our climate.  Our weather is often a riddle, but it can be kind to us in late spring as the waters warm slowly compared to the land.

We are to the point that we have gotten through to what many areas call the beginning of summer. Our local strawberries are ripe, the grass has been mowed, and the jumping mullet are airborne  and a few of the more desirable fish are even starting to bite. Air temperatures have reached the eighties a few days, but we cool off quickly at night. We had not heard a heat pump for several days until recently.  It has been a welcome break in noise that can disturb the peace in our quiet countryside.  In a warning shot of things to come, on April 28 our air conditioning came on late in the day for an hour or so. We can hope it was an isolated incident, but we know that warmer, more humid weather is on the horizon and likely will be here before we are ready for it.

The real magic of this time of year is that you can do almost anything that comes to mind. The only thing tempering my actions is the knowledge that the water will be much warmer very soon.  If you want to actually put your body in the water, it better to wait a few more weeks for the perfect dipping water.

If you live on the water like we do, you can get a little picky about going out even in a boat. Memories of perfect days keep you searching for the next perfect moment even when you are anxious to get on the water.

As April 2014 ends we are still seeing persistent winds so some of my favorite fishing holes would not be nearly as much fun now as they will be when the spring winds are more sporadic. I am figuring if the current weather trend holds that I should be fishing in the marshes to the south of Swansboro by end of the first week of May. I hope the bluefish will be there when I stop by for some drift fishing.

That is actually soon enough for me. I went fishing last week in my kayak on the White Oak River for the second time this month and still did not get a touch so I can be patient. The sound, the ocean, and the river are calling and sometimes it is an irresistible pull. There are days when the beauty of the water can sweep you off your feet. Then there is no choice. If the call is too strong,  you just have to find a way to fish either on foot by kayak or skiff. My surf rod is always ready for just such a contingency.

This is also a good time of year to visit those places which can get a little crowded during the peak season. Even with the very pleasant weather, few tourists are here. For that very reason we headed off to Beaufort, NC on Sunday afternoon, April 27, 2014. The charm of Beaufort is probably the reason that I am living on the Carolina coast. It is certainly one of my favorite places to visit.

We managed to enjoy a great Sunday lunch at Beaufort Grocery Company. We walked the docks, bought some fudge, spent $2 on ice cream for the both of us and stopped by Morehead City for a peak at the Nina replica sailing ship. It was a quick afternoon trip and it was only one of many options for folks along the Crystal Coast.

We could have taken the boat out to fish a sheltered spot or headed over to the beach for a long hike around the Point. I had a great walk with my granddaughter in the Emerald Woods park recently. It is a lovely park for a short walk down to the sound.

Spring has brought so much to do that I have yet to make it over to the Croatan Trails this spring but that is a function of living in a neighborhood where I get to walk two to five miles a day along our own marshes.

It is a pretty special spot. Just in the last two weeks, we have been visited numerous times by our neighboring ospreys and great egrets. We had a bald eagle land about thirty feet from our dock and I saw a red shouldered hawk. Today the two Canada geese that always visit in the spring showed up with their spring brood. Our green heron has also been in the neighborhood and our local turtle has been sunning himself for about a week.

It is spring on the Crystal Coast and the magic of our area is all around us. Azaleas are in full bloom and some of the old ones look like small barns. The spring wheat is looking good and my everything in my garden especially the tomatoes are growing well. It will not be long before being on the water happens almost every day. I already have my next hike on the Point planned. I will be carrying my surf rod and gear.

For more information you can get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  You can find more information at Life Along The Crystal Coast.

We also publish a monthly email newsletter.  There are still a few days to sign up before the April edition gets emailed.

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Sunset in Raymond’s Gut

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Sunset, Raymond's Gut

Sunset, Raymond’s Gut, February 25, 2014

February is winding down and I am just one of many waiting for spring. All those of us around the marsh keep hoping for some additional warmth to make us feel like spring is on the way. It is not that unusual for us to have strawberries around the middle of April. With that being the case, a lot of growing has to be accomplished in a short period of time and that requires some consistent heat.

This has been a colder winter than normal and some of our outside plants have been damaged. More than just plants have been impacted. Most years the small fish in our watery world are around all the year. That often means that we have regular winter visitors like our great egret buddy, Frank 29X. This year after our third serious cold spell, the fish seemed to disappear. With no fish even the cormorants deserted us.

The week right after Valentine’s Day was closer to our normal temperature and we even managed to touch 70F a couple of times. With those warmer air temperatures,  the temperature of the water in the marsh started its upward climb. I was pleased to see a Kingfisher back that same week and also to see in the marsh grass a handful of the tiny fish that the egrets love to chase. It is a good sign that spring is on the way, but we will have some additional cold bumps to endure.

As far as humanly possible, we have scheduled spring to take place normally. Both the Emerald Isle Saint Patrick’s Day Festival and the Swansboro Oyster Roast are on track for the middle of March. It helps if the outside weather is in the nice range for the beginning of the outside festival season but the festivals generally survive any weather challenges.  I remember patio heaters at the Emerald Isle festival one year.

Still each day as winter slowly exits can be exciting. Coastal weather changes can cover a lot of weather ground in a day. The morning of February 25 we started the day in the upper thirties with blue skies. Well before noon, the temperature was approaching sixty degrees Fahrenheit.  I took my small forest of tomato plants out to enjoy the sunshine and the all around nice day which had a high temperature of 64F.

It is a good thing that the tomato plants were just outside my office because well before the afternoon was over some clouds started coming in, the wind shifted and the temperature started dropping. February 26 our high is supposed to be in the upper forties.

You learn to roll with the weather punches here on the coast and to structure your day to work around them whenever possible. This time of year we search for any trace of warmth even if all we can find are a few final rays of sunshine as the sun goes down. The situation flips by the time we get to August. We often have no choice but to work into the warm even hot hours of the day to get our chores done. When you do that, it is imperative to figure out how to cool off as quickly as possible or the heat can take you out of commission. Often the answer to the heat is as simple as driving over to the beach and jumping in the water.

Each season even winter brings its own treats. Though we haven’t had as many as normal, usually we can count on February for clear blue skies and spectacular winter sunsets. By March the ground is warm enough for planting. By April if the wind behaves itself, we are venturing out again on the water. By May most of us are making regular trips to the beaches and even sticking parts of our bodies into the water. June brings the start of the beach season and usually a little better fishing. Then we are into summer and spending as much time near the surf as possible.  Not long after we get used to summer, fall overtakes our beaches. Fall always seems to last longer than the other seasons. That is okay with most of us. Fall is the best season here on the coast. The waters are still warm, the air has less humidity, and the air temperatures are very comfortable. Also we mostly have the beaches to ourselves except for ever hopeful surf fishermen.

Then comes winter which some years is hardly noticed. This year was an exception with its colder than normal temperatures. Still our “winter” is nothing to complain about especially if you have lived through a few northern winters.

One of the other things that I like about February is our days are getting longer so it is easier to enjoy the out of doors after work.  That extra light makes a huge difference.

We will have plenty of nice sunsets even after February disappears so I will not miss them or the cooler waters as the month departs. I am anxious to be back on the water whether by boat or kayak. Life really is all about the water down here. Figuring out the water puzzle is part of the reason most of live here on the coast. We are an area where land and water can stretch your imagination. It is not unusual to hear people say that they live for the water.

I am always ready for the water as soon as it gets warm, but in the meantime, I’ll enjoy as many of those beautiful February sunsets as I can. There is some warmth in them even if they just warm my mind up a little for the better months ahead.

You can read more posts about why we live on the Crystal Coast at this selection of older posts.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

We recently sent out our first newsletter of the season.  If you sign up soon, I will be able to send out copies of the first newsletter to new subscribers before we send  the next edition about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

You can also get our comprehensive travel guide to the area.  We will be publishing a free electronic update for people who buy the 2013 edition.  There is no greater place to vacation with a family than North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.

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Finally thawing out

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Snow on the beach, Emerald Isle, NC

Snow on the beach, Emerald Isle, NC

On Tuesday, January 28, 2014, winter weather came for an unusual visit to the North Carolina coast.  Our home is located on Raymond’s Gut not far from the beaches of Emerald Isle where the above snowy beach picture was taken.

We have seen snow before both in January 2011 and in January 2009.  Both of those storms swooped in for a visit and disappeared so quickly that we hardly noticed them. I can remember snow from one of them being gone before I walked out the driveway to get the mail.

This was all before the year of the polar vortex. This wandering cold air pump has put the east coast of the United State and Canada into a serious deep freeze.  The light freezing rain and much heavier sleet from this most recent storm started on Tuesday before lunch.  It did not stop until very early Wednesday morning.

It would not have been bad if the precipitation had changed to snow, but it did not and it was mostly sleet in our area throughout the storm.  We ended up with three to four inches of sleet on the ground.  The view from our upper deck was clearly a frozen landscape dominated by ice.

The storm helped us join that large part of the eastern United States covered with snow and ice as of January 31, 2014.  As the snow and sleet was stopping, we were falling into a serious deep freeze.  We were below freezing from before 8AM on Tuesday until about 11AM on Thursday, a total of fifty-one hours below freezing.

While that might not seem like a lot to northern friends, I still remember our first winter here in 2006-2007 when we only had seventeen hours below freezing the whole winter.  This dose of very cold weather was unlike anything that we have experienced in our nearly eight years living on the Crystal Coast.

Most of us move here because snow rarely visits the area and because the average low temperature even in January is above freezing.   We are also addicted to the area’s beautiful blue skies.  If you look at this graph of average temperatures, you will notice our average high in January is over fifty degrees Fahrenheit.  This latest spell of cold weather gave us two days when our high temperature did not even reach our average low temperature.

Certainly it was unusual weather and even fooled the weathermen who were convinced that we would make it into the upper forties on Thursday.  We barely stayed above freezing on Thursday.  Fortunately for those of us living here, our very warm ground started melting the snow from underneath.  We kept hoping for the blue skies on Thursday but they did not show up.

By early morning on Friday, January 31, our driveway was barely frozen slush. Three hours later just before noon, a couple of trips in and out of the driveway helped start some serious melting.  By the time we came home from a nice burger lunch at Highway 55 Burgers and Shakes and grocery shopping in Emerald Plantation on the island, our driveway had been cleaned by the sun and our spectacular blue skies were back.

We are not completely back to normal, but if you look closely at the snowy beach picture by clicking on it so it will expand, you will see a surfer headed for the waves.  That is a very good sign for us beach lovers. With high temperatures well into the sixties on both Saturday and Sunday, we will quickly get completely thawed out.  Our hope is that the local trout are not shocked by all the cold water draining into the rivers and that our warmth loving plants and birds do not suffer much from this unusual cold snap.

Most of us will be rooting for this to be the last that we see of serious winter weather in 2014.  My kayak is calling me, but I need some warmer water than what we have now before I start paddling.

If you would like to see some pictures of the spectacular scenery in our area during warmer times, check out our just published $2.99 Kindle reader book, 100 Pictures, 1000 Words, A Crystal Coast Year.  It is worth clicking on the link just to see the free sample of seven pictures.  Kindle reader software works on just about every platform including iPads and iPhones.

It is also getting close to when we will be sending out our first newsletter of the season.  Get signed up now so you will not miss any of the posts about the upcoming season on the Crystal Coast.

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The Seasonal Reversal

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A Winter View of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge

A Winter View of Bogue Sound from the Emerald Isle Bridge

There are many changes that we see as the seasons slide from one to another here on the coast in eastern North Carolina. The most noticeable going from fall to winter for residents near the the south facing beaches of Bogue Banks is that things get busier on the mainland and quieter over in Emerald Isle and the other beach towns.

While a trip to the grocery store in Emerald Isle the week of July 4, can try the patience of any resident, we often choose to buy our groceries in Emerald Isle during the winter because the grocery store there is about as peaceful as a modern supermarket can get.

The waters of the Intracoastal Waterway shown above also lose their summer traffic and get pretty quiet during the winter with only the odd boat headed south for the winter. You might find a handful of boats plying the marshes and inlets of the mainland in search of trout but not very many fishing in Bogue Inlet.

Even the weather takes part in the reversal. During most of the summer the beach is often cooler than the mainland. In the winter the beach is usually warmer than the mainland. That changes in the spring as the ocean water is slower to warm than the shallow marshes and rivers.

Each year as winter comes, we know that the egrets and herons that often spend much of the summer in the Bogue Sound marshes will seek refuge during the winter in our calmer inlets surrounded by trees which shelter them from the wind.

Area beaches become mostly deserted once the fisherman are gone for the winter season. There are usually a few hardy souls walking the edge of the surf but the number of people on the beach is nothing like it is even in November when the water is still warm. A lot walkers switch to the more sheltered trails at the Croatan National forest access on the mainland in Cedar Point.

In spite of the cooler weather, this is a nice time of year for residents. There is no traffic, no crowds, and there is plenty of room to wander without bumping into anyone. Even the area grocery store parking lots are safer. Most people would guess the absence of people is normal because winter weather is bound to be cold even on the coast.

While our coastal weather can be a riddle and deliver a few chilly nights, cold weather is actually not the rule here on the coast even in winter. Winter can still give us some warm days that lure us over to the beaches. It is not unusual even in January.

With some warm weather and not very many people, the Southern Outer Banks is a good place to escape holiday madness. Christmas of 2013 might be the perfect time considering the forecast which has the beach in the mid sixties and the mainland enjoying the mid seventies the last weekend before the holiday week. That is a much better forecast than the weather we got for Thanksgiving.

It does get very peaceful as the year draws to a close along the beautiful waters that surround our area. While people here do get into the holiday spirit, we are surrounded by so much wildness and natural beauty that it is hard to excited about a trip to the mall. Skipping the mall is made even easier because we actually have only a limited number of mall stores.

That is okay with me, I have spent many years trying to avoid malls. I would much rather be paddling my kayak than walking the sidewalks of a mall.

In the next few weeks I will be sending out our first Crystal Coast Newsletter, if you would enjoy reading a brief post about our area, please sign up below.  Your information will only be used for this monthly newsletter and will never be shared with anyone or used for any other purpose.

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