The Tail of the Blizzard

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Bogue Sound Sunset

Bogue Sound Sunset

The beautiful sunset picture of Bogue Sound was taken the day before the storm which eventually became the blizzard that has swallowed Northern Virginia, New York and other parts of the east coast.

No one here along the Southern Outer Banks asked for this to be a birthplace for big storms but it sometimes happens. Usually we get some wind and rain from them and that is the last we hear of them. This storm, Jonah, seems to have higher aspirations. We are going to be hearing about it for a while.

If you have been in a few blizzards, you learn that they usually have a tail which you can sort of see in this picture. As they get wound up and tighter, the tail usually becomes shorter and the winds become higher. Sometimes the tail will drag through some drastically colder air as it has done with this storm.

Yesterday we were close to 50F and this morning the temperature dropped so quickly that the raindrops froze instantly on my car. That is not normal for the Crystal Coast, but then again our weather can be a riddle that is hard to decode.

What kind of weather you get from a big, developing storm usually depends on how the storm tracks relative to your location. Usually the coast of North Carolina which as I said can be a spawning ground for storms gets a pass but sometimes we also get whacked. Fortunately our snow normally melts by noon. I doubt the two to three feet of snow dumped by Jonah on the east will melt anytime soon. We will feel the chill of the winds blowing across those fields of snow.

When we lived in Nova Scotia, we were in a perfect location to get a taste of all parts of a winter storm. We often went from rain and attendant mud to blizzard conditions and frozen ruts in what was mud. Sometimes we went back to ice pellets or rain only to finish with a coating of snow with howling winds.

Our life in New Brunswick had a few of those storms with multiple personalities but we were much more likely to be on the snow side of the storm. We were just far enough inland and high enough in elevation to catch most of the coastal storms as all snow.

After we moved to the mountain overlooking Roanoke, Virginia, we got more storms with sleet or freezing rain than snow but we did get a few epic storms like the December 19-20, 2009 storm. It was perfect igloo making snow but it was also the devil to move.

As long as you are healthy and the power is on, there is something nice about a storm. At our home in Tay Creek we did not worry very much about snow storms.

Most of our heat came from a wood stove and our woodshed was connected to the house. Our water came from a spring which was gravity-fed to the house. It was so cold in the winter that we unplugged our freezers which were in the woodshed. We had chickens and the trick was to collect their eggs before they froze. I gave the chickens water each morning by bringing them a shovel full of snow. I also milked a Guernsey cow which gave around three gallons of milk a day. It was a long walk to the barn in the winter but the milk was well worth it. My wife, Glenda, would often bake eight to ten loaves of her bread at a time. With milk, eggs, and bread taken care of and a freezer or two full of beef, there was no rush to drive to the supermarket which was over twenty miles away.

The only worry when the power went off was whether or not one of the big diesel tractors would start so I could take one of the one ton round bales out to the cows. They wintered in the woods a mile from the house so I had to keep the road cleaned of snow but I had the right equipment to do it.

In the ten years that we farmed, I only missed one day taking them a big bale of hay and I had managed to take them two the day before the storm.

While we often hunkered down and enjoyed a good winter storm, there were plenty of people who chose to go out and drive in weather so bad that no one should drive in it. I cannot even remember the number of times someone would knock on my door late at night and beg me to pull them out of ditch. I would put my snowsuit on and crank up a big tractor and after a bumpy ride on the ring chain equipped tractor, crawl under their car in the snow to find a place to hook my big logging chain. I would always refuse their pleas to just hook it to the bumper because I knew as soon as the chain tightened from the 16,000 pound tractor, the bumper would fly off. There were a couple of cars so badly stuck that I had to tell the owners to call a wrecker. I could have pulled their axle out but the rest of the car would have stayed there.

As the cold air behind this blizzard of 2016 is drawn across the Crystal Coast, we will complain because the air is a lot colder than we feel in a normal winter. Still we did not have to shovel the 2.25 inches of rain that we got and I for one am happy about that. I am happy to not be waiting for the snow plow on the mountain above Roanoke.

Here on the coast we thankfully only have another three or four weeks to go before the back of winter is broken. That’s fine with me, my tomato seeds came in today’s mail and I am looking forward to getting some seeds started.

With a fairly normal spring it will not be long before we are thinking about being out on the water again. Before we know it will be spring festival season and beach season will be just around the corner. Winter is not hard to survive on the Crystal Coast and that will be especially true if we can slide through another winter without snow.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in February.

It will not be long before it is time to make vacation plans for this summer’s trip to the beach.  Do not forget our travel guide. The Kindle version is $3.99 and Amazon has the full color, 180 plus page paperback version for $24.95.

Updates are coming.

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Winter in the Cove

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Raymond's Gut, January 9, 2016

Raymond’s Gut, January 9, 2016

It is a little strange to think about winter when the temperature is hovering around 67F on January 10, 2016. However, I know better than to pretend that winter will not find us. We all know that the good run of warm weather this year has to end sometime.

As hard as it is to believe, we are still getting a few cherry tomatoes from our garden and some sugar snap peas. I managed to cover the last tomato plant and protect it from the one short spell of cold air that found our cozy spot near the White Oak River. The sugar snap peas made it through without any help like some of our petunias and roses that are still blooming.

It is not unusual to have some nice January weather on the North Carolina coast. We generally get pretty spoiled and complain about how miserable we are if we get some cold days. Our cold days get us little sympathy from our New England and Canadian friends. I almost hesitate to say it, but we consider it a cold day if we do not make it to fifty degrees Fahrenheit.

I can appreciate their feelings since I have endured my fair share of winter weather on a mountain near Roanoke, Virginia and in the heart of a snow belt north of Fredericton, New Brunswick in Canada. Winter is a totally different beast in Canada than it is on the Southern Outer Banks.

While the days and weeks before winter in Canada are usually a mad rush to get everything done before a deep snow suspends daily activities, waiting for winter to come is usually an exciting time on the coast. The months before winter are some of the best on the Carolina coast. We fish, boat, and hike the beaches. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is often still warm. This winter I saw people in the surf in early December and my daughter and I took a holiday ride down the river after Christmas. I wore shorts and a t-shirt.

Even if the winter turns harsh we will likely only have six or seven weeks weeks of cold weather left.  While it is possible that Raymond’s Gut could freeze over like it did in 2014, it is more likely that we will stay on the weather roller coaster to spring.  That will give us brief periods of cold weather broken up by short spells of ever warming weather as the North Carolina winter sunshine gets its strength back.

Wintering here on the coast can give you a little climatic whiplash, but I would rather have it that way than continual cold or no cold at all. A little taste of winter is fine. However, I did not move to the beach for snow so I am always happy to get to that time in February when I can say that winter’s back is broken.

Maybe I had too many long walks to the barn in the winter to have any desire for yet another snowstorm. The first winter we lived in Tay Creek back in the early seventies, we recorded twenty-three feet of snow. That year the snow came before November 1, and stayed on the ground well into May. On top of that we had just moved from Nova Scotia where my wife had gotten more than a taste of a September snow just after we got married the previous year.

Winter is not so bad at the coast and even now I can almost taste spring. Once again our Canadian great egret friend, Frank 29X, seems to have decided to spend some of the winter with us. Actually he has been in our inlet, Raymond’s Gut, since December 29.  He was behind our home on January 8 and came back to gobble up some fish from the marsh behind our house as we had our lunch on January 9.   The truth is that I would rather have a Canadian great egret as company than a Canadian winter.

Our most recent email newsletter, Happy New Year from the Coast, was published on December 31.  The previous one, Changing Coastal Seasons, was sent out on October 29. Our next email newsletter should be out in February.

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Holiday White Oak River Rides

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December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

December 27, 2015 on the White Oak River

It is not unusual for me to be out on the river during December, January or even February. However, it is a little different to be headed down river with the boat up on plane on December 27 and to be wearing shorts and a t-shirt.

On our Christmas boat ride last year on December 26, 2014 my daughter, Erin, and I found the water temperature just under 53F. It does not take anyone long to figure out that the air temperature close to the surface on a big river is pretty close to the water temperature. In December and January we can see some cool water temperatures. On January 4, 2014, the river water was at 43.5F.

What cold water in the river means is that you can have close to 80F air temperatures like we enjoyed on December 27, 2015 but still have a cold ride on the river if the water is down below fifty degrees especially when you add the 20 to 30 MPH wind chill from the moving air of a skiff riding on top of the water.

That was not the case on December 26, 2015. Because my GPS unit is broken I could not tell the exact water temperature in the White Oak like previous years, but I could guess that it was somewhere in the upper sixties. Based on other reliable reports and how comfortable we were riding down the river in shorts and t-shirts, the water had to be close to 70F.

Since the air temperature was very warm at almost 80F around our home just off the river, our December 27 boat ride was even refreshing. That happens to be the whole point of boat rides. You do not get a boat to be miserable riding around in it.

I have written much about the White Oak River, and I get very close to it since I also kayak the river and walk its shores. I find that being close to the river and its marshes lets the peace of nature find me. It is the best way to unwind from the tensions of modern life. Among the many choices here, kayaking is perhaps my favorite way of unwinding. My wife fails to understand how being in a kayak just twelve feet long in the middle of a choppy tidal river close to two miles wide could possibly be relaxing but I guarantee that it is.

December kayaking is even more special and if the weather and water temperature holds, I might even get in some January kayaking which is indeed a rare treat. Our waters can briefly freeze over in January and it takes a long time for them to warm. Once the water gets below fifty Fahrenheit, my only trips out on the river are in our skiff since cold water can be deadly if you flip your kayak. Usually the water warms to kayaking temperatures about the time that the strawberries ripen which is sometime from the end of March until the middle of April. That means that normally there is no kayaking for me in January, February or March. I have to make do with a few warm days, lots of marsh walks, some chilly boat rides down the river, and a few magical winter beach walks.

However, each morning sunny or not, I usually manage to walk our neighborhood boardwalk. It gives me a chance to check out the visitors in our marsh.

This year it has not been cold or stormy enough yet for the big birds to need to visit the sheltered area of Raymond’s Gut where we live. It is a little bit of win-lose situation. If our winter is warm, we have fewer marsh visitors and the bird feeder goes begging. A cold winter means there is a big bird around every corner.

Winter will find us soon enough though it is going to be tough to let go of the Romaine lettuce, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas, and spring onions that we are still enjoying as the New Year draws close. You do not often pick a tomato for a sandwich like we did on Christmas Day 2015 even in coastal North Carolina.

Wintering at the coast is a pleasant adventure and there are always some surprises to keep us on our toes. Just maybe the cold weather will help us get another visit by our famous egret, Frank 29X. That would almost make the cold weather worth it.


Update December 29

There was great excitement in the marsh around Raymond’s Gut this morning.  Frank 29X did show up for a visit.  This is now four straight years that Frank 29X has visited us during December.  It is a long flight from the Ontario marshes where he spends the summer. It was not surprising that we saw Frank 29X on a very windy day and that he was chasing fish in a marsh spot that I call  Where The Egrets and Herons Go To Hide.  You can get a good perspective of Frank 29X’s foraging spot by checking out this photo shot from a drone this past Thanksgiving.


Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully around New Year’s Day.

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Almost A Seasonal Wrap

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The Point Emerald Isle, NC

The Point Emerald Isle, NC

Christmas is looming and winter is planning a quick shot across our bow as we begin the countdown to the new year while some memorable months are still fresh in our minds.

From my perspective in the marsh a few miles up river from Swansboro this has been an interesting year with some wins and some losses. I will get the loss out of the way quickly.

This has not been my fishing year. There has been little time to devote to chasing fish and when I have been out there trying to find them, they have mostly chosen to ignore me. Though we have less than two weeks left, the water has not chilled yet so I will probably try for some trout at least once or twice more. It would have to a really nice trout to rescue the year.

While fishing has not gone my way, gardening has been amazingly successful especially considering the unbelievable amount of rain that has come during the growing season. As of December 18, I have recorded 61.28 inches of rain since June 1. While that might drown many areas, it has not impacted us nearly as much as one might think.

We did lose many of our late August and September tomatoes because of the wet early fall. However, because of the warm weather this fall we are still picking cherry tomatoes even after the middle of December. There is a very good chance that I will pick a very nice, big tomato just as Christmas arrives. Our lettuce this year has been unbelievably good and we have enough Romaine lettuce coming in around the holidays to swamp us. It is reminiscent of our February and March lettuce oversupply last spring. We ate so much lettuce that we were tickled when hot weather got the last of it.

Luckily our area also saw no serious storms this year. We did get some high water during the lunar high tides when South Carolina was being flooded. However, our big river drains worked and certainly there was minimal to no damage in Western Carteret County.

Every area has a slightly different ritual to get ready for winter. The Crystal Coast is lucky because yards quit growing in early October instead of December like the bluegrass and fescue areas west and north of us. Like lots of people we always plant some bulbs in the fall and put down some pine straw. We also do a little paint and deck cleaning while still managing to enjoy our fall garden. The garden goes into the ground between the third week in August and early October. The closest thing to a down season for our planting areas is late February and early March.

Our work and favorable weather resulted in a very successful fall crop of green beans. We are still pulling green onions and picking a few sugar snap peas each day. Even I am amazed to still pick some of our miracle December cherry tomatoes each day. Our Swiss Chard and Rutabagas will be ready in January and February. It is hard to believe but I will be planting some tomato seeds by January 15. Then we are off and running for the next season just as we are finishing up the last season.

While I have not been to the beach since Thanksgiving when my son took the picture that graces this post with his drone, I know neighborhood children who swam in the slightly over 60F ocean water last weekend. Swimming in the ocean in December is not normal even by our standards. However, I have worn my normal summer uniform of shorts, t-shirt, and crocs for almost all of the fall. In that respect this fall has been a real winner.

I have enjoyed the richness of the area from the kayak, skiff, and while hiking the beaches. Aside from a few days visiting our grandchildren, we have been blessed by the Crystal Coast’s treats almost every day. The beach seemed busy this summer but it never to got to  the point of feeling overcrowded.

Beyond taking in the beauty of the outside world, I have a great year baking and have perfected some sourdough bread that I love. My biscuit making success can also be counted on these days. There will be biscuits for breakfast sometime during the holidays.

As the time to enjoy the big water and to be seduced by the river passes, we will go through the seasonal reversal which results in the beach areas being warmer than the mainland areas. It lasts for just a couple of months and by March the mainland is often warmer than the beach areas.

I plan to enjoy the last of the warm water. It takes almost until strawberry time before the water is warm enough for kayaking.  As the weather cools our inlet will turn into a natural paradise and a winter refuge for many of the big coastal birds.  Hopefully we will even get a return visit from Frank 29X.  Frank has come back for three years in a row so we are counting on him not to break his string of visits.

My New Year’s wish is that the fish are in the river like they were in 2014 when I had a great year fishing. Just maybe in 2016 we can stop some of the net madness that is decimating fish stocks.

All things considered,it has been a great year. I hope next year treats us as well with just a few more fish.

Beyond that hope, may the blessing and the peace of the season be upon you and your loved ones.

May the year 2016 also be your chance to enjoy to your heart’s content the warm saltwater and beautiful coastal rivers of the Crystal Coast. To start your thoughts of the coming beach season off right, enjoy this collection of drone shots of our area.

Our most recent email newsletter, Changing Coastal Seasons, went out on October 29. The previous one, Still in Summer’s Embrace, can be seen at this link. Our next email newsletter should be out hopefully before the New Year.

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A Beach Of Your Own

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Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

Third Street Beach, August 10, 2015

We all have times when something clicks and a special moment is created. Sometimes it plants a seed in us that changes the way we think about the world.

I have been blessed to wash my feet in a lot of salt water around the world. While I cannot go back to the exact moment when the sand got stuck permanently between my toes, I suspect it was a moment much like what is shown in this picture of my granddaughter walking on a beach in Emerald Isle.

When poppa lives at the beach and has a home next door to a swimming pool, you get plenty of beach and water time. Even so rarely does a seven year old get that perfect moment on a beach like our granddaughter did the other day.

She has never visited a truly crowded beach, but I also doubt that she has ever experienced an empty one on a perfect warm August evening. However, I will wager that particular August evening on the beach might be etched in her memory. There is something about an empty beach that stretches to the horizon that captures the imagination of even the youngest of us.

What better place to run with abandon and splash through the waves until your heart is content? Our world has far too few places where you can run and play without a care.

I feel fortunate to live in a little piece of paradise where circumstances have prevented the area from getting overdeveloped. Somehow I doubt that you could get that same sense of freedom and closeness to the ocean along a crowded boardwalk with highrise condos as a backdrop. It might be exciting but it would not be the same.

Not everyone loves an open and empty beach, but walking on one always leaves me a little better prepared for tomorrow and gives me hope that just maybe we will not destroy all the special places before the next generation can share them with their children.

Maybe because I grew up on the uncrowded beaches of North Carolina, I am stuck with needing that empty beach to the horizon to be happy. Maybe that is the reason that I have no need of shopping complexes just off the beach, I would much rather have some nice sandbars and a slough full of fish.

If you have never taken your children on a walk down a quiet beach in the dark, make certain you plan for that to happen before they grow up. I still have wonderful memories of walking those dark beaches along Nags Head. I would imagine people behind the soft house lights and even let my mind wander to what might be shadowing us out just beyond the waves. There is definitely magic on a beach at night. The soft summer evening breezes and warm saltwater on your feet create memories that stay with you all your life.

Some of us are so changed that we are drawn to keep coming back over and over to those empty beaches. I think I might have felt shortchanged with life if I had not learned to love real beaches and keep some sand between my toes.  Come visit the Emerald Isle area, it is not hard to fall in love with our beaches.

Our most recent newsletter about our beach area went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We do a revised version each year and provide additional information in our newsletter between updates.  Once you buy the Kindle book, you can easily get the updated version each year.

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Kayaking Our Big Tidal River

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glassywhiteoakriverwm

Looking north up the White Oak River

Maybe it is the weather or just the rhythm of life here on the coast but it seems that I often write about kayaking in the middle of July. Last year on July 13, I wrote Saturday Kayaking On The White Oak.

Until I moved to the coast in 2006, all my kayaking had been done on quiet mountain lakes. Kayaking on the White Oak is nothing like those trips that I used to take on Carvins Cove near Roanoke, Virginia. There was little to worry about on the lake except an afternoon thunderstorm.

Kayaking on the White Oak is more complex. The White Oak is a big coastal river that is from one to two miles wide. While the current seems light, it can be amazingly strong when all that water is forced into a narrow channel where that are cuts between the oyster rocks.

Most people have never heard of oyster rocks and you certainly do not want to get acquainted with one at high speed in your boat. While real rocks are not native to Carteret County, we have plenty of oyster shells that compact together to make oyster rocks.

In the White Oak the oyster rocks are long ledges that span much of the center of the lower river. At high tide some are barely covered and others are under water a foot or so. This picture shows a long oyster rock just emerging from the water as the tide drops.

Sometimes just an end of an oyster rock might be sticking up appearing as an island like the one in this picture. There are other times when just a few shells from a massive oyster rock are visible. A close look at this oyster rock should give you a good idea of why I never go kayaking with bare feet.

Oyster rocks which show up as white lines on this map of the river are a big part of kayaking the part of the White Oak where we live. While I respect the rocks, I am pretty much at home on the oyster rocks. The oyster rocks are where the fish are so that is often where I am.

There are other challenges on the river but boat traffic is rarely one of them. The interaction between the current of the river flowing to the sea and the tide which can be enhancing it or going in the other direction makes kayaking on a big coastal river interesting. Then there is the wind. Once in a while you seem to reach equilibrium on the river and you can just enjoy the glassy smooth water and not worry about wind, current, tides, or oyster rocks but that is relatively rare.

Sometimes the wind whips the river up into whitecaps. Since most of the river is shallow this can happen quickly. Because of the oyster rocks and the way they are positioned, there are areas in the river which actually enhance the chop caused by winds and tides. My Old Town Dirigo 120 seems to handle the chop better than my old Wilderness System Pungo 120. It has a higher bow but that also lets the wind push it around a little more.

You have to flexible when you head out on a river like the White Oak. Sometimes when I get out our inlet and into the big river I find conditions that I did not expect. Once in a while I end fishing along the edges in protected areas instead of my favorite area in the middle of the river.

I do go out prepared. I wear my life suspenders, have a small anchor, my cellphone and a flashlight with me. There are areas where it would be hard for a boat to rescue you, but most of those are shallow areas and with shoes you could walk to the edge of deeper water. I used my Pungo 120 for so many years on the oyster rocks that it developed a leak which I have yet to be able to fix. Somehow a couple inches of water in the bottom of the kayak never bothered me but I did take a sponge along because the extra water made the kayak harder to handle.

If you are new to kayaking there are plenty of places in our area to get some instruction and practice before tackling a big river. Lots of folks practice in our quiet inlet and there are some quiet areas in the marshes on the south side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro. This map has some of the area’s public access points for kayaks. Centennial Park and Hammocks Beach actually have kayak launch ramps. There is a small boat ramp at the Cedar Point Croatan Access. You can also launch at the Wildlife Resources boat ramps in Cedar Point and Emerald Isle. Most of the subdivisions along the White Oak have launch points but you need to have a friend living there to provide access.

With a little practice, the right equipment, and the knowledge of what you might find, kayaking in this area is a lot of fun. While the White Oak might not always be as glassy looking as the post picture, it is always scenic. I have only touched on the White Oak because it is in my backyard and is the easiest place for me to kayak.

Our most recent newsletter went out Friday, July 10, and can be seen at this link. Our next newsletter should be out in August.

If you are interested in visiting the area, check out our free online travel guide to Emerald Isle. If you need more information especially on kayaking and boating, please consider purchasing our extensive fives-star rated Emerald Isle book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. The Kindle version which works on everything from iPads to smartphones is only $3.99. We update it each year and during the season there is update information in our newsletter.

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