Kayaking Water

Raymond's Gut Just Off The White Oak River

Raymond’s Gut Just Off The White Oak River

The first warm and steamy weather has arrived here on North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks.  We no longer have just a hint of warmth, we now have some early summer weather which is great for walking the beaches or one of my favorite activities, kayaking.

Fortunately our waters near the coast are still relatively cool and have not yet climbed out of the low seventies.  That means the quickest way to getting cool is to slide your kayak in the water and find a breeze. We are lucky that some of the stronger early winds have died down.

Given that our county is over half water, and that we almost always have a sea breeze, finding a breeze on the water is not much of a challenge.  While I enjoy our skiff which has an outboard motor,  there are times of the year when the kayak just seems right.

December when the water is still warm is one of them.  However, late spring is a near perfect time. When you need a little cooling from the early summer heat, the area’s waters are happy to oblige and sitting on the water in a kayak is great way to enjoy the cooling effect of the water without getting wet.

Later in the year when the river gets warm, we often take the skiff over to Bogue Inlet where Bogue Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean.  The water stays cooler there longer in the summer.  However, at the end of May, the water temperature in the White Oak River where we live is just about perfect for taking the edge off early summer heat.

Our little inlet on the river is called Raymond’s Gut.  It takes about ten minutes to paddle from our house to the middle of the White Oak.  So far each time that I have been out in the last few days, there has been plenty of breeze on the river so staying cool has not been a problem.

Earlier this week the high temperature was barely in the seventies.  When I paddled in from the river, the warmer temperature in our inlet and the lack of breeze actually felt nice.  I am guessing that with the temperature headed to the middle eighties that will change.  The inlet will feel too warm and the breeze on the river will be just what is needed to keep me cool.

Now if I could just find some fish that were biting.



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.

In the wildness of our surroundings there is peace

A view of the White Oak River

A view of the White Oak River

There are many reasons for living in a particular place.  The place can feel like home. You perhaps have found a great job in the area.  Sometime a location can be close to friends or an easy place to engage in your favorite activities.

Then there are places we go to for more than employment or fun.

Areas like North Carolina’s Crystal Coast are often more than just a place to plant your roots.  They are among the rare spots where the human spirit can find a renewal in the cathedral of the natural world.  Within their blue sky boundaries are often homes which offer more than just a place to live.

Sometimes by quiet waters under a cloud-tinted blue sky, you will encounter a place to find yourself or even heal your spirit.

Throughout my life I have found that natural beauty on my doorstep has helped me survive the challenges of our increasingly over connected modern life.

The wildness of a deserted beach, forest or open stretch of water lets us disconnect from our modern world and reconnect with the world around us.  The peace of an empty beach lets us listen to those quiet inner voices of our own which are often overwhelmed by the noise of modern society.   That walk away from the world and into wildness also prepares us to hear the voice of God.

That it is far easier to connect with God when we have unconnected ourselves from much of the world should not come as a surprise.   We try hard to divorce ourselves from the world when we go to worship in a church.  The sanctuary of a church gives us separation from the world.  That distance between us and the everyday world gives us a chance to contemplate and worship.  We need the separation because the world has become a noisy, demanding place where multiple things and people continually vie for our attention.

You can find the same separation in the wildness of many places.

Over the last sixty plus years I have found many challenges that have reminded me how little control that we actually have over our lives.  There are times when we just have to put our trust in a power that it is greater than us.  Those who think they are master of all their world just haven’t lived long enough to face a real obstacle in their life.

When the world seems to be collapsing around you and yet the voices of concern that you are hearing from those close to you make no sense,  then a walk out beyond the homes along the beach or  a paddle out to the oyster rocks can clear your mind and help you understand the path that you need to take.

Over the years my favorite places of retreat have changed as we have moved.  At one time I found solace on the rocky coast of Nova Scotia.  A few years later, a hillside overlooking the wilderness behind our farm came to be the place I escaped.  When we moved to Roanoke, Virginia, I created a network of trails on the high mountainside behind our home.  Now that I live along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, I’ve found that I can find the solitude that I need in a number of places that have no walls.

My current favorite spot is far out on the Point at Emerald Isle.  It requires a hike of over two miles just to get there.  The effort is well worth it.  Before the fishermen come in their trucks in the fall, there are few people who are willing to spend the energy to reach the place that I have come to cherish.

Each time that I arrive there, I am reminded that we humans might try to control our world, but our efforts are at best sandcastles in the waves of time.  That I can walk this stretch of beach and see with my own eyes the new land created between my trips makes the experience I find in the wildness of this beach that much more powerful.

John Muir says it so eloquently on page 256 of The Yosemite.

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.


Warmth that won’t go away

Warm Day in Bluewater Cove

Warm Day in Bluewater Cove

There is something magical about eighty degrees.  If you can break eighty degrees in early spring, you feel like that winter has been defeated.  When the ocean water gets to eighty degrees, there is no longer a shock to get into up to your knees.

Unfortunately when the temperature doesn’t drop below eighty degrees at night, you know that there will be no escape from the heat short of jumping in some water.

I don’t mind the heat, but I do enjoy the early morning when we often see temperatures in upper seventies even in the heart of summer.  When the nighttime temperatures don’t get below the magic eighty degrees, it seems like we have crossed a threshold.

There are a few options.  One is to stay inside as much as possible.  Generally if there is blue sky and the winds are under twenty miles per hour, not going outside is very hard for me to do.  We moved to the Crystal Coast just so we could be outside most of the time, and I’m pretty stubborn about that.

The next option which is often my solution to the heat is to be on or near the water.  Our water along the Southern Outer Banks is like no other water as far as I’m concerned.  When the daytime temperature rises in the low nineties, I can still guarantee that a wave from the ocean slapping you in the middle of your back will cool you down.

There are lots of folks that like to be around swimming pools when it gets hot.  Unfortunately when it doesn’t cool down at night, the swimming pools stay very warm.  They might offer a little relief from the heat, but not nearly as much as a dip in the ocean.

Almost the same thing can be said for boating.  On those nights when the temperature stays about eighty degrees Fahrenheit, you can count on the river being warm which means you need to keep moving or have a nice breeze to stay cool.   However, you usually can find some relief if you get your boat over closer to Bogue Inlet where normally the breeze is a little more reliable and the water is a little cooler.

Our summer in Carteret county is not a fleeting one like the Canadian summers that I used to enjoy. It is also not like a summer in the city.  We don’t have the buildings to absorb heat like a city, and we are fortunate in that we don’t have the huge expanses of pavement filled with heat generating vehicles.

Getting some days on the coast when there is little cooling at night is just part of life on the North Carolina coast.  I try to take a pragmatic view of these days when you cannot escape the heat.  I know the time will come when the warmth stored in the water will feel good as the air around us cools.  The lingering warmth in the fall on the NC coast is one of the greatest things about living here.

Long after most people to the north of us have put their boats away, we’ll be enjoying the water.  We can usually count on the nice warm weather through October.   I like to say that you should never bet against warmth in the fall on the Crystal Coast.

Pleasant days over on the beach in October are not a rarity.   Those days and the special ones in November and December come to us courtesy of all the heat our area waters store during the summer especially on those nights when the temperature doesn’t get below eighty.

When you can think about having shorts weather in December, the heat in July is a little easier to take.  Of course, we’re lucky on the Carolina coast, you always have the choice of escaping to the mountains and enjoying a little mountain weather.  There are mountains high enough in North Carolina that there is always some relief from the heat and humidity.

In the end you get used to the heat in our world where life without walls is just the way we live.  Our grown children think we’re crazy when they come to visit.  They find we have our indoor temperature set at 78F in the summer.  Of course those of us who live on the coast know that if you set the temperature much lower than that, walking into your home from the warmth of the outside will feel like going into a meat locker.

While our weather is never normal, it is a whole lot better than it is most places.  I remain thankful for that.



Life without Walls

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

Campground at Hammocks Beach State Park

When you live in place like North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that everyone loves the out-of-doors.  It is even easier if a good part of your life has been spent outside in the elements.

Perhaps those of us in our sixties are one of the most fortunate generations.  We grew up before television and the Internet took over the lives of children.  I can still remember the first television in our neighborhood.  I must have been six or seven years old.

One of our neighbors got the television, and we all crowded around it to watch Howdy Doody.  When it was over we went back outside to play.  It wasn’t something better than our imaginations so it never captured us.   We had creeks to dam and forts to build.  We stayed outside all summer.  Often we didn’t come home from our adventures in the woods until dark.  Then we would eat and go back outside to chase fireflies or play capture the flag.  We always played something after school unless it was raining hard.

As I was walking by the mostly empty campsites at Hammocks Beach State Park early one afternoon in June 2012, it occurred to me that today’s young adults might not have the same love of the outside world that was so much a part of our lives in the fifties, sixties, and seventies.

Yet most of the people living on the Crystal Coast do love the out-of-doors.  You can see people walking in our neighborhood at all hours of the day.  We see everyone from young mothers trying to get some exercise in before their husband leaves for the day to older people walking their dogs.  We even see teenagers walking.

Walking on the beaches, I see some familiar faces. Some people walk the beach every day weather permitting.  When I am on the water I even recognize a number of boats and a few kayaks that I have seen several times.  With water everywhere, miles of beach, and thousands of acres of forest, I wonder how you could live here and not appreciate the wonder of our magical world outside the walls of our homes?

Still even in our neighborhood here on the Southern Outer Banks, there are people that we rarely see outside.  I sometimes wonder if they are part of the television generation which prefers to visit National Parks by way of the Discovery Channel.

I know our area attracts many people who love the out-of-doors.  We are not a Myrtle Beach by any stretch of the imagination.  Most of the people living here would be horrified if this area became just another beach with wall to wall condos and shopping malls.

But I wonder if enough people are coming along in the next generation to replace those of us who love the natural world.   The outside world shaped our lives and how we respond to the challenges of life.  Television and the Internet have shaped many those following us.

After we quit building forts and creating ponds, my friends and I became Boy Scouts.  We loved to camp and would head off for an overnight trip to a campsite with the slightest excuse.  I carried that love of camping with me through much of my early adult life.  One of the most memorable summers was one where I didn’t have a job and was able to alternate camping on Ocracoke Island with camping in the Smoky Mountains.  It was a magical summer.

A camping trip to Nova Scotia over Thanksgiving one year in college probably had a lot to do with my decision to live in Canada for sixteen years.  I fell in love with Canada’s wild country.  I still remember pitching my faithful blue mountain tent on the shores of the Bay of Fundy.  My first camping trip there was to celebrate scraping together $6,000 for my first farm and 140 acres.  I still remember the unique flavor a steak grilled over a driftwood fire.

Spending everyday outside for over twelve years while I took care of our herd of Angus cattle in Canada gave me a great appreciation for the world beyond the walls of my house.   I didn’t do any camping while I farmed but I was outside more hours than I want to remember.  Even while farming I still managed to catch a few fish between chores.

I camped some with my son when he was growing up, but the world had changed by then.  My trip to Hammocks Beach State Park brought back fond memories of waking up in the cool morning air along the beach.   I could almost taste the sand in the scrambled eggs from my days on Ocracoke.

The more that I walk the beach, the more convinced that I am that the culture of television and the Internet have thinned the ranks of those who want to see what is on the other side of that next sand dune.

We have amazing beaches here on Emerald Isle.  Yet once the beaches are closed for driving, you really don’t have to walk the miles that I do at the Point on Emerald Isle before the crowds disappear.  Thankfully there are always a few who are searching out that next interesting tidal pool or who want to know what is beyond that next curve in the beach.

That we learned much more than how to pitch a tent from Scouting and camping is unquestionable, but learning isn’t just confined to our youth.  When I came to the Crystal Coast, I was determined to learn the waters of our area like I once knew the fields and forest of my farm in Canada.

My wife and I weren’t boaters when we bought a Sundance skiff in June of 2007, but we managed to learn the waters well enough to have a great time safely. Most weeks I take my boat out four or more times.  I have a hard time imagining being cut off from the beautiful waters of Carteret County.

The land and waters of our area encourage people to get outside and enjoy a world they might not have experienced before moving here.  I have seen people come to the Crystal Coast and take up kayaking at age when some folks are comfortably settled in their easy chairs or assisted living homes.  Learning to love the out-of-doors can happen at any age.

There is a part of me that believes that children raised here on the Southern Banks will have an advantage in life because most parents here make sure their children spend more time outside than inside. There is so much to learn here, and it is such a wonderful place to learn.

As I was walking back from the beach to the ferry terminal at Hammocks Beach State Park, I was heartened to see a young couple obviously hauling their gear to the beach for an overnight camping trip.   Maybe there won’t be as many whose lives are shaped by the world outside four walls, but I will bet that those who do learn to appreciate the out-of-doors will have even more of an impact on the future of our world.

Just maybe some of those folks will come from the Crystal Coast.



Fish in my backyard

My watery backyard

My watery backyard

I have enjoyed water all my life.  My happiness has always been the greatest when there is some water close by our home.

Often it hasn’t mattered whether it was a stream, pond or an ocean.  Sometimes just being able to see water has been enough to keep me going.

When I was growing up in Lewisville, NC, a small creek down in the woods behind the house helped keep me happy most of the time.  Even then there were times when I needed more water.

My mother used to drive my friend, Mike, and me to my uncle Henry’s fishing ponds across the county line in Yadkin County.  We were left there at very young age, but we were very responsible kids and both strong swimmers.  We could fish a whole day and not say a lot.  Neither us ever fell in one of the ponds.  We were too busy fishing to horse around with each other.

After college, I moved to Nova Scotia to fulfill an itch to be close to the land.  I got an old farm on a hillside that had a wonderful view and frontage on the Bay of Fundy.  I could eat breakfast and look at the water.

On our farm in New Brunswick, we had a small pond and a trout creek at the back of the farm.

Later when we move back to the states and lived on a mountain overlooking Roanoke, Va., I would often hoist our two person kayak on the roof of our little limo (a Nissan Axxess)  and head off to Carvin’s Cove for some fishing.

Still I had a dream of living by the water.  In 2006, after looking for over three years, we found a place in Bluewater Cove on Raymond’s Gut just off the White Oak River.

In September of that year we moved into our home which definitely has water behind the house. The water leads to the White Oak River, Swansboro Harbor, the ICW, Bogue Inlet, and eventually the Atlantic Ocean.  Not long after moving, I officially declared the White Oak my backyard.

I got a new one person kayak in the fall of 2006, and in June 2007, we got our 20 ft. Sundance skiff  which I gave the unofficial name of “Living the Dream.”  Since then we have fished the area with varying degrees of success.  We have had some great fishing trips, and I have even caught fish off of our dock with my fly rod, but I always felt that to really enjoy living where we do, I had to learn more about fishing the river.

This past February, the North Carolina Sportsman magazine published an article about fishing hotspots in the Swansboro, NC area.   I bought one, and when I turned through the pages, I was not very surprised to see our deck in the distant background of what was called the croaker hole in the article.  It was a spot that we had successfully fished often.

I haven’t fished a lot in 2011, but this fall as the opportunities to fish have presented themselves, I have been focused on using artificial bait and staying close to home on the White Oak.  Most of the fall I carried a rod with me when I went out in the kayak or skiff.  I just didn’t catch much of anything, but often I was only out a few minutes.

Earlier this second week of November 2011, the waters began to really cool, and my luck started to change.  I caught a bluefish from our skiff while drift fishing the croaker hole near the red sixteen buoy which we can see from the Bluewater Cove dock.  That was all I caught in the few minutes that I fished, but I did think about naming him “the bluefish of happiness.”  One fish is not a lot to rave about, but I caught him with in sight of our house.

The next day, the weather was even nicer, so I decided to head out and fish the oyster rocks in the middle of the river near our home.  It is something that is hard to do in anything but a kayak since the water depth is very shallow as you can see from this picture.

I had only been fishing a few minutes when I caught a nice bluefish.  In a few more minutes, I landed a really nice trout between fifteen and sixteen inches in length.  No long after that I caught a smaller trout just a little over twelve inches long.  I fished for a while more, but I didn’t get any more taps as they call trout bites.  That was okay, it was my best kayak fishing trip of this year.

As I have said before, fish are optional when you are fishing in such great weather in surroundings that are hard to describe with words, but it is nice to catch one once in a while, and it is even better if you catch it in your backyard.

I am looking forward to the rest of the fall, I think that I might have my touch back.