Not The Last Warm Day

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Fall Afternoon in Raymond's Gut

Fall Afternoon in Raymond’s Gut

On December 1, 2016, in my post, Life by the Waters of the White Oak, I wrote “Our temperatures were well into the seventies on this year’s first day of December.” Here we are a year later and we have enjoyed an even nicer fall.

At our dock, three miles up the White Oak from Swansboro, the temperature hit 70F on December 5, 2017. Wearing shorts and t-shirt I spread mulch and put down pine straw for a few hours. I never got cold. The weather has been great for the last month or so. We only got three-quarters of an inch of rain during November. There has been no killing frost at our place as of December 6.

Yesterday, we picked green beans and the last of our tomatoes. Over the weekend I picked most of our pepper crop. Earlier last week, I pulled out most of our persistent tomatoes. We have enjoyed a ripe tomato from our plants every month for the last sixteen months and we have some green ones that will likely carry us into January. We can give the homegrown tomatoes a few-months break.

The weather forecast for the next few days paints a different picture for us. It has highs in the upper forties and some lows in the lower thirties. There is a chance that we might even get a frost. A winter day on the Crystal Coast is one when we barely get over fifty Fahrenheit.

However, this change to cooler temperatures is not like that first snow in Canada which comes in November and potentially hides the ground for the next six months. This is North Carolina’s Crystal Coast and we spend a lot more time thinking about beaches and warm waters than we do about snow. Summer in October is pretty standard, some beach weather is normal in November, and shorts weather is not that unusal in December. January beach days are not out of the realm of possibility here.

Living by the water tempers our weather and we take advantage of it whether in summer or winter. I usually take a few boat rides in December. Winter as we know it gives us some great opportunities to enjoy the natural paradise around us. We might see some frozen water but it will likely not be until January. Then we only have to live through February before thoughts of spring can provide some welcome relief and even the opportunity for wading in the water on a warm day.

If you need a break from serious winter, give the Crystal Coast and the beaches of Emerald Isle a try. You will find lots of guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle in our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017-18 print editions were just published on August 15 and  are Prime eligible at Amazon. the Kindle version went live on September 20. If you are in Emerald Isle, you can pick up a black and white copy at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  The Emerald Isle Town Office carries the color version.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below. Our last newsletter went out just before the middle of October.  This is a link to A Balmy Beginning To Fall, our October 2017 edition of the newsletter. I should have another newsletter out before the end of December. Happy Holidays!

Fading Light of Fall

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Sunset in Raymond's Gut

Even with the lingering warmth, we cannot ignore the change of the seasons on the horizon any longer. Summer finished nicely and some of its warmth has stayed with us well into November. However, with standard time and shorter days, it feels like fall is finally slipping away from us. We all know what comes next.

Sunsets like the one pictured are not as rare as one might imagine but they also signal the passage into the season that passes for winter here on the Crystal Coast. When I see a series of these beautiful sunsets, I know some cold weather is not far from us.

I say cold weather with a slight smile on my face. We are still getting a few tomatoes from our garden and my wife picked enough green beans today for us to enjoy them with Thanksgiving dinner. Our red pepper harvest is still mostly hanging on the plants. It has been a good gardening season.

A cold winter day on the Crystal Coast is one where we do not break forty degrees Fahrenheit. We can usually count on the fingers of one hand the number of those days that we see in December. February is our coldest month and sometimes we even have a day when we barely get above freezing.  Every few years we get a dusting of snow.

Fortunately all of that is in the future and we are still at that time of year when the water that surrounds us in Carteret County moderates the temperatures. With the water temperature still above sixty degrees Fahrenheit, we usually get a break from the early frosts and extended cold spells. However, we are past the middle of November so we know the gardens are living on borrowed time. The grass in our yards has stopped growing and we are seeing a slight burst of fall color that sometimes eludes us completely.

Thanksgiving will roll around this week and while it will be a festive time with the beginning of the flotilla season, the truth is that the Crystal Coast has a history of being a calm spot in the storm that often defines the holidays in more populated areas. While most areas seem to rev up during the holidays, the Crystal Coast throttles down.

There are still some surf fishermen around, but most of our beach-loving visitors have made their way back home. In recent years, our beaches have become something of a refuge from holiday madness for those seeking an escape. We do have the excitement of the Emerald Isle Christmas Parade on Saturday, November 25 at 3PM, but I sometimes think there are almost as many people in the parade as are watching. It is a fun, old-fashioned Christmas parade that everyone enjoys.

November remains a great time to visit the beach. It is not too late to enjoy the sound and smell of the surf. Fish are still biting. You just have to fish a lot slower than you normally would. The beaches are just as beautiful as ever and if you are lucky, you might catch one of our wonderful late-fall sunsets. The restaurants, grocery stores, and beaches are all uncrowded. There are even a few restaurants open for Thanksgiving feasts.

If you need a break from holiday madness, give the Crystal Coast and the beaches of Emerald Isle a try. You will find lots of guidance on having a great time here in Emerald Isle in our book, A Week at the Beach – The Emerald Isle Travel Guide.  The 2017-18 print editions were just published on August 15 and  are Prime eligible at Amazon. the Kindle version went live on September 20. If you are in Emerald Isle, you can pick up a black and white copy at Emerald Isle Books and Toys in Emerald Plantation.  The Emerald Isle Town Office carries the color version.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below. Our last newsletter went out just before the middle of October.  I am going to try to publish once every three months during this winter.   This is a link to A Balmy Beginning To Fall, our October 2017 edition of the newsletter.

Taste of Summer in April

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It was only as the last weekend in March arrived that winter seemed to release its hold on the Crystal Coast. After a relatively warm February, we had serious visits back into winter-like weather.

We saw our first snowflakes in three or four years on March 12. On March 15 we began a series of three days when the temperatures fell into the mid to upper twenties. One day it only got into the mid-thirties and was so cold that some of my tomato plants that were hardening off inside the garage ended up with some damaged leaves.

Fortunately April has been a wonderful month so far. Sunshine, blue skies and warming temperatures have defined April 2017. Our grandchildren were on spring break the second week in April and it was a dandy with no precipitation, nearly perfect beach temperatures and no extreme wind.

The next week has been almost as nice with a couple of windy days and some clouds thrown in for variety. On April 21, we got to 84F by 11:30 AM. It feels summer-like outside and everyone has been enjoying outdoor activities. The winds continue to be more than the previous week and we are getting dry. The forecast for this weekend may solve the early dryness of our growing season.

Our garden plants which get water as needed are doing great. The Romaine lettuce, spinach, green onions and broccoli are some of the best we have ever grown.

Based on a few trips to Emerald Isle during Easter week, I would say that the tourist traffic was brisk. Food Lion was a bit of zoo at times when I ventured over.

This week we have enjoyed a few nights when the temperature stayed close to 70F which seems to be the magical number for warming the water up. The surf is already in the mid-sixties and the river is above 70F. Right on cue, someone in our neighborhood landed a short red drum. Our spring birds like the killdeer are also showing up.

I was out earlier in the spring in my kayak but since then my free time has coincided with the stronger winds so I have not made a second trip but I am more persistent than the winds so I will be back on the water soon. This is also the time of year when you will find the beach substantially cooler than inland areas. You certainly will not be cold but winds, cooler temperatures, and still chilly water can make a big difference if you get wet.

Certainly you can wade a little in the water but I would wait a little longer before getting seriously wet. It will not be long and the water will be really nice.  The Crystal Coast is as nice a family beach as you can find and early spring is a great time for a practice visit to line up your summer vacation.  Almost everything stays open all year on Emerald Isle.

If you are new to the area, do not forget to check out our books including, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It is available in print or as a Kindle book.

Vestiges of Winter in the Marsh

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It has been over two months since I have written a post on my Crystal Coast Life website. It happens ever now and then that you just need a break from writing even if writing is something that you enjoy very much. If there is a good time for some time off from writing, it is winter and if there is a good place to restore yourself, it is the marshes along the North Carolina coast.  I am back now and refreshed from the break and hopeful that we are seeing the last vestiges of winter.

The winter of 2016-17 has been an easy one so far in the Raymond’s Gut marsh on the edges of the White Oak River. We had one serious cold spell from January 7 to Jan 10. We experienced 15F, the lowest temperature in our ten plus years on the Crystal Coast. Fortunately for those of us along the coast there was no frozen precipitation to go along with the very cold temperatures.

Winter brought our usual cast of characters including our most famous visitor, Frank 29X and a new friend, an otter who has been named Emmet. Frank 29X is a great egret born in Canada who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. He is a true snow bird with his trips south each winter. He has not missed a winter since 2012 and is somewhat famous in birding circles.  Emmet is a young river otter who seems to have developed a fondness for our marsh. There was one stretch when he was around for almost two weeks. I am guessing that Emmet is one of the otters that were born here in the marsh last year. The marsh did get iced over during our one cold spell but that is long gone and the duration of our cold spells is shorter and shorter as we get closer to spring.

As winter slowly releases us to spring, we can still expect some cold nights but often the brilliant North Carolina sun can make you forget about cold temperatures well before 10AM. Winter winds often linger and become spring breezes which given the length of time that it takes for the waters to warm up are only marginally warmer than the cold winter winds.  It does not take much to change the quiet inlet in the post picture to a wind whipped inlet.

Another part of winter that takes a long time to change is the reddish brown of our mostly centipede lawns. This area by our boardwalk is green in the summer but stays brown until April usually. While it is not unusual to see green grass in central North Carolina in early March, it takes much longer for our brown centipede lawns to turn green. If you see green grass at the coast early in the spring, it is likely that someone over-seeded their centipede yard with annual rye grass. We actually hope the centipede grass does not turn green until into April. A late March frost can turn a centipede yard brown and it has to start greening up all over.

The roller coaster weather that we have on the coast also keeps our area waters which were cooled by the winter’s cold temperatures from warming up quickly. Cool water temperatures are the most maddening vestiges of winter. The warm days of spring often tease us but experience has taught us that the beautiful waters of spring are often deadly cold. We might end up being lucky this year with the water temperatures already in the mid-fifties, but I am not counting on it yet.

All it takes is for the northern half of the country to be snow covered and for those cold north winds to sweep across the fields of snow to keep our spring damp and cool. Still we know that spring is drawing nearer by the day. We have already picked up almost an hour of daylight. Our daffodils have responded with beautiful blooms. And in what might be a surprise to many people our wagon train tomatoes are still producing ripe tomatoes. We already have tomato seeds planted and it will not be long before we are planting cold tolerant plants.

It will take a while for those last vestiges of winter, the brown centipede grass, the cold winds, and cold water to disappear but we are on the downward slope to better weather. We will soon be thinking about spring festivals and walks along the beach.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books are especially useful if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

The sign-up form the Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter is below.  The first newsletter of the new year is late but should be out late in the week after Valentine’s today. It will just in time to provide information on the first spring festivals.

Life by the Waters of the White Oak

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The White Oak River

The White Oak River

Another November has come and gone and somehow I am not surprised that once again the weather has been unpredictable but beautiful. That this fall has been yet another great coastal fall is undeniable.

The nearly perfect weather has been an interesting contrast to the cold weather of November 2014 when we saw temperatures drop to 24F and the high for one day only reach 42F. We got through November 2016 without a killing frost along the edges of Raymond’s Gut. The narrow channel of Raymond’s Gut runs behind our home and out to the White Oak River. It is a great place to garden, fish, and enjoy life.  That is especially true when we have more than our fair share of summer-like fall days that have been the gift of November 2016. Our temperatures were well into the seventies on this year’s first day of December.

Fall 2016 unlike last year has been dry since early October. Hurricane Matthew dumped three inches of rain on western Carteret County on October 8. In the almost eight weeks since then we have only received 1.72 inches of precipitation. November 2015 was much wetter. We got 7.1 inches of rain just on November 19, 2015. On December 2, 2015 our rain total since June 1 stood at 59.4 inches. This year with a total of just 40.2 inches precipitation since June 1, 2016, we are over nineteen inches behind last year’s total. No one is complaining. It is the first time in a while that we had a chance to thoroughly dry out.

Variable weather comes with living along the coast. When water is at your doorstep there are some benefits like later frosts and extended spring weather. Each year the waters are slow to cool in the fall and sometimes not so quick to warm in the spring. We are also on the doorstep of a huge weather machine that often spawns storms just off our coast. We sometimes either get brushed by storms or watch them spin up and head north to clobber New England or the Canadian Maritimes.

Life along the water has other benefits. The cast of characters that frequent our marsh is entertaining to say the least. An early morning walk along the marsh is hardly complete without seeing some kingfishers swooping along the surface of the water. Sometimes we watch them capture a meal and proceed to tenderize it by pounding it on a piling. It is not unusual to see loons and otters and of course lots of ducks from mallards to mergansers. Our most famous visitor is Frank 29X, the great egret from Canada, who first visited the Raymond’s Gut marsh in December 2012. If Frank makes it back this year, it will be his fifth straight year to visit Raymond’s Gut.

This photo album taken during the winter of 2013 provides lots of bird and creature pictures along with shots from my kayak trips. More water and some beach shots can be found in this fall 2014 album. With great Crystal Coast weather, the choice of what to do is only limited by your free hours. Now that we are into December my kayaking will be much more limited with few if any more trips to the center of the river as the water cools. December 1, would have been a great day for a beach hike but we were scheduled during our too-short December daylight hours.

A body of water like Raymond’s Gut which stretches from the White Oak into the marsh is like a watery game trail and those of us living by it have ringside seats. Beyond the gut there is the superhighway of the White Oak River where anything from bottle nosed dolphin to blue crabs and a shark is possible. It is hard to believe that I took our skiff down the river almost a week ago and I was still wearing my standard uniform of shorts.  On that trip we saw kingfishers, great egrets and a great blue heron.

We are blessed to live by waters that delight us with a new window into the natural world each day. If you ever have a chance to park yourself along the water for a few years or even months, do not miss the opportunity. It is a wonderful way to watch the seasons pass. We have seen things from our kitchen window that some folks will never have a chance to see.  How many people have seen a great egret stand down a great blue heron,  a great blue heron go ice skating or an otter eating fish like a Popsicle? You cannot ask for a better place to appreciate our natural world than the shores of a place like Raymond’s Gut.

There will still be some warm days here on the coast, so come for a visit and enjoy the weather while it holds winter at bay.  For each warm day you can enjoy, you banish one day of winter and life seems just a little bit brighter.  Turning our backs on winter is a favorite game for those of us who live here.  We like to cheat winter as much as we can.

Our most recent Crystal Coast newsletter, Paddling Into The Holidays, was sent out on November 17.  The previous one before that was Back to the Beach, which was emailed out on September 12.

Our books make great Christmas presents especially if you are planning a visit to the Crystal Coast in 2017.

Sign-Up for the monthly Crystal Coast Life Email Newsletter

Nearly Perfect Weather

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After two rainy but still nice summers, we have enjoyed a stretch of remarkable dry weather. In the last twenty-six days we have only gotten two tenths of an inch of rain. Before that we measured 38.5 inches of rain since June 1 or a little over 2.1 inches per week during the whole summer. Even that pales to 2015 when our rain total by early October was 43.25 inches or 2.4 inches per week.

Even as the light rain comes down early on the morning of November 4, the expectation is that it will clear this morning after minimal precipitation.  Then there will be another week of dry weather for everyone to enjoy.

Fall of 2015 ended up being great but so far this year’s fall weather has been even better. I suspect it has surpassed almost everyone’s dreams. While it was summer-like and almost too warm for a while, the last week of weather was perfect.  The fall gardens which were doing well early have recovered from Mathew and we are even catching fish which puts everyone on the Crystal Coast in a good mood.

I have been out on the river twice in the last five days and both times have been a joy. Saturday I brought home a nice black drum and a speckled sea trout eighteen inches long. I also returned to the river two fifteen to sixteen inch red drum. Thursday, November 3, I did not even get in my kayak until 4:45 PM and after twenty minutes of paddling I dropped anchor. I caught another sixteen inch red drum on my first cast. In a few minutes, I caught another slightly shorter one and on my way in, I caught one that was close to twenty inches. The net in the picture with the drum is sixteen inches across. Of course I caught the drum in my favorite spot out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak River. The only reason I stopped fishing was that I was running out of daylight.

Most of us living here on the coast move here to be close to the water. Still the great weather, abundance of blue skies and sunshine are also factors. Some folks come for the beach and there are others who come for either boating, kayaking, fishing or all of the above. I often joke that we should bottle our fall weather on the coast and bring it out in February during our short winter. The reality is that usually we get enough nice weather that it is not too hard to survive until spring warmth finds us.  Nice weather in October and into November is not unusual. We even get shorts weather sometimes in December. I usually find some warm weather for a January beach hike and some January boating. It does not take much magic winter warmth to get us through the sometimes icy end of winter.

Thoughts cold weather are still a long time off if you live here on the North Carolina coast. We have plenty of time to enjoy the beach before the winter winds. My more recent long hike over on the Point at Emerald Isle was October 20. The water was crystal clear and the air was summer-like.  Crystal clear waters are part of the heritage of the Crystal Coast. Waters like I saw on my last hike give credence to the area’s nickname.

If you have made it this far in the article, you likely have figured out that the best part of the beach season is far from over.  If you find the time, do your body and soul a favor and plan a fall trip to the Crystal Coast. There are no crowds, the humidity is gone and the water is perfect for fishing or even sticking your toes into it. There will still be some warm days, so enjoy them like those of us who live here do.

Our last newsletter, Back to the Beach, went out on September 12.  The one before that was  August Warmth. We hope to have our next newsletter early in November.

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