A Surprise Around Every Corner in our Natural Paradise

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Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

Boardwalk at Bluewater Cove

There are places in the world which can help heal your soul.  I happen to live in one of those places.  I came to it at a time when my life was full of challenges and I had come close to forgetting how important it is to appreciate the natural world around you.

Anyone that follows my writings  and pictures knows that the years since 2006 when we moved here have changed my life.  At one time when I was working for Apple, it seemed as if I hardly had time to check whether the sun was up or down.  I was too busy trying to survive and watching my back.

Today my connection with the natural world is a priority.  The only thing higher would be my family and friends. Fortunately my dedication to being close to the world of nature also helps me nurture many friendships and my family.

After a couple of cups of coffee, a typical winter day begins with at least an hour of hiking around the marshes in our subdivision.  Sometimes I completely lose track of time and I end up spending closer to two hours wandering the woods and wetlands.  Those days breakfast tastes very good when I finally get back home.

When I start out on the boardwalk close to home, I never know what I will find around the corner.  It can be a great blue heron, some great egrets, a kingfisher, or any of a variety of ducks.  Recently I have had great fun with a pair of river otters.

This is a special area. I often describe the area as a place hemmed in for its own good by the Croatan National Forest, Cape Lookout National Seashore, and the Atlantic Ocean with a little protection by Camp Lejeune and the Marines.

A big part of our world is the White Oak River which luckily drains mostly wilderness and farmland.  The White Oak is a big but short coastal river with a strong tide and plenty of oysters.  Often the water is so clear that you can easily see for yards.

The White Oak is just intimidating enough to outside boaters that we rarely see crowds on it in the summer.  In the winter except for a few crab pots, the river is close to deserted.  I am happy to have it to myself like I did on Christmas Day 2012 when I kayaked for most of the morning.

My morning walk often takes me along Raymond’s Gut which empties into the White Oak.  I sometimes feel like I am in a bird sanctuary.  The other morning I stood and snapped shots of bluebirds swarming around a tree.  I have watched baby pileated woodpeckers waiting patiently for their parents to deliver food.

Even during the colder months, I often take to the river in my kayak or skiff.  I try to be on the river at least a couple of times a week twelve months of the year.  Instead of a long walk, in the summer I’ll often take my skiff to the marshes on the other side of the Intracoastal Waterway near Swansboro.   I enjoy a little early morning fishing before the day heats up.

In both spring and summer I can be found walking the beaches especially the area that we call the Point.  Usually I finish my day with either another walk, a trip into the river by kayak or a sunset cruise in the skiff.  Watching the sun slide down behind the trees on the other side of the White is my idea of a great finish to a day.

The beaches, the marshes, the sound, the ocean, and the White Oak River are all part of this wonderful natural world that has helped me recover and learn to appreciate the great natural gifts we are so lucky to have access to in our world.  It is a great place to live.

Certainly the bottle-nosed dolphins, the river otters, and the hooded mergansers would all agree with me that this is a wonderful spot.

Quiet Waters

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Quiet Waters Waiting for the Nor'easter

Quiet Waters Waiting for the Nor’easter

I lived in the North just across the Maine border for many years.  The rhythm of life in New Brunswick is different from the way it is here on the North Carolina coast, but there are some similarities.  On our Canadian farm it was always a rush to get things done before the winter blanket of snow arrived.

Once the snow came, there was a sense of release.  Many projects were frozen in time until the next spring.  For a few days, you could actually relax until those regular winter chores began in earnest.  Along the beaches of the Southern Outer Banks November’s bright sunny days seem to urge us to be outside and on the water as much as possible.  In the back of our minds, we know the outside season that we love and cherish could be snatched from us at any time.

Some years the great weather goes on forever.  Then there are years like 2012 when November reminds us that it can be a fickle master.  Not surprisingly when the late fall rains and cooler temperatures arrive on the coast, there is a pause and a changing of the gears that is similar to what happens in the North when the first significant snows arrive.

Carteret County with more water than land is unlike the urban areas of the east coast.  The wind, weather, and temperature are of great importance since people here spend so much of their time in the out-of-doors.  I like to think that we live much of our lives in a world without walls here along North Carolina’s Southern Outer Banks. Whenever I get a great day, I often spend it checking out the changes in The Point at Emerald Isle.  It is one of those places where Mother Nature is the mistress and I am often exploring the unknown.

We are very lucky here on the coast.  Even after fall has long given up on the interior of the state, we can snatch some summery days from the jaws of winter.  We have to change gears again and find our shorts, but it is just like a thaw up North when the snow leaves.  You take advantage of it and get back into your old routine until cold winds force you to change your habits and clothes once again.

Actually one of the treasured times up North is during a snow storm.  Most people who can will hunker down in their homes and adapt to staying inside until the weather clears, and they can get back to work.  Here on the coast when the Nor’easters blow with driving rain and wind over a day or two,  the feeling is very similar to what I felt during a snow storm in Canada.  When it is nasty outside we try to watch the weather through the windows just as much as we did in Canada.

Maybe it is a little easier to get around in our Nor’easters than it is in a Canadian blizzard, but there are some folks living along Route 12 between Nags Head and Hatteras Island who might argue the point.

Just as bright blue skies might follow a strong Canadian storm, it is not unusual for stellar weather to show up after a Nor’easter. Most skiffs, kayaks, and fishing rods are usually ready for action at any time here on the coast.  All it takes is a little good weather to get most people back out on the water.  As long as there is any hope of catching a fish, there will be a rod or two in my kayak or along for the ride with my skiff.

When it does get too cold to be serious about fishing from a boat, I don’t give up on the water,  I try to zig zag down the White Oak River to Swansboro at least once a week.  In January and February, I have to bundle up, but fortunately March regularly brings warmth to North Carolina.  March is often a hard month for me to resist the call of the water.

With even our coldest months of January and February struggling to keep me off the water,  Carteret County and our home of Bluewater Cove in particular end up being a very good place for wintering.

As I write this on Thursday evening, November 15, 2012,  our latest rain storm is moving off shore, and our local forecasters are calling for another Nor’easter to form off the Carolina coast this weekend.  I likely won’t be able to go chasing puppy drum in my kayak like I did last weekend when the temperatures surged into the seventies, but I am on track to have my new gas logs up and running by the time the storm finds us.

Of course we might get some fine weather between the two batches of rain so perhaps I should check my fishing rods before I go to bed tonight.

With the next storm in mind and getting closer to reality,  I suspect that I will be watching some Saturday football games from the backsides of my eyelids  while my wife cooks up some tasty rainy weather food.  I wonder if I dare dream for some homemade clam chowder?  It would make this Nor’easter almost as welcome as a good Canadian blizzard.

Back to the Point

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New sand and water at the Point

I first visited the Point on Emerald Isle in the summer of 1969.  My uncle Austin and I traveled down the beach in my old Ford Bronco.  At the time it was the only way to get to the Point short of a boat or a very long walk.

In 1969 there were no fancy beach homes lining the shore.  Since 2006, the Point has been one of the places I visit when I want to get away civilization.  It is a place where Mother Nature rules.  The wind, sand, and water at the Point tend to ignore any suggestions that we might have.

The Point is also a place that where change is the norm.  If you visit it once or twice a week like I try to do, you will notice subtle changes.  If for some reason you miss a month, you will likely find things rearranged some place along the shores of the Point.

In a world where some folks forget that we are not masters of our environment, the Point is an amazingly beautiful reminder that there are still places where we are at best only observers.

I can still remember the Point disappearing in the fall of 2007.  There was nothing but water at the edge of the vehicle ramp.

These pictures taken in August of 2009 show that it was a slow process for the Point to start recovering and add sand.  Huge sandbags were still prominent in 2009.

Even in the fall of 2010 three years after the picture of the Point under water, there was still a whole lot more water than sand at the Point.

By the fall of 2011, the tide had turned if you will pardon the pun.  Sand was accumulating at an amazing rate.  This picture looking back towards the vehicle ramp shows how things changed over the course of four years.  In just those few years a lot of sand filled the area between the vehicle ramp at the Point and Bogue Inlet.

In August of 2011 I created a flash-based map with pictures showing some of the recent changes at the Point.  At the time I wondered what would happen next. Certainly over the last year the changes didn’t stop. The sand continues to build up in the area near what I have always heard called Bird Island.

On August 31, 2012, I took another hike around the Point.  Using the MyTracks app in conjunction with Google Maps and my Android phone, I created this map.  Except for a small inlet of water near Bird Island, everything within the blue lines is now sand.  This picture gives you an idea of the new sand than has built up near the northern end of the Point.

I have joked with some friends that if this keeps up, it won’t be many years before we will be able to walk to Cedar Point.  However there are other things happening at the Point.  Number one in my mind is that it is becoming bowl-shaped with the sand much higher by the edge near the water than in the center.  When a storm eventually shows up, there is the potential for that sand to end up some place else.  It could be moved to the interior of the Point or dumped in the Inlet.

I have taken hundreds of pictures over at the Point, but pictures alone cannot convey the huge amount of sand that is now at the Point.  The Point will for the foreseeable future remain one of those places that is best appreciated in person.  I can keep posting pictures and maps, but the scale of the area beyond the houses is just too big to fit in a picture.  It is now well over two miles of walking from the CAMA access point on  Wyndtree Drive to the edge of the marshes on Bird Island.

Certainly if you are physically able to walk something like the Point area, it is a place where visiting is well worth the effort especially when the skies are blue.  There are few people to be found this time of year beyond the line of homes.  In the fall when trucks can drive on the beaches, it is a little bit of a different place.  However until September 15 when the trucks come, the far reaches of the Point are truly a special place where sand, wind, and water pretty much do whatever they want, and we humans have to play by their rules.

The Point is a great place to be humbled by nature.  I hope to see many more changes there.  This album of pictures that I posted in June of 2012 is a good introduction to many of the special things which keep me coming back to the Point.

 

Warmth that won’t go away

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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.

 

 

Summer Weather As It Should Be

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Weather in the Cove as it should be

Weather in the Cove as it should be

Our minds do a great job of filtering our memories.  That is especially true of childhood experiences.  If you grew up in the Piedmont of North Carolina in the fifties and sixties, there was plenty of heat.

Air conditioning wasn’t even a dream until late in the fifties.  People put awnings on their homes to help with the heat.  Long trips in the car required riding with the windows rolled down.  Cars had funny little vent windows that you turned to help get air flowing through the vehicle.  There were also side air vents for the floorboard controlled by knobs just under the dash.

Summer was not complete without thunderstorms.  Storms brought rain and were as much a normal part of life as fireflies at night.   The most memorable storms were the ones when I was camping as a Boy Scout at Camp Raven Knob between Mt. Airy, NC and Low Gap, Virginia.

Thunderstorms could easily catch you outside at camp.  We spent those summer weeks in wall tents pitched over wooden platforms.  You didn’t spend much time in your tent so getting caught in the rain was a part of life at camp.  No one worried about not being in air conditioning while at camp because no one had air conditioning at home.

We also knew that a thunderstorm at night would likely make the cold mountain water in Lake Sobotta even cooler for our morning swims.

Schools weren’t even air conditioned.  They actually had windows that opened and closed.  Some teachers even brought fans for those last days of school when the heat seems to take up residence in the school walls.

My memories of vacations at the North Carolina coast are of small cottages a few blocks from the beach. The long trip even in a car without air conditioning was memorable mostly for the picnic that often broke up the trip.  There would be fried chicken and country ham biscuits along with Cokes in small glass bottles.  Lunch at the beach was often tomato sandwiches made from tomatoes that were brought from home.

No one expected a beach vacation insulated from the weather.  Part of the fun at the beach just like at camp was being at the mercy of the weather whether it was the bright sun or a thunderstorm.  I can still remember sitting on a bench at the trading post and watching a heavy thunderstorm at camp.  The ocean or lake water could be warm one day and cool the next day if storms had rolled through during the night.

In 2011 and 2012 the weather along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast was abnormally dry.  We were in a drought punctuated by a few periods of wet weather for nearly two years.  During the summer of 2011, our area of Carteret County along the eastern shore of the White Oak River received just 1.85 inches of rain in total from May 1 until July 31.

The dry weather short circuited our normal summer weather.  With the ground so dry, it was hard for the evaporation that helps to spark the thunderstorms to take place.  Without thunderstorms, we got drier.  Thunderstorms also help cool the waters in the area.  In an area like Carteret County which is over 60% water, the water temperature plays a big role in our evening temperature.  Cooling breezes from the water are a big part of what makes the beach an area that is so attractive to visitors in the summer.

Summer in 2012 in our neighborhood along the Crystal Coast seems much more like a normal coastal North Carolina summer.  Rain has been a very welcome visitor at our dock this summer, and I am sure that places like the Aquarium and the Maritime Museum have seen an increase in attendance.

Though a rainy day might keep us off the water or prevent us from visiting the beaches, rain is essential to keeping our area the natural paradise that it is.  That we are an area where beach traffic is almost a non issue has a lot to do with the marshes and woods that are nourished by those summer thunderstorms that are now back as a part of our life.

It is a good thing that being at the beach forces folks to deal with the natural elements. Our modern world has created such an insulated existence that many folks don’t know how to enjoy a national park unless they have a cable television controller in their hand.