Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving Arrives With Wind & Rain

Raymond's Gut, whitecaps of the White Oak River in the distance

It seems like fall just arrived and my friend Scott in his post, We Was Robbed, is hoping for his Carolina friends or actually me to "get plastered by the big storm" that just passed us.  Perhaps I upset his midwestern soul by offering to send him some tomato plants as this November was drawing to a close.

I guess that I can publicly break the news to Scott that while the storm huffed and puffed and threw some rain at us, our little piece of paradise along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks survived.  Morehead City and Atlantic Beach which are both about twenty miles east of us did get visited by a confirmed tornado.  The general area damaged is close to the big bridge across Bogue Sound just over the word City in this map of directions to Harkers Island.

Eastern North Carolina is no stranger to tornadoes but they rarely reach the intensity of ones seen further inland. Our subdivision, Bluewater Cove, just off the White Oak River only got some soggy ground from the storm which visited just as Thanksgiving guests were arriving.  Our wet ground from the storm's 1.7 inches of rain will be gone by tomorrow.

We did not even have to empty our rain gauges for that storm unlike the one which visited us in September, 2010. That localized rainstorm which still defies description gave us 20.25 inches of rain in less than 24 hours.  After that storm I decided it was far better to live in area where the drains are big like the White Oak River's nearly two mile width than it is to live in the mountains where three or four inches of rain can cause flooding.

In the seven years that we have lived on the Crystal Coast, one waterspout coming off the river turned into a tornado that brushed our subdivision.  Tornadoes are scary events and almost no seems out of the reach of them these days.  Our friends in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, near Pulaski can testify to that.

If you live on the coast, you are no stranger to serious weather.  Hurricane Irene was an impressive weather event and I am happy that Irene is the only serious storm to visit our area since we have been here.  Irene taught us to be prepared for dangerous weather, but it certainly did not shake our love of living along the coast.  It turns out that few places are immune from bad weather.

We were months away from finally selling our longtime home in Southwest, Virginia in the summer of 2012 when the area was hit with a Derecho.  The power in our mountain home was out for over a week since the storm took down some of the power transmission towers from West Virginia that provide electricity to Roanoke.  Until that summer when we moved, Roanoke seemed one of the safest places on earth.

Coastal weather sometimes appears to be a riddle that few can decipher.  We have the dry spells that inland areas often endure but we can also get some serious wet spells.  Like most places we take whatever the weather brings us and try to go about our lives with minimal disruption.

However, we can count on the North Carolina sun to give us a long growing season.  My Northern friends are likely upset that I will be ordering my tomato seed this weekend.  The plants will go into the ground around the middle of March when we often get wonderful weather.  We usually have plenty of tasty homegrown tomatoes by the end of May or early June.  I had so many tomatoes in 2011 that we loaded them in boxes and took them inland to some relatives that who were still waiting for their first tomatoes as July rolled around.  We even had enough that year to supply the tomatoes for our church's Fourth of July cookout.

The last few years we have enjoyed wonderful crops of winter lettuce.  I am hoping we get a regular winter instead of one of those old fashioned winters which could put a damper on our middle of the winter lettuce.  We are just getting ready to cut our first heads of fall Romaine.  We have already enjoyed some arugula and our butter crunch lettuce is not far behind.  We still have high hopes for our peas and of course we are still cutting broccoli from our fall plantings.  Our cabbage have just formed their heads so we will likely have one of those soon.

All of that sounds like we have a huge garden, but that is not the case.  We just use all the space that we have available including planting lettuce between our ornamental bushes.  We have a small lettuce patch in an area we call the solarium.  We grow tomatoes in the same spot during the summer.  Along our driveway we have another lettuce patch.  The same area is used for tomatoes in the summer.  Our English garden peas are in an area along our bulkhead where we grow green beans and cucumbers in the summer.  We also have a few spots where we grow herbs.  While some of our winter vegetables get a little frosty they usually recover without any problems.

Our biggest challenge is that some of our ground gets very little rest.  We are trying to get ahead of that problem with composting and perhaps even expanding our garden area with some additional raised beds next year.  I am hoping to have some cherry tomatoes in January of this year.  I have one plant that is in the ground near the water where our ground stays frost free the longest.  I have resorted to covering it during this colder than normal November, but so far it has not only survived but is blooming.  I have another couple of cherry tomatoes that are in pots.  They go out in the solarium most of the time and come into the garage on cold nights.  One of them actually has tiny tomatoes on it.

I wish my friend, Scott, lived closer to us than Chicago.  We have some beautiful Romaine lettuce and nearly perfect broccoli that I would love to share.  He could join us for a peaceful Thanksgiving along Raymond's Gut and leave the holiday madness of the city far behind.

However, he is going to miss this year's turkey so hopefully he will not be upset if I send him pictures of my cherry tomatoes when they get ripe in January.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Fall On The Coast Hits Its Stride

Fall Sunset Near Raymond's Gut

One of the best things about fall on the North Carolina coast is the great weather. While a visit to the Southern Outer Banks does not come with a guarantee that the fall weather will be fantastic, we have enjoyed some spectacular fall weather since we moved here in 2006.  Each summer we eagerly await fall.  Our August humidity usually disappears as fall comes and any lingering crowds from summer quickly disperse and best of all we hardly ever have an early cold snap that actually produces serious frost or below freezing temperatures.

There are exceptions like the October 28, fishing trip that I took the year before we moved here. I nearly froze while fishing a few hundred yards from Beaufort's Front Street.   Fortunately I caught enough fish that the weather did not really matter.  In 2013, we got a touch of frost in a few spots on October 26, but I had some uncovered tomato plants that the light frost did not harm.

A good part of the reason that we have such temperate weather in the fall is that there is water all around us.  From our big coastal river, the White Oak,  to the waters of Bogue Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean,  the warm water surrounding us helps keep early fall cold spells inland.  In spring as the water is slowly warming it keeps us cool in the early part of summer.  Often it takes so long for our water to cool down that we stay relatively warm through early winter.

In addition to temperatures that please almost everyone, our fall skies are often a gorgeous blue like the ones in this picture taken while I was kayaking on the White Oak River.

While it might be hard to believe, I wore a bathing suit and waded in the surf with bare legs when I went surf fishing on the Point at Emerald Isle this past first weekend of November 2013.  With a surf temperature of 60F, the water was a little chilly but not bad for a few minutes at a time.

As one of the rare places which consistently amazes me, the Point was spectacularly beautiful this weekend.  I posted several pictures of my Sunday, November 3, hike on the Point.  While the fall scenery, weather, and quiet waters make the Crystal Coast really special during the fall, one of my favorite things about living on the coast is that as the holiday season approaches things get more peaceful here on the coast.

There is a little bit of a reverse migration as December arrives here on the coast.  Even the most hardy visiting fishermen generally take leave of the area.  On top of that many residents who have welcomed visitors all summer take the opportunity to go visit inland relatives during the holiday season.  Some restaurants close for a month or two and we actually seem to miss the holiday rush here on the coast.  It is fine with me.

If you have never had the opportunity to enjoy a vacation on the coast in the fall, do not miss the chance if you get it.  It you need help planning your fall vacation or Thanksgiving at the beach, check out our Emerald Isle Travel Guide.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Who Raised Those Folks?

White Oak River, Three Miles North of Swansboro, NC

We were driving back from church recently and had stopped at one of our area's few stoplights.  As we stopped, a big truck towing a large boat ran the red light. The light was red before he even got near the intersection.  The first thought that came to mind was one of my mother's favorite sayings, "Who raised those folks?"

Mother believed that you needed to learn certain things while you were growing up and that it was the parent's job to make sure children took those lessons to heart.

Having proper respect for authority was near the top of her list as was knowing how to properly hold you knife and fork especially when cutting meat.

There were some other things that drove her crazy. One was people who littered.  Seeing someone heave trash out of their car offended her sensibilities and inevitably brought the comment that the people doing the littering did not have a proper upbringing. My mother would not tolerate name-calling or lying.  Those were things that people who were raised properly just did not do. 

She also believed in respecting the office of the President. The President no matter what his party affiliation got a chance to earn her respect.  A President like Eisenhower who demonstrated his abilities got her life-long Democrat vote the second time around. Others like Nixon fell from grace quickly.  Voting was something she did all her life.  She could not understand people who complained about the government but were too lazy to vote.  She would be quick to tell you whether or not she liked who was in office but I never heard any disrespect of an elected official come from her.

She also believed in keeping a neat house including the outside which she believed required flowers and well-trimmed shrubbery.  I do not believe there were many excuses that she would accept for uncared for homes.  In some ways, I think she believed more modest homes offered more opportunities for flowers and showing how much you loved your home.

I suspect my mother would have a hard time in our country today.  The truth was paramount to her next to hard work. She always told me to tell the truth even if I knew it was going to hurt.  She would also have been upset with all the people who never consider that their laziness is just going to cause more work for others.

As we finished our drive home from church, I noticed that the state or county had cut the grass alongside Peletier Loop, one of the rural roads leading to home.  Normally mowing the grass makes things look better, but in this case the road looked worse because the mowing just chewed up all the trash that people had thrown out of their cars.

I wonder what kind of an upbringing makes it okay just to heave your trash out the window.  It is not the worse thing that makes me think that we should license people before they are allowed to have children, but it is one of the more visible things.

There are other less visible things that bother me more.  One is how in some families women are not respected or are even belittled.  In some families, women's opinions or all their hard work are not even taken seriously.  That would not have worked well with my mother.

She was the matriarch of our extended family.  She did not tolerate anyone treating another person badly. I can still remember the story of her standing up to her stepmother who was mistreating one of my mother's sisters.  I think a cast iron frying pan was involved.  The way I heard the story the stepmother never bothered my aunt again.

As many people found out, my mother was quite willing to share her opinions when something bothered her. Sometimes her unvarnished truth was a little brutal, but most of the time you could stay on her good side with a well-mowed yard, a clean car, neatly cut hair, good manners, an empty plate and proper respect for authority especially hers.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Muggies

It is that time of year when it becomes challenging to tout our weather here on the Crystal Coast.  It is usually pretty warm, humid or just plain muggy.  There are a number of reasons that this is one of my least favorite times of the year. They might surprise you.
  1. It is hard to get really nice colors in your pictures and I spend an inordinate amount of time keeping my camera lens from fogging up.
  2. The water in our river, the White Oak, is almost too warm for fishing.
  3. We are sometimes without any breeze.  Having spent years in Nova Scotia, I am actually quiet fond of a decent breeze.
  4. It often looks like it is going to rain but it rarely does.
  5. We are between early and late crops of tomatoes.
  6. Our tourists seem to worry that summer is disappearing and get a little more frantic.
  7. We often get tropical downpours even if the hurricanes miss us.
  8. It is the least comfortable time of year to mow my yard.
  9. Our centipede grass is starting a quick downhill slide and I have to start fighting weeds.
  10. Until the kids go back to school, this is the worst time to find a parking place at the beach.
I could go but you get the idea. Obviously there is not really anything very significant to complain about in my list but it does mean that I have to work harder to see the bright side of things.

I am a very visual person and what I see early in the morning often sets the tone for my day. When I go for my morning walk, I love to find a great photo or two.  Getting a great shot of a bird or the water can add just enough excitement to get me pumped up for the day.   I find late July and most of August the most difficult months for great pictures.  Even the sun when it sets often slides down behind a persistent cloud bank.

Our coastal weather can be puzzling but it can keep you on your toes except when the muggies are here and our weather gets in a late summer rut.  It is still possible to have some magic days on the water.  However, they just seem to be a little harder to find as we get into August.

When we had a house in the mountains, we would often retreat there until September slipped into view. While the mountains in the South often have the same problem, sometimes a change of scenery and some cooler mornings can work wonders.   September can sometimes have a bad case of the muggies, but you know that better weather, the fall season, is on the way.

Many of us who live here along the coast of the Southern Outer Banks rate fall as our favorite season.  The fishing is often great and the beach becomes a little less crowded.  As fall arrives I tend to get some great sunset photos.  This album of photos taken early one October is a great example of the dazzling light that we get in the fall.

If you have children who go back to school in the fall, coming to the beach is pretty difficult, but everyone else should at least consider visiting the coast in September or October.  October especially can be a spectacular month with slightly cooler air and still warm waters.

If you need some specific advice on a beach visit, you can now order a paper copy of my Emerald Isle Travel Guide.   It will also be available on Amazon in a few days and we just have reduced the cost of the updated 2013 digital version to $3.99.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Andrea, The First Storm Of The Season

Cape Hatteras, North Carolina

It is that time of year for those of us who live on the North Carolina coast.  The first storm with tropical characteristics is headed up the coast.

When you live just up the river from Swansboro, North Carolina, it is impossible to ignore coastal storms.  Yet in the almost seven years that we have lived just  a few miles from the Atlantic Ocean, we have managed just one serious storm, Irene, and a brush with Sandy.

As most coastal residents will tell you, beyond the line of homes that are oceanfront or right on the sounds, the areas which get the most damage are often far inland.  Once you get fifty miles inland, rivers do not have the size to handle the torrential downpours that often result from tropical storms.

We live three miles up the White Oak River and the river is between one and two miles wide depending on where you measure it.  It is also a tidal river.   When our tides go out, we lose a couple of feet of water.  If a hurricane is going to hit us and cause flooding like Irene did, it has to hang around for a while.

The worst flooding that we have endured here on the Crystal Coast came from a freak rainstorm in September 2010.  If you compare these pictures with ones from Hurricane Irene, it is a little hard to tell, but I can guarantee you the rainstorm flooding was worse.  Of course there are not many rainstorms that deliver 20.25 inches of rain in less than eight hours.

Fortunately when our nearly two foot tide went out, our flooding from the rainstorm disappeared. If a hurricane surge hits at high tide, it can cause more problems but hurricane flooding is very complex once you get into the coastal rivers.  Wind direction and the angle of the river in relation to the storm's track become very important.

Sometimes a storm surge goes right by an inlet because of the direction of the wind.  Those of us living in newer homes take some consolation from the fact that our houses are built above the level of one hundred year floods, but you still know that the possibility of flooding is always there.

On the flip side of tropical storms is the beneficial moisture that they often provide.  Our area was extremely dry during the month of May.  We received only one third of an inch rain in the whole month.  While the sunny skies were great for vacationers, they were a problem for those growing crops.  Fortunately we got eight tenths of an inch  of rain this first week of June.

That rain probably saved the area's corn crop, and if we get a nice dose of rain from this tropical system it will help us make it through June and into July.  Our sandy soils need about an inch of rain a week to keep our plants growing.  In that respect, we will welcome Andrea.

In July of 2011 it was so dry in Eastern North Carolina that we had some swamps which caught fire.  Given the choice of a scenario of swamps burning or rains from a tropical system, I will pick the tropical system.

Of course that choice is highly location dependent.  A few inches of rain are not a big problem with our sandy soils and river drains that are a couple of miles wide.  Tropical moisture has caused massive flooding in the mountain valleys near Roanoke, Virginia area where we used to live.  Mountains concentrate rain into narrow rivers which break from their banks when they run out of room.  Sometimes the flooding in narrow valleys can turn into deadly flash floods.

We will not take Andrea lightly since we have just returned from trip that took us from Ocracoke Island to Nags Head.  There are still some signs on the Outer Banks of the damage to Route 12 from last fall's brush with Hurricane Sandy. 

Whether Andrea ends up being welcome or unwelcome all depends on where you live.  We are hoping our spot on the Southern Outer Banks remains a good one to weather the storms which are a normal part of summer at the beach.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Waiting for Summer

Raymond's Gut, just off the White Oak River three miles up river from Swansboro, North Carolina

Even along the North Carolina coast which traditionally has great weather, it seems that we are always waiting for the next season.

Spring has been a little cooler than normal this year, but we are making great progress towards a greener landscape.  The early flowers are gone, the tomatoes are blooming, and some yards including ours have been mowed.

Of course spring presents it own challenges such as winds and frequent showers but we have to be careful to not complain.  A few years ago those spring showers were absent and the summer thunderstorms never came.  We had a very dry year. We had blue skies every day from months. While I love blue skies, our sandy soil needs rain so I am pretty happy to see the spring showers come this year.  Watering everything just to keep it alive is not much fun.

This year we are stuck without extremes.  The winds have not been particularly bad this year, but the combination of slightly cooler temperatures, more showers, and enough wind to keep things interesting have conspired to keep me off the water except for a few times.

That we are having to wait until May to really get going with our boating and fishing is not that unusual and waiting until after the middle of April is about normal, but as the month moves along most of us will start to get impatient.

I renewed my fishing license last month and have listened with interest as a few fish are being caught over on the beach.  Still I know it is a little early for action in the marshes along the river where I like to fish the most.

All I need is an early morning high tide, some blue skies and warm temperatures and I might go chase some of those early bluefish with my skiff while I wait for the kayak fishing to improve.

If you are interested in visiting the Crystal Coast area and the beaches and waters of Emerald Isle, our 2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide has been released.  We are doing free downloads on May 1 & 2 so it is a great time to take a virtual trip to the beach.  The Kindle book can be read on just about any device.  For more information on the download and the software for your device, please visit the free books page on my main website.

2013 Emerald Isle Travel Guide

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter on the Marsh

The marsh along Raymond's Gut has settled into its winter pattern.  We have days when the promise of warmth is fulfilled followed by a day or two of what passes for winter here along the Carolina coast.  As I write this it is early February and on a recent trip to Wilmington, we saw a few trees blooming.  We've had daffodils blooming in our neighborhood for two or three weeks.

Our winters are a far cry from those areas to the north of us. Still once you get used to this climate, our winter weather feels as cold to us as a nasty day in Maine.

Frank, the great egret winter visitor from Canada

The one constant here when the weather has turned cold or nasty is that the big shore birds find that our little inlet offers some protection from biting winds and cooler temperatures.  On really bad days we see a steady stream of birds jockey for the prime spots.

You do not live along a marsh for very long before you figure out that great blue herons are among the most feared of the birds.  It is rare that another big bird get close to a great blue. Even a pelican will not challenge them. Great blues have a nasty enough disposition that they have a hard time getting along with themselves.

Still a marsh stands still for no creature not even territorial great blues.  Most days the prime spots change hands several times.  Sometimes one of the river otters will even intrude to shake things up.  An oblivious cormorant or a well-focused loon will swim through the marsh inhabitants without causing much of a ruckus.  However, the cormorants spook easily and will do panic take-offs when they feel threatened.

In spite of all these interactions between the inhabitants, most of the visitors and regular residents are focused on one thing, eating fish.  The otters do not even mind if you watch them enjoying their fish Popsicles.  Some of the marsh inhabitants can get a little carried away like this kingfisher tenderizing his fish.  Beyond those events things don't change perceptibly in the marsh from one winter day to the next.

The storms come and go along with the tides. We have windy days and days when the sun makes you mindful that you are living in North Carolina and perhaps we should bottle some of this cool air to use in the few weeks of August when we really feel the heat.

One thing that has been different this winter is that an identifiable visitor has chosen to hang around our neighborhood.  Back in late December on a return trip from kayaking out on the White Oak River I noticed a great egret with red spots on his wings.  It was almost dark and he was a long way off.  I soon figured out a few days later that he was wearing tags.

As he became a more regular visitor, we got curious and finally learnned that he is a Canadian bird.  Along the way he has picked up the name of Frank.  You can read his full story at this post of mine, There Are Lots of Egrets, But There Is Only One Frank.  Frank has gotten popular and now has a Facebook page.  His popularity puffed him up so much that he got a Twitter account and did his first Tweet recently.  Frank likes to hear from his fans so send him a note on Twitter @frank29x.139