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Saturday, January 31, 2009

A View That Is a Big Part of the Fun

A view where the water never ends like the one above looking up Bogue Sound is one of the first things you see when crossing the bridge to Emerald Isle. Yet when most people think about the Crystal Coast, the ocean water along the Atlantic Ocean is the first water that comes to mind. It is a natural association. We have plenty of wonderful sandy beaches where you can lose yourself cooking in the sun and listening to the ocean on a summer day. Locals enjoy the beaches also, but some like me actually spend more time in Bogue Sound and Inlet than playing on the beaches. Many locals often have a skiff or kayaks that they use to take advantage of Bogue Sound and our local rivers whenever the winds and tides are right. It would be no understatement to say that Bogue Sound, our local coastal rivers and the Intracoastal Waterway are favorite water playgrounds for many area people.
While we are really fortunate here on the Crystal Coast to have some great beach accesses with lots of parking, there is even less of a problem finding a parking place if you are in a boat or kayak.

It is easy to load your skiff with some beach gear and a cooler holding some cold drinks. Then all you do is make your way out Bogue Inlet until you are just about even with the Point, then if you turn and head back towards Hammocks Beach State Park, you will often find a few boats tied up off a nice beach which is surrounded by water.

The sands change all the time, but we have had good luck with the beaches in this area over the last two summers. The water is usually relatively deep in the channel close to beach so we often nose the skiff onto the shore so most folks can hop off the bow. Usually one person will take the anchor and twenty to thirty feed of line attached to the bow of the boat. Once the boat is positioned just off the beach and the anchor is set, you pull the boat in and the captain hops off. Then the skiff drifts into position just off the beach. We watch the anchor for the first few minutes until we are certain everything is okay, then we start enjoying the beach.

Everyone usually has their own beach and water agenda, and mine usually revolves around fishing. I will often carry a rod, beach rod holder, and a small pack of fishing gear over to the ocean side and start trying to coax some fish from the water. My wife enjoys looking for shells which of course is usually much better on the less accessible beaches. There is no problem finding a spot to spread a towel and catch some sunshine while relaxing.

It is not unusual to find your own beach playground here on the Crystal Coast. When we do not want to get on the beach, we just throw the anchor out in the sound, pull out something cold to drink and enjoy being out on the water without getting any sand between our toes. I can remember my wife complaining about there not being enough breeze on a hot day in the boat. We ended up pulling the anchor and heading out closer to Bogue Inlet where there is almost always a good breeze.

I am a little spoiled living in Bluewater Cove since I do not have to haul my kayak all the way to Bogue Sound to enjoy kayaking. I just slide it into the water from my backyard and paddle out into the White Oak River. Kayaking on the White Oak is one of my favorite water adventures. Most of the time I have the river to myself. Of course having skiff on a lift behind the house makes that decision to head out to Bogue Sound a very easy one. We have a whole new section of waterfront lots open at Bluewater if you want to join us.

When the weather is great in the summer, we have gotten adventurous and made the trip down to Shackleford Banks. On a smooth day it is a nice ride down the Intracoastal and through the harbor at Morehead City. Some folks really enjoy the trip over to Hammocks Beach State Park. The marshes are beautiful there.

When the full story is known, it is pretty clear that Bogue Sound, the White Oak River and other local rivers are important parts of the water fun around here. It is really easy to rent kayaks to explore the sound or rivers. And if you have a kayak, there is a great kayak ramp for launching over at the mainland part of Hammocks Beach State Park.

So the next time you drive over the bridge to Emerald Isle take a second to remember that there is plenty of water fun to be had on Bogue Sound when you get tired of the beach.

If I keep writing about warm things and summer boat trips like the one I call mackerel morning, winter will go away quickly.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Chasing Blue Skies

This has been an unusual winter on the Crystal Coast. I stopped by the local visitor's center the other day. The lady in charge of the office mentioned to me that the weather was a little strange for our area. With a little encouragement, she told me that she had been living in the area for over twenty years. In her mind this winter is a strange one with temperatures not often seen here. We have certainly endured some cooler weather than the two previous winters that I have spent on the coast. However, I have to shake myself a little to make sure I put all of this in perspective. Today was what was what would have been a very cool day in the previous two winters. I think the temperature touched fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Yet there I was in our driveway this morning washing the salt and sand off of our car. It is hard to complain very much if you can painlessly wash your car in your driveway in January. Still the cloudy weather if not the cooler temperature has started to give me fits.
One of the reasons is that I have bragged about all the great winter weather we had during the last two winters. Some of my friends have pointed out the error of my ways. We had lunch today with two of those friends who moved down from Pennsylvania a little over a year ago.

This is their second winter on the coast. Last winter was great, but this winter has been more of a challenge. I was getting beat up pretty badly on the way to lunch when I decided that they had lost their perspective. I reminded them that as we were wandering down to Morehead City for lunch wearing tennis shoes and some of us without even coats, the state of Pennsylvania was getting whacked with snow and ice.

One of my friends finally admitted that his mother back in Pennsylvania had not been able to go out to breakfast for several days because of the snow. She is not the only one dealing with bad weather.

We heard tonight that our grown kids in Northern Virginia were waiting for the snow to stop before they started shoveling. Some friends from Oklahoma emailed us last night that they were in the midst of a terrible ice storm. This evening I checked the snow forecast maps, and my friends in Maine and New Brunswick will wake up Thursday morning with an additional twelve to sixteen inches of snow. I have had to stop communicating with friends in Boston which has already passed its annual snowfall average before even getting out of the month of January. This latest storm may put some of them over the edge.

All of this made me feel somewhat better, but what really made me feel back on top of the world was the sun coming out this afternoon just as we finished lunch. I had a walk-through inspection with a client who is closing on a home, but as soon as I was finished with that we headed to the beach.

Just crossing the bridge to Emerald Isle with the sun shining and the water gleaming helped immensely.

Still I wanted a spot where I could take a picture of the blue water and skies. Today was by no means one of those brilliant clear sky days that we often have, so we ended up chasing the blue sky. We finally caught up with it over at the Point on Emerald Isle. There looking south I took the photograph of the blue sky and water in this post.

I suspect that picture will keep me going until tomorrow when the temperatures are supposed to be in the upper sixties, perhaps even approaching seventy. While some showers are in the forecast, warm temperatures like that will certainly change my mood. It might even get my boat in the water.

Now all we have to do is get the warm temperatures together with the blue skies and things will be back to normal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What Snow at the Beach?

This picture was taken early on Wednesday morning. While I was unable to get back to the beach before sunset, I feel comfortable saying that the snow is gone except for some shaded spots. We did get above freezing today, and as I write this the weathermen are calling for a high temperature of over sixty degrees Fahrenheit on Friday. Even the mid-fifties that we will see on Thursday will be a welcome treat. One of my neighbors confirmed that this was the first time in six years that the Crystal Coast has seen any snow. I guess dealing with less than an inch of snow once every few years is not much a burden to bear. After all there are plenty of other advantages to being here on the coast.
Unless you have lived in the North, it almost seems silly to mention these things. However, they are things that were part of life for many years when I worked in Northern Virginia and Canada. I never left home in the winter without some type of snow tool to clean my car.

There is absolutely nothing more frustrating than coming out of a meeting in your suit and overcoat only to discover that you have nothing to use to clean the snow off your windshield. I have used plastic store cards to scrape ice from the windows of my car.

Then there are always those fun times when the locks on your doors freeze solid.

In Canada we always carried a couple of bags of sand for traction. In fact that far north it was common to have a sleeping bag and several other emergency items in case you launched your car into a ditch full of snow. We always carried a snow shovel for digging out the car.

Many trips I have come home from California only to find my car buried in an airport parking lot with a wall of ice almost requiring a jackhammer to escape from the icy prison.

Fortunately a move to the Crystal Coast can make all of those common daily events from the North just a distant memory.

Today I walked out my driveway to get the morning newspaper. I did not have to plow my way out like I have done dozens of times. There was no snow on the driveway, just a little ice in places. By 10 AM even with the temperature still below freezing, that Carolina sun had completely melted all traces of the ice.

In fact I did not even have to clean the windshield of my truck which was parked outside. By quarter to one this afternoon when I left for the office the sun had also taken care of that. It was also warm enough by then that my coat stayed in the truck just in case I needed it.

In a time when blessings are sometimes hard to find, not shoveling my driveway, not having to clean my windshield, and not wearing a coat, are definitely reasons to be thankful.

I know well what a pain real snow can be. Fortunately our snow did not measure up to Canadian standards. As someone said, there was not even enough to make a snowball.

As I went home from work, I stopped by the Tideland Trails at Croatan National Forest in Cedar Point. A great warm sunset was in progress. Even though the air was cool, the glow of the sun as it slipped behind the trees reminded me of the warmth I had enjoyed this morning as I watched the snow melt.

I have to give that Carolina sun a lot of credit, it cleaned up the snow in less than a day. We are back to being a beach community.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Snow at the Beach?

After my first two winters on the coast, I was pretty sure that I would not see snow here for a long time. This winter has proven me wrong if a dusting of snow counts. Still it is hard for anyone to get very excited about less than one inch of snow on the ground. Even that small amount did not stick to the roads. The only exception that I saw was the bridge to Emerald Isle. It has actually been a long enough time since I have seen snow, that I can smile a little at the snowy scenery. Still no one but children looking for a day out of school welcomed it. After all, this is the beach in North Carolina, we are not supposed to have to deal with snow. As usual many of us were doubtful that the weathermen were right when they predicted that we would see snow today. Now I will pay more attention to the weather forecast going forward.
On January 10 I took my boat out on the White Oak River. I did not even need a coat then for my boat ride. The idea of snow was a long way from my mind. The next day we rode around Swansboro and Cape Carteret in our car taking pictures of flowers. I took some nice shots of a camillia and some early daffodils.

However, I should have known that the weather on the coast was going to suffer since record low temperatures were being set in some places that already have serious low temperatures. When a town in Maine sets a new record low of minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit, it is hard to deny that there is a cold air mass on the east coat.

My college friend, Sally, who lives outside of Boston, has been tired of snow since before the first of the year. I think she even had to shovel the snow off of her roof. I can remember doing that in Canada during our worst winters.

We spent Friday and Saturday in Roanoke, Virginia. The low temperature each morning there managed to drop to two degrees Fahrenheit. Roanoke is only three hundred and twenty miles from Emerald Isle so it comes as only a small surprise that we have been hit with some cold weather this week.

I just did not expect snow. Even this morning when we got up the temperature was still at forty degrees Fahrenheit. It took until just after noon for the temperature to get to freezing. I had been told of the significant snow that took place in 2003 and some others over the previous decade, but I had been counting on a repeat of the last two winters when we hardly saw any cold at all.

Still if you have to endure snow, the best kind is snow that you do not have to shovel. This snow did not stick to our driveways which is a good thing since mine is very long. In Canada you would never choose a home with a long driveway unless you owned a big snow blower or a tractor.

I will admit to the snow being pretty, and I even took a number of snow pictures. I think most businesses over on Emerald Isle closed down early. The bridge over to the island was getting a little slick when we went over at 4:30 PM to take pictures, but they were also sanding and salting it.

The one thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that this cold weather will pass quickly. There are a couple of days in the upper fifties scheduled for the end of the week. Many east coast towns would give anything for that kind of temperature in January.

Just before I go to sleep tonight I am going to play this slide show taken in early fall when we beached our skiff on an island in Bogue Inlet.

If I close my eyes, I can smell the salt water, feel the wet sand on my toes, and the warm salt water on my ankles. February will be here soon, and I know we will start to feel the power of the late winter North Carolina sun.

I have read a couple of weather articles recently which are predicting that the weather patterns are going to flip the second week in February and the Southeast including North Carolina will be warmer than normal.

If nothing else it is a good dream when combined with my slides from the Bogue Inlet trip. A dream of warmth, a cup of hot chocolate, and a fire in the fireplace will get us through a few cold days and a rare snow storm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Warmth of Coastal Friends

We might be surrounded by water here on the coast, but there are plenty of nice people also around us. One of the first things that people ask when considering the Crystal Coast is whether or not people here are friendly to outsiders. Sometimes it is hard to control my smile when I am asked that question in person. I run into lots of people here on the coast, and it is a safe bet that most of them were not born here in Carteret County. Most people are outsiders who have become insiders. The really neat thing about this area is that the people who seem to be attracted to the area are a very friendly group of folks who always seem to be excited when someone new makes the decision to move to our spot in paradise. I have lived in areas where some people were very serious about being the last people to move into that special place on earth. Fortunately those folks have not found Carteret County.
I do have one friend who was born here in Carteret County. He is a great guy and certainly is as nice or nicer than the people who have moved into the area. He is just out numbered by all the outsiders who have moved here.

I like to tell the story about when we first bought our home in Bluewater Cove. We were still moving items from our Roanoke, Virginia home. Our new yard of centipede grass was starting to grow, and I knew the yard was going to need mowing before we could get back to the coast with a mower. We made arrangements with a lawn company to handle the job.

It was only a day or two before we got a call from the yard people asking if we had changed our mind and mowed the yard ourselves. I thanked them but told them I had no idea who had mowed the yard. I called our real estate agent and asked if he knew what had happened. I thought perhaps the guy mowing the edges of the streets in the subdivision might have taken pity on us. Our real estate agent said that was not the case, and he also was mystified by our neatly mowed yard.

It was only through this process of elimination that I finally figured out that my next door neighbor was taking care of our yard. We have a pretty good sized yard, so I was amazed at his kindness. While the yard mowing might be an exceptional example, I have found people here to be very friendly and helpful.

The past Saturday we helped take down Christmas decorations with some church members at our local church. It was actually a lot of fun and hardly made a dent in our Saturday morning. I still managed to get out on the river with our skiff for a few minutes that morning. Sunday at church I was amazed at how many people who were not in the Saturday morning group ended up thanking us for helping. It is always nice to work with appreciative people.

I have really enjoyed taking part in some of the community events like the Swansboro Oyster Roast which takes place on a weekend close to Saint Patrick's Day. It is the same Saturday of Emerald Isle's Saint Patrick's Day Festival. Between the two events, there is a pretty good chance to see just about everyone in the area. When you get into a tightly packed environment like the one around tables full of steaming oysters, you get a very good look at the kind of people who have joined you at the table.

I will never forget my first Oyster Roast. An old gentleman who had driven two hours to come back to his home place took the time to show me all the tricks of shucking an oyster. He also gave me some great oyster eating advice that I pass on to friends who have discovered this wonderful event. That advice is to stop eating oysters just at that point when you feel like you could eat just one more. That advice has helped me leave the Oyster Roast feeling great.

We often walk the local beaches and manage to meet some of the nicest people. My wife and I are dog magnets, and stopping to say hello to some friendly dogs often opens an opportunity for a conversation. We have yet to run into anyone rude or unfriendly.

I am also amazed at how mellow our shop keepers can stay even during the busy time in the summer. Maybe it is the summer breezes or the warm sun on the beach that keeps us all so happy. I have not figured out the secret, but I am enjoying not only the great beaches and fantastic weather but also the friendly people of the Crystal Coast.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Boring Sunsets on the Crystal Coast?

That of course is a trick question. I actually spend a lot of time each year chasing sunsets, and my wife is usually a willing participant in the game. Whenever possible we are near one of my favorite sunset spots in late afternoon just as sun starts dropping towards the horizon. Sometimes we have hiked to a special spot like the pier at Emerald Woods Park. Other times we might be sitting near the boat ramp in Cedar Point at the Croatan National Park access point. It is not unusual to find us actually out on one of the Tideland Trails waiting for a sunset. My favorite sunsets come when I am sitting in my kayak in the White Oak River with the whole river to myself. I doubt that I have ever seen a boring sunset.
There is something special about watching a sunset. It is far more than the end of a day, it is actually the hope of tomorrow that most of us see in a sunset. So many times I will get to one of my sunset spots only to find a couple sitting in the warmth of the dropping sun. Sometimes they are enjoying glasses of wine, and other times they are just holding hands.

Obviously a sunset is not a static moment, and the best sunsets are more like short movies on really big screens with colors that are very hard to duplicate. It is not unusual for the most vivid part of the light show to take place after the sunset. Sometimes the sunsets are so spectacular that it almost seems like the world is coming to an end. Actually I have given one of the sunset pictures that I took from Emerald Woods Park the title of "The End." It reminds me of the end of great movie.

Not all sunsets bring warmth. I have taken some frozen sunset pictures in the winter out on the Point at Emerald Isle. At least I am seriously cold by the time I get back to the car. The clarity of the air in the winter can enhance the beauty of the sunsets, but those winter breezes can limit the time out on the Point.

Surprisingly the best sunsets often come when there are at least a few clouds on the horizon. The clouds can make or break a sunset. Sometimes the sun just drops behind a bank of clouds, and there is no sunset. Other times the sunlight is filtered by clouds and makes for fantastic colors.

A direct sunlight picture without clouds to dampen the light is very hard to capture. Sometimes I will put a tree branch between my camera and most of the sun. There are times when you can take one hundred pictures, and none of them turn out to be a real keeper. Then there are times when all the elements work in your favor, and the sun lets you capture its glory.

Here is a web collection of area photos which includes some of my favorite sunsets over the last year.

I enjoy sharing my pictures, but there are times especially on some of the wide stretches of beach when I find myself hypnotized by the moment. I can snap the pictures but eventually I am magically attached to the spot. I remember once last summer, after taking a few pictures, I almost fell into a trance sitting on a bench with my eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the summer sun on my face and the light ocean breezes rustling around me. Here is a sunset near the Point from last summer. The picture was taken not far from that bench.

The sounds of the waves, the heat of the sun, the color of the sky, and the reflected beauty on the water continue to pull me towards evening sunsets.

Watching sunsets is one of the great participatory sports on the Crystal Coast, all are welcome to join in. The good news is there are plenty of spots. But there is always the chance that you might see someone with two or three cameras peering into the sun. It could be me.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Warm Nearly Empty Beaches

Warm is a relative term, but I think sixty-five degrees in January qualifies as warm. Most people only have pictures in their minds of the beach during the summer when it is populated with people in bathing suits. The nice thing about living on the coast is that you get to see the beach at different times of the year. My favorite time is late fall when the water is still warm and the air has cooled a little. While January at the beach cannot match that, it still has some wonderful qualities that draw me to it sometimes more than I manage to make it over to the beach in mid-July. There is no better place to clear your head than the beach on a warm, sunny day in winter with a light breeze.
The beach is no stranger to natural rhythms. Winter is the time when even the beach slows down. There are fewer fish in the surf which means there are not as many birds around. Humans that are still on the beach have switched from bathing suits to blue jeans.

Our tourists are down to a trickle. The ones visiting now are those who appreciate the peace and quiet of a winter beach. It can be cool or even cold for a while on the beach during this time of year. However this December and January our temperatures have been moderate, often reaching into the sixties. We even hit seventy-five on December 19.

With the beach only being a drive of ten minutes from our home, it does not take a lot of planning for a beach walk. This time of year the prime time for walking is from about 1 PM to 3 PM. After that the temperatures start to cool a little.

I will often show up later than that hoping to catch a nice sunset, but by sunset most of the heat of the day has disappeared. The only people staying on the beach will be a few fishermen and crazy photographers like me.

While many areas are stuck with cold gray skies, we are lucky on the Crystal Coast to have beautiful blue skies during much of the winter. This last week I have seen waves with wonderful colors more like what we see in summer than winter. This is one of my favorite wave pictures from this winter.

Great sunsets have been absent for about a week so last week I ended up collecting several beach and wave pictures .

While doing that, I have seen plenty of people taking advantage of the near solitude of our winter beaches.

I can still remember when I worked in the Washington, DC area. My least favorite time of the year to go back to work was January after the holidays. Somehow the city seemed colder then, and people quickly forgot that they had just been on vacation.

A good tradition to start would be a nice week at the beach after the holidays. It would be a great way to recover from the holidays. You could ease into some exercise with a few walks on the beach. The quiet of the beach would make it easy to set priorities for the next year.

Eating some fresh fish after all the rich holiday foods would be a nice way to start eating healthier. Above all if you live in the north, a few days away from the ice and snow always help to make the winter shorter.

This next week looks like a great one to be here. While we might have some precipitation, you can rest assured that it will be rain and not snow or ice. Also the temperatures are going to be in the sixties during the day except for Thursday. That is a nice way to start off the new year.

If you visit in the winter, you might end up almost as mellow as those of us who live here on the Crystal Coast.