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Monday, December 28, 2009

The Holidays Are a Little Different

I spend a lot of time writing about how special the Crystal Coast is. From the early North Carolina spring to the lingering warmth of the late fall, there is no doubt that the Crystal Coast is a great place to spend time with your family and to make some great memories. My wife and I moved to the area just so our extended family would have lots of great reasons to visit us. It has worked out really well for us. We have had some amazing visits which will live on as special memories. All I have to do is close my eyes and think about Bogue Inlet in late June. In my mind's eye, I can get the water just the right shade. I can feel the heat and smell the ocean. We had a couple of wonderful days out in the Inlet in June that I will never forget. It is a pleasure to be able to flip your mind back to one of those memorable days when your current temperature is well below freezing. However, even I will admit that when it comes to the end of year holidays, who is with you is more important than where you are.
Over the last few years we have flipped around and tried holidays both at the beach and in the mountains. It turns out that as long as we can get all family members together, we end up being happy no matter which place we choose.

Of course even in the winter time, being at the beach can be a significant advantage. That would especially be the case this year. We actually hurried home this Christmas to our place on a mountain above Roanoke, Virginia. We managed to arrive about an hour before the snow began on Friday, December 18. It snowed for about twenty-four hours. When it was done we had twenty inches of snow.

Having spent many years in Canada, I am no stranger to moving snow. However, twenty inches of snow is a lot of snow even in Canada. It took me a while to make any progress on our driveway. Had I been on the coast, I could have gone for a nice hike after the rains and still gotten my exercise without nearly as many aching muscles.

Being snowed in for a few days is a nice change once in a while, but we worried a lot about our family making it safely to our house. It was over forty-eight hours after the snow stopped before we were plowed out. Our road was passable only after a chain equipped road grader made it up the hill where a standard truck snow plow had failed. We had wisely stocked up on food and emergency supplies before we got to the house so we were fine especially once our family members made it safely up our hill in Roanoke.

However, the plows ended up putting so much grit on our road that we have worried about our granddaughter who is only sixteen months old walking on it. Likely with the storm we would have been holed up with rain beating on the walls at the beach. However, you do not have to shovel rain, and rain is a whole lot warmer than snow. Also once the rain stops, you can go for a nice walk usually.

As I listen to the cold winds howling outside our mountain home tonight, part of me wishes we had managed to have our holiday on the coast this year. While we had great fun in spite of the weather, I could have used a little less weather. There have been some moments that I wished for some fifty and sixty degree temperatures where a nice hike could have given us some exercise and some family space.

As we wind down towards the new year, there is not really any doubt in my mind where I would rather spend most of my time. The Crystal Coast long ago won my heart. I am a realist though, and I will sacrifice location in order to be with family sometimes.

I am looking forward to the new year. We only have to get through January and February before the warm Carolina sun starts making its presence known. I can hardly wait, but for the moment I am going to transport myself to Bogue Inlet on a warm June afternoon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Our Main Street

I often tell people visiting the Crystal Coast to ignore the big roads if they are looking for our main street. I actually believe that the Intracoastal Waterway deserves that title. You certain get that impression if you take a boat ride on the Intracoastal. This time of year most of us are not on the water very much, but even during the cold season the Intracoastal Waterway means a lot to our area. There are very few days when I cross the bridge over to Emerald Isle when I do not see a sailboat or boat of some type making its way throught the water. In a large city a beltway often lets you get from one location to another quickly. The Intracoastal plays the same role for us. Many times you could pick your way carefully through some back channels and bypass the Intracoastal, but often it is easier and faster to just take the ICW where the channel is well marked.
As the weather gets colder in January and February, few boats venture out into the water. We still have a number of boats passing through the area. Most of them are heading south to warmer waters, but they often drop anchor and spend a day or two with us.

It is in January and February that I miss our main street the most. I will usually try to drop my skiff into the water at least once every other week. If I can find a nice day I will bundle up and ride out into the river. Sometimes I will even brave the cold and go down to Swansboro where the Intracoastal and the White Oak River meet.

If the weather isn't too cold, a ride like that is like a shot of spring tonic. It does not take much to start thinking about getting your gear ready for the spring season. Last year we had a long, cool spring, and it was April before we got on the water with the skiff. In the spring it is usually the winds that keep us at the dock.

As May and June get here, boat season rapidly takes hold. With warmer waters and usually more reasonable winds, the Intracoastal gets busy once again. We often come
down the White Oak River and head up the Intracoastal until we take the turn towards Bogue Inlet and the ocean.

There are days when even on that short trip, you will see a half dozen boats beached on the islands that line the Intracoastal. Sometimes we will slip into one of the creeks or inlets for fishing instead of going out Bogue Inlet.

While the Intracoastal seems like our main street to me, heading out Bogue Inlet always makes me feel like I am on an adventure. When we come back from the ocean and finally get to make the turn back onto the ICW, I feel like I am almost home.

I used to get the same feeling driving down Interstate 81 from Northern Virginia to Roanoke. Whenever I could see Tinker Mountain, I thought the trip was almost done.

There is another thing that always intrigues me about the Intracoastal. It is like an Interstate Highway. It is not just for local trips. It can take you far away. Our longest trip on the ICW was to Beaufort on our way to Shackleford Banks , but it really seemed like we had gone somewhere after we got home.

The next time you ride over the Intracoastal, take a quick look to see what is happening on our main street, and remember it will be a lot busier in just a few short month.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Beaches Waiting For Some Visitors

I am finally willing to say that winter is here. This morning we had our first serious frost. I decided to let my tomato plant go so I did not cover it. There is a little life left in it, but I suspect it is time to pull it. On top of that, the western part of the state and the mountains of Virginia are on target to get a serious snow storm this weekend. Some places could get well over a foot of snow. Apparently there is another storm coming mid-week, so there is a good chance that a substantial portion of North Carolina and Virginia just might see a white Christmas. While all this is happening, our beaches are standing with open arms waiting for some visitors. If I had a choice in the matter I would be headed directly away from the predicted twenty inches of snow. There are plenty of things to do here on the beach which sound a lot better than pushing around snow. Curling up in front of a fireplace with a hot drink after a brisk walk on a winter beach is pretty hard to beat.
Since I will be headed right into this storm for Christmas, all my thoughts while moving snow around will likely be about warmer times here on the shore. Amazing as it might seem, I only have to think back to October 23 of this year when we had our last great fishing trip of the year.

If I do decide to stretch my memory, I can easily remember not only a perfect day on the beach but also some wonderful times out on the inlet. I remember the few days this summer when my youngest daughter fell in love with Bogue Inlet. Those few days were perfect days to be out on the water.

Come to think of it, this has been a really nice year at the beach with the exception of our rainy fall. While we have had plenty of heat, the answer to the heat was never far away and always inviting.

While I will be dealing with snow, I know that my sentence to the mountains of Virginia will not last long. It will only be a short time before I am back down on the coast hoping for one last fishing adventure before the year turns. Then I will be counting the days until I can take my kayak out for some spring fishing. I am willing to bet that I will get at least one more fishing trip in before mid-January, and that my first spring fishing adventure will be less than ninety days later.

The Crystal Coast is a great place to forget snowy weather. I know that I will be doing just that when we get back from the mountains. I am counting on this year's snow on the coast not treating us any worse than it did last year when it dropped by for a few hours. It made for beautiful scenery, but I was happy to see it disappear just as quickly as it came. Maybe we will not get any snow on the beach this year. Last year's was the first in six years.

With the knowledge that winter won't last very long after I get back to the coast, my visit to the mountains will be a perfect way to start getting in shape for mowing the yard later in the spring when we do get some beach visitors.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Taste of Winter

We have been dodging the winter bullet all fall. Today it caught up with us. We awoke to a temperature of 34. Fortunately there was no frost this morning, but it does not look like we will be so lucky on Saturday morning when the temperature could fall into the twenties. We got cold weather much earlier last year, so we really should not complain. It is December, and much of the country is still shoveling out from a huge snow storm. Still delaying winter is one of the things that we do best. However, when we were over in Beaufort this afternoon and I noticed the temperature was stuck in the mid-thirties, I had to admit that winter has found the Crystal Coast.
Actually today, when the morning started at thirty-four and our afternoon finished at thirty-seven, would be classified as a very cold winter day here in Carteret County. Most of our winter days have highs in the forties. There are not many days when we stay in the thirties. To make matters worse, we had a stiff breeze blowing all day.

I found out about the stiff breeze blowing when I tried to take a few photographs along the Beaufort waterfront. It is one of my favorite places to visit. I love to walk along the docks. Today they were empty, and I did not brave the winds for long.,

When we got home from our visit to Beaufort, I immediately turned on our gas fireplace logs. Thirty minutes to an hour of heat from those takes any chill off the day. We keep our home at 68F in the winter. Running the gas fireplace takes the temperature up to 70F. It also heats my upstairs office to 72F which makes for a nice evening of writing.

One of the ways to survive winter here on the coast is with hearty foods. One of my favorites on a cold night is clam chowder. Our family recipe for clam chowder will banish any thoughts of cold weather.

Tonight we got back too late to fix clam chowder, but we had some food almost as hardy, black eyed pea chili made with sausage. The chili was accompanied by some homemade cornbread. Homemade cornbread is another food guaranteed to help keep the cold away.

With a light fleece jacket, jeans instead of shorts, sneakers in place of sandals, some hearty food and a few minutes of the gas fireplace, we will get through winter. In fact it is nice to have a real shot of winter so that we know we can survive these cold temperatures.

Hopefully no one from the Midwest, Northeast, or Canada will read my complaints about our temperatures in the thirties. I have already heard enough grief from my Canada friends who got a foot of snow earlier in the week. The temperatures we had today would be a heat wave for them.

They were also unimpressed when I told them I had to pick all my green tomatoes yesterday.

Here are some pictures from our trip to Beaufort.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The In Between Season

Winter has arrived on the Crystal Coast. It is not like winter in most places. While I have had some frost on the windshield of my pickup truck. The frost has yet to get my tomato plants which are growing about ten feet from the truck. Our centipede yards have turned reddish brown, and Christmas decorations are starting to show up. Crab Pot Christmas trees are not very hard to find. A drive down the local highways in the evening will highlight some decorated trees on docks and boats. The first thing you see when you go into our real estate office is box for Toys for Tots. Everyone's schedule is beginning to fill up with all the holiday parties. Instead of more traffic, we have less traffic as many of our visitors have gone home for the holidays.
The fall fishing season has slowed due to storms, winds, and lots of rain. The days of driving across the Emerald Isle Bridge and counting thirty boats fishing for spots are just a memory. While you can still find some surf fishermen on the beach, their numbers are small compared to a month ago. Even the local produce stands have closed up for the winter. All the sweet potatoes have been sold or are in storage.

While things have slowed, we are not sleeping on one leg like the Willets in the picture. Almost all businesses are still open and welcoming customers. While meals might be rushed in cities during the holidays, now is a time on the coast that we often linger over lunch since there are no crowds waiting for our tables.

This is a peaceful time of year here on the coast as long as we do not have a nor'easter bearing down upon us. In the evenings we watch the news of blizzards working their way across the country. The months of watching for tropical storms are gone. The bitter cold and snow of the mid-west and northeast seems far away to us. Our waters are still warm enough to keep freezing temperatures at bay for another month or so.

All the small towns have their Christmas decorations up. I love the swans of Swansboro, but I also like the snowflakes of Cedar Point.

There really is no place to get into a serious holiday crowd like you might find waiting to turn from Chain Bridge Road into the Tyson's Mall in Northern Virginia. We just do not have enough people to create a serious crowd during the old season.

We even visited Walmart in Morehead City last evening. While there were plenty of people in the store, we did not have to hunt for a parking, and certainly we did not to stalk other shoppers going back to their car in hopes of getting their parking space.

As an area where small business dominate, we are well into the season of office parties which often are potluck meals here on the coast. There are plenty of seasonal festivities including parades to get us into the holiday spirit, but the difference is that the holiday is on island time. That means there will be no panic, and the holiday will happen as people get around to it.

It is actually a very pleasant way to have a holiday. There are far fewer stores to tempt one into over spending. The glitz of the holiday seems to be muted by the blues and greens of our waters. The beaches are still available for walking on warm afternoons. It is still a great way to wash away the pressures of daily life.

With luck we might even get in a boat ride or two on some warm days. Life goes on here and winter is no the overwhelming master that oftens shows up in the north.

We have had a great season on the coast, and we would love to have some company as the new year comes to the Crystal Coast.

There is plenty of room, so come on down and experience a coastal holiday vacation.