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Sunday, January 31, 2010

More Than Just Beautiful Beaches

We have been through some really nippy weather recently, but Saturday when almost all of North Carolina and Virginia were suffering through snow, sleet, and freezing rain, we only had to endure a very cold rain. There must have been a few snow flurries late in the night because there was a dusting on the roof our house this morning. The walkway to our dock was also icy. However, by the time we got back from church all the ice had melted away, and even the winter pansies were starting to recover from the cold. While most of the state was cleaning up after the Saturday storm, we were all looking for something to do on a cold and windy Sunday afternoon. It did not take much time outside to figure out that a walk on the beach might be a chilling experience, but a walk sheltered by the woods could be a very nice experience.
We had driven through the Croatan trails access in Cedar Point on the way home from church and were surprised at the number of people who had the same idea a nice winter Sunday activity. We were still in our church clothes so we figured that by the time we had lunch and changed, the early afternoon walkers would be spread out on the trails.

If you have never hiked the Croatan trails you are missing a real treat. While the trails wander through the woods most of the time, there are a number of beautifully done bridges with aluminum walkways which cross the marshes. We never fail to see some neat birds and have a great time.

Unfortunately for our hiking plans, I got a call just after lunch from some clients wanting to see a listing. So we gave up our hiking agenda and headed off to show property.

After the showing, my wife and I were standing in the sun in a sheltered spot, and I could not help but think how nice it would have been on the trails this afternoon.

The good news is that Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of the first week of February will all be sunny and warmer than today. By Wednesday the temperatures are expected to rise into the mid-fifties. The February sun in North Carolina is more powerful than most people expect.

Sometimes when we don't have time to hike the Croatan Trails, we go over to the Emerald Woods Trail just off Coast Guard Road. While the Emerald Isle deer herd is thinned, the Emerald Woods Park is closing at 4 PM each day, but the trail is a quick one and enjoyable unless there is a strong north wind like today. The Emerald Woods Trail is a very accessible one with boardwalk almost the whole way.

For those who enjoy camping, the Cedar Point Croatan access has a beautiful campground that is walking distance from the water. Near the picnic grounds, there is also a ramp where you can launch canoes, kayaks, and small boats.

As you can tell from the picture, the marshes look like a great place for fishing. I have a friend who did quite well there with red drum last summer. This link will take you to more pictures that I took from the small dock at the Croatan Cedar Point access. There are some pictures of pelicans from Cape Carteret and a few taken in Bluewater Cove, but most of the water pictures were taken at at the Croatan Cedar Point access.

You can find actual pictures of the Cedar Point Croatan Trails and the Emerald Woods Trail at this website. We enjoy hiking there more in the winter and spring than we do in the summer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Cruising the Beaches

The east coast has seen some cold and nasty weather this winter. While the Crystal Coast has been spared the worst of it, we have seen more rain and cold than we normally have. It is only recently that you can tell that we have gained a little day light, but those extra minutes are just enough to make a late afternoon beach trip feasible. That is especially the case when we have enjoyed blue skies for the whole day. That in itself has been a treat, and certainly was a factor in convincing us to go for a drive up the beach. I am always curious as to how the winter waves have changed my favorite spots so this afternoon was a great opportunity to go exploring.
Our first stop was Third Street Beach, which is one of my favorite spots. This time of year it is often completely ignored. When we got to the parking lot at about 4 PM, there were no other cars there. That was fine for me since I was looking for a little beach solitude.

As I started to descend the stairs for the walk to the water, I handed my wife the keys to our car. I knew that she would not last in breezy fifty degree weather. I was fine with just my sweat shirt and blue jeans.

I was a little surprised to see some evidence of people walking on the beach with no shoes. I suppose saying you have gone barefooted on the beach in January might be a sign of toughness.

It is a little early for me to shed my tennis shoes, but I would say that it is a positive sign that some people have already done it. I was pleased to see a boat cruising down the beach even if it was bundled up with side curtains.

The beach was very quiet except for a couple of pelicans patrolling the waters just off shore. Today was one of those teaser days which make you think that winter is about over. I suspect we will have to endure some more cold weather, but I know the sun is getting stronger. The results are right by my door

Our pansies are thriving in a southeast facing spot by our garage door. They have recovered from the cold weather and look like they are hitting their stride.

After soaking up sea breezes, we headed down the beach to Emerald Isle and went to check out the work that has been going on at the Point. They have been pumping sand on the beach and moving it around with a bulldozer. We were surprised that the vehicle access to the Point has once again been repaired.

It is nice to see all that sand out there, but even my few years here has taught me that it can disappear a lot faster than it can be put back.

We will just have to hope that it stays around for the season.

You can check out some pictures of our afternoon at the beaches to get yourself thinking about your next beach visit when we get our first days that sneak into the seventies.

Times That I Really Miss the Beach

Before we moved to the beach, I used to be convinced that once we got settled at the beach that we would get as much beach time as we desired. It turns out that just like anything else important in your life, you have to make time for the beach. I have run into people here at the beach who claim that they have not been on the beach for four or five years. Once in while I will get a note from someone thanking me for all the beach pictures that I have posted because the pictures are the only way they can get to the beach. I certainly did not move down here to tour the beaches virtually. I will admit that on cold winter days that I sometimes take a trip down a warm memory lane and enjoy some photos of a summer beach event.
There are three times that I really miss the beach. The first is the easiest to understand. If I am working at the real estate duty desk, and it is a beautiful beach day outside, that is a hard scenario to take. Being able to almost smell the beach from the office does not help.

However, there are a couple of easy remedies to this particular case of beach envy. The first involves getting on my boat early in the morning and doing a quick fishing trip off the beaches. Because of the ease of water access in the area, you can go fishing early in the morning, come home, clean fish, shower, and get to work by 9 AM.

Lots of people do not like to get up early in the morning, especially to go fishing. You can count my wife in this group. This group is easy to handle. All you have to do is wait until you get home from work and go for a sunset cruise. With lots of daylight and familiar waters, you can enjoy an hour or two on the water with few problems.

A more serious case of missing the beach shows up when I am working and the weather is not fit to be over on the beach. There is little that you can do about this but wait until the next nice day and then focus on really enjoying the beach.

I often also suffer from beach envy when I am traveling like I am today. This day finds me in the mountains watching snow flurries and trying to keep warm in the thirty degree temperatures. There is really no solution to this, short of taking off and heading back to the beach.

Of course even then the beach can be in tough mood like it was on Tuesday when I visited. The waves had churned the surf up, but as is often the case, I still enjoyed my trip to the beach. It just might be enough to keep these snow flurries out of my mind. With a weekend forecast of another 6-12 inches of snow in the mountains of Virginia, I know where I plan to be for the weekend.

I will be as close to the beach as the weather permits.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Almost Perfect

There has been no secret as to what has been missing here on the Crystal Coast the first two weeks of January. Almost anyone can tell you that the warmth that we often see in January has been missing in action. It does not help any that even Florida has had to endure some cold. We live in a wonderful spot which I often describe as "almost perfect." My northern friends have taken great pleasure calling and asking about how the boating is during our cold snap. My only thought is that they are searching for something to take their minds off of all the snow piled around their houses. I have just about got used to our "cold." Today when it hit 50F, I dropped my boat in the water to run the engine for a few minutes. It actually seemed quite comfortable outside this afternoon. As we were coming home from dinner over on the Island tonight, my wife made the comment that we cannot possibly call this weather cold and keep a straight face.
She went on to say if the weather were truly cold, I might actually zip up my unlined fleece jacket which is the lightest weight jacket that Land's End carries. She also pointed out that I was wearing tennis shoes with no socks.

I will have to admit that my real cold weather clothing is up in the mountains and that we got rid of our Canadian winter clothes many years ago. On our farm in the wilds of central New Brunswick, it was not unusual to have a day when the high temperature was -20F. On a day like that preparing for spending a few hours outside was something of an ordeal. Besides the standard long underwear, blue jeans, hand knitted wool socks and heavy work shirt, those temperatures required an insulated snow mobile suit. If the wind was really blowing, you might add a down jacket and face mask along with your insulated mittens. Footwear was heavy boots with felt liners that could be taken out and dried at night.

I do not miss those days, and the Crystal Coast is "almost perfect" by nearly any measure.

Yet we have definitely been challenged by the two weeks of temperatures where our lows at night were consistently in the mid-twenties. Fortunately that seems to be over for now. Saturday we might see 60F, and I believe that will take care of any of the remaining ice.

We can be thankful that we have not seen the sound freeze over as I have heard some folks mention happening long ago, but just maybe we will get some benefit out of all this cold. Perhaps it has been cold enough to kill a few a bugs.

I know we have seen some beautiful sunsets due to the cold clear air. I have actually heard a few long term residents admit that they are getting used to the cold.

Now that we are used to these temperatures, just think how warm it will seem when things start to heat up over the next few weeks.

Sometimes it takes a little adversity to make you appreciate what we too often take for granted. I will admit to taking for granted those 50F winter days. Now when I get one, I will truly appreciate it, and if we get some days in the seventies, I will treasure those days and likely take my boat down the river just to enjoy the heat.

Recently I snapped some random area photos and geo-tagged them so that they can be seen on a map. If you would like to explore the area a little, you can find them at this Picasa Web Album.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Only One Sure Escape from the Cold

I have a college roommate who moved to North Carolina from Nova Scotia a couple of years ago. He was tired of cold winters and fighting snow and ice. He still abandons us in the summer for the cool breezes of the Canadian Maritimes. After this recent historic outbreak of cold, he told me that he was going to Florida to find some real warmth. That was last week. When I checked with him this weekend, it was 39F and raining in Florida. He went through a lot of driving to be only two degrees warmer than us. This winter's cold had penetrated 900 miles south to his location not far from Fort Meyers, Florida. Even this morning they were down to 33F. A cold trip to Florida is a lesson in how challenging it has been to escape winter this last week. We did find one place where no cold seemed to penetrate. That was our Bluewater Cove living room with the gas fireplace turned on high. It ended up being a great place to survive the 2009-10 "Winter to Remember" and watch a little football.
Since we had already placed ourselves in the deep freeze of the Virginia mountains during the Christmas holidays, this cold has not seemed too severe to us. What worries me is that all those years of experience in the cold are being revived.

What is going to happen when this returns to being a normal North Carolina winter? I might have to wear shorts in March. The cold weather has been serious business with some of our marine life bearing the brunt of the cold.

Every morning this week, the gut behind our home has frozen. Fortunately the White Oak River gets enough tidal action that it is hard for everything to freeze over solid. Since we got above freezing each day and the tide worked on the ice, there was always some ice free water along the edges of the gut. By the end of the week, i think we were all tired of that freshly frozen feeling, but fortunately we had enough warmth on Friday to get some significant open water.

As far as I can tell the White Oak itself stayed relatively ice free. The beaches were not only ice free but almost people free. We drove by Jordan's Seafood around 5 PM on this past Sunday night, and you could even park in front. That is a huge change from the fall when you might have ended up waiting an hour on the outside benches.

I think most people have made the decision to stay inside as much as possible while cooking their own comfort food. In the last couple of weeks, the cold weather has been responsible for bringing to our table Senate Navy Bean Soup, Meatloaf Muffins, Pot Roast, Crock Pot Oatmeal, and homemade Chicken Pastry. If the cold weather will hold another day or two, I just might get some Clam Chowder.

By then I am hoping that we are on the downhill side of the really cold weather. Those temperatures in the high fifties by the end of the week look like a nice respite from cold, and possibly the hint of much better days to come. With all the comfort food, I will need some warm weather for bike riding.

If the cold weather has you wanting to do some virtual touring, try my trip to Morehead City or the one to Emerald Isle. Click the right hand circle for a 3D aerial tour. You will have to install a Google Earth plug-in, but I can guarantee a warm trip while sitting in front of your computer.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter Takes the Stage

We are an area that sees cold temperatures only a few days a year so Sunday, January 3, was certainly a day to remember. We only managed to reach the middle thirties today. With much of the center of the country struggling with single digit temperatures, it is hard to complain. However, when you live at the beach, you get used to warmth, and when the warmth disappears, it feels very cold to us. Temperatures in the thirties and a stiff breeze made the Crystal Coast a wintery spot today even for those of us accustomed to much worse. I wonder if it was the cold or wind that caused the sea gulls to congregate in the White Oak River? I know I was a lot warmer taking the river picture today than I was when were over at the Point yesterday, and the wind was so strong that it was cutting the tops off of the waves. While the Crystal Coast is a very temperate spot, we do get to taste all four seasons.
Being an ex-Canadian, I sometimes like to brag about our weather here on North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks. In general we have really great weather especially compared to some of the places where I have lived. Still we do get some winter. There was actually ice in the water behind my home this morning.

It is not the first time we have seen ice in the gut that leads out to the White Oak River. It froze the third week in January 2008. Last year we even got to glimpse a few snow flakes. I am told it was the first snow seen in the area in the last six years.

This has been a strange weather year so we could be in for more surprises. Our biggest challenge in 2009 was the rain that came this fall. Some areas along Coast Guard Road near the Point at Emerald Isle still have some flooding due to our extraordinary rains this fall. We certainly were not alone in getting lots of rain. Most of the Southeast had an exceptional soaking this fall and early winter.

I guess if we are going to have lots of rain, it is better that it comes in November and December when there are fewer people to inconvenience in the area. However, as a fisherman I do feel as if I was shortchanged at least one month of fishing time in 2009.

It is early to make any long range weather predictions though there seems to be a consensus that the east coast is going to see more snow. Since there is no shortage of people who had to dig out of the recent east coast storms, I am hoping that we are already done with snow for the year even in the Southeast mountains.

Here on the coast, we got our snow last year, so perhaps after this cold snap we will get back to something like the winter of 2007 when I counted only nineteen hours of below freezing temperatures in January. Somehow that feels a little unlikely given the current forecast.

Still I do know the sun is warm here even in winter, and when it shows up each day, the winter pansies my wife planted in a sheltered spot respond to it. In Canada during January, the sun has light but little warmth. If we can weather the next four or five weeks, that Carolina sunshine will start to work its magic on the northern cold.

Eventually the Canadian border will hold those outbreaks of cold air, and by the middle of February, we will be talking about spring. Then I will be counting down the days until the local strawberries are ripe in late March or early April. With April comes the planting of my tomatoes and perhaps a chance to get on the water for some fishing.

We will make it through winter, I will just enjoy some of those spectacular winter sunsets, and by June we will be wishing for some cool air from Canada.