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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Mornng on Raymond's Gut

Spring is a funny season whether you are on the coast of the Southern Outer Banks or the mountains of the South.  Spring often teases you with glimpses of summer, or the warmth of spring can completely disappear in a couple of hours.  You can have wonderful weather one afternoon, and then you are back in winter.

The picture at the top of the post was taken just after we had a frost that went all the down to the water in Raymond's Gut which runs behind our house all the way to the White Oak river.   I took the picture on a morning walk around the boardwalk in our community, Bluewater Cove. The fog hanging over the water is normal when there is a big temperature difference between the water and air. We see the fog especially when the water is warmer than the air.

While walking I was serenaded by many of the spring birds.  Fortunately the cold temperatures only lasted a few hours, but it was still enough that I had to cover my young tomato plants.  Because Carteret County doesn't have any rocks, I ended up buying a bag of rocks which is a hard thing to do for someone who farmed a new crop of rocks every year in Canada where we used to have a couple of farms.

While spring sometimes doesn't come in the Canadian Maritimes until May, you can count on it being here in the South by the first week of April.  I think that the latest that we have seen strawberries here on the coast is about the middle of April.

Spring is a great time on the coast.  Once we get through the pine pollen, it is possible to sleep with your windows open at night.  We can go a week at a time without the heat pumps running.  Sometimes it gets hot enough for the air conditioners to come on late in the afternoon, but we usually shut them off and let the evening breezes cool our homes.

As the waters warm they become alive with bait. We already had a week or two of that earlier in the spring.  It is a great time to be around the water, but it is a challenging time because the winds are often blowing. That means getting out on the water is something that has to be done when the conditions are right, or you miss the opportunity and end up sitting at the dock for a long time.

Later in April, it is not unusual to see winter weary northerners actually in our ocean waters.  Most of us here on the coast wait until June to get anything but our toes wet.  There are other milestones of spring.

I have already managed to catch the first fish of the season from our skiff, and I got in my first kayaking trip.  I can hardly wait until next week when the warm temperatures come back.  I will be back to exploring the beaches.  I hope to get in a five mile hike along the beaches before the end of the first week of April.

And I definitely want to get back to my uniform of shorts, tee-shirt, and crocs or Birkenstocks. Spring is definitely in the air in the South.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More summer dreams

March has been a fickle friend to most of us in North Carolina.  While we have seen some stellar weather the third week of March, a last blast of cold air has sucked the warmth out of the land and the area's waters.

It is hard to go from shorts and temperatures in the eighties back to temperatures that seem to refuse to get out of the forties.  I was in full spring mode, taking long walks along the beach, testing the local waters for some early fish, and even paddling my kayak well out into the river.

The change in the weather did not worry me at first.  It seemed that the temperatures being called for didn't match what I was seeing.  March 25 and 26, we easily got into the sixties when the weathermen were adamant that we would not get out of the fifties.

Then the bottom fell out on Sunday, March 27.  We got up to temperatures in the mid-forties, and even worse, the temperature trended down all day.  I would not be surprised to see us in the upper thirties March 28.  That would be a very cold temperature for the Crystal Coast late in March.  I suspect the waters cooled off once again.  Once the waters have lost their heat, there is nothing to moderate the cold breezes from the north.

With cooler weather deflating my spring expectations, the only relief is to resort to dreams of summer moments that bring back warmth and the beautiful colors of the area's waters.  I know this short spell of cool weather is only a temporary setback, but it helps to visualize great summer moments while we are enduring the cold air.

One of the great trips that we took last summer was when we went out the channel from the Intracoastal Waterway to Hammocks Beach and then cut behind the beach and made our way over to the Inlet by the Point at Emerald Isle.  This large set of photos was taken to help folks unfamiliar with the area safely navigate from the ICW or dock at Hammocks Beach on Bear Island to Bogue Inlet.  They also help me forget the cold of late March.

Somehow I always associate the Point at Emerald Isle with warmth and summer. I suspect it is because I never venture over unless the weather is nice.  Thinking about good times at the Point is a great way to forget these cool spring temperature.   Another batch of photos that I like to look at when summer seems far away is this one of ocean waves that caught the light just right.

With lots of photos in my memory and the recent thought of our first fishing trip of the season, I will make it through to April which I hope brings us warmer temperatures. It cannot happen soon enough.

I checked back to last year, and it was in February that I started dreaming about beaches to keep my morale up.  In early March last year, I started thinking about boat trips

While I have been on the water more and earlier this year, the recent reversal in weather still means that this year the cold has continued a little longer than normal.  Last year at this time I wasn't worried about my tomato plants. Worrying about frost at the end of March pretty well fits with this year which many people are calling the coldest winter on the Southern Outer Banks in one hundred years.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Shifting sand makes for a world that even Google cannot capture

We live in a world that perhaps except for the seas and some of the jungles has pretty well been explored.  With today's GPS systems and smart phones with built-in GPS, it would seem that not only is there little left to explore, but also there is not much of chance of not really understanding where you are.

Actually that is not the case if you are fortunate enough to live along North Carolina's Southern Outer Banks which is also know as the Crystal Coast.

I love maps and have been fascinated with them since I could barely read.  I suspect much of my reading and math ability came from being given the job of navigator at the very early age of six.  My mom was raising me as a single mom, and I got the job of getting us to and from the beach or mountains whenever we traveled.   While maps have not quite disappeared from gas stations, they have left the consciousness of most young people.

If you are under forty "mapping it" means something entirely different to them than it might to us older folks.  I have been fortunate enough in life to have traveled many places including Alaska and Newfoundland.  Mapping a trip to me often mean taking a pen and eventually a yellow highlighter and drawing a line on a paper map.  Mapping a trip today often means going to a website and plugging in two destinations and having Google, Mapquest, or Bing print out instructions on how to get there with almost no thought on your part.

There are also people, my self included, who plug a destination into their GPS or smart phone and listen to a computerized voice tell them how to reach their destination. Sometimes it turns out those directions are not exactly optimized for the best travel time.

Once when my wife and I flew by float plane into the barrens of Newfoundland in the early eighties, knowing now to plot a course on a topographic map and follow it back to our rendezvous with the little Cessna kept us from either a long arduous hike or a very cold, lonely winter in the wilderness.

The media likes to worry those of us who live near the coast have built our homes on shifting sands which disappear in the next wind storm.  While some of that goes on, there are plenty of people on the North Carolina coast who live in spots where the sand isn't shifting and the barrier islands are relatively stable.
However, there are always places along barrier islands where sand is being moved from one place to another.  The Point on Emerald Isle is one of those places.  It is where ocean currents meet river current in a swirling battle of land and water.

I first visited the Point in the early seventies.  Then the only way to reach it was take a long drive down the beach in a four wheel drive vehicle.  My uncle Austin and I did that for a day of fishing that will forever be memorable not for what we caught, but for where we caught it.  We spent most of the day on the Point and saw no other person.  Our biggest catch was a horseshoe crab.

Today the Point is much easier to reach, but it has become one of those few places where it is possible to escape the bounds of the modern world.   While you can visit it on Google maps, what you see there or on your GPS or cell phone doesn't really match what is is actually there.

Aside from me showing you my recently created map of the Point or asking one of the local who often walk or fish the  Point, you are actually on your own at the Point.  It is a huge expanse of sand that just a few years ago wasn't there.  It was only in 2008 when the access to the Point was repaired after having washed away. The water had actually taken away the dune at the end of the access ramp.  Today there is over 1400 feet of sand to the nearest water by Bogue Inlet.

If you have a look at this picture taken in November 2007, you can get an idea of the magnitude of the change from then until March 5 when I took the picture at the top of the post.  Last summer I was amazed to see people wading just yards from the boat channel at the Point.

So in a world that is increasing mapped, fenced, out of bounds, or inaccessible to most of us, the Point at Emerald Isle offers a rare opportunity to do some real exploring.   I can tell you what it is like, but Mother Nature will make some changes each day.  At a time when kids spend far too much of their time in front of computers, a walk on the Point can teach them that there is much to learn outside of a computer screen.

While marketers are trying to convince us that we need 3D televisions, I suggest visiting the original 3D experience, the out of doors.  You might be surprised at how much everyone enjoys it.  And if they start whining about missing their iPad or Playstation, it is probably time that you locked that stuff up for a year or two.

I will give you access to my Google map that was made on March 5, 2011.  The red line is the track that I took, but it is just the outer boundary of the sand.  What looks like water on the Google map is mostly sand, and some sand on the Google map is now water.  The only way to really know what is there is to get some sand between your toes.

Even in 2011 still plenty of exploring at the Point in that huge expanse of sand mingled with the water of Bogue Inlet and the Atlantic Ocean.  We are lucky to live in such place, and those who visit and take the time to explore will be richly rewarded.