Christmas 2020

For years, I went to my parents’ house for Christmas, although sometimes I’d stay at home here on the island. Christmas Day on Hatteras is a time of indescribable peace, quiet and hardly any traffic. There’s no feeling like it any other day of the year. Most transplants leave and travel to be with families elsewhere. The beaches are nearly empty and it would seem those still here have the entire place to themselves.

Combing the beaches on Christmas Day I’ve found a traditional symbol of the time, what I’d call makeshift Christmas trees. Whenever I see them they touch my heart and, I photograph them.

Christmas Day of 2018 this undecorated tree stood out on an empty beach.

On Christmas Day of 2019, I was happy to see this naturally decorated one. They’re always anonymous and delightful to see.

Merry Christmas!

Thanksgiving Past

Thanksgiving spawns memories of togetherness. A fond recollection for me took place 5 years ago. Members of my family rented a vacation house in Avon, and a Thanksgiving meal was planned around 6 o’clock. What made this one so special is that my 91 year old mother was there.

As Denise and I headed south to join them, the sun was beginning to set. We were just approaching beach access Ramp 25 when I noticed a tinge of color in the clouds, so I pulled over and watched one of the best rainbow displays I had ever seen. Normally gone in a few minutes, this one stayed bright and brilliant for nearly twenty minutes.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was to be the last Thanksgiving that I shared with my mother…. and it was a good one.

 

Eagles

October has long been my favorite month to live on Hatteras. The weather and waves are an important part of this feeling, but another reason is to experience bird migrations. You never know what might show up.

Recently I heard of a bald eagle in Salvo, so I went to have a look. Across the Pamlico Sound the area of Mattamuskeet is a prime nesting ground for these majestic birds, so it’s no surprise that some of them find their way across the water to Hatteras Island where they can find an abundance of fish.

In my years living here, I’ve seen eagles perhaps a dozen times. My first sighting was one that had been injured, then rehabilitated and released on Pea Island.

In August of 1981 I shot this Kodachrome of Refuge Manager Ron Height, as he released this immature bald eagle.

Over and Over

The storm that recently shut down highway 12 reminded me of the fragility of the place where I’ve lived most my life. The road was closed about 4 days until highway crews could clear  accummulated sand, allowing traffic to once again, exit or enter the island. Many do this cautiously, maneuvering through corrosive sea water. I’ve been watching and photographing this for years, over and over again.

When I first settled on Hatteras Island in the early 70’s, it seemed idyllic. I loved combing the beaches and riding the waves. Gradually I began noticing the dynamic nature of a barrier island. I saw how wind and water combine to move sand, sometimes lots of it.

The blizzard of March 1980 brought a hundred mile an hour northeaster exploding with a foot of snow. My Rodanthe house at the time, was surrounded by sea water barreling through the dunes and raging down highway 12. Even to this day, I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Later I was to experience more storms significantly impacting the island. A good example is just north of Rodanthe where the main road takes a few bends. That’s where the pavement has been moved a number of times due to encroaching seas. A vegetated dune line helped protect the area, but not for long.

In 1984 Hurricane Josephine completely removed the dune line at the S-Turn. My surfing buddy Robin Gerald and I were in awe of nature’s power.

The road there began closing more and more often.

One vehicle after another became trapped in slurries of sand and sea water.

North Carolina Department of Transportation has tried in vain to keep traveling corridors open even in the harshest conditions.

A storm in March of 1989 created a breach at the north end of Buxton as volunteers worked desperately to force the ocean back with sand bags. It didn’t work well for long.

The Halloween Storm of 1991 was another hallmark. This lot in Rodanthe was as oceanfront as property can get. Any takers?

Spring of 1992 brought more woes for highway 12 on Pea Island and sandbagging was once again implemented as a short term solution.

1999 was a banner year for destructive storms as Hurricane Dennis spun offshore for several days, resulting in a number of demolished homes on the oceanfront. Over the years, I’ve seen dozens of them succumb to the sea.

At the same time, a long stretch of road north of Buxton was completely taken out, pavement and all.

Dennis racked up additional casualties at the S-Turn.

Since that time, I’ve seen average water levels in the Pamlico Sound behind my home increase from knee deep then, to waist deep today. That doesn’t bode well for attempts at controlling future onslaughts to the island.

Today the Rodanthe skyline consists of huge cranes building a multimillion dollar remedy to a problem that never seems to end.

Man is not master of this domain, but is more like a slave to it.

 

Heron Appeal

My first encounter with herons began in 1975 on Gull Island, several miles southwest of my home.  Johnny Hooper took me there and I was enthralled with the nesting bird life, including gulls, terns, pelicans and a variety of herons. Consequently I revisited the island numerous times in attempts to photograph them. I found the herons to be particularly attractive from an artistic and photographic standpoint.

Being isolated by Pamlico Sound waters, Gull Island is a haven for nesting waterbirds. On one of my early trips, I saw an elongated neck sticking above the scrubby vegetation. It was a  nesting tricolored heron minding a newly hatched chick. It did not appreciate my curiosity and on my approach, flew off. I remember the chick looking up at me helplessly. Not lingering long, I walked away, and the adult promptly returned. Ever since I’ve relished opportunities to respectfully shoot herons.

Three weeks ago, I learned of some wading birds feeding in a pond near the lighthouse. When I got there, I was happy to see several tricolored herons in the mix.

Herons are designed for what they do best, hunting shallow water.

Looking for a meal, they use their large wings to distract prey.

A long pointed bill, concealed in shade, is the tool of choice.

This heron’s feeding dance mesmerized me.

Last week as we had dinner on our back deck, a Great Egret landed in a live oak next to us. Then I made this unexpected grab shot.

So far, this has been my year of the heron, a symbol of good luck!