Category Archives: vegetation

Earth Day

With Earth Day officially two days ago, I thought about some natural wonders that I’ve seen. During the 80’s and 90’s, I made quite a few trips to play and photograph in Costa Rica. They were all diverse, fantastic experiences, and I especially admired tropical rainforests.

On a 1994 trip, traveling with long time friend Allen Jones, we hiked into remote Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula and spent a better part of a week camping, exploring and taking pictures.

Considered one of the most biodiverse systems on earth, the park at Corcovado is a classic example of old growth tropical rainforest.

Leaving Corcovado, we noticed a logging road just outside the park so we drove in. A huge clearing indicated lots of tree cutting.

Continuing down the road, we watched a truck leaving, loaded with huge logs.

The red dirt road meandered up into a dense forest.

At the end of the road, workers were dragging logs from the woods then loading them onto a truck.

It was a good time for my limited Spanish to came in handy. We introduced ourselves and asked if we could take some photographs.  They welcomed us and continued working.

Logs were skidded from the forest one at a time then cut to length for transport.

Back in the forest were bare stumps selectively numbered for harvest.

With such beautiful heartwood, the trees must have been quite old.

While cutting a log, the man on the left caught a small wood fragment in his eye. I got my first aid kit equipped with some eye drops to wash it out, a technique I learned as an EMT. He was quite appreciative. Despite destruction of the forest, I had to respect these men, working so hard to earn a living, supporting their families.

Decades later I wonder how much if any, of that virgin forest is remaining.

 

 

 

Rule of Thirds

I’ve always loved shooting seascapes, and composition is an important part of that discipline. One of the basic rules of composition is dividing the frame into thirds, vertically or horizontally.

I rarely shoot sunsets, but 2 weeks ago while exploring the marsh behind my house, I broke out my GX8 and made this rule-breaker of a silhouetted stand of spartina alternaflora, also known as smooth cordgrass. At times, I like fixing a horizon line in the middle of a frame.

Just brown sticks now, by summer they will transition to lush green foliage.

The Live Oak of Springer’s Point

Most of my visits to Ocracoke include a walk through the maritime forest at Springer’s Point. My favorite tree there is a large live oak near the shore of Pamlico Sound. It’s been said that tree was there when Blackbeard bivouacked nearby at Teach’s Hole over 300 years ago.

During Summer months the forest is lush and green. Under the canopy one feels sheltered, safe and protected. This is how it looked when I photographed it in 2004.

The old live oak is large enough to take 3 or 4 people putting their arms around the trunk.

The big tree was tucked well back into the forest along a nature trail near Pamlico Sound. The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust purchased the 31 acre property in 2002 to preserve and maintain it for the public to enjoy.

I photographed it again in December of 2007.

The following Spring of 2008, I saw it bursting with new foliage.

One year ago in March of 2019, I shot the tree again from the same general perspective.

When I returned two weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian was 6 months gone. The environment on Ocracoke was transformed from what I had known in the past. The oak that I admired for years was ravaged by wind and sea.

Cedar trees along the edge were torn out by the roots, eroding into the forest.

The oak tree was still rooted, leaning over into the woods.

It seemed the only thing holding it upright was the big limb supporting the old giant, like a kickstand. Now that it’s vegetated buffer is gone, I wonder how many more years it can survive.

The barrier islands are a frail yet tough place. It changes here every day, some days more than others.

 

 

Two Storms One Tide

As Florence changed course and battered other portions of North Carolina, many here thought that we’d escaped its power. In the meantime, torrential rain flooded inland rivers that would eventually feed into the sounds along the coast.

For the three weeks after Florence, I noticed a salinity drop and a higher tide level in Pamlico Sound behind my house. In fact it was 2 feet higher than normal, and stayed that way as Hurricane Michael steamed into the gulf coast of Florida.

When Michael’s path steered more to the west with winds of about 50, our prospects were looking better, although I recalled other storms taking a similar course, pushing the sound waters eastward. I expected tide so prepared for some rise. By eight o’clock on the night of the 11th the wind began shifting southwest and picking up. My barometer read 990 millibars and then the water began coming in. It rose until after midnight, and was 3 feet deep in the yard. Then as fast as it came up, it receded by early morning.

My house has another water line notch on it.

By sunup most of the water had drained off, but Route 12 still had issues with standing water.

Driving through it is hazardous to your vehicle’s health.

Driving through the tide is even worse when you navigate on the deeper side of the road at a higher rate of speed. That was a nice new truck!

The stories of stranded and flooded vehicles were numerous. To compound matters there was no evacuation order. The campgrounds were a mess. Flotsam and jetsam were everywhere within the water’s reach.

Cisterns next to my house have waterlines to show the flood depth. Being filled with fresh water, they tend to float as the more dense seawater gets deeper. The tank on the right was only three quarters full and came up a foot off the ground.

By my count, this was the 4th highest tide that I’ve seen here in 45 years. It was 32 inches below Irene, our highest with a ten foot storm surge. Right in between at 16 inches below Irene, there’s Arthur 2014 and the March storm of 93.

I’m always amazed at the resiliency of the salt marsh, particularly after a flood.

A rack line of debris shows forces at work. In six months it will be completely decomposed with tall thriving marsh grasses in its place.

The wetland looks healthier for it and flourishes come drought or high water. This section is composed of mostly black needle rush, sometimes called juncus grass. In adverse conditions it provides great shoreline protection for my property. It’s also a desirable habitat for clapper rails and seaside sparrows.

About the size of a dime, the marsh aster is still beautiful after being inundated with wind, waves and sea water.

Fig Fest

This time of year local figs are ripening. They have long been a staple on the Outer Banks. Nearly all the old family homesteads have a fig tree or two growing in the yard. When the  US Lifesaving Stations were active, they almost always had a fig tree nearby. Sandy well-drained soil helps and they seem to thrive come hell or even high water. Originating in the middle eastern countries and Asia, figs must have been introduced here from early sailing ships.

The tree I planted in my yard 30 years ago is having a productive season.

A big ripe one is ready to pick, while new ones form.

I picked a bowl 2 days ago.

They’re best eaten soon after harvest. I love them raw or cooked stuffed in a baked chicken.

In August of 2015 I attended Ocracoke’s celebration of the Second Annual Fig Festival. Ocracoke is gifted with a wide variety of fig trees and islanders have nurtured them for generations. The festival ran for 2 days and featured presentations, entertainment and most of all, figs and fig related goodies.

A main event took place in the Community Square

Vendors were there with homemade preserves and potted plants.

Locally made fig cake was a delectable favorite, not to mention samples of freshly picked figs.

In 2015 I met Della Gaskill and bought some of her homemade preserves and a signed copy of her book, A Blessed Life, Growing Up on Ocracoke. To her right, son Monroe shared fig stories with Phillip Howard.

Ocracoker, Chester Lynn is the local go-to person on fig culture and lore. He’s spent a lifetime studying and propagating figs.

Go if you can!