Category Archives: vegetation

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!

Coreopsis

For a long time, I’ve had a love affair with local wild flowers. In a variety of colors and sizes, they need to be hearty to survive in this sometimes harsh place. I can’t pick a favorite one, but enjoy them all.

In Summer, a bright yellow flower that keeps coming back is coreopsis. Self-sowing, it drops seeds for the following year, and exists mostly on higher ground and ridges.

Here in the town of Waves, I don’t see them as much as I used to. Where there are now subdivisions of beach houses, there were once open fields blanketed with bright flowers, .

Subdivisions at Sea Isle Hills and Bold Dune would eventually be built where this old wooden boat died.

In 1977, the land behind Miss Alethia’s house was thick with gold.

Photographed in 1975, an island homestead in Waves is gone now, but thankfully the coreopsis still comes back.

 

 

 

Waxwings

Nature never ceases to amaze me as it provides for the proliferation of life.

When birds migrate, their food supply is crucial. So it happens that this time of year as the female red cedar trees are draped with succulent berries, the cedar waxwings are moving through in large flocks. They can be seen resting on power lines or collectively swirling through the villages. Then they disappear into the trees. Eastern red cedars keep their foliage and are the prevalent green in our winter landscape. They are easy to spot.

My property has lots of indigenous vegetation, including cedars. The male cedar develops tiny cones and pollenates the females. Sometimes the trees are so laden with pollen, the branches practically smoke as the wind whips through them.

flock Flocks feed voraciously in the cedars around my house.

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Cedar Waxwings are handsome birds with colorful plumage, a rakish black mask and crest.

tail The tail is striking and looks as if it was dipped in yellow paint.

trailers The name of the bird comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the secondary feathers.

down  Down the hatch. Cheers!

 

Renewal

This is a time of renewal. Rather than celebrating Spring as a turn of the calendar page, I see Spring coming about in the natural world around me. I spend a lot of time in the wetland behind my house.  Specific plants and animals exist there, highly adapted to this aquatic and terrestrial environment. They are fascinating to watch, living in completely flooded conditions one day, and nearly dry the next.

This time of year, the marsh turns from brown to a rich green color. New growth sprouts from the muddy ground, giving way to new life.

Salicornia, commonly called glasswort is a fleshy, salt-tolerant plant that stores water and salt in its tissues. It springs up from the ground this time of year, growing throughout the Summer. As a young plant it is edible and tasty. I have had it in salads, no salt needed. By the time Fall arrives, it becomes a brilliant red.

Another sure sign of Spring is when the fiddler crabs emerge from their winter burrows.

On another front, this is a unique Spring in that our community is rebounding after a hurricane. Things are getting some state of normalcy. Some old things taken out, to be replaced by something new. Edward and William Hooper’s house was torn down 2 weeks ago. Now that was a tough one.

Things continue to change.