Category Archives: oysters

Old Christmas 2021

Where I live, the celebration of Old Christmas has been a certainty every new year. I’ve heard that it’s been going on for over a hundred years, and probably longer. This year it would have been on January 2nd, except for the pandemic. It was cancelled for the first time ever.  

The festivities normally take place from the afternoon and into the night. I have to admit my favorite part of it, other than the appearance of Old Buck, is the oyster roast.

This year to compensate, I collected a bucket of oysters from Pamlico Sound and had them on my front porch. I gave some away and ate the rest.

I shucked a panful for the oven.

The flavor of a chilled, raw Pamlico Sound oyster is unsurpassed.

I missed sharing them with my friends, like this feast from 2009.

I also missed greeting Old Buck.

The next day I went to an empty community building where Old Christmas would have been celebrated. It was stark with nothing to clean up after what would have been a night of revelry.

I visited a monument nearby dedicated to our working watermen and thought about my friends that have lost their lives to the sea.

Eddie O’Neal, Dennis Midgett, Ed Corley, Russ Privott and Mike Midgett came to mind.

Quarantine

With the world in pandemic mode, things are mostly shut down here, including entry of visitors into Dare County where I live. Residents are generally shuttered in their homes and avoiding close proximity to others. Our neighborhoods look like they do in storm evacuations. Streets and beaches are nearly empty. I spend my days going for walks, reading, doing some yoga or shooting a few photographs.

Beach walks are idyllic for some alone-time. Looking north from the oceanfront in Salvo, you’d never know it was Spring pushing into the tourism of Summer.

I’ve always loved the introspectiveness of macro photography, so I’ve been paying particular attention to the little details of our natural world.

The texture of sand and shells continues to captivate me.

This young snapping turtle had just awakened from its winter hide-a-way.

It would have enjoyed dining on my new garden greens of lettuce, spinach, and kale.

The fig tree I planted 30 years ago is producing once again. I get some and so do the birds.

My property goes back to the Pamlico Sound, much of it pristine coastal wetlands. Every time I explore it, I’m amazed at the transition and variety of flora and fauna.

The appearance of fiddler crabs is a sure sign that Spring has arrived. This individual shows a defensive posture with a broken claw.

Spartina and Juncus grasses dominate the landscape, and act as a natural buffer protecting more upland property especially during storms.

Juncus is also called black needle rush. What appears to be a stem is actually the leaves rolled into a cylindrical shape ending with a very sharp tip.

The new Juncus flowers began popping out about a month ago

The shoreline marsh is adapted to be wet at times and dry at other times. The tides lately have been mostly higher than normal. So much so that new oyster spat are setting 20 feet inland.

The periwinkle is an intertidal snail that climbs up grasses to get above water.

In its larval stage this oyster spat settled on a clam shell fragment on the flooded shoreline during last year’s spawning. It measures an inch and is still growing.

Now when I’m around others in public spaces, I’ll be wearing a new fashion statement. My talented sister-in-law, Peggy, made masks for Denise and me. I have a feeling it’ll be getting a lot of use in the coming days.

 

Stumpy Point Oyster Feast

The town of Stumpy Point is the southernmost village on the Dare County mainland. It borders Pamlico Sound and it’s earliest inhabitants may have been Native Americans involved in fishing. Even today, well off the beaten path, Stumpy Point has deep roots in commercial fishing. For 35 years, the town has become known for hosting what has become one of the most popular oyster celebrations in the area.

Last Saturday, the Stumpy Point Oyster Feast began at noon, while visitors from near and far lined up outside the community building.

The line was long, but moved quickly.

Inside volunteers dished out a traditional dinner of fried fish and oysters.

An adjacent building was set up with long tables, paper towels and condiments to cater to the most enthusiastic connoisseurs.

The star of the show was bushels of oysters going into a highly efficient steamer.

Each steamer box held two bushel baskets.

After a mere seven minutes they were perfectly cooked.

The hot oysters were dumped onto trays ready to serve the masses.

It was an “all you can eat” affair.

People could’t get enough and the steamers kept coming.

In the end, all the spent shells are recycled back to the sea where new ones will hopefully attach and grow. Providing substrate for new oysters is crucial to their survival and to our enjoyment.

 

 

Old Christmas 2020

For most, the holiday season ends with a celebration of New Year’s Day. But in the villages where I live, many of us extend the festivity to  another lesser known holiday. Old Christmas is a remnant of the Julian carried over to the Gregorian calendar. In Rodanthe it occurs the first Saturday after New Year’s Day, has a local history dating back a couple hundred years, and is celebrated at our community building.

Originally an early 1900’s schoolhouse, the building has been renovated and expanded to serve the community.

Festivities start with the oyster shoot where participants fire shotguns at paper targets. Whoever has a pellet closest to the bullseye wins a bag of oysters.

Folks mill around and wait for their turn to shoot.

Young Owen O’Neal tries his luck at a bag of oysters. Old Christmas has long been part of his family heritage.

                                        Santa wants a bag of oysters too.

Skating is an activity recently added to the events.

 Joey O’Neal shovels oysters roasting on his homemade grills.

  Eddie O’Neal and Eric Anglin are some of the first to shuck a few.

Empty shells begin to pile up under the table.

                                      Phillip Beck shucks one out for a youngster.

Cooks in the kitchen prepare a traditional meal of stewed chicken and pie bread.

The deserts are to die for!

   By the time night falls, the shells continue to fall.

Joey has gotten his groove on the grills. I’d give him an A+.

Back inside, the band Chicamacomico plays on in anticipation of Old Buck.

Justin O’Neal prepares the legendary bull before entering. Like ancestors before him, Justin has become Old Buck’s latest caretaker.

The appearance of Old Buck is an evening highlight.

Kids love meeting him.

Briggs McEwen sets his son on Old Buck’s back for a fun ride. But as soon as he came, he’s quickly gone for another year.

    In the end, I asked if Old Buck needed a ride home, so we loaded him into the back of my Toyota. It was another Merry Old Christmas!

 

 

The Big Freeze

The 2018 new year came in with a cyclone. It had been nice and peaceful with the holiday season coming to a close, and everyone began bracing for a well-forecast storm.

On the evening of the 2nd it started with about 2 inches of rain, then turned to snow by 4 in the morning. By that time the barometer had plunged to 976 millibars. I don’t think I had seen that since hurricane Emily grazed by in 1993. Gusts were measured in the mid-70’s from the northwest. My house shook. We were in the middle of one of our rare blizzards. Temperatures dropped into the low 20’s then high teens at night.

The warm up before the storm came at Eric and Val Stump’s New Years Eve party. A few snowflakes dropped as did the temperature.

Eric did a great job roasting some crab slough oysters.

Then on the morning of the 3rd, I saw my truck sprayed with icy snow.

The yard became a frozen winter wonderland.

My business banner had been blown away and it’s mast bent.

After snowing 3 inches, it was 25° and blowing a gale.

Oyster gloves were frozen to the clothes line.

My bathroom window had some interesting ice patterns on it.

Bundled up for the coldest conditions, I explored the Salvo Day Use Area.

The Rodanthe Pier pilings were plastered on the northwest sides.

Meanwhile the oyster shoot for Old Christmas had begun. It was low 20’s with a stiff northerly wind.

Everyone was gathering on the lee side of the Community Building, unless they were shooting.

A festive reunion for family and friends, Joey Jr. (left) celebrates with Tom Wiley and Joey O’Neal Sr.

I couldn’t resist shooting my long-time friends Brent Midgett, Willy Smith, and Larry Midgett.

To the victor of the oyster shoot go the spoils. Better eat ’em quick before they freeze.

Emily prepares to shoot as her dad Tom Wiley looks on. As is a proud family tradition here, she serves in the U.S. Coast Guard.

Larry Midgett was helping his daughter Tanya, get ready for her turn to shoot. Tanya is also following in the U.S. Coast Guard tradition, and currently stationed at Hatteras Inlet.

There was always someone waiting to shoot.

Even the young ones got in on the act. Camouflage was everywhere.

The next day frigid temperatures continued. It was 17° at night, and the sound froze out even further, as far as I could see.

From a second story deck, I couldn’t see any open water, only a duck blind on the horizon.

Behind my house the sound was solid. I heard some kids in Salvo rode their bikes on it.

Jon Brown and I marveled at the spectacle. It happens, but not often.