Category Archives: Land

My Nights in Rodanthe


I have spent a few thousand nights in Rodanthe. As a young man, fresh out of college, I relocated there from Northern Virginia, via Bethany Beach, Delaware where I had befriended a small group of surfers. From there I made surfing trips to Hatteras, only to disappoint myself by returning to the mundane life up north. I was at an age where I was trying to find myself. Hatteras Island seemed like a great place to do just that, and besides I could surf beautiful waves while I did my thinking.


A perfect setup on a Rodanthe sand bar, compliments of hurricane Gabrielle.

In 1973, I moved into a small house with friends, Mike and Mary Jo, along with my best surfing buddy, Louie. Our landlords were Valton and Lovie Midgett. Close by, there was a great surfing break out on the “outside bar”. An old wrecked LST stabilized the bottom for the most consistent waves. The ride was much like surfing a point break. In those days, Rodanthe was relatively untouched by development, so a handful of us were the only ones there to enjoy the bounty. 


Valton and Lovie Midgett’s house.

A few months later, Louie and I moved to a trailer in the adjacent town of Waves. We rented from a local man named Luke Midgett. His family roots were deeply planted there. Our trailer was in an open field at the oceanfront. We surfed our brains out, and worked odd jobs to pay our expenses, including rent of $150 a month, split 2 ways. It was a life close to the elements, and we loved it.  Today there’s nothing but rows of rental houses on the site. I lived there for almost 3 years until I relocated to Salvo, the town adjacent to Waves. 


Luke’s Village

Moving from one trailer to another trailer, this next one was newer and bigger, so I reserved the largest bedroom for my first official darkroom. Thus began my humble living as a photographer, even though it was part time. I honed other skills like woodworking, commercial fishing, and waterfowl hunting to get by. All along, I was teaching myself to make color prints, doing some shows and exhibits. Things were definitely picking up. This time I rented from a lady named Barbara Midgett. To help defray living expenses, my good friend BJ moved in some time later.


BJ chopping for our preferred mode of heating. Wood was an abundant fuel source. It washed in on the beach and all we needed to do was to collect it.

After another 3 years, I found a larger house to rent in north Rodanthe. It was 1978. In the front rooms, I built a big darkroom with a gallery space next to it, then placed a sign out front on highway 12. I was open for business. Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo still was experiencing very little development. But now I was somehow able to pay most of my way with photography, and I loved taking pictures, printing and hanging them. I also loved the local people that lived there. 


The view from my bedroom window was the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station, decommissioned in 1954.

My friend Robin, lived in a hundred year old house across the street. He hunted, fished and surfed much as I did. Mainstream America still had not discovered Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. Life was good and uncrowded. We experienced storms, floods and big waves. A few surfing friends came down for visits. It was a simple, yet full and rewarding life. My photography gallery was working better and better, so I began “working” full time photographing the environment around me.


Robin Gerald was my alter ego.


Burgess Hooper always fished with Princess.


Barton Decker at the original Hatteras Island Surf Shop, circa 1978.


For about 5 years, I worked as a waterfowl hunting guide along side Burt Hooper. He learned the craft from his father, Ed. Here he ties off some of the 200 redhead duck decoys that I took 8 months to paint. It was gratifying to see dense flocks of waterfowl pitch in to these hunting rigs.

In 1985 I finally bought a piece of land from Miss Lillian Midgett. It was on the scenic Pamlico Sound side of the island. This is where I began plans to build my studio home. It was the beginning of the end of my nights in Rodanthe. But that is another chapter in my life.

Springer’s Point

There’s a very special place on the Outer Banks of North Carolina called Springer’s Point. Located on the island of Ocracoke, it’s one of the area’s best kept secrets, and is situated on the shore of Pamlico Sound near Ocracoke Inlet. Legend has it that Blackbeard the pirate hung out there. It’s also a prime example of a maritime forest…. almost magical.

One of the previous owners was a wealthy industrialist named Sam Jones. He loved it so much that he’s buried there with his horse, Ike. The property was passed to his heirs, and eventually bought by developers who planned to build condominiums. Then the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust stepped in, negotiated and purchased it for preservation. Initially they saved 30 acres, then an additional 90. Since our natural coastal areas are rapidly disappearing, this is truly a great success story.

One of my motivations to photograph Springer’s Point is to support the North Carolina Coast Land Trust in their mission of preservation through stewardship.

A nature trail winds through a variety of maritime vegetation. Grasses, wildflowers, shrubs and trees are designed to survive in this sometimes calm, sometimes hostile ocean environment. One can envision how the forest is shaped by the wind.

I always enjoy the feeling of walking under the canopy of live oak trees and cedars.


Near the end of the trail is my favorite live oak tree. It may have even been there as Blackbeard sailed the nearby waters hundreds of years ago.

My favorite plant though, is actually one of the smallest. It’s called the Georgia Sunrose. I learned about it one day while walking the trail with botanist Richard LeBlond, otherwise I might not notice this beautiful and rare wildflower. Native to North Carolina, the only place on the Outer Banks that it’s known to exist is at Springer’s Point. For some weeks in the Spring of 2007, I made periodic visits to Ocracoke. I could see the new growth sprouting from the ground, the leaves forming and then the buds beginning to set.

In order to photograph the Sunrose, I needed permission to access a restricted area. Then I was able to spend time waiting for the best conditions. The Georgia Sunrose grows on a little hill of sand in an opening in the middle of the forest. Growing only inches off the ground, I photographed on my hands and knees, with my camera on a ball head, mounted on a tiny square of plywood.

Composing shots was awkward. I framed one bloom only to watch a petal fall off. Several seconds later another one fell, then another and another until all five were gone. The timing seemed very precise all in a clockwise rotation. I felt as though I had witnessed a miracle of nature. In full bloom, the Georgia Sunrose is about the size of a penny, and is short-lived, perhaps only a day.

My Date with Tropical Storm Hanna

Like most residents of the Outer Banks, I keep an eye on tropical weather system development. This isn’t only due to to survival, but also because I relish these storms as photographic subjects. Recently, Hanna was no exception. Once again, we were fortunate to avoid a direct hit. My sister in Raleigh had more wind and rain than we did.

As the storm moved inland up into the piedmont region, we saw large seas and swirling clouds. Strong westerlies brought some minor flooding from the Pamlico Sound. By mid afternoon the skies brightened as my wife and I watched a dark band of rain move eastward over the ocean. The swells cleaned up, and remained strong. I went to work shooting beachscapes on Pea Island, accompanied by Denise.

Later that afternoon, the clouds and lighting conditions were setting up for another go. I returned to Pea Island for the end of the day. The ocean and sky were spectacular. After lots of exposures and experimenting with different shots that day, I felt pretty good.

Contrast by Fire

This image was not a part of my recent assignment, but since I was going around the shoreline, I got to see some of the effects of the wildfires on the area. With rich layers of peat underground, the fires can continue to burn undetected. For this reason, large sprinkler heads soak water into the ground that has already burned. What a stark contrast to the beautiful forests that I had seen just minutes earlier.

Cypress Trees at Lake Phelps

Last Friday I shot another magazine assignment. This time I drove inland to visit North Carolina’s second largest natural lake. Lake Phelps is a part of Pettigrew State Park. It encompasses over 16,000 acres and is surrounded by some beautiful old growth forest. This image was made at a very scenic spot called Moccasin Overlook. Cypress trees are found around much of the lake, but here one also notices an abundant amount of Spanish moss. It hugs the trees as if someone has come in and wrapped it all around, like garland on a Christmas tree.

Pocosin National Wildlife Refuge is nearby, and has been fraught with wildfires for the past several weeks. There’s been more than 60,000 acres burned. In order to control the flames, firefighters have been pumping water from the lake, enough to bring the water level down several inches. These Bald Cypress normally have water all around them.