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My life has been an absolutely wonderful journey. I think much of the success that I have seen has to do with the great start that I got in life. While I didn't grow up in a traditional family, I was surrounded by an extended family which provided as much love as anyone could possibly need.
Also I have an amazing life-partner in my wife Glenda. We met in Mount Airy, NC in the garden's of my mother's house. My mother was responsible for the two of us going on our first date. It was just one of the many amazing things that my mother somehow arranged.
She hoped that a beautiful young lady would keep me in Mount Airy a few more days and maybe even bring me back home. Little did she dream that I would convince Glenda to go live in Canada.
Since the first trip that Glenda took to Canada in the summer of 1973, we have been constant companions even while I spent many years on the road. Along the way, we have managed to conquer a lot of challenges together and to learn a lot about life. My life has been immensely richer because Glenda has been part of it.
Several years ago I wrote down "Some Advice to My Children." It still stands on its own, but recently I have been thinking about what I learned from my father and my mother. I know that what I picked up had a lot to do with who I am today and what we have accomplished including raising three very competent adults.
Much of my childhood, I was apart from my father so I only had a few years with him, and much of his mind had been lost to a stroke.
I was fortunate that I was able to get to know him by his deeds and his reputation. I know that he was a self-made man. He had to earn his citizenship and much of his education came from going to night school while working. He began his career by working with his hands and making furniture. We still have the first piece that he made. He went on to be an executive with National Furniture in Mount Airy. He believed in treating people fairly. I remember many former workers stopping by the house to tell us what a great boss he was.
I also know that during the Depression he put many of the men from the factory to work rebuilding the family home which had burned. Our family home, now the Sobotta Manor Bed & Breakfast, has some wonderful walnut woodwork done by those men whom I am sure were thrilled to have a job during the depression.
One of the things that my mother told about by father was that he was a director of one of the banks which was going to close its doors during the run on banks at the start of the Depression. He didn't tell my mother who had money in the bank about the closing. He didn't think it was fair that she find out about it before others. She lost her money, but not her respect for my dad. My dad was also generous with his money. He helped many people get a college education and had a lot to do with helping get Camp Raven Knob, the Old Hickory Council Boy Scout Camp in place.
My mother was cut from similar cloth. She didn't finish high school because of a stepmother right out of Cinderella. Mother learned how to drive, left home, and went off to the big city of Mount Airy. She ended up going to school to be a beautician and for years she ran her own beauty shop on Main St. in Mount Airy.
When I was born we went back to live with her sister Molly in Yadkin County. Mother and my dad helped them get the loan to build their house. When I was three, mother and I moved to Lewisville, NC just across the Yadkin River. We went there because Uncle Joe Styers had land there, and Lewisville needed a beauty shop. Mother worked very hard there, but she was very successful at providing for us.
One of the first things I remember learning from my mother was that the pride in doing really good work is the best reward that there is. We had neighbors who paid their sons for each "A" that they earned. That didn't happen in our house. Mother was fond of telling me that I wasn't earning good grades for money, I was earning them for myself and what they would help me do.
Money and material things were never important to my mother. She would and did give anyone who needed something whatever she could afford to give them. She was always willing to lend a helping hand though I can remember her eventually cutting off a black sheep in the family after he borrowed her hard earned money one too many times and never paid any of it back.
I also learned one of life's most valuable lessons from my mother. The money a person has or the title after their name do not determine a person's worth. What really matters in life is how you treat others especially those who have less than you. Mother believed that there was no shame in getting dirt or calluses on your hands. Of course that might have something to do with the wonderful tomatoes she taught me how to grow.
Mother also taught me to never start a fight, but if I found myself in one to fight like there was no tomorrow.
When I look back on it all, other than Boy Scouts, swimming lessons, and church, there were no organized activities after school or in the summer when I was growing up. We learned to take care of ourselves which included entertaining ourselves. There were no corners of the woods that we didn't explore in Lewisville, and I know one small creek that was damned many times. There were no television shows powerful enough to draw us from our adventures.
It is perhaps sad that today's children lead such organized and protected lives that they never have an opportunity to build a fort in vacant field or wander until dusk in a seemingly endless forest. I know times have changed, but I suspect we might regret one day that today's parents are raising a generation of children who never defended a fort in the woods. I'm glad my children got that opportunity.
Sometimes the best learning comes from the lessons that you don't know you are being taught. Finally one last thing I learned from my parents is to be proud of your roots. In fact it is hard to get anywhere in life until you can take pride in your past and your family.
Our farm in central New Brunswick was remote enough that we didn't bother with fences in the back of the property. There was nowhere for the cattle to go.
You know that you are back in the boonies when 200 head of cattle don't need to be completely fenced. Calling on family to help is a little hard if they are 23 hours away by car.
Today we live on the eastern edge of the North Carolina. Before settling down, we looked farther to the east, but we chose not to live on Ocracoke Island or the extreme eastern part of Carteret County which is often called "Down East." Part of the reason we picked our spot on the Southern Outer Banks was the availability of services and the chance to be close to people.
Where we live near Cape Carteret overlooking the White Oak River, it takes us just seven or eight minutes to get to the closest of four grocery stores that are within ten minutes or so from our home. The same circle of ten minutes will get us to a number of hardware stores including a Lowe's Home Improvement Center. Walmart, Sears, Belks, Best Buy, and Bed, Bath and Beyond are on the edge of Morehead City about twenty minutes from our home. SAMS Club, Target, and Barnes & Noble are thirty minutes away in Jacksonville. Our hospital is twenty five minutes away, a little closer to the center of Morehead City.
Our current home is far different than the spot we lived in the wilderness in the seventies and eighties. Everything there that you didn't grow or make yourself required at least a half hour drive.
Our home today is a comfortable spot with all the things you need for a civilized life. The feeling of civilization here is welcome though very different than it was in our home of the past twenty years on a mountain looking down on Roanoke, Va.
Subdivision living whether in Roanoke or Cape Cartert is very different than when you are out on your own in the boonies. There you learn to do almost everything but there are few neighbors close by. Even if you could get a plumber on the phone out in the boonies, they likely would be reluctant to drive 40 minutes into the wilderness if they have plenty of business in town. Here in Cape Carteret, our plumber lives a few houses up our street.
Living on the edge of wilderness is a different way of living. While you become very independent, you also end up being closer to your neighbors because neighbors helping neighbors is often the only way that anything gets done. Most subdivisions don't have that same degree of closeness unless real tragedy strikes.
If people in a subdivision lose their power, they light some candles and hunker down to wait for the utility company to get the power fixed. Usually the power comes back on in a matter of hours, and sometimes people don't even know if they neighbors have lost power. When the power goes out far from the reach of town, people check on each other.
Our first experience living almost off the grid was on the shores of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia. One September in 1974, we had a heavy early snow storm. It took out the power for a week in our tiny settlement of Saint Croix Cove. The road to the small town of Bridgetown was closed with huge snowdrifts. There was no such thing as city water, every home had their own well with a pump. There were under a dozen houses stretched out over a mile. One neighbor figured out how to run our shallow well pumps with his chain saw. There was never a question of whether or not he would help others, that was his first thought. We survived that week with his chainsaw pumping water and by cooking in our fireplace.
Having spent time in wilderness long ago, we chose a rural but well within the grid spot, Cape Carteret, for the next chapter of our lives. We wanted easy access to services had become part of our lives while living near Roanoke. Being near several restaurants wasn't important in our younger years, but now we like to enjoy the option of an meal cooked by someone else. This area near Emerald Isle was also an area where we thought people might enjoy visiting with us. That has proved to be the case.
Still we are not in place without risk. Even in our cozy spot with south facing beaches, we could have a bad hurricane, but so far we have only watched them swing by us and head for the Northern Outer Banks or even Nova Scotia.
Still when I stand on the westernmost edge of the Point on Emerald Isle where the picture at the top of the post was taken, I am mindful that the web of life that supports us all is easily disrupted or even ended. As I look out in the Atlantic Ocean from the Point, I know that I am standing on a beach that isn't on most maps and could be gone after the next Nor'easter. Still you don't have to be standing on movable sand in the Altantic to be at risk.
On April 8, 2011, two tornadoes touched down in Pulaski, Virginia. By all accounts these are the first two tornadoes in the town's recorded history. Approximately 400 homes were damaged or destroyed according to the Roanoke Times. According to a report from a friend, one tornado came across the mountains before touching down in downtown Pulaski and then crossed Interstate 81 and damaged a local service station. On Saturday, April 9, Pulaski enforced a curfew and thousands are still without power. Our friend living there tells me that the number of trees destroyed is hard to comprehend but that people are pulling together to help each other.
Weather like life is something that we cannot predict. This past winter with its snow on the coast is further proof of that.
This winter turned out to be the coldest one in 100 years here on the Crystal Coast. We were not alone in the deep freezer. People in the Northeast are just starting to thaw out. The first week of April there was snow in the mountains around cities in southern California. On the morning of April 9, 2011, it snowed in Arizona.
There really isn't much in this world that is very predictable except that there is a good chance tomorrow will come with its own set of challenges.
That is, tomorrow will come if we are lucky. By the time you past the milestone of sixty years, you have seen a number of friends pass away. Many have left unexpectedly, and some have gone without giving us time to say a proper good-bye.
A few years ago the first college classmate that I knew well died. It was a shock to me even though we hadn't talked for over thirty years. Somehow I always expected that we might have one more conversation. We both led very busy lives so it never happened. There was no fault on either side, but it did convince me to complete every circle that I can while I am lucky enough to still be here on earth. If I can make the time for a beach walk, surely I can search out a few old friends. I am proud to have renewed connections with a high school Latin teacher whose friendship meant a lot to me. I have even driven up to visit him in Ronceverte, WV, a few times.
Not long ago, a childhood friend of my son was killed in a tragic car accident. She was a well-loved teacher just in her thirties and had two young children. It was only this last Christmas that we had reconnected with her family and sent them a scanned copy of a wonderful letter our son's friend wrote to our family when we moved from Canada. She was probably seven years old at the time. I am sorry we never got to talk to her again.
While it is easier than ever to touch people using technology, I know that a Facebook conversation is not as satisfying as getting in a car and visiting or hearing the person's voice on a phone. Recently we visited my wife's aunt who turned 82. We made a special trip to be with her on her birthday. I am glad we made the time. We will always have that memory and those of regular phone calls that my wife made to her aunt who now is suffering from dementia.
Most of us are very fortunate in having a lot of people touch our lives. The challenge we face in modern life is making sure that the touch which might have meant so much to us doesn't go unreturned while we still have a chance. Keeping in touch is hard work but well worth the effort.
We have just had two sets of Canadian friends visit with us in the last three months. One set we had not seen in 22 years, and the other we last saw 25 years ago. Our lives are much richer for those visits. The memories that we made long ago now have been refreshed or enhanced, and a few new ones have been added.
I am glad we managed to get together while we all were still watching the sun come up each morning. Breaking bread with friends is one of the true delights of life.
Update August 2014: In the fall of 2012 my wife and I made a trip back to Canada to visit with some friends. The trip formed the basis of our book, A Taste of the Wild, Canada's Maritimes. It was a rare privilege to go back and reconnect with people who were part of our lives nearly thirty years ago.
In the three years since I wrote the original post, we have been blessed by our time on the western edge of Carteret County. While we have seen hurricanes, Irene and Arthur, and been brushed by a tornado, we have watched our community and our list of friends continue to grow.
The friends we have made in the community and through our church continue to enrich our lives. We live in a place where many people still think about their neighbors and are always willing to lend a helping hand. I had a neighbor help me cut down a big pine tree last summer. I shared tomato plants that I had started with several people in the community. We were blessed with a great tomato crop. We grew enough tomatoes to supply all the tomatoes for our Men of the Church annual hamburger cookout which fed over 140 people.
We live in an area that cares for people. I will not forget a stranger wandering into the parking lot of our church when we were having a work day. After we fed him and our pastor, Ben, talked with him, Ben put him in his car and drove him twenty miles to Morehead City to make sure he had a place to stay that night. It is a far different reaction than might have happened in many cities.
When we are doing our regular landscape days at the church, we never have as many volunteers as we would like, but we always have enough to get our work done. Our last monthly fellowship dinner at our church, Cape Carteret Presbyterian, had over 150 people in attendance. While we do not pull in numbers as impressive as that with our neighborhood parties in our small subdivision, we are pleased that we can still get together and talk about things.
Beyond that I am pleased to know the owners of many local businesses including Winberry's Produce, Clyde Phillip's Seafood, Redfearn's Nursery, S&H Feed and Seed, Angie's Lighthouse Cafe, Cedar Point Tire, Coastal Outlet, and Lil Johnny's Crabshack. Having a local connection with these folks is a lot different than shopping in a Walmart.
You can find out more about most of them in our book, A Week at the Beach, The Emerald Isle Travel Guide. Some are detailed in my post, Swansboro-Cape Carteret Information.
Spring is not an easy season. Just about anywhere can get some wild weather. This spring is even more special. It is not often you hear about a hard freeze in late Feburary in the Napa Valley of California or New England setting snowfall records with another month of snow to go.
Our friends in eastern Canada report that winter has found them with a vengeance. And parts of North Carolina and Virginia have been suffering through drought. Just this last day of February, the Roanoke, Virginia area has finally seen some significant rainfall. We will have to wait and see if it is enough to get this from being the driest winter on record in Pulaski County, Va.
Here in Coastal North Carolina, this winter we have even seen snow stay on the ground for a few hours. December and January were brutally cold. I saw water temperatures in the White Oak River down to as low as 37.5F. Yesterday, February 27, I went out to check the temperature again. I found fog and a water temperature of 60F.
I am no stranger to fog having lived in Nova Scotia and on the side of an often foggy mountain in Virginia. Still this last day of February has definitely been weird. We started out foggy, warmed up, and then got really windy as you can see from the picture. Anyone trying to kayak out our inlet the last day of February would have needed an outboard motor to make it in the strong winds.
The warm air was in forecast, but there was a surprise. The fog covered Swansboro and other points along the coast once again. With the wind blowing straight up the gut towards us from Swansboro, it almost felt like we were being misted. The truth is that it felt just like a nice summer day in Nova Scotia. That means a light coat felt pretty good.
With the air temperature being in the mid-sixties and damp foggy air blowing off the water, it certainly brought back memories. Fog and cool air just about define Nova Scotia in the summer except there is one thing missing. We need some really green grass. If things aren't foggy in Nova Scotia in the summer, they are blue or green. The only colors are fog, blue, and green. Novia Scotia like Carteret County has about as much water as land.
As I am watching the clock tick down to March 1, the cold front with rain and thunderstorms is rolling across us. With high winds, fog, rain, and thunder, it looks like March is coming in like a lion. Fortunately for us on the coast it appears the storms have moved through quickly. They were gone in the length of time it took to mention them.
I am hoping that the end of March is an especially warm time since my tomato seedlings should be in the ground by then. They are just getting their secondary leaves, and I am already dreaming about tomato sandwiches.
On another note, I think that I have finished the 2011 revision to my Emerald Isle Travel Guide. It won't be long until it is time to be thinking about summer vacations. I hope oil prices drop a little by then.
While miles can make a difference in the weather, the color of the sky has a huge impact on my mood.
We lived in Nova Scotia for a number of years. It could be one of the most beautiful places on earth.
It could also be one of the foggiest spots you can imagine with days and days of fog. Not every place has fog like Nova Scotia, but almost everywhere has a few overcast or not so nice days.
I took advantage of the three beautiful blue sky days that we had recently. I had a great time on the beach, enjoyed some boating and fishing on the White Oak River, and even took a sunset cruise on the river.
It did not take long for the clouds to move in this morning, and as soon as they were here my energy level dropped to almost zero.
I think that I would have done better if it had rained. We could have used the rain, and it would have easy to justify indoor chores.
With three fantastic days on and around the water, I had convinced myself that we were on the fast track for summer. Then this dreary day shows up and puts a damper on things.
I wanted to go kayaking but with the water level low and the threat of rain, that seemed like a bad idea especially since my hip is still bothering me.
Finally about three o'clock, I was starting to clean out a closet, looking for my Snow Leopard installation CD-ROM so I could fix my MacBook when its new hard drive arrives. It was almost like an invisible hand led me to the CD-ROM. I had just started working in the closet.
Of course I quit cleaning the closet and retired to my office to admire my find. Finding the CD-ROM seemed to break the spell. I managed to summon the energy to update my main CoastalNC.org site over the next couple of hours.
Then I took off for some grocery shopping. I decided to make my own turkey sausage. It actually turned out very tasty, and I have enough to have one cake each morning for the next week.
After that I grilled some hamburgers on the grill. One more night of grilling, and I will not have to cook any more this week.
Tomorrow I have resolved to not let the weather get me down. I think that today I just had a natural letdown following three great days of fun.
Actually I can hardly wait to get back on the river and catch some more fish. I might not even wait for blue skies. Then there is always the beach which seems to call me every day about five PM.
This is the time of year to really enjoy the out of doors and some overcast weather is not going to derail me. I will not let gloomy weather win again.
But it would be a whole lot easier to enjoy summer if the sky would just blue.