Today the sunshine on the Crystal Coast is so bright that taking a picture of Raymond's Gut, our inlet, is challenge. Winter brings us intense colors but not a lot of cold or snow. I like to think that is one of the reasons our great egret friend, Frank 29X, pictured here visits us each year.
A lot of folks besides Frank 29X come to the coast of North Carolina to get away from winter. However, we make no claims to being immune to a taste of real winter. Once some folks get here they decide they never want to feel even a touch of winter. They end up moving further south, usually to Florida.
Then there those of us who have seen plenty of winter in our lives and appreciate a little reminder of what we are missing. Winter is not harsh in coastal North Carolina except we tend to think it is tough because we have so much really nice weather. Some years winter finds us by the end of December but not this year. I am writing this in mid-January and I had to open the windows in my office because it had gotten too warm. Today, January 16, we once again got into the mid-sixties but our version of winter is knocking on the door.
This has not been our mildest winter. The crown for that goes to the winter of 2006-2007 when we only had nineteen hours of below freezing temperatures the whole winter. I doubt that we had what I call a winter day all that winter. My winter day is any day when the temperature does not rise about fifty degrees Fahrenheit. We have already had two or three of those this year and perhaps eight or ten hours below freezing. Still, we have been able to enjoy a cherry tomato plant that remains growing in a protected corner just outside our garage.
However, as you can see from this forecast for the third week in January, we are going to have some cold days this upcoming week. We will pick the remaining cherry tomatoes on the plant this Sunday. We picked a nice batch of them today. Then we will only have a few rutabaga growing in our garden until we start planting things once again in February. That means not much will be going on outside.
Beyond the lack of a garden to take care of, the water is now too cold for kayaking and because of my recent cataract surgery it is not a very good idea to go flying down the river in an open skiff. That leaves about a month to enjoy walks along the marsh and through the woods. Even with the walks it is a time when I struggle a little because my mind is on the water and my body is mostly stuck on land. I need more than my job to keep me busy or I will end up baking too many biscuits.
Fall is such a wonderful time on the coast and our stretched-out spring is just as good. Life on the Crystal Coast offers us so much choice of what to do most of the time, that our short winter leaves me hoping for more of something. It is too early for the spring festivals which start in March. I have often found that a trip to Beaufort or one of the local museums like the Maritime Museum or the NC Aquarium can get me through this period.
Visitors often help shorten the season. We usually get a good dose of ones from the natural world. Our Canadian great egret, Frank 29X, returned for his fourth straight winter visit to Raymond's Gut on December 29 this year. The five otters that frequent our gut have been visible several times including the time when I caught this otter enjoying a snack. We have also had a pair of great blue herons stalking the marsh. Our normal cast of characters, the kingfisher, the grebes, and the rotating cormorants have been around most of the winter. I have only seen one pelican, but they usually wait until the serious cold weather before holing up in the marsh. The smaller birds must still be up north since we just have a few chickadees.
It is a good time of year to work on an update to our Emerald Isle Travel guide. The update I am working on will be free if you buy the current Kindle version of the book. Our month of winter is also a great time to get prepared for spring. I have ordered some tomato seeds and will be planting some next weekend. My skiff still needs some work and it is time to sharpen some hooks for spring fishing.
Our month of winter is just about the right amount of downtime for our garden and me. Of course the yard mowing downtime lasts a lot longer here than it does in some places. We stop mowing in early October and rarely do any mowing until late April. That's fine with me because by then the garden is already in full swing and we are usually out on the water.
Our great weather, like most things in life, is hard to appreciate without a taste of something not so nice. So I will proudly stand up take my month of winter weather. I can only hope that a month of it is all that I have to endure. After all this is North Carolina and when we get to February 15, spring is just around the corner and from there we can often see the summer beach season.
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