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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Monday, October 26, 2015
Autumn Afternoons
Every year I set myself a “Finding Fall” kind of challenge, a way to give a nod to my rural, hilly, Virginia childhood, when maples and oaks signaled the seasonal passage.

Just when I think I have escaped our persistent nor’easter pattern of late September, I sit to write this blog at the end of a cloud-shrouded, gusty, north-northeast wind day. But I am not complaining. We have had some lovely days in the interlude, with crisp nights, more vibrant sunsets and—even better—towering cloud afternoons.

Afternoon is my favorite time in autumn, and afternoons come earlier now than they do in summer. Let me clarify: the clouds I look for (if I’m lucky) at about 3:30 on a summer afternoon in August show up earlier in October. By the end of this weekend, we will have “fallen back,” and the scenes I enjoy as my workday ends now will instantly unfold an hour earlier. I’ve already got my eyes on the skies well before the magic golden hour, trying to assess when and where to be nearer the close of the day. If I can manage the time, I try to be out photographing under those earlier skies. The sun is much lower in the sky now than it was in, say, July. This is my big cue to pay attention. The light can turn dramatic suddenly, so I try not to miss it.

I’ve learned in 39 Outer Banks Octobers that autumn dunes and marshes provide splashes of vibrant color to herald the turn of the season. Sometimes the fall color I crave is splashed across the sky or reflected in our abundant waters like a mirror. When I was much younger, I thought of fall as a melancholy season. Now that I am in my own autumn years, I have different descriptions of this time of year. I think about gathering and gratitude. I think about the abundance of spring seeds and summer labors coming to fruition. I think about contemplation and creativity nurtured in a quieter, more restful season giving expression to new growth in a new spring yet to come.

What feelings does fall stir in you? Can you find visual metaphors for your stories of the season? Some of my favorite chapters of early autumn 2015 are below.

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This photograph shows the soundside shoreline about a week before the official start of autumn. The grasses already show a hint of their soon-to-come fall golden hues.

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Lower humidity generally produces the most beautiful afternoon and evening skies. Sunset in Duck.

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An even more dramatic sunset in Colington.

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During our long nor'easter, our photo club's monthly challenge was "wind." Along with frothy ocean images, I created Wind In The Willows using a slow shutter speed.

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Here is an image of harvest: Black Bear with corn cob, at Alligator River refuge. The fields had already been cut, so both Bear and I were grateful for the gleaning.

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These are the skies that make my heart beat faster. I can both enjoy what is, and anticipate beauty to come.

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Same afternoon, about 30 minutes later. Lovely, yes?

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And a mere 7 minutes later. As the sun sinks, the light changes suddenly and dramatically. Here I loved the contrast between the bright golds of the grasses against the darker blue sky beyond.

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Now, 20 minutes later and a little further north, the eastern sky picks up the sunset glow radiating from the west.

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Before the color faded, I received one more gift: ten pelicans flying high offshore, headed to roost for the evening. I left the beach soon after, my heart full of fall's splendors.

posted by eturek at 11:17 PM

Comments [3]

Thursday, October 15, 2015
Ragged Kind of Beauty
About thirty years ago, ten years after I moved to the Outer Banks, I wrote this lyric:

There's a ragged kind of beauty in the northeast wind
There's a wildness in the geese passing over
Waves break on the shoreline of where I've been
The gray and the blue of October…

By that time, I’d weathered a number of nor’easters, both literal and emotional. I took plenty of documentary photographs in that era, first for a local newspaper and then as Dare County’s Public Information Officer. I still sometimes see a scene as a journalist first. What grabs my attention about the lyric now, from a longer-view perspective, is that even back then I was on a quest to see through the storms to the beauty nature offers.

Since my last blog, the Outer Banks was stuck for more than two weeks in a persistent northeaster pattern of weather, with low pressure systems held over the coast and then residual winds from a (thankfully) well-offshore passing Hurricane Joaquin. During that time our skies were mostly gray, whether rain was falling or not. We did have respites of sunshine but the stormy seas continued unabated. You’ve likely seen many photographs by now of the waves breaking on top of NC 12 in Kitty Hawk, again undermining the road there. I was out that Sunday afternoon with a long enough lens to take photographs from the Black Pelican parking lot. But those aren’t the images I’ve chosen to include here.

Some of you reading this column will know that two friends of mine have died, unexpectedly, since my last blog. One of those two, a fellow photographer, suggested a photo challenge in August for our local chapter of the Carolinas Nature Photographers Association’s next meeting that was definitely out of my comfort zone. Find something you normally would have no interest in photographing, he suggested, something you might even label “ugly,” and find a way to photograph it beautifully, showing the subject to best possible advantage. I had emotional difficulty with the “ugly” idea (though there are plenty of subjects I eschew photographing for a number of aesthetic and emotional reasons). Eventually I realized I could photograph pollution in the landscape. But I must have had his challenge in my heart this past month, when our photo subject was “wind. ” (We certainly had plenty of that!) Instead of following my journalism instincts, I decided, stubbornly perhaps, to focus my attention and heart on beauty, beauty within the storm, beauty after the storm’s passage.

This is how I am going to honor my friend: I am going to try to remember his photo challenge as my life challenge. No matter the circumstance, no matter which way the wind blows or how strong the storm seems, I am going to try to remember to look for the beauty. Focusing on beauty is one more way as a photographer I can practice gratitude, not as an empty platitude but stubbornly, even in the face of a northeast wind.

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After more than a week with heavily overcast skies, the late afternoon light on the wind-driven ocean was beautiful to me.

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I photographed something similar nearly ten years ago. From the height of a pier, the stormy ocean looks like an aerial view of the Rocky Mountains. I call this Mountainous Seas.

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Although the winds never did shift to the west while the seas were still running high, I did see some curling breakers in sweet light.

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Here is an image I have tried without success to photograph--until this storm. A backsplash, as two waves collided.

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Some of the seafoam held vibrant jewels of color.

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On the morning of Oct. 8, with the sun finally shining, I drove to the beach singing Cat Stevens' Morning Has Broken. Imagine my delight at this "Black bird has spoken..."

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Kitty Hawk's Pelican's Perch stood strong through another storm. Here, pelicans pay a visit to the house named in their honor.

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I've spent the summer hoping the pelicans that nested on Ocracoke's lower end rather than off Oregon Inlet would return. Seemingly, they have!

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I walked the beach looking for hearts anywhere I could spy them. Here was one at my feet.

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Finally I began examining the sea foam clumps, determined to find a heart there too. Call it luck, coincidence--I prefer to think intention and attention, coupled with an eye for loveliness, draws love to us.

posted by eturek at 10:01 PM

Comments [2]

Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Gratitude List
Sometimes in order to get where you’re going, you just need to keep walking. Sometimes as a photographer, I need to keep clicking until something, The Thing, clicks.

I went to the ocean one morning recently at what turned out to be dead low tide (which was still plenty high, given the winds of the past couple of days pushing the ocean onshore.) I do not believe my timing was a coincidence as I am still soaking in the “turn of tide” metaphor, and I wound up photographing as lowest-low began to yield to the shore’s draw of the waves back to itself.

Earlier last week I drove down one morning to Pea Island’s North Pond, where the Black Skimmers that nested near the jetty on the island’s northern tip had moved once the chicks fledged. As I drove, I thought about those Skimmers. I thought about intention, too, and timing, and intuition, and synchronicity, and all the reasons I photograph. In all that thinking I asked for a meditative image born of an experience in the natural world that I could share. When I arrived, I decided to walk by the bulkhead instead of through the tree tunnel and out onto the first viewing platform. I’m so glad I heeded the impulse—when I reached the spot where I would have been stepping off the platform I saw dozens of egrets and tri-colored herons atop the shrubby trees at the higher path’s edge. I likely would have spooked them had I been walking topside. I’ve never seen so many perched there before; in fact, I have never seen that many tricolored herons at Pea Island at such close range, ever. Two visiting photographers met me as they were walking out and I was glad to point out the herons and explain how unusual for me to see them there. South Pond, which has been devoid of wading birds during my every visit this summer, was full of more egrets, ibis, and herons. I’d driven down with more than a little regret that I hadn’t been able to leave the house earlier, but turns out I was right on time for the images meant for me. The lone visiting photographer who was still photographing Skimmers when we met said no birds had been in that pond when he arrived earlier in the morning. The entire experience made my gratitude list.

Speaking of gratitude lists, I began a practice of listing my gratitudes 11 Aprils ago on the advice of close friend and fellow photographer Karen Watras. I and my family were in a season of sorrow, and she suggested making a list at the end of each day of ten things I was grateful for that day. She promised it would shift my perspective, and it did. The list became a quest to be alert for items to include and re-awakened my heart and eyes to the abundance of gifts nature bestows. Two Aprils later, we opened for our first season as the new owners of Yellowhouse Gallery, having bought the business the winter before from Jack and Sue Sandberg. I think the two events—focusing on gratitude and resuming a fulltime creative, photographer’s life—are related.

Often what made my list were the smallest blessings—a ladybug landing on my arm (I had one of those this past week), the feel of the first cool breeze heralding autumn’s arrival (haven’t quite felt that yet though the clouds have looked more like fall than summer lately), or looking down and spotting a fluffy down feather from a newly fledged winged-somebody (seen several of those). Big items make my list, too, like visiting with out of town friends or family (enjoyed some of both recently) or taking a vacation ourselves. While our annual trip won’t come for several more months, I have been off island a few times in the past few weeks. I participated in a photography outing with fellow members of CNPA’s Outer Banks region. We left the Outer Banks and booked a pontoon boat tour on the James River in Richmond to photograph Bald Eagles. That reach of the river has several nesting pair, and our captain and guide, Mike Ostrander of Discover The James, shared a clear love for and knowledge of the river and the birds. You’ll see a couple of images from that trip below. While I photograph eagles here, I had more chances in those three hours to watch eagles in flight—and fishing on the water—than I have in years here.

By far my happiest jaunt was traveling inland about three hours to meet newest grandson, Cash Michael, for his one-day-old birthday. Babies hold such joy and promise in their tiny hands. I could start every gratitude list for the rest of my life with his name, and my son’s name, and Pete’s name, and the name of all the rest of my family members and friends. But Karen told me that repeating gratitudes day in, day out, is really cheating. The idea behind the practice is not to take who and what we love for granted and repeat their names by rote, but to be alert for the gifts each day brings us new. The day before, as Cash was making his way into the world, I was photographing baby hummingbirds in Kitty Hawk when one suddenly fledged in a blur of wings. A few minutes later a swallow-tailed butterfly visited the remaining baby bird, which took its own first flight later in the afternoon. Having the chance to photograph a mother and baby hummingbirds for the second time in my life (thanks to the generosity of the photographer friends whose tree Mother Hummer chose) was a whisper of a prayer answered and its own gratitude entry.

Over the years I’ve shared the practice of gratitude with family, friends, and strangers. Can you see yourself taking five minutes at the end of each day and jotting down in a little notebook ten things you are grateful for from that day? I promise you, as Karen promised me, the practice will change your life. Images of some of the experiences I’m grateful for over the past couple of weeks are below.

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I call this image--and the one below--Salt Bath. Can you guess why? Good thing I wore my quick-dry britches!

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These were so much fun to do! In photography as in life, timing is everything.

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The determined energy of the now-incoming tide buoyed my outlook as it soaked my knees.

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Recent evening image--here I am on a tripod and shutter open just under one second. What I feel here is the pull and tug of the water going out. I like the misty wispiness, which feels like "release" to me -- a gentle letting go.

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Look at all these tricolored herons! Some years I am lucky to see one or two grazing the flats.

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Plenty of birds this bright morning on Pea Island's South Pond.

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Mature Bald Eagle flying over the James River, Richmond.

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Bald Eagle with breakfast. Often, after a parent eagle would fly off with a fish, it would entice its newly fledged baby eaglet to chase it to help teach it how to feed on its own eventually.

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Our newest grandbaby was born about an hour after I watched this mother hummingbird feed her youngest baby--who fledged later that afternoon.

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Beauty is everywhere. I showed our neighbor's two young sons how beautifully radiant this little fly is when seen through my macro lens.

posted by eturek at 3:20 PM

Comments [6]

Saturday, August 22, 2015
When the Tide Turns
Experienced fishermen (and surfers—and beachcombers) know to watch for the turn of the tide. When I wrote the phrase “when the tide turns” in my morning journal recently, I realized there is a definitive moment when the tide literally turns, when ebb imperceptibly ends and flood begins. In that instant, even the most alert might not notice the change. The water’s movement five minutes on either side of the tidal shift looks similar. Hindcast or fast-forward 35 minutes, or 65, and the changes become obvious.

I think I am—I think many of us are—living out that experience when the tide has turned even though we don’t necessarily see ample evidence of the magnitude of the shift yet. After all, I’m not yet comparing lowest ebb with highest rise of tide; I’m just noticing that the water seems to be coming in a little stronger, a little higher, wave on wave.

I notice tide change photographically, and I notice tidal shifts in my daily life experience. So I thought it might be fun to illustrate the concept—you will see some results below.

Of course, I’m not always focused at my feet! I went to the ocean for the latest release of Green Sea Turtles that were cold-stunned in last winter’s freeze, and spent several months recuperating in the NC Aquarium STAR center. I did not have a decent vantage point to photograph the release but the way the sun broke through the storm-cloud cover was pure wonder. I walked back to my car in the company of fellow photographer Roy Ellund, aka OBX Beach Bum, and he snapped a quick photograph of me clicking my shutter. He’s been gracious to allow me to share the image so I though readers here might appreciate seeing it too. That’s twice in the past month someone has taken a photograph of the photographer!

A few days before, the clouds in the afternoon drew me seaward, and the breakers were clean and green. One of the last series of wave breaks I photographed had a big backsplash, as if the wind and tide were at opposite directions just for those few seconds. When I saw the sequence on my monitor, I realized the ocean had given me yet another “sea heart.” I just love pointing hearts out to folks who have not noticed their presence. Truly, they are everywhere.

The sea oats are beginning to turn from their earlier blooming green to a more golden hue, and I always enjoy seeking out new vantage points to include sea-oat clad dunes in my late-summer and early-fall seascapes. I had a restless night not long ago and was awake before dawn, so I got up, stopped at Jennette’s Pier for the official sunrise (clouds were on the horizon) and then drove south to Pea Island. The skies kept getting lovelier all morning instead of less so, thanks to the clouds. I’ve visited those same dunes several times in the past month, from dawn to dusk. I am fascinated with the way the color of the light influences the look of a scene and my own emotional response. Here you have the gamut, from soft, gentle serene mornings to over-the-top dramatic skies and seas, to warm, happy, easy-breezy summer afternoons. Enjoy.

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Sometimes the loveliest color is found by looking down, not up. Sunrise shimmer on Ocracoke.

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The patterns the water makes as the tide rushes in and recedes fascinate me.

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I photographed these tide pool patterns on a soon-to-be-stormy-again afternoon in Frisco.

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I call this Seaglass Surf. The deep green of the ocean juxtaposed against the dark blue sky caught my breath.

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Here's what I looked like from photographer Roy Edlund's (theobxbeachbum) perspective.

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Hearts are everywhere... at least, to my heart and eye.

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Sea Oats near dawn...

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Sea oats in the afternoon...

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Sea oats at dusk...

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Sand fence remnants, standing like sentinels watching over the sea.

posted by eturek at 3:43 PM

Comments [3]

Sunday, July 26, 2015
Where O Where Have The Pelicans Gone...
Where are all the pelicans?!?

Anybody but me notice how few pelicans we are seeing this summer? Their long lines, skimming atop the waves or flying over the dunes have been constant companions all day long, year after year. On every morning and afternoon drive from Colington Road down to the gallery in Nags Head, I’m always accompanied by at least one, and sometimes several, lines of pelicans—until this year. We always see fewer of the adults as nesting season begins, but what I affectionately call “the teenagers”—second and third year birds who are not yet mature enough to mate but do feed and fly on their own—are always present in good numbers. By this time of year, as eggs hatch and baby pelicans grow and need to be fed regurgitated fish by their parents, we always see lots of parents flying up and down the beach too.

So where the heck are they?

The short answer—at least in part—is Ocracoke. “Our” pelicans, that is, the large colony that has been nesting and roosting on a dredge spoil island in the sound, west of Oregon Inlet, did not nest there this year in their usual numbers. Instead, the colony of pelicans on a similar island off Ocracoke has grown to a huge size this year—about 1,000 nesting pairs! Presumably at least some of the pelicans that nest here joined up with that colony. Since each nest typically holds two to four eggs (average clutch size is three eggs), and since pelicans are colonial birds that typically nest, roost, and fish all together, my theory is that most “teenagers” flew south along with the adults. “Why?” is a harder question to answer. Perhaps our colder-than-usual winter, with the sound freezing in mid-February, prompted them to seek more open water south. Perhaps the presence of 150+/- White Pelicans (instead of the 20-40 we have seen during the past five or six winters) were a factor, since I observed both White Pelicans and Brown Pelicans together feeding the same low water at the Pea Island ponds in early winter.

Whatever the reason, I hope that as the baby pelicans grow, the parents who usually reside up our way will be prompted to fly their broods back north. We will have to wait awhile to see if that happens—baby Brown Pelicans take from 71 to 88 days to fledge, according to The Birders Handbook. Given that pelicans’ eggs are not laid at the same time and don’t hatch all at once, this means some pelican chicks won’t be airborne until nearly three months from now.

How do I know these birds went to Ocracoke? For the first time in ten years, I had a rare chance to help band baby pelicans a couple weeks back. The impact of being in the presence of several thousand pelicans, plus hundreds of terns, is hard to describe and hard to convey even in a series of photographs (but I’ll try!) The main sound from the island is the call of the terns; adult pelicans are mostly silent. The pelican babies make a sort of guttural grunt, kind of a cross between a croak and a barking frog. Baby pelicans have no down or feathers when they hatch. Their eyes open soon after hatching. I noticed ten years ago, and noticed again now, how tender young siblings are with each other. Older birds seem to be protective of younger ones and the chicks huddle together as they await the arrival of a parent with food. Both moms and dads are involved in nest building, incubation and feeding young. In Florida, you can see pelicans nesting in mangrove trees; here, most nests are shallow, grass lined scrapes in the sand or occasionally atop a grassy clump. One bunch of nests was clustered in a sandspur field, and one young pelican had numerous sandspurs stuck to its growing feathers! We carefully removed all those so at least the bird was more comfortable for the moment. We also spotted one family of Snowy Egrets, a colony of Great Egrets, a couple of gull parents and chicks and two White Ibis chicks—which look nothing at all as you would expect!

Regular readers know how much I love pelicans (okay, okay, I love everybody, but I do have a special bond with pelicans) and also how often I spot hearts. I was the only one who noticed that at one certain age, as the baby pelicans are losing their white fuzzy down and beginning to grow their juvenile long brown/gray feathers, the pattern of those feathers on their backs above their wings, forms a perfect heart. Once I spotted the first heart, I realized all the birds of that age had the pattern. For me, seeing dozens of those hearts was like walking through a living, breathing field of “I love you’s.”      

So while we all wait to see if, and when, many of “our” parent pelicans return, I hope these images of colony life, Brown Pelican style, will delight you as much as they do me.

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As impressive as the view was when I stepped ashore, I was not prepared for the sheer numbers of pelicans I would soon see.

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Young pelicans were everywhere!

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Many parents were still incubating eggs. Notice how close together the nests are! I call this, The Nursery.

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Newly hatched pelicans have no downy fluff. Welcome to the world, little pelican!

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Now you can see the beginnings of what will be their downy feathers. They look now like baby dinosaurs (or plucked chickens). What I noticed most is how precious they are with each other.

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Here is an overview from the nestlings' perspective.

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The older bird was very protective of its younger sibling.

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Parent with downy chick. ("Chick" seems too tiny a word for a baby pelican. At this age they are plenty big already!)

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How could you miss the heart?

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Being surrounded by hundreds of pelicans at a time is an experience I will remember the rest of my life.

posted by eturek at 1:40 PM

Comments [9]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 251165 times

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