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

Friday, January 15, 2010
Ordinary Time
A number of Christian denominations mark their calendars in segments around key dates and events, like Advent (Christmas) or Lent (Easter). Special days or feast days get a nod, too, like All Saints Day or Epiphany or Pentecost. In between all these special celebrations, the liturgical calendar reads merely “Ordinary Time.” As a photographer, I find it easy to find beauty or interest in the spectacular, the out-of-ordinary, like afternoon rainbows or foggy mornings, sun dogs or moon rings or storm-driven seas. The photographer’s larger challenge is to take “ordinary time” and find the beauty there, hidden in the everyday. There are spiritual traditions that emphasize this notion as well, this being present to each present moment, and infusing all such moments with our full attention, finding meaning there.

I’ve been thinking about Ordinary Time as a convenient shorthand to describe the sort of day that today was—not too cold (for which we are thankful); not too warm for this time of year (the mercury crested 50 today); the ocean rolling gently. In a word, an everyday sort of day. Nothing spectacular in the landscape to rivet the attention. The sort of day that invites deep breaths in sequence, and a quiet, glad calm rather than a heady adrenalin-rush of excitement.

I went to look at the ocean this afternoon without having to wear gloves or a polartec hat. After the long stretch of unordinary cold for this time of year here on the Outer Banks, the day felt much more typical for January. I saw no pelicans, no sanderlings, no dolphins. Bright white somebodies, too far to discern who they were, flew north, two to four birds at a time, low over the ocean. A few lone gulls came and went. One of the gulls persisted in flying acrobatics right in front of me, wheeling around and landing on the water only to take flight and do it all over again. I couldn’t help but relate to Jonathan Livingston Seagull, who loved flying for the fun of it, and thought Richard Bach must have watched similar antics.

There were all sorts of tire tracks and bird tracks and people tracks and dog tracks, but close to the toe of the dune right at the access itself was a straight line of fox tracks. I’ve seen a fox near this access a time or two, so I was glad to see recent footprints here.

One beach walker cruised by with a nice-sized whole whelk; I found only fragments. The beach itself undulated in miniature hills and valleys as far south as I could see from my vantage point in mid-Kill Devil Hills. The ocean outfall at the beach access I chose was pouring out clear water, still draining the stormwater system after such a prolonged wet spell.

The afternoon light around 4 p.m gave a green glow to the onshore ripples, and the sky overhead had a combination of high, thin cirrus clouds, a patch of sheetlike stratus clouds and some puffy popcorn cumulus clouds. (I recently bought a Golden Guide book on weather, can you tell?)       For a while I thought began to see some refracted rays over the ocean as the sun sank lower in the southwest, but they dimmed. Nothing spectacular here…just ordinary…if you call a slight breeze, calm seas, beautiful clouds and a happy-go-lucky gull for company “ordinary”. I choose to call it all beautiful. Hopefully you will see the beauty, too.

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First thing I noticed: Fox Tracks. Recent, too, meaning Fox is well.

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Second thing I noticed: What pretty clouds!

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This Gull nearly buzzed me the first time it flew by, as if it wanted me to notice.

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The outfall was outpouring steadily today.

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In late afternoon, the light and clouds keep changing. Every few minutes gives a different picture.

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I leave you as I left myself, with one more long look at the seascape. Beautiful.

posted by eturek at 9:18 PM

Comments [4]

Saturday, January 9, 2010
Baby, It's Cold Outside
Years ago, I used to attend services conducted by a wonderfully warm, funny, up-tempo evangelist from South Africa, who would ask, in his distinctive accent, ‘what’s a-happenin’ here?” I hear his voice sometimes in my head, as now. What’s a-happenin’ here is cold. Cold cold cold. So much cold that the cat’s water bowls have been frozen solid for days, thawing out briefly yesterday afternoon but refreezing overnight. It’s winter, my northern-transplant friends remind me; it is supposed to be cold. Yes, but…is my reply. Yes, but…this is the Outer Banks, not Outer Mongolia (otherwise known in our country as, oh, Montana, say. Or Michigan. Or even Ohio, this year, where it is flipppin-cold.) I would submit that night after night in the ‘20’s, with daytime highs in the mid-30’s, and winds blowing over the water driving the wind chill factor lower yet, is uncharacteristic for here and for now. I am fond of telling folks who live north of the Mason-Dixie line just how hard we have it here in winter. Gets really cold, I like to say, setting them up for my punchline. Oh, we can have several days, even a week, of 40-degree days, and the wind can blow northeast making it seem colder than it is. By now my audience is laughing along with me. That’s a heat wave in January for some folks. That’d be a heat wave here, too, so far this winter.
I say it over and over: yes, we have winter. Trees lose their leaves here, too—just not as early as they shed their fall wardrobe in cooler climes. And winter northeasters feel raw, all that humid air swirling and blowing off a frothing Atlantic. But we are not having a northeaster. We are having cold, more of it and for longer duration than is typical here.
Clues to winter’s severity and duration have been read for eons by people who live close to the land, whose daily rhythms are more tied to sun and weather than our more modern life encourages or rewards. What I noticed first was a seeming increase in mast: the live oak trees in my Colington yard seem to have produced more nutmeats than I remember seeing on my lawn or driveway over the past several years. The dogwood, too, seems laden with more berries but memory is a fickle thing; I could be over-estimating. What I am very sure of is that my one completely outdoor kitty, who spooks every time I try to bring him in no matter how cold it is, is heavier and sporting a thicker coat than I have seen before.
The National Weather Service has some nifty online information about weather patterns and trends. I found a page that NOAA was too polite to call “weather for dummies” although the site does acknowledge the text is written for “non-technical users.” (The url is below, if any of you are interested.)
What this says, basically, is that we have been and still are under the influence of El Nino. El Nino and La Nina are essentially opposite phenomena that occur in cyclic fluctuations and produce either warmer or cooler surface water temperatures (and corresponding high and low surface pressures) in the Pacific Ocean (thank you, Wikipedia). Here’s the deal: we feel those effects here on the Atlantic side in a counter-intuitive sort of way, and with a significant time lag that can be a year to 18 months behind. In any case, the warmer than usual Pacific eventually drives our temperatures here in the southeast downward, rather than upward, in a complicated series of steps I have read until my eyes glaze over and I still don’t get it. Warming trends there lead to cooler (and wetter) seasons here, while the opposite effect, of La Nina, is that a cooler Pacific increases trade winds and results in more storms, less precipitation and warmer temperatures for our part of the Atlantic coast. We have, in short, El Nino to thank for sparing our coast a significant hurricane this year. We can also lay the credit (or blame, depending on your mood) at El Nino’s feet for our cooler and wetter spring, summer, fall—and now winter. If NOAA is right and the El Nino trend will continue over the next few months, and if the Atlantic feels the effects even after the official shift away from warm Pacific waters to cool Pacific waters, then I reckon it is going to stay cooler and wetter than in recent years, certainly for the rest of our winter and maybe into next summer as well.
All of us have strategies for coping with temperature change; warm-blooded critters, like animals and us humans and birds, have high metabolisms that enable us to (in theory) keep our body temperature constant from within, despite the outer conditions. We generate our own heat and conserve that heat—animals grow thicker coats or may hibernate to conserve energy. We humans, lacking feathers or fur, borrow hides from other critters for our outerwear (I favor a down vest, myself) or don synthetic substitutes, like polarfleece hats and gloves. Cold-blooded critters, like fish, amphibians and reptiles, don’t have that same ability—they pick up warmth from their surroundings. That helps explain why turtles or snakes like to bask in the sun on warm days, and why turtles in cold areas snug down and hibernate in the mud to help insulate their bodies by this time of year. Birds do a combination of things; they have high metabolic rates, and they eat much more in winter to help warm them on cold nights. Other birds like our osprey fly south for the winter seeking warmer digs until spring. While osprey go, other birds like waterfowl, particularly snow geese and tundra swan, come and we are seeing their numbers increase, although it has not been very warm for them here, either.
I’ve joked with my family for years that I must be at least partially cold-blooded, as basking on warm rocks at any time of year seems a good idea to me. It also helps me defend my longer-than-usual hot showers in winter, and my propensity for eschewing cold water to drink in favor of room temperature water even in summertime. But I may have some feathered metabolism, too—I eat more in winter and zipping down to Florida for a couple of weeks suits my January self just fine, thank you very much!
One advantage to cold weather on the Outer Banks is that the sunset skies are more brilliant, in the aggregate, than they are on a hot July evening. This year, I am betting that the combination of a moister-than-usual year combined with a colder-than-usual winter will produce some genuine white stuff in the form of a significant snowfall. The last huge winter storm here happened 20 years ago; we’ll see what this winter brings.

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This crab-apple tree is not a native OuterBanker; it is a transplant, like me. It kept brilliant fall color through New Year's.

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The beach at Oregon Inlet the other day was wide, flat, and deserted. Oh yes, and cold!

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How cold? Cold enough to freeze the edges of the sound.

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The parking lot sand at Avalon Pier is covered with bird tracks, everything from gulls to blackbirds. A veritable bird highway.

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A bird highway of the more traditional kind: hundreds of snow geese flying over Currituck Sound this past Thursday. Hope they packed warm feathers.

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Recent picture of swans, taken in December at Mackay Island. All our snowbirds are beginning to settle in.

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Picture-perfect ending to a winter day.

posted by eturek at 11:06 AM

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Friday, January 1, 2010
Fly Me To The Moon...
The decade and this year's blog ended with an almost-wsn't...a blue moon shining over the ocean that shone past fog and clouds to brighten the early evening sky before fading into memory. We won't see another on New Year's Eve until 2028, and that one won't herald a decade.
Having grandsons with us for the Christmas holidays gave us a chance to get outside in a little bit of sunshine and chilly-willy temps and brisk winds. I started shooting for this particular blog a little over a week ago, when I went to Avalon Pier for my winter solstice sunrise in order to show you just how far south the sun's circuit swings between summer and winter. Karen Watras (shellgirl photos) and I spent the early morning a couple of days before Christmas on the northern end of Pea Island where we were delighted to see avocets; I saw them again with grandson Patrick a day after Christmas when the group numbered at least 20. They are striking birds even in their winter coats. We then walked the new boardwalk beside and behind the Bodie Lighthouse to see all sorts of somebodys flitting and darting over the water against a backdrop of swan, snow geese, coots, shovelers, pintails and a bunch of other ducks I couldn't identify in the distance. Man, those somebodys were fast, fast, fast. Whiz, whir, whee and out of range, just like that. I finally managed to get shots passable enough to identify the little ones: tree swallows. The giveaway signs were the beautiful iridescence on their heads and backs, the lack of a deeply forked tail, white underneath, and oh yes, despite their name, where I found them. Tree Swallows like to hang out over marshes and ponds or lakeshores. Go figure. Now it would have helped me greatly had they been named Pond Swallows or Sound Swallows or Marsh Swallows. I would have looked at their ID photos first, not last.
You may have seen StephVa's photos of Jockey's Ridge showing all the little pockets and pools of standing water; I saw her entry after taking the 11- and 16-year old grandsons up the back side of the Ridge three days after Christmas. The landscape had more than its usual western feel to me. The sight of the almost-full moon overhead was an extra bonus.
Pete drove us up beyond Corolla the day before that; we saw exposed stumps closer to the entry fence than I have ever seen and the beach bears graphic witness to the damage caused by the Veteran's Day storm. We couldn't drive very far north before the ocean and its floes of foam blocked our progress. We drove down to Oregon Inlet a couple of days later at low tide and saw that beach wider and flatter than it has been in months. The ocean giveth and the ocean taketh away. Two pairs of oyster catchers were sharing the lunch mole-crab buffet with some willets while we were there. The largest group of willets was hanging out at the rainwater puddle at the Oregon Inlet Fishing Center entrance, where a similar sized flock of sandpipers had been a couple of days earlier.
I--along with many of you--had been anticipating the blue moon moonrise, right at sunset, on New Year's Eve, a fitting close to the decade. I went to Nags Head at sunset but while there was some color in the west, and patches of blue overhead, clouds and fog obscured moonrise. About half an hour later, at 5:40 pm, the moon broke through the clouds, well after the sun had set. Pete just had time to pull over at another access, where I ran up the ramp and set up my tripod quickly in order to get a few shots before the moon's disk was hidden by clouds again. Whew! For an event that happens only every 19 years, a blue moon on New Year's Eve, the effort was worth it. I read earlier in the day how many cultural traditions include round foods, like grapes, or oranges, or round cakes, or lentils, in their New Year's Day traditions as symbols of peace, prosperity or hope. For my part, I hope your new year is like that blue moon: stubbornly shining its own round promise of good things to come.

On the 28th

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Remember the summer shot from late June, where the sun is rising just north of the pier? Not now it isn't.

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Avocets at Pea Island. They look fashionable in their winter coats.

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Avocets feed by dipping their heads underwater and scouring the bottom. They shut their eyes before ducking under.

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Lots of wintertime visitors now at the Bodie Lighthouse. I have heard the white pelicans are back but did not see any either place.

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It's a Lake, er Marsh, er Sound, er Tree Swallow!

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If there are pelicans about, you can bet I will take their picture! Northeast winds can't stop the fun.

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We weren't keen on driving through salt water just to get to the other side, since we didn't have to.

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Foam Floes in Corolla.

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Jockey's Ridge, late afternoon. The not-quite full moon was a nice touch.

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Worth waiting for...for a few minutes, we got to see the Blue Moon over the ocean. Its ring was diffused by the clouds but was more orange than blue...

posted by eturek at 9:21 AM

Comments [2]

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