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{ Monthly Archives } November 2011

Beaufort, SC

The number of rivers, creeks, coves, marshes and bays is impressive: Beaufort-SC There are marinas tucked into many of those coves and it looks as if the ICW traffic enjoys visiting here, though the day we left they were all hunkered down for a day of rain and wind. D7K_0647 Normally it’s a lovely harbor IMG_6815 D7K_0596 Why were we not surprised that the harbor tour boat in this charming town is called “The Prince of Tides”? … The huge live oak trees lining street after street of antebellum houses drip with history and Spanish moss. D7K_0588 IMG_6808 D7K_0583 The town is a miniature Charleston in architectural variety and grandeur, and each house has a long and colorful story known by hairdressers and waitresses as well as the carriage tour guides. And like every other place we’ve been so far in South Carolina, people here are genuinely hospitable to the stranger: go in to get the battery replaced in your watch and you’re included without so much as a by-your-leave in a crowd which includes grandpa and the grandkids, and it seems not to matter that you’re obviously from “away” and even have a “Yankee” accent. In a way similar to our visit to Southport, we came away from Beaufort with a sense of a town which, despite its reknown and tourism, retains its sense of itself and an openness to others which is the kind of tradition that makes the traveler feel at ease, even if not necessarily at home.


Charleston and Thanksgiving

The bird was delicious and the company good and we thought of everyone spread out worldwide and hoped your gathering was equally rewarding.IMG_6772 We took another horse tour of Charleston with John, and saw a lot of buildings and streets we hadn’t already seen. … We showed John a couple more of the plantations, passing some of the local businesses (concealed weapons courses, and boiled peanuts) D7K_0570 and went to Folly Beach for lunch IMG_6793 and drove up to the northern tip to see the lighthouse and the view over to the southern tip of Sullivan’s Island and Fort Moultrie. D7K_0579 One of the discoveries of the stay was the town of Mount Pleasant. It first appears to be just a bedroom community of Charleston but turns out to have some lovely old houses and districts and some well-done access via boardwalks and old bridge causeways to marshlands and waterfront.D7K_0527. It also offers departures for visits to Fort Sumter (well worth it) and the option to visit the Yorktown. D7K_0253 There is a great deal of history to be seen in this area but unless you’re devoted only to that, it’s also rewarding to get out and visit the parks, road ends, beaches, marshes and other natural areas, which abound.

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Happy Thanksgiving

We did a drive-by on the rows of gorgeous houses in the southern end of town in order to get oriented and then took in the SC Aquarium (free tickets), with a spectacular three-story ocean tank but a less intimate and welcoming feel than the NC Aquarium on Cape Fear. This morning was our turn to use the free tickets (again) to take the horse-drawn carriage trip through town, and listen to the guide describe what we saw and discuss some of the history of Charleston; it was well-done: he had a fine sense of humor and a solid grasp of not only the facts but also the social and political trends of the times. … It is undeniably a lovely downtown area and appears to be thriving; there a lots of young people around (and an unusual and noticeable number of gorgeous girls), some clearly students at the College of Charleston (our guide asserted that SC comes 49th in educational ratings of the 50 states) where the student body is 2/3 female); clearly there are also many local businesses, likely many related to the tourist trade. … Dan’s brother John arrives, by train from Boston, tomorrow morning early, we’re baking a pie tonight, and going to cook a turkey on Thursday; that in itself will be unusual as we are nearly always in Switzerland at Thanksgiving, and have to have it on the weekend after if we want to do it.


Wilmington, NC, to Charleston, SC

Right next to it was the Orton Plantation which is clearly still in operation but farming pine trees for International Paper (that’s right, you do remember: the paper company that sold off its operations in Maine to concentrate on monoculture pine cropping in the SE US; drive through the town of Jay Maine and look at the tower in the middle of town, at the falls on the Androscoggin and admire the name still there: International Paper). … This site had some interesting archeology and displays, but unless you’re a serious student of Civil War torpedoes or Colonial artifacts, interest flags fast; it isn’t because the displays are not well-done – they are, and you have to admire the resources that the State spends here; they might cut budgets in any number of ways these days, and probably are doing so. … It resembles Beaufort in the sense that it lies at the intersection of a number of waterways, harbors the station for the pilots for the Cape Fear River and Wilmington , and has a gorgeous old town with the classic wide-set-back streets of North Carolina with lines of beautiful live oaks overhanging them. … Nowadays the southwestern horizon in G’Town outlines the mills of International Paper and Arcelor/Mittal Steel; why a a steel mill should be located in coastal South Carolina isn’t clear (though this article provides a little background), but there it is, and it’s an ugly hulk; but when the wind blows the wrong way, what you notice is the good ol’ hydrogen sulfide (i.e., rotten eggs) odor of a pulp mill.

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Last stops in North Carolina (Wilmington)

Driving into Wilmington you pass through the now expected miles of commercial strip that surround most old towns in the US; at least in cases like Wilmington (or Beaufort, or any other you can name) they didn’t gut the original town to build these strips, but it likely isn’t because it wasn’t considered at the time. … There is block after block of splendid wood, brick and stone houses, brick-paved streets and nearly every one is in good condition. D7K_0123 D7K_0129 D7K_0133 D7K_0139 D7K_0142 D7K_0147 While there are some closed store-fronts the town has a feel of, if not booming prosperity, at least of thriving: lots of young people, interesting shops, very good restaurants and well-maintained civic infrastructure. … It mentions the beach areas of Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure Beach, but having driven down there we can say that they are just as horrendously overbuilt and crowded as every other beach town we’ve seen in North Carolina. … We took the afternoon of a cold, grey windy day to look at the North Carolina aquarium at Cape Fear ; note the paragraph: “It is the fifth-oldest surviving English place name in the U.S.” – who knew there was such a classification?

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Last stops in North Carolina

To see more, we took a little flat-bottomed skiff ferry out to Shackleford Banks at the mouth of Beaufort Inlet, close to the spot where Blackbeard’s sunken ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, is being excavated from the sand bank which has covered her for almost 300 years. … The three we did see were too busy cropping breakfast from amongst the sand dunes and under scrub pines to expend energy running with the wind, but it was easy to imagine what a sight it must be when they do gallop over the deserted beach. Lani would have been pleased to hear our ferryman tell the story of Rachel Carson’s work to make people realize that the DDT runoff from upland farms had killed the fish and birds along the coast, and then praise the work that had been done to clean up the rivers that were carrying poisons to the estuaries. … To get from Beaufort to Wilmington, you have to drive inland in order to get around Camp Lejeune, and it’s a long detour as Lejeune is enormous and includes a big estuary.


Again, I am surprised by the things I don’t know (well, I hear you say, why wouldn’t you be!). I have always been struck by the bold black and white patterns painted on the Banks lighthouses, but never thought to ask if it had any significance. Well, of course, it does. The patters are what are called the “daymark” of the light: the pattern which enables a mariner to distinguish it from another Banks light during the day, when the flash pattern isn’t visible.

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Tide, Wind and Thin Water

In the course of the visit we asked what the average range of the tides in the Sound is, and got one of those fun reactions that makes you realize you are REALLY out of your range: Essentially, there are no tides in the Sound; the outer banks being such a complete barrier, with few inlets, block any tidal effect.

…The pressure of that wind-driven tidal wave with no room for it to escape through the two or three inlets meant that it created a whole new inlet and washed across the banks from inside toward the ocean. … For an image of how this works, consider a big washtub filled to about 4″ from the top; pick one end up slowly until the water reaches the edge, then drop the edge you’ve picked up; what happens?

… Add to this that Pamlico Sound is essentially nowhere more than about 20 feet deep, and you can begin to grasp what happens when the wind blows at hurricane force across the ocean-equivalent of a puddle 1″ deep.

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We woke up this morning across from a busy yacht harbor protected from the ocean by Carrot Island, inhabited only by a herd of wild horses we are told we will see when the tide changes. … We saw the penned-up, not-so-wild ponies halfway down the island, stopped to follow a nearly birdless wildlife trail for 3/4 of a mile through stands of long-leaf pines and cedars on the Sound side of yet another long, thin island. … Courtesy of the US Navy, which built the Silver Lake harbor in the early years of WW II D7K_9973 newer inns and houses cluster around the port from which our second ferry left yesterday to take us across to Cedar Island and onto the mainland again. … The miles and miles of marsh and shrub leave little room for the rusted trailers, semis and rundown shingled shacks that house the fisherman and backwoods population of a county that makes Maine’s Washington County look rich.


Birds and Bear

The trips are inexpensive, and the beauty of them is that you show up at the time and place specified and you’re taken in hand by experienced (well, mostly – we had one exception), led to the places where the action is, and are in the company of others who are interested in the same kind of experience.

…By the time we joined him, he had two powerful scopes focused on an immature Peregrine falcon on a sand dune. IMG_6525 He then turned one of the scopes around and showed us three terns – a Forster’s, a Sandwich, and a Royal, all standing in a line at the water’s edge.

…By this time, we were late back and couldn’t stop for the truly magnificent sight of hundreds of pintail ducks feeding in flooded fields on the other side of the road, so there was no way of verifying the presence of other kinds of ducks among them. D7K_9752<D7K_9704 Friday Dan went off in the afternoon for a WoW adventure billed as a walk through tidal swamps. … Also seen: American Oystercatchers D7K_9833 and a flight of Tundra swans incoming from Canada to their wintering grounds in Pea Island NWR: a magnificent sight in the setting sun and honking to each other as they lined up for the approach.D7K_9801 All in all, a terrific, well-organized week of seeing beautiful birds and places, in good company, with no lines at restaurants (the few remaining open that is), all this by the ocean.

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