Saturday, April 28, 2012

Carrot Island

It wasn't a three-hour cruise, and we weren't marooned, but JJ and I were definitely the only humans on the (charted) desert isle. Carrot Island is one of several small islands off Beaufort that make up the Rachel Carson Reserve. (Rachel Carson spent time in Beaufort in the 1940s, and did studies on the islands.) We actually spent our time in the part of the Reserve called the Town Marsh.

View Carrot Island in a larger map

Our ferry landed on the beach on the north side of the island, and we walked inland from there. The island is mostly scrubby bushes and sand dunes, with little wild flowers and the occasional jasmine bush full of butterflies. When we got to the south side, we could see out to the Bird Shoal and the Beaufort Inlet Channel, with fishing trawlers heading out, beyond.

It probably would have been a good idea to bring binoculars, but not being a bird watcher I didn't even think to suggest that JJ bring theirs along. We mostly saw little shore birds hopping around in the shallow pools and on the sand bar. But what we really came to see were the feral horses. They were introduced to the island in the 1940s by a local physician; the herd now numbers about 35.
After 45 minutes of tromping along the trail and through the brush, we saw some horses way off in the distance on a sandbar. Then, we rounded a bend and saw two of them practically in front of us, and then another a little ways off. They were shy and the one in the photo kept a watchful eye on us, but they didn't seem spooked or run off immediately. Neither we nor the rather feeble zooms on our cameras could get very close, and my photos are mostly rubbish except for this one.

If they ever taught us anything about how to hike a marked trail in Girl Scouts, I must not have been paying attention. JJ and I were so interested in the horses that we lost track of where the trail markers were. I had a moment of panicky flashback to the time I got lost at Fitzgerald Lake, unable to find either the red or blue trail markers, as the sun was setting and the woods were getting dark. But here, fortunately, it was easy to go to higher ground and see exactly where we were. We blazed our way back to the beach with just minutes to spare before our ferry arrived to fetch us off the island. Timing couldn't have been better, as it started to get cloudy and windy just as we got to the dock in Beaufort.

On the way back to New Bern, we passed Martha's Favorite Things and saw that it was open, so we stopped in to look at the antiques and collectibles. She had two Elvis cookie jars that were pretty great but wouldn't have fit in my luggage or my budget.

I had a great time during my four-day stay in North Carolina. I saw fine art and supreme kitsch, photographed buildings ranging from palatial to derelict, soaked up a lot of history and a bit of nature. JJ and Tim might be northerners by birth, but their hospitality rivals that of any southerner you could shake a stick (or a dead possum) at. And there's lots to do in the 2-5-2!

10, 883 steps (4.29 miles)
$10 for ferry to Carrot Island, plus $2 tip

Friday, April 27, 2012

Noodling around New Bern

We've spent the past two days strolling around New Bern at a leisurely, southern pace, taking photos as we went. We've popped into art galleries and pretty little gardens, gone to an open house at a property in the historic district that's for sale (the realtor was AWOL, so the owner showed us around from top to bottom), poked around a funky flea market, done a slow drive-through of a neighborhood across the tracks and then walked around the disused train station. We went to the nearby (tiny) town of Pollocksville and photographed rural decay in abundance. As you can see from the pic above, we'll stop dead in our tracks to photograph just about anything.

While Jeanne was at her book club meeting yesterday, I took the trolley tour of New Bern, which was great. The guide was full of facts and anecdotes about town history from 1700 to the early 1900s -- much more than I can remember or recount. 

Today (my last day), we might take in a bit of water and nature.

Wednesday - 7678 steps, 3.02 miles
Thursday - 9583 steps, 3.78 miles
$7.35 lunch
$20 for a metal dragonfly (gift for Jeanne and Tim)
$16 for trolley tour

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Return to the Swamp

I'm back on Brices Creek in New Bern, NC. For those of you in the 413 who are thinking of visiting JJ and Tim, know that it's a really easy trip down - less than 3 hours from BDL to Charlotte, and then a short (somewhat bumpy) hop in a rather small plane (about the size of a Peter Pan bus) over to New Bern. JJ and Tim live about 10 minutes from the airport, and their house backs onto the creek. This photo is of cypress knees next to their dock.

This is low country - flat and just a few feet above sea level. There's water everywhere as New Bern sits where the Trent and Neuse rivers converge and head out to the ocean. Creeks, marshes, sounds, and then the Outer Banks. For our first day of adventures, we got in the car and headed southeast to Morehead City and Beaufort (pronounced BOW-fert).

The first stop was about 10 miles south of New Bern to see Tom Haywood's Self-Kicking Machine, outside Martha's Favorite Things Antique Store (unfortunately closed, but we peered in the windows and took a lot of photos of the exterior). The Self-Kicking Machine is actually a replica of the original, but it's in working order and we each took a turn cranking the handlebar and kicking ourselves in the butt for whatever things we didn't do, shouldn't have done, or need a bit of encouragement to do.

On to Morehead City to see the King Neptune, which is really about the only thing worth seeing in the town. The giant concrete merman sits on a dock next to a diving shop, looking forlornly over his shoulder towards land, as if he knows any attempt to turn around an go back in the sea is a futile endeavor.

We spent the greater part of the afternoon in Beaufort, a charming historic coastal town with lovely little cottages dating from the early- to mid-19th century and a marvelous Old Burying Ground. There will be scads of photos of the cemetery and the town on Flickr after I get home and sort through them. Before exploring the town, we stopped for lunch at the Spouter Inn (too windy to sit outside, but nice views of the water). When we got to the restaurant, there was a large group of women, all wearing red hats and lavender blouses or sweaters, just finishing their lunch. I thought we might be observing a quaint southern custom, but JJ tells me that there's an international movement of red hatters who lunch together. We later saw the ladies having a tour of the cemetery with a guide in period dress. I now have another thing to add to my list of what not to do in my senior years. You will not see me wearing a red hat while lunching.

The last stop of the day was Fort Macon, which was built in 1826, used throughout the 19th century, fell into ruin in the early 20th century, restored by CCC workers during the Depression, and recommissioned in WWII. It's now a state park with some historic recreations of soldiers' quarters during different times of use. Fortunately, it was late in the day and there were no busloads of school kids running around the place.

Happily, we didn't encounter any gators, snakes or pirates during our waterside adventures.

$12 for lunch (crab cake in pita bread - yum!)
7661 steps (3.02 miles)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Winter Woes

It's sunny and warm today -- 69F (21C) with thin clouds in the pale blue sky. At last, I think I can safely say that winter is over. It's not that the weather was so awful this winter. Apart from the freak October Snowmageddon, which had me without power for 36 hours and left a trail of damage across New England, it was actually pretty mild with nowhere near our usual snowfall. However, this winter packed a punch on my wallet.

In February, Sadie the cat began having bouts of puking and diarrhea. These things are usually self-limiting in cats, but after five days of it I took her to her vet, who did x-rays (no sign of blockage) and recommended an ultrasound at Tufts Veterinary School. We had an appointment all set up for the next Monday, but Sadie took a turn for the worse and I drove her to Grafton on a Saturday morning and took her in through the ER. She spent two days in the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, where her team of five doctors and vet students got her stabilized on an IV, gave her meds to calm her tummy and chill out the diarrhea, and tested her from end to end. Based on the ultrasound, they diagnosed her with irritable bowel disease (not a real surprise, as this is a cat who has always had emotional issues) and sent her home with some nasty antibiotics and a prescription diet of new or "novel" protein -- venison and peas. She put up a stink about the antibiotics, but has really taken to the new food and is back to her old self. 

Just after I paid off the massive vet bills, I discovered that my 30-year-old refrigerator had died and everything in the freezer had thawed out. All those containers of tomatoes, peppers, and pesto that I'd put up last summer had turned to slush. I now have a shiny, new black Darth Vader-esque fridge, the bill for which I paid off in March, not two weeks before having to put new brakes in the Mini Cooper. I am now skint. 

At one point, between the vet bills and the death of the fridge, I was still holding out (slim) hope that I might be able to go to London in May, but quickly realized that wasn't going to happen. Much in need of a get-away, I'm instead going to take a little holiday later this month and mooch off my pals Jeanne and Tim in the swampland of North Carolina. Some of you might remember my posts about a long weekend I spent down there in 2009, puttering around New Bern and driving in the pickup truck through the lowlands and backwater towns. For this trip, I'm working up a list of sights that should be amusing, edifying, and full of photo ops, including:
I'll try to write a post or two or three while I'm there, so watch this page for further developments.