Cape Hatteras has a sub-tropical climate and is in Zone 9. Wax Myrtle stems are covered in berries with a waxy covering. Actually, the berries were boiled and the wax was skimmed off and used to make candles. Gaillardia are blooming, the sea oats are sporting full heads along the sand dunes, and every National park, beach, camp site and point of interest is now closed. Even so, our house repairman had stories of living on the barrier island. Come along and hear what he had to say.

October 3 2013 Blog

Becky Emerson Carlberg

I am sitting at a large trestle table looking through sliding glass doors at waves of the Atlantic Ocean as they come rolling up to the beach.   Two sand dunes stand between the ocean and Fergason, the beach house my family and I are staying in.  This is our week at the Outer Banks, North Carolina.  The weather has been warm and dry, and the salt water cool and refreshing.  At night we can see the beacon from Cape Hatteras lighthouse rotating around every 8 seconds.

The sea oats (Uniola paniculata) that top the dunes are in full heads.  In a few weeks the heads will gradually disappear as the seeds are dispersed.  This is a salt tolerant grass well suited for barrier islands that help stabilize the dunes.  It is protected in North Carolina, and you can be fined for picking or disturbing the grass.

We have deer roaming around the dunes while the Boat Tailed Grackles (Quiscalus major) come looking for left-overs.  These are strictly a coastal species, unlike the Common Grackles we have in Oklahoma.  There is a small hunting party of four birds that swoop down to check the porch railings several times a day.  They like pizza crust, but not sweet potatoes!

The local maintenance man had to do some minor repairs to the house right after we arrived.  He comes from one of two families that settled the Outer Banks.  His work history includes painting lighthouses, being an electrician; spending years as a waterman (fisherman) and now he is a general repairman.  This guy was a walking history museum of the island.  His people were French Huguenots who left France to go to Amsterdam, and then sailed to Manhattan Island in New York.  They then traveled down to the Outer Banks, arriving in 1702.  Since that time, the family has remained in the Outer Banks.

The man found mountains fascinating, something not seen in his barrier island.  Although he had seen his fill of shells, he loved rocks.  He also still liked to eat fish in spite of the fact he usually had fish almost every day in the form of mullet, blue fish and other species.  His uncle was a trapper and whatever he caught often supplemented the meal.  They were ahead of their time when muskrat entered the menu.  This uncle also would chop the head off a chicken, a rare find, and whichever of the seven kids that could catch the bird before it hit the ground got their choice piece of the chicken.  His grandmother loved chicken necks.

Cape Hatteras lighthouse should have been painted in a diamond pattern as it sits near the Diamond Shoals.  The south flowing Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream that comes in from the north.  In this turbulent area have been created sand bars that extend up to 14 miles offshore.  These shoals are known as the Diamond Shoals. The first lighthouse was built in 1803, replaced in 1870 by the 198.5 foot tall brick lighthouse that was moved inland 2,900 feet in 1999 because the eroding shoreline was eating away closer and closer to its base.  It is the tallest lighthouse in the USA, but, according to our maintenance man, the lighthouse was actually 400 feet taller.  He and his painting crew attached a paint brush to the top and screwed the lighthouse into the ground as they painted it.  Thus, the pattern was changed to the spiral seen today!

Our repairman was concerned with the Azores falling into the ocean.  They could create a tidal wave that would cover the OBX.  His solution was to get his boat and hightail it over to the Mainland 24 miles away, outrunning the wave and the vampire mosquitoes that came out after dusk.  A fisherman and his stories can never be parted.

Cape Hatteras area is considered sub-tropical and is placed in Zone 9.  We in Oklahoma are mainly in Zone 7.  Gaillardia blooms of yellow and brilliant orange are sprouting up all over the place at the base of the dunes.  They are a shorter version of our Gaillardia that usually bloom in the spring.  The wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera) stems are loaded with bluish-white berries. 

Also known as Bayberry, the southern wax myrtle berries can be boiled and the wax skimmed off the top of the water.  In the past, the wax was used in candle making, thus the tree was christened with the name “Candleberry tree”.  Bluebirds, wild turkey, quail and even Great Blue Herons partake of the berries.  Good thing the myrtles are in relative abundance.  Good thing I do not need any info from the National Park Service. Their website has been closed.  Much of the Outer Banks is designated as a National Wildlife Refuge, now closed.  The beach alongside is the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.  

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is registered with the National Park Service.  Notice I am using the word National….just substitute the word Federal…just remember the Federal government is in furlough…just remember the lighthouse, beaches, and all websites maintained by the Federal government are now closed.  The Wright Brothers National Memorial at Kitty Hawk, Fort Raleigh National Historic Site on Roanoke Island, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (an amazing place where nearly 400 species of birds have been sighted), camping sites and charter operations are now closed. Posted signs, cables, chains, sawhorses and other barriers have been set up across roads and parking areas until further notice.  

I hear Oklahoma weather is going to change from hot to cold.  That will soon be followed by green leaves changing into orange, red and yellow leaves.  Make plans for winterizing your plants and gardens now.  The first frost or freeze may not be too far off!