Gardens of the Cross Timbers: Thanksgiving at the beach

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Waves At Avon Pier.
Hickory Sweetgum

Leave the autumn leaves now that we’re heading straight into winter. Don’t rake every leaf to make your yard look pristine clean. Not natural. Leaves replenish the soil with nutrients which feed your grass as well as harbor insects, food for birds. Juncos and even cardinals dig and scratch like chickens in leaf litter, but the wild turkeys are masters of leaf management. The leaves act as mulch and discourage the growth of living weeds that hide in the grass through the winter.

Thanksgiving was in Avon, North Carolina. Took three days to get there. Lunch the first day was at a Kum ’n Go. Who knew gas station fast foods may include quinoa/brown rice bowls with chicken thighs, pickled onions, pieces of sweet potato and corn nuts sprinkled on top? Stopped for the night outside Memphis.

Saturday was windy as we traversed Tennessee. Snacked on stale popcorn and home-made sandwiches. Bumper sticker on the jeep tire cover: “I’m the Black Jeep in the Family.”

Sunday began below freezing in Hickory, NC. Their large crape myrtle trees were alive and well. Along North Carolina overpasses, entrances and exits of I-40, the Photinia and other shrubs have been sculpted into cool balls.

Most businesses and gas stations required masks. Ate corn nuts and “snowballs” through North Carolina…….Utz white cheddar/cornmeal cheese snowballs. Afternoon crossing through Alligator National Wildlife Refuge and not one single cell tower.

Arrived at Avon. Avon used to be called Kinnakeet until the post office changed the name in 1883. The people consider themselves Kinnakeeters. Kinnakeet is an Algonquin word meaning ‘that which is mixed’ since several settlements were in the area. Huge stands of live oaks and cedars provided great resources for boatbuilding until all the trees were cut down by the turn of the 20th century. The Kinnakeeters then turned to drying native Yaupon holly leaves for tea. Yaupon contains caffeine. Didn’t save the land, since the vegetation, protected by the trees, died and left only sand dunes that traveled west 20 feet per month, leaving the narrow barrier island of today off the NC coast.

Fig trees (Ficus carica) grow all over OBX. Fig trees can tolerate saltwater floods, strong winds, and sand. Fig trees were in Ocracoke before 1810. Several cultivars grow here: Brown Turkey (prolific), Pound (smells of cinnamon), Sugar (smallest local fig), Lemon (sweet), Portsmouth (not sweet), Late (ripens in October), Blue (delicious but rare) and the most popular, Celeste (easy to grow). Often the fig trees are surrounded by oyster shells. The belief is the shells fertilize the figs. In actuality, people would pour the juice from boiled fish and veggies around the figs and then throw on shucked oysters and clams. The nutrients from the pot liquor were probably the source of goodness.

Kinnakeet Fig Cake:

2 cups sugar, 1 cup oil, 3 eggs, 1 cup buttermilk, 2 cups flour, 1 cup cooked figs or a pint of fig preserves, I up chopped pecans, and one teaspoon each salt, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger and allspice. Combine all ingredients in the order listed, beat 2 minutes, pour into greased tube or angel food pan and bake at 350 degrees F for one hour.

Monday was beach day. The dunes, previously vegetation covered, have turned into walls of bare sand along much the coastline of Avon, butting against walls and porches of some houses. Houses for sale include a $1000 increase in next year’s taxes for beach enhancement. Sand dredged from further out in the ocean is supposed to create a large buffer zone for the nearly inundated houses.

Gale force winds from the north roared through Monday night and Tuesday. Strange thumps, whistles and bangs through the night as the temps dropped into the 30’s F. Two crazy bicyclists launched on a trip from Corolla, 77 miles to the north, all the way down to Hatteras Village. Total 100 miles including 60 miles being sand-blasted. Did the ride in six hours.

The Wednesday Ocracoke ferry had long lines before eleven o’clock in the morning. Walked over to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. More than 2,000 shipwrecks lie off the North Carolina Outer Banks. The reasons: pirates, storms, shallow shoals and mistakes.

The Hatteras Fresnel Lens, a complex beehive of 1,008 glass lenses mounted in a twelve foot tall brass framework weighing 6,000 pounds took center stage. The lens had come from the 1854 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse that had been removed and hidden in 1861 during the Civil War. One hundred forty years later the lens was found in a federal warehouse in Townsville, NC, and was reconditioned and restored. The “Diamond in the Sky” now dominates the museum lobby.

Queen Anne’s Revenge, built in 1710, was a slaver ship with French and South American connections. Blackbeard (Edward Teach) captured the ship, sold the 500 slaves at the island of Martinique, added more canons and attacked merchant ships. Blackbeard used Queen Anne to blockade Charleston harbor in 1718 before grounding the ship at Beaufort Inlet, NC. Lost for hundreds of years, it was discovered in 1996. Canons were stuffed with scraps of paper to be used as wadding. The pages were from “A Voyage to the South Sea” by Captain Edward Cook. He traveled with Woodes Rodgers, an English slave trader.

They meant it. ‘Stay off the grass.” Seeing the ferry getting ready to load, we took off across the grass. Turned out to be a dense sandbur field. Sandburs embedded everywhere.

Got to Ocracoke, but most things were closed. Zillies had fig preserves, cheeses and meats and Plum Point Kitchen was named for Blackbeard’s hideout where he supposedly buried his treasures. Rumors are some treasures washed ashore Christmas 1928.

Another hour and half wait for the ferry back to Hatteras in the dark. Seagulls darted in front of the ship spotlights looking for fish.

Thanksgiving included football and a 10-pound turkey. The house actually had a turkey roasting pan. Back to Oklahoma on Friday.

A fig tree.
Hatteras Lighthouse Fresnel Lense.