Summer and the Pinks of Spring

Pretty soon I will hear the cicadas begin their incessant call meaning that summer is well and truly on us, and so before that happens I wanted to make sure that I have captured and recorded spring.  In all her blushing pink!

Saucer Magnolia

Today the azaleas bloomed!  In the morning they looked like big fat lipsticks pointing straight up on the plants/among the dark green leaves, by evening they had opened!  Beautiful blossoms that unfurled as the warmth of the sun worked on them.

When I lived in Africa, I used to listen for spring.  As the sun moved back over the equator and towards us in the South, the hard cold of the Highveld seemed to break and if you were quiet enough you could almost hear the sap rising in the bare plants.  Slowly but very definitely, the tips become green and supple seeming to stretch towards that coming warmth.  I listened too for the sound of the African Hoopoe.  The “whoop..whoop” coming first from far away on the wind, then echoing from somewhere nearby and suddenly one weak sunny day, right in the garden!  Spring had arrived when I saw those cheerful little fellows busy grubbing in my dry lawn, their striking black, brown, tan and white standing out against the tired khaki of the winter-end landscape.
Here, in the Carolinas, spring arrives with the faintest blush of pink.  Stark grey and dark brown under cold grey skies one day appear to take on a rose tint.  From the tips down.  Then I see the dark pink beginning blossoms on the fruit trees, the plum, the cherry.  Every day a new tree rushes to join in this joyous celebration!  Soon the Bradford Pears are out, saucer magnolias in their pale pink plastic and frilly cherry blossom.  Rain in the season brings a clarity and washes the air leaving blossom carpets and turning the grass green in front of our very eyes. 
The Carolina Wren is insistent outside crying “It was you!  It was you!  It was you!”  The mocking bird has been trying out various different songs never sticking to any one for any length of time but running through his repertoire for our enjoyment.  The red Cardinal so flashy and noble in winter against bare grey branches and white snow seems vulgar now against the pastel colors of spring and so he sticks to the tops of the green pines and sings his sweet song. 
The air is literally filled with bird song as new arrivals greet those leaving for different pastures or cooler climes than ours.  I’m watching carefully every day now for that elusive and so exciting visit from the cedar waxwings.    They look for all intents like painted courtesans!  In fact they remind me a lot of the loeries in tropical Africa, especially the Knysna Loerie with their gorgeous white eye-liner and little crests on their heads, excepting in miniature!

Squirrels are busy too digging up their last winter stores, nibbling on sweet new leaf tips and forever chasing one another up and down trunks and along sketchy branches.  Mothers-to-be are re-lining and patching their nests and preparing for the arrival of babies.  The sheer exuberance and undeniable vitality of spring surrounds us all – how can we not respond in kind?  So I take joy in the pinks of spring, smile at each new blossoming bush, call to the birds and laugh at the squirrels while I brush out kitty’s thick winter coat giving him a sleek new spring look.  What a glorious world we live in!

North Carolina Shores

Not so long ago in the dead of winter, we hired a small place right at the very edge of the beach with an unobstructed view right down to the waves.  There was hardly anyone else down there and we felt as if we had the beach, and island, to ourselves.  With the outside temperature a fresh 40*F and a brisk wind blowing it was hardly surprising!  But that did not stop us from enjoying crisp cold walks on the deserted sands along with the ever-present pelicans skimming the tops of the waves. 
There is a different quality of light down at the beach at that time of the year.  Its all water-colours and pastels.  Pearly pinks and soft mauves blend easily with the cool aqua shades of water and warm frothy white of foam over pale blonde sand.  I love the way that the sea changes from day to day.  Every day a different personality!  Ever changing, ever the same, and always fascinating.  We watched as the sky and reflected sea changed moods from day to day.  From calm and silky-smooth building up through a coastal storm with lowering dark skies and exceptionally high tides to a scattered and tossed turbulence and back to a quietly heavy calm. 
I always forget how loud the surf sounds until I’m back there.  And going to bed the first night, I wonder how I’ll be able to sleep until soon it becomes more of a question of how will I ever be able to sleep without its ceaseless lulling rhythm.
 A special treat while we were there was a daily dolphin visit. Almost every morning at 10am or thereabouts, we would suddenly spot a gleaming curve, a splash and there they were.  Cavorting and playing in the waves and beyond the breakers, a whole school of them!  Even one happy morning the joy of watching an especially adventurous dolphin surfing toward the beach on the particularly big breakers, a remnant of the overnight storm. Honestly, we felt as if they had arrived and put on a show especially for us!
The Atlantic Ocean bordering the many islands and banks of North Carolina is a wonderful place to spend time.  There are many fascinating towns and villages to visit and a number of delightful places to stay.  It’s not a place for high rise hotels and active night life (unless you count the ponderous busyness of the turtle during the season as she lumbers ashore to lay her eggs!) preferring to be a shore line mainly of beach homes, bed and breakfasts and occasional condo blocks.  To hire a beach house for a week during the summer is almost mandatory once you live down here and can be highly recommended.  However to get a real bargain come in the winter – like us – you won’t be disappointed!
Hiring homes on the NC shore is best done through a local realty company of which there are a number.  A quick search on the internet will cause these to pop up.  The quaint names of the different islands and sea-side towns hide quite different characters and it really depends on what you and your family are looking for in a vacation spot.  Some of the beaches are very family orientated, while others tend to be more geared toward teens and young adults and yet others are wind-swept and lonely appealing mainly to the fisherman and shell-seeker. 
Houses can be rented right on the beach, while others will have a partial ocean view,  some will be listed as second row with beach access meaning that they effectively sit in the middle of the narrow off-shore island with a short walk to the ocean.  Don’t ignore those listed as having a ‘sound view’, as these houses look inland across the body of water toward mainland and often enjoy the most spectacular sunsets reflected in both water and sky. 
Our favourite isles, so far, are Emerald Isle and the Crystal Coast, Topsail Island, Surf City and Wrightsville Beach.  Depends on our mood – and that of the sea.  What’s available and when.  But no matter what season, I’ll see you on the beach!

Ocean visits

There are no two ways about it – I just love the sea!  Any time I get a chance to spend some time down at the beach, I’ll take it.  Any beach.  Any sea.  Any season.  Any time.  There is something about being close to that huge body of water that soothes my soul and revitalizes me at the same time.  It doesn’t really matter what ocean either. 
I have lived on the Indian Ocean and relished the crashing surf and long golden rough sands of the beaches there.  I love the rocky coastline with its tidal pools and sheltered coves of northern Zululand which also dot the Wild Coast and the Cape.  The magnificence of the cliffs, long rolling waves and stunning views as you drive the famed Garden Route of eastern South Africa, incredibly duplicated half way across the world on the Big Sur of California.  Or driving the Mendocino coastline through timeless redwood forests with breathtaking vistas across the Pacific Ocean and brisk ocean breezes, always cool even in the heat of summer. 
The cold waters of the Atlantic up around England with its chalky cliffs and huge tidal variation, smugglers caves and ancient shipyards have their own appeal.  Wind-blown walks on high promontories, exploring lonely sea-surrounded castles with wisps of fog blowing in with whispers of medieval happenings.  Like I said, any chance I get, I am down at the sea! 
And can anything at all compare with the multi-hued aqua colours of the warm Caribbean waters?  Gorgeous, silky soft water reflecting sequin shades of blues and greens sparkle in tropical sunshine. There’s a magical playground just below the surface filled with every cartoon fish-character you could ever hope to meet.  Beaches of white and pink and pastel coral colours, just beg a lazy afternoon snooze in a hammock strung between palms.  Every island a find and potential treasure – a worthy life-long goal, that of acquainting yourself with each one! 
We live on the eastern seaboard of the Atlantic Ocean now and close enough that we can reach our ocean shores in a short drive.  The North Carolina coastline, I read somewhere once, is actually longer than the Californian coast if measured in miles in and out all the many inlets and bays.  An extremely varied and fascinating coastline with stories and fables unique to the people of this state and intricately tied up with the very first settlers to ever arrive from across the sea. 

Most unique to this area are a string of border islands, mere banks of sands covered in wild sea oats, which provide a protective barrier to the mainland. This creates large bodies of water between mainland and island, called sounds.  They thrive with life both above and below the water and in turn provide much recreation and sustenance to those fortunate to live and play here. 

Iconic lighthouses have provided safety and direction to ships both large and small for decades and are often on the list of vacationers to this region.  Each one built or decorated in a very different and instantly recognizable pattern.  Huge black and white diamonds decorate the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, while black and white twirls mark the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, for all the world like some monochrome candy cane, as unique!
Sometimes my purpose when I travel down to this sea is to explore another lighthouse but often it is just to spend unhurried time there.  On the beach, by the sea, listening to the call of the gulls and hearing the ceaseless rhythm of the waves.  As I said, it soothes my soul and reminds me that there is something far bigger and more eternal than me.  It puts “me” into perspective again. 

Carolina Fall

Glowing autumn colours

I was gazing out of the hotel window a couple weeks ago when I was on a trip to Tennessee.  It is officially Fall but we have had unseasonably warm weather and the trees seem reluctant to turn.  The fact that we followed some incredible storms with wind and heavy rain, tornado sightings and generally what the Weather People here call “active weather”, spoke more of summer.  But as a skein of geese fly overhead calling disconsolately, I know that I am looking at the beginning of autumn. 

It often seems to me that trees are like people and many have quirky personalities.  Some of the trees out there are completely bare – almost flaunting their nakedness!  Not in a vulgar way as an exhibitionist, but rather a matter of expediency.  As if they know that they will be bare most of winter so instead of going about it slowly, they just got it done – in a green-today and gone-tomorrow kind of way.  Others almost seem apologetic and a little shy about this whole changing thing.  In fact some of these trees look as if they are blushing, turning pink or orange from the top down.  Then there are those trees which are just down-right determined to hang onto their green for as long as possible.  All this makes for gorgeous quilted-counterpane-scenery with soft golds, glowing yellows, blushing orange and starter reds showing against the deeper multi-hues of green.
Blue Ridge Parkway

Tomorrow we will travel up the Smoky Mountains and over to the Blue Ridge Parkway in search of a more advanced stage of autumn.  We expect to see a forest of trees in a far bolder dress.  There we will find the ones who have embraced this change of seasons and are flaunting their glorious colors before taking their well-earned winter rest.  There will be different colors at differing heights and dependant on the sunshine aspect of the slope or the protection of the valley.    

Smoky Mountains

A unique feature of the Blue Ridge Parkway is to be found in its name – this road of twists and turns often runs along the mountain ridge giving one the feeling that you are driving on the very tip of the world.  The views to left and right extend for mile after undulating blue mile.  It is one of those things so hard to capture in photographs which give but an indication of the magnificence and harder still to describe in words, all of which are inadequate.  It is truly a soul-kind of experience no matter the season you visit but perhaps especially true of the fall. Then the scenery takes on a living technicolor with specimens that continually surprise with their vibrant and extravagant color.  A stranger turned to us at one incredible viewing point, and said, “It makes you long to paint!” and I couldn’t have said it better.

Quilted-counterpane scenery
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