19 March 2011

The marsh and all

MA's retirement apartment complex is in a part of town that was not settled or built on back when I was growing up. It's on the edge of a salt marsh, and the marsh is actually the "headwaters" of Calico Creek. The water in the "creek" is salty, or at least brackish.

Yesterday I walked out to the road and over the the few hundred meters to a small bridge that spans the creek. I could see oysters growing in beds in the dark, murky waters. The creek is just a small channel through the marsh at this point. It widens out as it flows east, and then dumps into the Newport River 3 or 4 miles farther on, near where that coastal river runs into the ocean through Beaufort Inlet.

This is the view from the back of MA's building

There is some danger of flooding from the creek, and there's a retaining wall behind the building MA lives in to keep the water away. The main danger is a storm surge during a strong hurricane. Such storms can push a wall of high water in through the inlet, causing flooding along the coastal streams, creeks, and rivers.

Calico Creek

The land is very low and therefore vulnerable. We had flooding like that when I was growing up, and again in the 1990s "Down East" — 20 to 40 miles east of the town, where people really do live in the marshes and swamps. Some families have lived down there for 300 years or more. Some of my ancestors lived in the area back in the 1700s.

New cones growing on a long leaf pine —
they look like little ears of corn

The local population, with its old-fashioned-sounding dialect and old seafaring and fishing ways, is being subsumed into newly arrived waves of "immigrants" from the north. Our county has become a retirement mecca, because of its mild climate, relative proximity to the cold and crowded states in the U.S. Northeast and Upper Midwest. It's a lot closer to New York and Washington, for example, than Florida is. And it also has a climate featuring four distinct but mild seasons.

A little tree covered in Spanish moss

Mild except for summer, that is. Summers here are much too hot and humid for me. That's why I visit in March, or sometimes in October or November. The "shoulder seasons" are pleasant and warm, with relatively low humidity. In autumn there can be tropical storms and hurricanes, so early spring is the season of choice for a visit, in my opinion.

Can you guess what this means?

North Carolina, despite its name, is a Southern state. It's south of Virginia. It's the "north of the south," as opposed to the "deep south" — South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The coastal area of N.C. has always had strong cultural, economic, and family ties with coastal areas farther north — the Chesapeake Bay, the Eastern Shore, the Jersey Shore, and even Long Island and the Cape Cod area in New England. People who lived on fishing and shipping always migrated up and down the coast — wherever the jobs were.

The Calico Creek salt marsh

The people who settled this marshy, low coast made their living by fishing and whaling for generations. Whaling died out 100 years ago or more, and now fishing is threatened by development and the accompanying pollution. The shoreline is being developed, making it hard for small-scale fishermen to find a place where they can still put their boat in the water.

That said, I heard on the radio yesterday that the North Carolina oyster harvest this year is one of the best in decades. N.C. authorities have doubled the quota that watermen are allowed to bring in. The winter was cold and wet, creating ideal conditions for oysters in the estuaries and sounds.

The logo of the retirement complex's gardening contractor
shows an alligator, and indeed there are small numbers
of alligators living in the local swamps and marshes.

The other big fisheries are clams, blue crabs, scallops, and shrimp. Over the past 25 years, shrimp and crab catches have been greatly reduced because of pollution. Scallops, they say, are less plentiful because so many sharks have been fished out. Sharks feed on rays, which in turn feed on scallops. Fewer sharks means more rays and fewer scallops.

I don't know how the clam fishery is doing, but good news on the oyster front is good news for everybody around here — those who fish them, those who sell them, and those who eat them. Creeks like Calico creek, where oysters are not collected but where they spawn, are important features of the local environment.


  1. Years ago we spent time
    cruising the Inter-coastal
    Waterway on a live-aboard.
    We anchored a couple of
    times at Beaufort almost
    right in front of that very
    popular restaurant,and there
    were wild ponies to watch
    graising on the spit of land
    across from the anchorage. We
    loved taking our dinghy and
    exploring the creeks and
    small waterways in that sea
    of grass. Often saw dolphins
    We also spent time in the SC
    Beaufort which we were told
    to call "bewfort."

  2. Very interesting and informative post.

  3. You might be interested in a N.C. documentary about how shrimpers are impacted by development, called "Wild Caught." http://www.unheardvoicesproject.org/details.html

    I'm told that when the people in it first saw the movie they applauded and cheered because someone was telling it from their viewpoint. And I haven't eaten farm-riased shrimp since.

    As for the license plate, I can get 2 or 3 answers. ??

  4. mom micky d ? as in Macdonalds so guess their name is same

  5. Sorry, I have been having a hard time finding the time to acknowledge your comments.

    The word on the license plate is the past tense of the verb "to mommick". It's a verb much used in this part of the country and a few others, and it's an old English word that means to treat roughly, to abuse, to ruin something or someone. "Ain't I mommicked!" you'll hear the old-timers say when they are feeling put upon. "You have pure mommicked that outfit!" a frustrated mother might say to her dirty child.

    Sheila, I've been to Beaufort SC too and it was very pretty. Today I spent two hours walking around in the old town of Beaufort NC.

    Emm, thanks for that link. I'd like to see the documentary. Snead's Ferry is about 50 miles down the coast from Morehead City.

    Starman, :^)


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