Friday, February 29, 2008

Bridges, Again

I just received official word. The bridge construction project will be essentially finished and NC Highway 12 will reopen to traffic at 5 pm on Wednesday, March 5. It has been a generally easy burden to bear. Essential services have been maintained, and no dire emergency situations have arisen. It was certainly better than the alternative (closing one lane for two eight month periods).

The road will be open in plenty of time for Spring Break/Easter weeks. Let's hope it warms up by then. Nighttime temperatures have been hovering near freezing the last several nights. But it's almost 50 degrees right now.

(I can only imagine the local traffic that will be traversing the bridges Wednesday evening! I'm guessing there will be a steady stream of cars full of folks checking out the finished project.)

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a fun island crossword puzzle. You can view it here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And the Winner is.....

.....Lynn from South Boston, Virginia.

Congratulations, Lynn, for solving our first ever Ocracoke crossword puzzle, and for being chosen, at random, from among the correct entries. We will be sending you a $25.00 gift certificate that you can use on your next visit to Village Craftsmen.

If you would like to try your hand at the puzzle (or if you already tried it and were stumped) you can see it (and a link to the solution) by clicking here.

Thanks to everyone who gave it a try and sent in their entries. It was fun to create, and I hope you had fun working on it.


Yesterday afternoon a storm passed over Ocracoke village. A lightning flash pierced the sky and a sudden clap of thunder rattled windows. And then the squall passed quickly by, leaving gray skies and cooler temperatures.

Just before supper Dale stopped me on Howard Street. The Ocracoke Preservation Society Museum had caught on fire, he said. Amy, Lachlan, and I walked down that way. Emergency vehicles with flashing lights surrounded the museum, but everything, we were told, was under control. Fowler and Chloe were there so we stopped to chat. They had seen the flames erupting from the roof. Had much water been pumped onto the building? we asked. Enough to cause damage we supposed. I was concerned about the photos, rare documents, and papers stored in the research library.

Later that evening we learned that the damage appeared to be relatively minor, considering what could have been. The library seems to have been mostly spared.

Speculation is centering around a lightning strike. I'm sure a section of the roof will need to be repaired, and work will need to be done to restore smoke and water damaged areas.

A special word of thanks goes to our volunteer fire department for a job well done in containing and extinguishing the fire. In this small, compact village comprised mostly of wood frame buildings surrounded by trees and thick vegetation, fire is a constant threat and danger. We are all indebted to our fire fighters for their community spirit, competence, and dedication.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a fun island crossword puzzle. You can see it here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bridge Photos

Unofficial word today (from the Dare Building Supply driver -- he sits in the cab of an impressive high-wheeled four wheel drive monster of a truck, just perfect for traveling on the beach) is that the contractors are now paving our island bridges. And he and others think Highway 12 will be open again at the end of this week, or early next week. Of course, this is not official information, and weather and other factors will determine exactly when the road is reopened.

You can read reports and see photos of the construction project by clicking here: Look on the left for the link to "Project Photos."

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a fun island crossword puzzle. You can see it here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Angels & Devils

The surf was rough last week, and the tide higher than usual. Walking along the shoreline I picked up several gifts from the sea. Angel shells are delicate and are often broken by the pounding waves, but I spied two (on different days) lying right at the water's edge.

In the course of the week I also found two devil's pocketbooks. At least that's what we call them. I understand that they are actually skate egg cases. But devil's pocketbook sure seems to describe them well.

And then I was lucky enough to pick up three small scotch bonnets. They are all colored gray or black from their contact with other minerals, but they are at least whole. Maybe I'll come back with another treasure this afternoon.

It's too late to enter our crossword puzzle contest, but you can still try to work out the puzzle by clicking here. I'll publish the winner and the solution on Thursday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Next Week

Just a quick note to all of our faithful readers. I have a major project that I'll be working on tomorrow (Thursday) & Friday, and then I will be taking the weekend to relax and spend time with Amy, David, & Lachlan. So I'll be enjoying a short break from the journal. I'll be back here early next week. Don't go away!

Muzel Bryant, March 12, 1904 - February 18, 2008

Islanders were saddened Monday to learn of the death of Muzel Bryant. She was less than one month shy of her 104th birthday. A kind and unpretentious woman, Muzel had lived with Kenny Ballance for fourteen years. Muzel was the last of her family to call Ocracoke home. She is survived by two sisters, Mamie in New York City, and Anna Laura in Swan Quarter, NC, and a neice, Mary, who also lives in New York. The funeral will be Saturday.

I would periodically stop by to visit Muze. She always had time to visit, talk about old times on the island, and chat about current events. She had a prodigious memory, and always amazed me by remembering my birthday, my children's birthdays, and practically every other Ocracoker's birthday.

You can read my report of Muze's 100th birthday celebration and some of her family history here:

Everyone agrees that Muze was an island treasure. She will be greatly missed.

You can read our latest monthly newsletter and try our Ocracoke crossword puzzle by clicking here:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Just in case you haven't heard, we will be treated to a total lunar eclipse tomorrow evening.

Jesse Richuso, writing on the WRAL (a NC based communications company) blog,, explains that he is here on Ocracoke this week teaching an astronomy seminar at NCCAT.

This is how he explains the event:

"This is it! The biggest astronomical event of the year: a total lunar eclipse on Wednesday, February 20, 2008.

"The eclipse’s timing is great for east coast skywatchers. The Moon will start to move into the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow at 8:43 p.m. It will slowly be enveloped by the Earth’s shadow until it is totally eclipsed at 10:01 p.m. Totality will last until 10:51 p.m. By 12:09 a.m., it will have moved out of the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow."

So, if you're on the island maybe I'll see you on the beach tomorrow night. It should be spectacular there as long as the clouds stay away. If you are elsewhere on the east coast enjoy the show!

You can read our latest monthly newsletter and try our Ocracoke crossword puzzle by clicking here:

Monday, February 18, 2008

Gray and Overcast

I woke up to wind and rain this morning. Even rumbling thunder rattling the windows. Right now it's gray and wet outside. I wandered over to the Village Craftsmen to process a couple of mail orders and to catch up on a few chores. But I believe I'll go back home at lunchtime and curl up with a good book this afternoon. Might even take a nap!

I've received two entries in our crossword puzzle contest, both from island residents. I hope to hear from more of our readers.

You can see the puzzle and read details by clicking here:

Sunday, February 17, 2008


On Friday night the Ocracoke Jazz Society gave a free performance at Deepwater Theater. Well, it wasn't exactly free. Everyone was asked to bring a dessert to share. About fifty people came out. Chairs were arranged around tables with red tablecloths and candles. And the show was terrific. Serge (sp?), the band leader, played his clarinet. April was on bass, Lou on dobrow and guitar. Leonard, in red vest, added his banjo to the mix, and Rollin tickled those piano keys. Bobby kept the rhythm with his drums and cymbals. Rachel's voice was mesmerizing, in English as well as in French. It was a truly memorable night of talented entertainment. Rosemary commented to me afterward that she would close her eyes and feel like she was in a jazz club in New York City. Then she'd open her eyes and be happy she was right here on Ocracoke enjoying such splendid music.

In other news, I heard through the gape vine that one of the Cedar Island ferries had mechanical problems a few days ago and ended up on a shoal. Maybe some of our readers can fill in the details about what happened.

And finally, an apology. If you've looked at the crossword puzzle I created (see link below) you may have noticed a mistake. I spelled the capital of the Bahamas incorrectly. Sorry about that. So I filled in 59 across (with Nasau), and now everyone gets one freebie. I hope you'll have fun with the puzzle (and have a chance to win a $25.00 gift certificate). You can see the puzzle and read details at

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Crossword Puzzle

Some of my friends tell me that I "have too much time on my hands." They may be right. For the last several days I have been working on the creation of an Ocracoke Island crossword puzzle. And now it's finished. It was a lot of work!

I uploaded it last night as our latest Ocracoke Newsletter. You can see it here: I hope many of our readers will enjoy working on it. As an added incentive, send me your completed puzzle (full instructions are on the puzzle page) and we will choose, at random, from among the correct replies one winner who will receive a $25.00 gift certificate to the Village Craftsmen.

Have fun!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day!

It's sunny and cheery today, though on the cool side, and windy. But looking out my window, the sunlight highlighting the white picket fences, the tree limbs dappled with dancing shadows, and bright pink flowers announcing the lengthening of days, I am reminded of the power of love and kindness and caring. It just looks like Valentine's Day here on the island. If it's gloomy where you live, think of Ocracoke and let that lift your spirits. It won't be gloomy forever. I wish all of our readers a loving day connected with lovers, family, friends, and/or neighbors.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rain, Wind, Potlucks, & Parties

Well, I did get to the beach yesterday after all. And it's a good thing because forecasters are calling for rain on and off all day today. This morning it was windy and rainy. In my outdoor shower it felt like a minor hurricane. I even glanced up above me once or twice to make sure no tree limbs were about to break and come crashing down on me. I could just imagine someone finding me on the floor of the outdoor shower, water cascading over my naked body, clobbered to death by a cedar branch.

Last night several islanders gathered at the home of Lida & Bill Jones to recognize Darwin Day (he was born February 12, 1809), share a potluck dinner (they're always delicious), and watch the documentary, Flock of Dodos.

And I received more news of island happenings from "The Captain." Here it is:

"Hey Philip, Your blog visitors might be interested in knowing that the Ocracoke Jazz Society is having a party/performance in the Deep Water Theater this Friday (the 15th) from 8pm until. Admission is dessert to share and a supportive attitude. And they said Ocracoke was "dead" in

Sounds like a fun evening. Hope to see many of you there!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


I didn't get to the beach yesterday....and I may not make it today. I've been trying to catch up on Village Craftsmen details during the day, and then I've been paying visits to a few folks whom I haven't seen in a while.

Last week Lou Ann and I stopped in to see Blanche Styron (for our regular readers, this is another Blanche, not my Howard Street cousin). She kept us entertained for about an hour and a half with stories (humorous, historical, and earthy) about her childhood on the island. Then we stopped by to see Fowler and Chloe (Fowler has plenty of classic nautical tattoos and colorful stories to go with them). They're always a delight to spend time with.

Yesterday I walked to Iona Teeter's to chat with her and her son, Wayne. Wayne and I were good buddies when I was a pre-teen. We laughed and carried on until Iona was ready to turn in for the night (it wasn't all that late!). Today I carried some old photos to cousin Blanche so she could identify some of the people for me. I was just in time to prevent her from climbing up onto two cinder blocks (on top of a platform) to check the level in her oil tank. She admitted that she was hard-headed, but agreed to "maybe" call me the next time she's tempted to check her oil.

I'm going to a pot luck dinner tonight, so I'll be lucky to get to the beach this afternoon. But I can't stay away too long.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Monday, February 11, 2008


I went to the clinic for some routine blood work this morning. I am trypanophobic (I have a fear of needles). The nurse told me I was a #10. (It even gives me the creeps to write about needles!)

Anyway, we got to talking about a whole generation of Ocracokers who are afraid of needles, thanks to island nurse of the 1950s & 1960s, Kathleen Bragg. Here's how Alton Ballance tells it in his book, Ocracokers:

"We came to fear Wednesdays, the day that she spent at school. Wednesdays also became known as 'shot days.' High school boys would circulate rumors Wednesday morning, and sometimes the evening before, that a 'new batch of shots' was in. The younger ones were continuously reminded about the time she supposedly broke off a needle in a student's arm. High absenteeism was not uncommon on Wednesdays."

I heard that one student, on being sent to Kathleen, ran out of school. Her parents never caught up with her until they got to the campground!

OK, enough. Now I'll go home and try to forget everything I just wrote.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Books & Puzzles

I don't think I'll be lying in the dunes reading a book this afternoon, like I was yesterday. It's cooler today, and breezy. So I guess I'll just take my usual walk (with hooded sweatshirt).

I certainly have been getting a lot of reading done this past week. I haven't finished Warped Passages yet, about particle physics and string theory (it's not a book to race through), but I did read The Devil in Massachusetts, written about fifty years ago about the Salem witch trials. I was reminded how vigilant we need to be to keep from being caught up in irrational thinking.

I've read several other books, including Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes. It's probably the most entertaining book on Philosophy I've ever read! This morning I started Water for Elephants.

Oh yeah, I've also been doing crossword puzzles. It's quiet on the island in February!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Bridge Replacement Project

Many people have been asking about the eight million dollar Ocracoke bridge project, and wondering what sort of progress is being made. You can go right "to the horse's mouth" as they say, and get the latest official information here: On that page is a link to the latest Progress Report. I have copied the link here: Detailed Construction Progress Report.

As of February 01, 70% of the project was complete, including 100% of the substructure on all but one of the bridges. The decks on the completed sections were 90%-95% completed. I assume they are just waiting to lay the asphalt.

It looks like it won't be long before Highway 12 is again open to traffic. We'll let you know as soon as it is.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Ruts in the Ramps

This afternoon I decided to take my walk on the beach down by the NPS campground. I was interested in seeing how "tore up" the beach was because of the bridge construction detour. I'd heard that there were deep ruts made by large delivery trucks.

I didn't try to drive my AWD Subaru across the beach (it doesn't have much clearance), but the ramp didn't look too bad to me. Of course, there are ruts, and they're fairly deep, but several pickup trucks and SUVs managed without any problems. A utility truck pulling a worker's trailer did get stuck, but the towing service was there within minutes and pulled him out with little trouble.

I don't know what the other ramp (by the Pony Pen) is like. I've heard it's worse, but I don't really know.

The long necks of four cranes were visible from the campground, but I could see only minor activity -- just one front end loader and a couple of dump trucks there.

I turned and walked south, away from the construction zone. The sun was bright and cheery today, and the temperature (60 degrees) perfect for a shirt-sleeve stroll on the hard-packed sand near the water.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


This past Saturday Lou Ann and I drove to the Raleigh/Durham airport. Along the way we stopped in Belhaven to get a bite to eat and to take a look at the River Forest Manor, an historic inn near the water. We're thinking about taking a short trip over there sometime in the spring, and I was telling Lou Ann how nice it would be to stay at the RFM for a night or two. It's just our style.

While walking down the street I remembered the museum in Belhaven, and decided to take Lou Ann there for a short visit. It was easy to locate. On the second floor, above the police station, it sports a bright blue door at street level. Hours: 1-5 every day but Wednesday. It was 4 o'clock.

Just inside the door was an antique, rusted piece of equipment. I can't remember exactly what it was. We turned and walked up the wide wooden staircase. In a windowed office at the top of the stairs, a couple of steps higher than the main floor, a man (the curator? a volunteer? the phantom of the museum?) watched our ascent. When we reached the top and turned to step into the museum he was standing on the step that leads up to his perch, staring at us.

Glancing around at the tables and shelves, it looked as if no one had ventured into this dreary, dusty cavern for ages, but the guest book actually showed that three others had visited earlier that very day.

"So do you work here every day?" Lou Ann inquired of our host in her cheery voice.


"Oh, you share your job with other folks then?


After an uncomfortable pause, "Oh, that's right, you're closed on Wednesdays."

In a slow, almost macabre, drawl came the reply, "That's the other possibility."

There wasn't much chance of further conversation so we signed the guest book and began our self guided tour. Mrs. Way had collected things all of her life, and as the word spread friends, relatives, and neighbors gifted her with more and more unusual items. When she died in the early 1960s most of the paraphernalia she had gathered was taken here. The Belhaven Museum was established. There is no theme. It's very eclectic. Whatever Mrs. Way saved, you can view here. It appears that everything is exactly as it was when the museum first opened. Except for the dust and the ravages of age. Yellowed and brittle handmade signs are pinned to dolls, or taped to glass cases, or propped up in front of ninety year old helmets, or tied to ancient cast iron implements.

One of the first exhibits is a huge dress, somber and fragile, attacked by moths, or disintegrating simply because of old age. It was worn by a 700 pound woman, we are informed.

Nearby are buttons. Buttons on cards affixed to the wall, buttons that create a map of the US, every state a different color. Buttons that create a map of NC, every county a different color. Buttons in jars. Buttons, buttons, buttons.

There are old typewriters, vintage cameras, WWI uniforms, a section of a satellite retrieved after it crashed to earth, rattlesnake skins and rattles, and top hats & baby prams. There are jars of specimens in formaldehyde. An eight-legged fetal pig, sharks, fish, a lamb, and even human fetuses. Behind them hangs an amber-hued hundred year old skeleton, with jaw agape, staring into the dingy aisle.

One wall is covered with old-time kitchen utensils. Only one item is labeled. "Meat Cleaver." Why only this one item? I'm reminded of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. On the adjacent wall are shelves full of canning jars filled with vegetables (green beans were popular with Mrs. Way), fish (hard to imagine this was appetizing even back in 1960), and other slowly disintegrating foodstuffs.

Old magazines and books are in a small room a few steps up; a dusty pile lies forlornly on what appears to be a psychiatrist's couch. Not a comforting sign. There are copies of a button collecting journal. Who would have guessed?

We wander about intrigued by the arrowheads, carvings, baby clothes, farm implements, and dressed-up fleas (thoughtfully there's a magnifying glass laid nearby).

We don't have time to take it all in. We'll be back.

If you happen to be traveling by Belhaven take the business route into town and ask about the museum. Anyone there can direct you. Every day but Wednesday, 1-5. And don't even ask if he works there every day. Just smile and keep your eye on the exit.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Ocracoke is a wonderful place to come home to. I enjoy traveling to other places (though mostly my destination has been Indiana lately), and, of course, I have enjoyed spending time with Lou Ann. But I never dread coming back to the island. Merle was in the post office this morning (the P.O. is often the gathering place for island information). She commented that some off-island friends had asked if she didn't feel "isolated" with Highway 12 virtually closed. Her answer: "Yes, and it feels wonderful!"

Yesterday, coming out of the Variety Store, David Tolson (a former student of mine) pulled me over to the side. He had a joke to tell me. He'd heard it from Grant, the UPS guy. We laughed and chatted, and laughed some more. Sitting there on the bench on the porch (sharing stories and humor) reminded me once again why I like living here so much. (By the way, I can't repeat the joke here, but I can tell it at poker on Friday night.) Last week Lou Ann commented on the special closeness and sense of community and shared history she always feels when on the island. I suppose it really is different here, in many ways.

In other news, as they say, yesterday's post garnered two comments.

The first: "Island eccentrics, eh? You'll have to share with the rest of us." Well, it's a tad impolitic to share too much in a public forum when you live in such a small village. I suggest you just hang out around the locals to get to know some of these folks yourselves. From this reader's comment, he or she is well on the way to having plenty of colorful stories.

The second: "How is the bridge replacement project going?" I have no official word, but rumor has it that all is proceeding more quickly than expected. One unofficial source mentioned the end of this month, another claimed the middle of this month, as the time when the road might be reopened. I'm told they are working on the last two bridges (over Old Hammock Creek, and Island Creek, near the campground). I understand that final paving will have to wait (for warmer weather, I presume), but that the road will be reopened as soon as possible. In the meanwhile there appear to be very few glitches. Mail, UPS, groceries, gasoline, lumber, and other deliveries keep coming.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Interesting Day

I really don't know how I can find so much to keep me busy on the island in February when the road is practically closed and the village is so quiet! Well, actually, I've been off the island for a few days. Went to Raleigh to see Lou Ann off at the airport on Sunday. But we left on Saturday in order to get there on time (her flight was Sunday morning). We stopped in Belhaven on the way and toured the museum there. That is a very peculiar attraction, and I'll tell you more about that on another day, I promise.

I stayed an extra day in Carboro, NC to visit a close island friend (who is having some medical treatments at Duke) and her husband. I was reminded of how important our community is to all of us, and how supportive islanders are when friends and neighbors need each other.

Back home today I made a point of going to the beach. A thick wet fog had enveloped the island most of the day and kept ferries tied up at the docks periodically. Visibility on the beach was about the length of a football field. The gun metal gray sky and the slightly darker ocean, punctuated by churning whitecaps, blended seamlessly into each other to create a surreal seascape.

This afternoon I cooked up a delicious pot of broccoli soup, so I invited three friends over. We filled our bellies, then repaired into the parlor to chat about politics and island eccentrics who have passed through our tiny village.

It's been a good day.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.

Friday, February 01, 2008


Yesterday Lou Ann and I hosted a Murder Mystery for the two dozen teachers who were on the island this week for a "Mystery" seminar. We met at 3 o'clock at Deepwater Theater where Lou Ann explained the afternoon's activities. Scripts were handed out and everyone received a part -- actors, sound effects person, distributors of clues, etc. The actors got costumes (a hat, a pipe, suspenders, an apron, or some other indicator of their role). And the show was on!

After every vignette the teachers gathered in small groups to examine clues. Eventually there was a trial. But no verdict was offered. It was time to head back to the NCCAT center for a delicious dinner (Lou Ann & I had the flounder). After dinner we gathered in the seminar room to complete the trial....and then to examine the last clue, an encoded confession. Finally one group cracked the code. The murderer was exposed!

What a good time we all had. If you are a teacher in a NC public school consider applying for a week seminar at the Ocracoke campus of NCCAT (North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching). You won't be disappointed!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is inspired by an April, 1942 article about the island in The State magazine. You can read it here.