By Lou Ann Homan

With apples in my backpack and my camera case slung over my shoulder I step down into the boat on this cold morning. The other passengers are much more equipped for the day than am I. They carry binoculars and telescopes, and wear rubber boots for tramping over the beaches and through the marshes.

Portsmouth Village

I pull my hood up and wrap my scarf around my face as we leave the dock and take off across the sound. It is a cold wind that blows as we travel the short distance. Our destination today is Portsmouth Island to participate in the Christmas bird count. Our leader, Peter Vankevich, is a born birder and the organizer of our group of birders. He spends days ahead of time sending out emails and getting everyone excited about the Christmas bird count. On this cold morning while he is handing out lists of birds and assignments, vegetarian chili simmers in the crock pot home in his cottage…(read more from the Ocracoke Current)

A Flock of CormorantsLoon

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by Lou Ann Homan-Saylor

My summer life on Ocracoke is enchanting. Now that I have settled in, it feels as if this is my home, my life. Maybe that is part of my philosophy for life in being present in the moment, wherever that takes me and whatever I do.

I fall asleep at night thinking about living on this fragile sandbar two and a half hours out to sea in a cottage built during the Civil War. The cottage was originally built by a man who was seeking a bride. The story is lost to time as to why he never married, but eventually he moved back in with his parents and the cottage was sold to the Howard family as a wedding gift for Homer and Aliph. Thirteen children were born in this 1,000 square foot cottage, although six did not reach adulthood.

Homer & Aliph Howard Home:

Sometimes at night when the wind blows through the cottage’s creaking doors I think I might hear the laughter of children. I would prefer, however, to not hear the laughter of those long ago children!

The sandy lane in front of the picket fence is full of clam and oyster shells to give it a base for walking and for bicycles. Often tourists will ask if they were put there for decorations, but I assure them that not much was put here for decorations.

I spend a lot of time in my Mad Mag Studio which is adorned with thrift shop furniture, books, a borrowed guitar, seashells, twinkle lights and my necessary means of modern life: the laptop and camera. My studio was once the washhouse and still sports the old floor and ceiling from long ago. It is indeed charming with a wonderful creative space.

Folks visiting think that my day is just whiled away sitting on the pizer (porch) shelling beans or reading. Whereas I am known to do just that, there are chores to be done as in every household: sweeping, scrubbing, cooking, washing … the usual. There are some differences here as the sweeping is done with a broom, there is no dishwasher and all the laundry is hung outdoors. I often think of Miss Aliph and how hard she worked raising the children here without running water or indoor plumbing or air-conditioning. She strained mosquito larvae out of the cistern water, brushed her screens with kerosene to keep flies and bugs out of the house and birthed each child in the small downstairs bedroom.

My work is usually in the evening as I lead ghost and history walks, write and perform in the weekly Opry and have my own show of stories and songs on Friday nights. Sometimes parties or events begin after hours.

The Ocracoke Opry:

One night this week my friend Jude Wheeler invited friends over to see her Night-Blooming Cereus bloom. The party wasn’t even to begin until 10 p.m., which was perfect for me as I would just be finishing up telling stories in the graveyard. It was late, but the waxing gibbous moon led the way to her island cottage. Several folks had already arrived carrying cold bottles of wine as a relief from the summer heat.

As I arrived the flower was not in bloom. Jude was sure the last three blooms would open, but they were still closed up. We settled onto the screened-in porch listening to the night sounds, telling stories and laughing a good bit. We, of course, talked about the flower that had drawn us all together. The Cereus, also known as the Queen of the Night Cactus, is pollinated by night-flying insects, like moths. It is a close relative of the Christmas cactus. However, this flower blooms late into the night and closes in the morning, and that’s that.

Upon the midnight hour, we, the guests, decided it was time to depart. As we opened the screen door to leave, someone shouted that the cactus had begun to bloom. We stood around the flower as if it were a treasure chest just being opened and we literally watched the Queen of the Night Cactus bloom. Within a half an hour it was full and gorgeous, and we were in awe and humbled by its beauty. I took a photograph of this phenomenon before leaving for the night.

Night-Blooming Cereus:

Walking home through the sandy lanes I could only wonder about the beauty of the world and of the simple life I choose by being here.

My own garden was bathed in moonlight as I whispered “Good night beautiful world.”

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by Lou Ann Homan

The mosquitoes are thick as I wait this early morning for Corinna to pick me up for my weekly turtle patrol with her. I must look like a runaway or a stranded tourist in this pre dawn hour as I am standing in the middle of the street carrying my paraphernalia…camera, flashlight, mug of coffee, and a bag holding sunglasses and sunscreen. With my hands full, I can only blow at the mosquitoes out of the corner of my mouth.

Every Tuesday Corinna picks me up in the National Park Service vehicle. I see the headlights in the distance. She stops and reaches over to open the door. I settle in and our day begins.

Corinna and I became friends immediately at the beginning of the summer. She is a seasonal employee and works in a new location every six months…Padre Island, the Florida Keys, South Carolina beaches and now Ocracoke. Corinna is young, unmarried and everything she owns fits into the back of her vehicle…like a snail, I think. She loves reading, and walked the Appalachian Trail last year, the whole trail! It took her six months. I am so impressed!

The planet Venus is still visible as pink strands of ribbon unroll over the sea. The quarter moon follows Venus and then, as if they are playing hide and seek, disappears into the morning sky. I lean out the window to take photos when Corinna stops the truck. There are loggerhead sea turtle tracks. We both jump out to find it is a false crawl. The turtle came up, looked around a bit, chose not to lay her eggs and then returned to the sea. I wonder about this ancient creature…what made her turn back after all that work of pulling herself out of the sea and onto the land. We take measurements, record the data and resume our beach patrol.

Loggerhead Turtle Tracks:

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Within a half hour we find another crawl. Again we jump out and find that this loggerhead has nested high up on the beach. Corinna puts on her plastic gloves, as do I, and begins the slow dig. She is first to find the clutch of eggs and lets me reach down into the hole to feel the eggs as well. We begin our work of measuring, recording, putting up the signs, marking the location of the nest from the dunes, and then raking out the inside of the marked off area. We do not rake out her long crawl strokes so the beach walkers will be able to share in this beauty and ancient ritual. We clean up and continue up the beach. We are thrilled to have found one nest this morning when Corinna abruptly stops the truck.

A Turtle Nest:

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Protected Turtle Nest Area:

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Another crawl! This one is fresh as the low tide gives way to her faint markings in the sea. I am thinking that we may have just missed her. Could that have been possible?

She appeared to be in a hurry and did not crawl high upon the beach. We discuss the possibilities of high tides and storms. Corinna feels we should move her nest. She finds it on the first dig and painstakingly pulls each egg from the nest. There are 134 eggs and we carry them to the new location in a large yellow container. We recreate the nest and follow the same procedure. The sun is high by now and warm…diamonds sparkle in the sea.

Digging to Locate a Nest:

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A Bucket Full of Turtle Eggs:

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Back in the truck Corinna puts on classical music. I am lulled into a time and space where nothing exists except sea and sand…no beginnings or endings.

We are up at the north beach when Corinna spots a stranded dead turtle. We have a look and she tells me we will have to perform a necropsy to determine death possibilities. I touch the smooth mahogany carapace of this young green turtle. We turn it over and the bottom plastron is as smooth as ivory. I mourn for this creature of the sea as Corinna performs this necropsy. I am the surgeon’s helper as I hand her tools and take identification photos. We come to no conclusion and bury her within the warm sand.

Green Turtle Washed Upon the Beach:

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It is time to head home. The sun is hot now and we have covered the long stretch of Ocracoke Island.

I will not be here long enough to see any of these turtles hatch…neither will the female loggerhead who lays her eggs and then is carried on the rising tide back out to sea.

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