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A Visit with the Gulf Stream
Writing From Where the Ocean Flows North
If you happen to be trapped in a Polar Vortex, if the Arctic has invaded your neighborhood, if everything outside seems to groan or crunch or crack, if the cold itself seems evil, and if you do not wish to fly away on an airplane, then I suggest you head for the Gulf Stream.
The most direct terrestrial route between my home in Vermont and the Gulf Stream (as the Snowy Owl flies) would be to head south until you pass Cape Hatteras and then park yourself where the warm waters flow north near shore. Here in Beaufort, North Carolina, some summer green remains along my woodland walks, the Carolina Wrens sing out, and Brown Pelicans drift by on ocean breezes.
I saw three warbler species the other day, which is more than Montpelier had in degrees above zero. And today I’ll paddle my canoe — yeah, I’m with my canoe — out to a barrier island preserve, where I’ll walk among Marbled Godwits and sand dollars (the flattened Echinoderms, as Judy Brook pointed out after I posted). And where I’ll even get some work done.
I’m on a writing retreat beside the Gulf Stream — the conveyor belt of equatorial waters passing me by here in North Carolina before bending east out to sea. From its origins in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, the Gulf Stream brings warmth to the Carolina shores. It rides in on a river of warmer ocean surface water, about 60 miles wide. To those of you north of here — well, uh, sorry, the Gulf Stream is way offshore to your east, heading at about 6 miles per hour toward the British Isles and elsewhere in northern Europe, where it warms things up there a wee bit. You can see its path on this map here to the right.
Oops, well, you can’t see its path on the map because the government and this particular website are shut down right now. So here instead is a recent map of surface water temperatures from Rutgers University. (Go, Scarlet Knights!) See that area where the red nearly touches the shoreline? Yeah, by the arrow I drew. You are not there. I am there. And it’s kinda warm here. That blue stuff to the north — well, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the cold wind blows. (Oh, by the way, there’s some evidence that the Gulf Stream has lost some of its punch, owing to global warming.)
I do not mean to gloat over weather. In fact, I’m indoors a lot here, writing my two books (the lovely or evil albatrosses), a few essays and various other things, including this blog post (which is a break from book work). I awaken before sunrise and write until noon. Email and other distractions of the glowing screens (except for this post, maybe a few others yet to come) are basically shut down until I emerge in about a month. Afternoons are for walking and thinking.
Some of you will recognize my affinity for this region of North Carolina because I used to guide birdwatching trips here in late April, when all the southern warblers are back on territory, where Red-cockaded Woodpeckers survive, where some of the northernmost Painted Buntings glow like no other temperate songbird, where Black Rails call kee-kee-do! and where we walk among thousands of shorebirds. I’ll be seeing some of those shorebirds once I get offshore to the Rachel Carson Reserve and to Shackleford Banks — closer yet to the Gulf Stream.
Until then, here’s a Painted Bunting, not yet arrived in North Carolina but basically reflecting the colors on our ocean map above. Onward!