The Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods

Forest Fires And Turtle Eggs On The Outer Banks

With all of my business obligations taken care of, I have nothing better to do but enjoy my last few weeks on the Outer Banks. Each day seems to present me with a new experience. Yesterday, when I left the house to meet a friend for lunch I smelled smoke. A bit later, when I left the restaurant, the smell of smoke was even more pervasive and ash was floating through the air. Strange, I thought, but I dismissed it as probably a house on fire.

This morning I woke to a view of dense fog hanging over the treetops and curling its fingers through the shrubbery in my back yard. How pretty, I thought, until I stepped outside and again smelled smoke. This time it was much stronger and I realized that instead of fog, I was looking at smoke.

Since I have no TV and get poor Internet reception with my AirCard way back in the woods where my house is located, I drove to my favorite local coffee shop, the Front Porch Cafe, to find out what was up. On the way I passed the entrance to the Nature Conservancy at Nags Head Woods. A slight movement by the side of the road caught my eye, and I backed up to check it out. Pressed up against the concrete curb bordering the entrance to the Nature Conservancy was an enormous Eastern Carolina Box Turtle. She was leaning against the curb, using it as leverage in order to dig a hole with her back legs in preparation for laying her eggs.

Fascinated, I parked the car and walked back to watch her. Turtle legs are not made for digging and she was having a hard time of it, but she persevered. It soon became apparent that she was not digging a hole. She was painstakingly covering a hole that she had previously dug, where, I assume, she had deposited her eggs. With each thrust of her body against the curb, her flippers shoved another teaspoonful of dirt over the hole. In the fifteen minutes I observed her, she was able to add perhaps a half inch to the mound. It was painful to watch. I can only imagine how many hours she spent digging the hole and laying her eggs before I happened along. Suddenly, the turtle decided that the nest was secure enough. Turning away from the curb, she lumbered across the road, heaved her body up the embankment, struggled through some thick vegetation to the top of a slight hill, then crawled/slid down a gully until she plopped into the inky black waters of the swamp pond where she undoubtedly lives.

At the Front Porch Cafe I ordered my usual Americano and a muffin, then grabbed a seat at the big table, where the locals were gossiping and solving the world’s problems. I soon learned that nearly 30,000 acres are burning at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, located 45 miles to the west. The wind is carrying smoke not only to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, but also to Virginia Beach, Virginia, located more than 75 miles north of the fire. The fire was started by lightning Sunday at the wildlife refuge and gradually spread during the week because of dry conditions and extremely flammable peat soil that is so prevalent throughout the swampy, coastal lowlands. One peat moss catches fire it is extremely difficult to put out, since the fire migrates to deposits located deep underground. Because of this, officials estimate the fire could last two months or more unless the area gets substantial rainfall.

Forest fires and turtle eggs, all in the same day. In all the years I lived here, I’ve never seen things like these. It’s as if the Universe knows I will soon be leaving the Outer Banks for good and is treating me to once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I wonder what tomorrow holds.

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