In the movie In the Heart of the Sea, based upon Nathaniel Philbrick’s best-selling book of the same title, an enraged sperm whale twice rams the whale ship Essex. In a matter of minutes, the Essex starts sinking and capsizes on its port side, leaving its crew stranded on the vast Pacific in three small and under-provisioned whale boats.
But about ten years before the sinking of the Essex in 1820, an even more cunning and fearsome whale received widespread notoriety throughout the whaling community and even among the general public.
Charles Pilkey: The book is intended for families with kids up to middle school age. We hope parents will do the activities together with their children.
Orrin Pilkey: We also think that the activities herein are a goldmine for high school students doing science projects. The activities could give older kids a start, and they can follow up and proceed into the wild blue yonder as far as their imagination will carry them.
As I researched and studied the myriad organisms that swim in and fly over the California Current for my book on this unique ecosystem, none caught my attention more than Pacific sea turtles—living dinosaurs of the ocean. Theirs is an old story—one of long journeys and nesting rituals performed over the eons. The tale below chronicles the journey and trials of a determined sea turtle.
I looked up in time to see a flying fish sailing past at eye level, 15 feet above the water. Turning to Captain Harry Baum, I asked whether any had ever landed in this boat. While he was telling me that in 26 years of fishing in the Gulf Stream, that had never happened, an 11-inch-long flying fish crash-landed on the deck below. I rushed down, secured my prize, and hurried back to the bridge to ask Captain Baum if his boat had ever been struck by lightning. What I thought was the best one-liner of the day was not appreciated. The captain proceeded to recount the times his boat had been struck, how insurance companies refused to insure electrical navigational equipment, and how, when . . . well, you get the idea.
During the warm months, flying fish are commonly seen in the Gulf Stream off North Carolina. So at times when there is not much going on aboard ship, and when other creatures of the open sea are scarce, I watch fish fly.
One of my favorite waterfall hikes in the southern Appalachians is the Rainbow Falls Trail in western North Carolina, just south of Lake Toxaway. Beginning in Gorges State Park, the 4-mile (round-trip) trail soon enters Pisgah National Forest, where it follows the Horsepasture River (a designated Wild and Scenic River) along the Blue Ridge Escarpment. Four waterfalls occur along this stretch of the river, including Rainbow Falls, a near-vertical cascade about 125 feet high with a large plunge pool at the base. Few waterfalls in the southern Appalachians are as spectacular (and powerful) as this one.
Yosemite National Park made the evening news on Wednesday, January 14, 2015. American rock climbers Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson reached the top of El Capitan by ascending Yosemite’s Dawn Wall. The climbers’ years of preparation, 19-day free-climb, and personal stories riveted television audiences nationwide. News programs also gave audiences a rare treat: panoramic views of the park’s natural beauty that included cascading waterfalls, granite formations, and snow-dusted trees.
Yet Yosemite almost did not become a national park.
Waterfalls are constantly changing. A rapid surge in stream flow following a heavy rain can turn a modest waterfall into a raging torrent of water. Dry periods can transform a waterfall into a trickle of water (much to the disappointment of waterfall enthusiasts). A slight breeze can elicit a shimmering spray, and if the light is right, a colorful rainbow. If passing clouds obscure the sun, the brightly reflective waterfall changes to softer hues, and the rainbow vanishes into thin air.
Controversy rages over fire policy in Linville Gorge, which was the first designated Federal Wilderness in the East with the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Currently, the policy is to suppress any fires that threaten manmade structures, but to allow lower-intensity lightning-strike fires to burn. The latest management plan proposes prescribed burns in the Gorge to promote pines and rare plants and to reduce fuel loads. Homeowners in the Gingercake Acres development, perched on the eastern rim of the Gorge, understandably worry about risk to their homes. Advocacy organizations like Save the Linville Gorge Wilderness argue that fire destroys the wild character of the landscape. Skeptics scoff that the Forest Service maintains only an illusion of control over something as unpredictable and powerful as fire.
I think most of us are “destination-oriented”—focused on the trail’s end, the scenic vista, the waterfall. Many of our hikes have points of interest such as these, because we love them too. By using our book, you can become a “journey” person as well, someone who sees something new and exciting around each bend in the trail. We want you to start seeing the forest intimately, instead of a background of green noise.
Our State explains the best way to appreciate the pioneer’s of aviation: “Stand at the base of the Wright Brothers Memorial in Kitty Hawk, right where it all began.” Then, just a few miles to the south you can visit Jockey’s Ridge State Park, home to the East Coast’s tallest active sand dune, where Our State recommends, “Want to be a daredevil? Try hang-gliding. Rather keep your feet in the sand? Fly a kite.
Red wolves are shy, elusive, and misunderstood predators. Until the 1800s, they were common in the longleaf pine savannas and deciduous forests of the southeastern United States. However, habitat degradation, persecution, and interbreeding with the coyote nearly annihilated them. Today, reintroduced red wolves are found only in peninsular northeastern North Carolina within less than 1 percent of their former range. In The Secret World of Red Wolves: The Fight to Save North America’s Other Wolf, nature writer T. DeLene Beeland shadows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s pioneering recovery program over the course of a year to craft an intimate portrait of the red wolf, its history, and its restoration.
The National Weather Service is in the middle of their National Hurricane Preparedness Week, running from May 26–June 1. The website provides a helpful Tropical Cyclone Preparedness Guide with meteorological information on hurricanes, the many hazards that occur both during and after the storm, and a checklist precautions to take to ensure your safety through the six-month hurricane season.
Our State describes the variety of the region: “Southern Pines is the horse capital of N.C., Pinehurst is the golf capital, and Candor is the peach capital.” Stretching into South Carolina and Georgia, the Sandhills are also known for a dry climate, sandy soils (hence the success of peaches), and vast Longleaf Pine forests that support threatened and endangered species like the Red-cockaded Woodpecker.
Newly published this spring at UNC Press, Philip Gerard’s Down the Wild Cape Fear: A River Journey through the Heart of North Carolina is the perfect compliment for any trip out to the Cape Fear River.
The first essay, “Three Elephants in the Basement,” allowed me to transport the reader back to a time not very long ago—just a comma and three zeroes ago—when the land that would become North Carolina was populated by three species of elephant and a menagerie of strange animals as large as any in Africa today.
For me, every story is a journey, so the format was natural: follow the river and pause at each interesting bend to reveal its story—its natural and human history, the way it has shaped our life and politics.