When we're planning outdoor adventures in North Carolina, we tend to think about the beach and mountains. But, oh my. We've been missing out on something else that's been just under our noses this whole time. The Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula is the piece of land that juts out toward the Outer Banks, bordered by the Albemarle Sound to the north and the Pamlico Sound to the south. It consists mostly of pocosin marshlands and is divided between soggy farmland and several wildlife refuges. We drive through the northern edges of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge on our way to the Outer Banks every summer, but had only stopped a few times at the visitor center at Pocosin Lakes to stretch our legs along its boardwalk.
Then Jeff and I read "The Secret World of Red Wolves" and got sort of obsessed with the idea of exploring this area. The peninsula is the only place in the world where red wolves live in the wild; they became functionally extinct and were reintroduced here through a captive breeding program. It also sits along the Atlantic Flyway and hosts hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate south for the winter in some of the state's largest natural lakes, called Carolina bays. And it has, depending on the source, the highest concentration of black bears either on the East Coast or in the Southeast. Plus the landscape is amazing and unique.
There aren’t really places to eat or stay on the peninsula, so we decided to pack a cooler and take a long day trip.
Above: The Mattamuskeet Lodge. This structure was originally a pumping station, then a hunting lodge and now it's uninhabitable but listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If the state can ever find enough money, they may convert it back to a lodge.
Below: First we stopped in the old fishing village of Swan Quarter (where you can catch a ferry to Ocracoke), poked around the harbor and made friends with a group of cheerful 10-year-olds who surrounded us and asked, "Are y'all from out of town?!"
(These photos are a mix of iPhone and Canon 7D images.)
This is what all the farmland on the peninsula looks like: super soggy and carved with drainage canals. Those white dots in the background are tundra swans.
We made several stops for walks and photos at Lake Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. This place is so lovely. The entire lake is no more than "a swan's neck" deep—best expression ever—though it's 14 miles long and 5 miles wide.
We were thrilled to watch this beaver swimming around right next to us...until it climbed up on the bank...without a beaver tail. It turns out it's actually a nutria, or river rat, which is an invasive species of rodent from South America. Nora kept trying to drag me over to pat it. Umm, I think I'll stay clear of those giant orange teeth, thank you.
Tundra swans in the distance in one of the many canals around the lake.
Tundra swans swimming in Pungo Lake at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge.
Swans over Lake Mattamuskeet.
Swans above, swans below. Lake Mattamuskeet.
Happy New Year, friends! I hope you are as excited for a fresh start as we are. I literally limped to the finish of 2014. Our last six weeks of the year were almost comical, characterized by two minor surgeries; a slew of colds, ear infections and sinus infections; one scary allergic reaction; the cancelation of two sets of holiday visitors due to their own ailments; the unexpected replacement of our water heater and a stolen credit card.
All hail 2015! It's going to be a good one, right? Really I shouldn't complain one bit. Our recent on-slot of annoying circumstances have just been hiccups and, despite them, we managed to eek out a magical Christmas, a delicious New Year's Eve celebration and a whole lot of playtime and creativity in between.
Here's a look at how the year shaped up over here at Calm Cradle Photo & Design, along with a few goals for 2015. (Click the photos to view the original posts.)
2014: A year in review
Personal: In last year's review post, I mentioned that as my girls were growing, I was slowly gaining more time to work on writing and photography projects in addition to my full-time task of keeping them alive. That was true for a few months of 2014 until we enrolled Cricket in a peanut desensitization clinical trial, which requires a lot of time at the clinic, a daily process of administering a dose of peanuts and closely monitoring for (and occasionally treating) reactions, plus an enormous amount of anxiety on my part. So that time I thought I was gaining at the beginning of the year? It disappeared again, and that's fine. That's what it means to be a parent. It meant fewer blog posts (36 instead of last year's 70) and a lot of nail biting, but also a sense that we are doing all we can to alleviate a difficult situation.
Travel: We certainly didn't tone down the personal travel this year (14 trips by my count), though I haven't been as faithful at documenting each adventure as I was last year. Here are the posts I pulled together: Colorado (winter: here, here and here; summer: here and here), Naples/Fort Myers, New York City, Asheville, Charlottesville (summer: here; fall: here) and Carolina Beach (here and here). You can find photos from the rest of our travel on Instagram, including multiple trips to Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Asheville and the Carolina coast.
Writing: Blog posts contained the bulk of my writing this year. My favorite post was about my grandma. I spent about a month this fall dusting off and re-organizing the first draft of my novel before handing it off to the first reviewer: my husband, Jeff. Despite his hectic business travel schedule this year, I found my manuscript tucked under the Christmas tree, complete with page after page after page of thorough, thoughtful notes. I've got my work cut out for me, but his comments gave me the confidence to hit the ground running on a second draft.
Photography: It was a blockbuster year for my very small photography business. My number of clients grew by a few times over last year—certainly enough to keep me busy, especially throughout the fall. Thank you for seeking out my work! It means the world to me. You can expect to see a few posts this winter from fall sessions. I've also been very active on Instagram (you don't have to have an account to view my photo gallery) and have found such a supportive community of photographers, outdoor enthusiasts and parents there. If you want to get your photography out into the world, I'd highly recommend becoming an active Instagrammer.
Website/Design/Business: Creating my sister's wedding invitation suite (here and here) was my largest design project in the last year. Another small design project came my way through work I'd posted on Pinterest, and I also spent the fall designing Nora's baby book through Artifact Uprising. This is the first year I haven't made any substantial changes to my website.
2015: A look ahead
Personal: I want a do-over of my goal from 2014: "Perhaps my most important goal for the new year is to continually re-balance—and give myself a break when things don't go the way I planned." If today is productive and everyone is healthy and well behaved, then probably someone will be 104 degrees tomorrow and we'll have to cancel the rest of our plans for the week. And that's okay. I once lamented to my sister that it felt like I never accomplished enough and had fears of dying unexpectedly before completing my novel, traveling to a particular place, etc. Her response was priceless, and I remind myself of it often: "You won't care! You'll be dead!" Really, these are words to live by, people. Live in the moment. Try to re-balance when things get off-kilter. That's about the best we can do.
Travel: We always say we'll tone down travel to reduce chaos and our budget, but it never happens. We can't help ourselves! So I'm not going to say it this year. We will be out there visiting our scattered family and exploring new places and old. We've got marriages to celebrate, babies to welcome, good surf to find and mountains to scale. I can't wait to find out where the wind will take us this year. One thing is for sure, though. My girls will be better hikers by the end of it.
Writing: My novel! After a year's hiatus of trying not to think about it, I'm back in action with fresh eyes and a stack of comments from Jeff. I'm not setting any time frame for completing another draft at this point (6 months? 6 years?). For now, I'm going to keep the bones of what I have and concentrate on fleshing out characters and scenes, chapter by chapter. Then I'll send the manuscript to a few more reviewers and go from there. Also on my writing wish list this year: one essay about Cricket's clinical trial; one or more about the concept of home when the place where you've set up camp is far from your roots; and one about a stack of letters I have that my Grandma Bean wrote to her parents during WWII when she was a new mother and Grandpa was off flying for PanAm and then the Navy.
Photography: I'm trying to grow my business organically. So far, putting my work out there on social media has attracted as many clients as I can handle given my family commitments. I hope to squeeze in a few more clients in 2015 but not spend more time marketing than I do now. In terms of nature/landscape/wildlife/travel/family photography, I'm going to keep doing what I'm doing: shooting the beautiful world around me and sharing it on this blog and Instagram. I'm also trying to get up the nerve to submit photos of our home for a virtual tour on my favorite blog.
Website/Design/Business: During the fall photo season I began giving clients an option to use the a la carte pricing listed on my website or purchase digital packages up front when they booked a session. Everyone selected digital packages. So I'm revamping how I price sessions to reflect the demand for a package fee that includes the session and a fixed number of edited digital images. I'll be working on posting that information soon, but please feel free to contact me in the meantime for details. I'll also be updating my portrait portfolio and the popular posts on the right-hand sidebar.
Cheers to a happy and healthy 2015!
Just a quick note to say hello and Happy New Year from a warm and muddy North Carolina. We've been a bit cooped up over break with various ailments, so enjoying this morning's unseasonably warm weather felt especially lovely. I'd say these girls are ready to jump back into the routine, wouldn't you? Good luck getting back to reality this week.
I'm Julia Soplop. I've spent my life documenting the world around me in writing and photography. I believe there is something profound in bearing witness to moments of joy and pain in others’ lives. My husband, three girls and I live outside of Chapel Hill, NC. You can read more about me here.