Old Gray House
Family Learning Center
Be it known to all the world the former students of the Old Gray House Learning Center pictured here have completed their studies. They have sat in the Old Gray House Seat of Learning and pondered the problems of the world. Having done so they are refreshed and ready to make their contribution to solving the problems of the world.
At the end of a path, about thirty feet from the house, stood the family restroom. It was a very sophisticated structure. It was a two-holer with room enough for socialization with a friend.
You might say it was a reading center. Pages torn from the catalog, or whatever was available, was well read prior to use.
Many today would say more learning transpired here than in a lot of our school classrooms of today.
This historical building now serves as our bookstore.
Many of our guests who come to see us at the Old
Gray House take the time to record their visit by
having a picture taken in our Learning Center.
We call them “graduates” of The Old Gray House
Gray House Book Store
Some Interesting Outhouse Thoughts:
- Out-houses were often referred to as Roosevelt Houses. This came about because during President Roosevelt’s 1930’s New Deal Works Projects you could get a government grant to upgrade your Out house. The WPA and CCC works program brought a lot of enjoyment to those who sat in their learning centers and pondered over the major problems confronting the world at that time caused by the Great Depression. Isn’t it wonderful what our government does for us?
- At one time there where two symbols placed on the doors of Out houses and most families had two restrooms. One was that of a star and the other of a half moon. The symbols were use to designate his (star), and hers (half moon) restroom. The hers was neater and cleaner and well stocked with reading material so finally hers became the preferred one to be used by the men folks. As a result, the half moon was elevated to the preferred symbol. This little bit of history definitely tells you who is controlling things behind the scene. It isn’t him.
- One of our National Monuments that you might want to visit if you go to Mount Vernon is George Washington’s fancy Out House. He called it his, “Necessary House”. This is one important part of our history that ever school child needs to know about the accomplishments of the founding father of our country.
How Can I Become A Graduate of The Old Gray House Learning Center?
You can become a graduate of the prestigious Old Gray House Learning Center by submitting a picture of yourself to be listed here or posted in the Old Gray House Learning Center. When sending pictures include Name, City and State.
Graduates of Learning Center
Dewey and Mary Parr
Owners Of the Old Gray House Learning Center
We would appreciate it if you would send us your pictures you took while
visiting The Old Gray House Learning Center. Click Here to send your picture.
Ramblings about Dogs on the path
My apologies to this dog. I lost the information your owner provide me.
Please tell her to send me your name and where you are from.
Click Here to contact me.
Dogs Walking Their Owners on the Path to the Old Gray House
Send us a Picture of Your Dog Walking the Path
Include name of dog and where you are from. Your name also if your dog approves.
Click Here to send information to me
Meeting and greeting people strolling through my garden has been one of the highlights of my retirement days at the Old Gray House. This year a new dimension has been added for my enjoyment. I am not only having the opportunity to meet and greet people but their dogs as well. This is due to the arch that my son, Dewey “Sonny” Parr III, built for me that connects my garden to the Cape Pines Motel. The Cape Pines Motel not only is listed in the Gourmet Magazine as the cleanest Motel they ever stayed in but it is a Pet Friendly Motel. I found it quite unusual that a National Magazine like Gourmet, would go out of their way to make the following statements about a Motel.
“Just a mile and half from the Hatteras lighthouse is the Cape Pines Motel. Owners Bill Rapant, formerly of the Hotel Plaza Athenee in New York City, www.plaza-athenee.com … and his wife Angie, have lovingly and (rare in this age of hipsters-meets-old-school) unironically restored the cottage court to its pine-paneled vintage glory. It is also one of the most immaculate places I have ever – and I mean ever -- stayed.”
Gourmet Magazine - Jane Daniels Lear - April 2009 p.104
Bill and Angie Rapant
and their two dogs Heidi and Twiggy
welcome you to the Cape Pines Motel.
Day in and day out there are some of the nicest dogs walking through the arch coming from the Cape Pines Motel to visit the Old Gray House. Never have I seen such well groomed and friendly animals. Not only are the dogs friendly but their owners are also. I especially appreciate their owners picking up after them thus sparing those who walk my garden trails from having unpleasant experiences. Of course I am not really sure who is walking whom through my garden. It often appears to me that the dogs are more in control than the owners. It has been my observation over the years that we do not own our pets but they own us.
When talking to the owners of the dogs, I find that they take great pride in caring for their pets. There is a loving relationship between them. It reminds me of my favorite dog Queenie that I wrote about many years ago. Even though years have passed since my childhood days on the Island I still remember those wonderful days Queenie and I had roaming the Island together. Back then there was no leash law and we were free to run the beach together. Playing fetch on the beach with my dog was one of my favorite memories. I would toss a stick as the waves rolled out and my dog would run and get it before the waves did. This went on for hours as we ran together up and down the beach. Ah! That I could run again like I did then. Those happy days for dogs and their owners are no more on Hatteras Island. I will always cherish the fact I had the privilege of growing up on the Island before man and his pets were considered to be predators to birds. I am still having problems reconciling how our Park Service can be the defenders and protectors of wildlife and engage in destroying all the animals such as dogs, cats, coons, foxes or anything else they deem to be a predator to birds. According to the Island Free Press records show that from 2002 to 2008 the Park Service removed 311 raccoons, 163 opossums, 117 feral cats, and 157 grey and red foxes, and numerous other predators. Total predators removed totaled 828. I am sure that the total has doubled since then for it is not unusual to see a park person totting an animal out of the woods. Some have told us of coming across traps in the park with parts of animals in them where the animal struggled to get free. I have heard of such cruelty being done to animals, but in my wildest imagination I never thought our National Park would engage in such actions. There is no doubt there are some stray dogs that have been carted off as well. I would caution anyone who brings their dogs to Hatteras and Ocracoke to be careful they do not stray away. You can rest assured if they are found in the National Park they are history.
We who live on the Islands have to accept the fact the National Park shares a different view of how to live with nature than we were taught by our forefathers. It was instilled in the minds of children growing up on the Islands that everything had a purpose for living and it should not be bothered. When it came to dealing with nature we were taught to live and let live. The only killing of anything I remember was to provide food for our table. Surely the Park Service is not eating all the animals they are killing. It is not easy for us to accept the reality that the original designation of the park as a recreational area has been changed to that of a bird sanctuary without the consent of the people. It would seem to me that those who gave their land to the government for the purpose of recreation would have the right to have their land revert back to their heirs due to the change in its original intent to be used for recreation rather than a bird sanctuary. I guess you get tired of hearing me ramble on about how this Park Service has overlooked the rights of the people, and their sacred trust to defend and protect the wildlife, so I will get back to dogs walking my path.
One of the interesting things to me about the dogs I am meeting is not only their different breeds but their different personalities. No two are alike. I am not sure if their attitudes are reflective of their owners. Some are outgoing others are subdued. So far none have rejected my attempts to pet them. Occasional they will exercise caution as I reach to pet them. I have noticed that some look at their masters to see if it meets with their approval prior to allowing me to touch them. Guess dogs have been trained these days just as we instruct our children to beware of strangers. Isn’t it a shame that our world has progressed or should I say regressed to the place that everybody including animals are distrustful of everyone they meet.
Over the years I have come to understand the meaning of the phrase a dog is man’s best friend. Somebody told me that the way to keep a friend is, “Never Give Them Away”. What that means is don’t reveal your friends weakness to others or tell things about them. If you have a friend that criticizes others who are their friends you can rest assured they are doing the same to you. Dogs don’t tell things about their owners. If they did I am sure a lot of dog owners would be embarrassed. They have a sense of loyalty that is unmatched by any human being.
Some people call dogs dumb animals. As I watch people walking their dog along my path I have come to the conclusion dogs are much smarter than some of their owners. They have figured out how to control their owners. Bill at the Pines Motel has a sticker on his car that states, “My bull dog is smarter than your Honor Student”. After meeting his bull dog, Heidi who is featured as Miss May on the 2009 Outer Banks Pet Calendar you will have to agree there is a measure of truth in that statement. Bill’s Bull dog Heidi dispels the old saying “You can’t teach Old Dogs new tricks”. Contrary to what a lot of people think, you can teach old dogs new tricks. Heidi is now learning how to skate board.
|I will be waiting Outside
and Mary will be waiting Inside the Old Gray House
Dewey and Mary Parr, Owners of Old Gray House
Mary and I will be waiting for our dog friends to walk through the arch that leads to the Old Gray House. They are welcome to bring their Masters with them. By the way if you like our arch and would like to purchase one we have a crafter that will build one to your specifications.
Dogs walking path
Scroll over a picture to enlarge the images in this area
Bernese Mountain Dog Club of American
Bernese Mountain Dog Club of American
Bernese Mountain Dog Club of American
It was a pleasure to get to meet members of the Bernese Mountain Dog Club of American walking the Old Gray House Garden path. You might want to take the time to visit their web site which will tell you all about this special breed of dog.
Ghost Plants In Old Gray House Window Box
Ghost Plants In Old Gray House Window Box
As you walk the path around the Old Gray House you will notice a silver grayish looking plant in a window box that is probably the most talked about plant I have. Constantly I am asked what is that strange looking plant? My reply is it is a Ghost Plant. The next question is may I have a start? Of course I cannot provide starts of the poor little plant to everyone who asks. We have hundreds of people visiting us and wanting starts of our plants. From a distance over and over I see ladies sneaking a leaf in hope of starting it even though I tell them it probably will not live. Because of its fragile nature when they touch it other leaves fall and they immediately reach down to pick them up hoping noone will see what has happened. I did not know the technical name for this grayish plant, but because of the interest I looked it up on the Internet, or should I say, "I Goggled It". Page Pitt, the neighbor who gave it to me, said it was a, "Ghost Plant", and that was good enough for me. I guess you would have to say it is appropriately called a Ghost Plant. Six months after Page gave it to me he died. When I look at it I always think of Page and how the electric company took his house after Hurricane Emily flooded it. If you are one of those who have been taking starts from this little plant do not be surprised if you are visited by ghostly figures. If you are interested its technical name is Graptopetalum paraguayense. I am providing you this information in defense of my poor little picked over plant. Tell your nursery and garden you need a Graptopetalum paraguayense and have them get you one. You might check these web sites that will give you more information about the Old Gray House Ghost Plant.
take time to remember Humble Monument
One of the problems facing our society is a lack of concern for the accomplishments of the past. Everything we have today in this modern technological society is a result of the efforts of someone in the past. New ideas are not something that we reach up and pull out of the air. Man's quest to acquire the ability to fly is a classical example. Aviation is a product of the past, from the observation of birds in flight to a daring adventure by two brothers, Wilburn and Orville Wright, on a windy day in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. When the present day plans to have cities floating in space come to pass it will be the result of the people of the past. It is all people of the past, no matter how insignificant they might seem, who have collectively contributed to making this a better and more productive world in which to live.
Like footprints in the sand, every living creature that has walked on the face of this earth has left a mark. This mark, combined with all the other marks have culminated into the great society that we call America
To this end we dedicate this humble monument to our early forefathers who crossed these islands in an effort to forge a new and wonderful country for all future generations. Our islands have been dotted over the years with many small cemeteries with unmarked graves that merely stood as a symbol of the fact someone had been here. In the eyes of our God in Heaven all life is precious and deserves to be remembered.
FOR A BRIEF MOMENT BOW YOUR HEAD
THANK GOD FOR THE GIFT OF LIFE.
It was a common thing, when we were children roaming the Buxton Woods, to find grave sites identified with weather-worn wood markers, and outlined with whelk shells. It was thought that the whelk shell helped the spirit return safely to its original origin. Some believed if you took a whelk shell off a grave you would have bad luck for the rest of your life. Beware of the Curse of the Whelk Shell.
Spipwrecked in paradise
shipwrecked in paradise
We are often asked, how did the first inhabitants of Hatteras Island get here? Our reply is they came by way of the sea.
Many of the people in the coastal areas came from the old country aboard ships seeking excitement and fortune while others came to find peace and tranquility rather than live under constant pressure. The people on Hatteras Island appear to be of the latter type. This is displayed in the laid back attitude among the locals who are descendants of the original settlers of the island.
A small portion of the people on Hatteras Island are direct descendants of great grandparents who were ship wrecked on the island. With transportation being what it was back then once they were shipwrecked they just stayed. And why not? Think of it ! Have you ever said, I wished I were marooned on an island...No worries...No boss...No stress...Just peace and quiet. THAT IS WHAT HATTERAS ISLAND OFFERS MANY EVEN TODAY.
My great grandmother Sarah Murphy Farrow Flowers was shipwrecked on the island. She was aboard a ship coming from Newfoundland that ran aground off Hatteras Island. She as many others who were ship wrecked on the island found a warm welcome from the others islanders so she remained here.
After storms parts of shipwrecks from the past appear.
Many have been buried in the ocean and Hatteras sand for centuries.
When I see parts of a shipwreck I just naturally wonder
where it was coming from, who was aboard, and what happend
The answer to how and why people originally came to Hatteras Island can be best answered by answering the question why, do people continue to come to live on Hatteras Island?
IF YOU WANT TO GET AWAY FROM IT ALL THEN
COME TO LIVE ON CAPE HATTERAS ISLAND.
WILD CATS OF CAPE HATTERAS
basket lid wisdom
Before you reach to pet a cat on Hatteras Island we suggest you exercise caution. Many of the cats roaming the Island are descendants of a breed of cats that date back to the first settlers of the island. These cats as well as the people on Hatteras Island learned over the years how to adapt to the harsh environment.
The cats came with the ships and the people. When they first arrived on the island food was plentiful for the woods were beaming with delicacies that cats love such as small rodents, squirrels, birds and etc. Most of the Islanders always had a few cats at their kitchen door waiting for scraps. In fact the Islanders encouraged the cats to hang around for they felt they would help keep the snakes and rats away.
As the years have progressed many of the wild cats have become domesticated, but you will still occasionally run across one that has that wild look in his eye. I recently had one that kept coming to me for years, but would never ever let me pick him up. He did get so that while I was feeding him he would let me gently rub his head. He came to my door daily for food and a kind word. No matter how hard I tried to domesticate that cat he still heard the call of the wild and strayed off in the woods.
You know there is a lot of men and women like that. It is almost impossible to domesticate a man or woman that has a streak of wild in them.
REMEMBER WHEN YOU PET A HATTERAS CAT YOU PET IT AT YOUR OWN RISK.
THE HERB OF REMEMBRANCE
One of the oldest herbs known to man. Through the ages, rosemary has been credited with healing wounds, alleviating headaches, inducing sleep, and restoring memory, hair, and youth. There are many legends about rosemary, such as: Rosemary grows only in the garden of the righteous. Where rosemary flourishes, the woman ruleth. The blue color of the flower came from the Virgin Mary, who dried her cloak on a rosemary bush.
Uses: A natural with pork and veal. Used in stews, herbal butters, vinegar, jam bread. Oil used in perfumes and toiletries, leaves and flowers used in sachets and potpourris.
At the Old Gray House we have adopted Rosemary as our favorite herb. The soft scent of Rosemary reminds us of the good old days when Grand-mother Gray’s kitchen always had a pot of something good simmering on the wood burning stove.
When you visit the Old Gray House we will give you a sprig of
Rosemary picked from our garden to remind you of your visit.
Come Visit Us Soon
Where did the early settlers of Hatteras Island obtain the materials to build their homes? The majority of the supplies came from the Buxton woods or materials washed up after storms or shipwrecks. Some where fortunate enough to have the finances to pay for supplies to be brought in by boats from the mainland. It was almost virtually impossible to bring a wagon load of lumber from the mainland on the island due to the soft sand. This being the case they used what they had or what was provided by the sea.
A good example of this is the construction of the Old Gray House. Many of the beams and rafters were mast off of old ships that had shipwrecked. The Old Gray house was sitting on a foundation of stumps. The amazing thing is they lasted this long even though the centers rotted out. The upstairs floor was made out of odds and ends, boards primarily from shipping boxes that had washed up on the beach. Occasionally after shipwrecks, if they were close enough to the shore, the men would swim out to them and acquire additional treasures such as hardware, doors and etc. they could add to their homes.
The door this is posted on is a good example of this. This door was the original front door off of the Old Gray House. After a ship ran aground close to the beach, Kendrick Gray swam out and floated it, back to the shore. The old door was one of his greatest treasures and he loved to tell about it. Another one of his treasures was a mirror that he obtained from a shipwreck. Now is the time for me to say what you often say, how I wish I had kept all of those family treasures that had a story to tell?
The Buxton woods was probably the greatest single provider of building supplies for home and boat building. If you look closely under the Old Gray house as with many other older homes on the island you will find the floor joist are either logs that have been flattened on top or squared with an axe. At one __ time there was a saw mill set up in the Buxton woods.
The next time you visit your forefathers old home place take the time to appreciate their ingenuity in providing a home for their family. They used what they had.
One of the problems in today's world is that we are producing a generation of young people who no longer appreciate the past. They are spoiled rotten just like an adult who walked in the old gray house, looked around, stuck her nose up in the air and said to us as she headed for the door, How could anybody live in a place like this? Poor thing.. ..Sure would hate to be her husband. She forgot where she came from.
YOU HAVE TO KNOW THE PAST TO APPRECIATE THE PRESENT
Do You Remember The Good Ole Days?
Grandma’s Washing Machine
The back yard was the center of activity for such functions: as washing clothes, bathing, tanning hides, and so forth. Bath and wash water were hand pumped early in the morning so the sun could heat it.
At the corner of the house was a salt barrel full of salted fish. Grandpa and the boys saw to it that a slab of salted drum was always available.
The back yard was lined with a row of large fig trees that provided the family with fig preserves all year around. The fig trees were also a good place to dry clothes in the sun.
During trapping season hides were hung on a pole rack to cure before they were sold to traders who crossed the island a couple of times a year.
What woman could want for more than this?
Hatteras Underground Pears
My Explanation Why the Trees and Vegetation Are Disappearing So Fast On
Cape Hatteras Island
From years of unscientific observation it is my opinion that the reason, other than cutting of the trees or the major destruction by storms, is the removal of the vines. This Island once had trees covered and tied together by vines. The vines prevented the severe winds from ripping the trees apart. They protected the foliage from the salt spray and the scorching sun.
When I was a child we were able to climb to the top of trees on the vine canopy that covered them. Wow, what fun that was.
Clearing and cultivation of the soil has destroyed the underground network of vine roots that once acted as a means of maintaining the Island vine covering. I used to say that if you would lay on the ground for a week you would be strapped down by the vines that would spring up out of the ground around you. Probably the one most valuable vine covering we had was the one we called Bramble Briar. I call its roots Hatteras underground pears. It has a root system that reaches far and wide underground. It is this root system that made it such a strong sturdy vine always ready to pop out of the ground. The leaves are leathery and the vine is tough almost like wire and has little barbs on it. It does not derive its nutrients from the trees. The only danger is that it could prevent the tree leaves from getting enough sunlight. Nature seemed to work that out for over the years the trees continued to survive.
Bramble Briar Vine
The best way to protect the trees is to stop the needless cutting of them and to encourage the original vine covering to return to the Island. We need to allow all land not being used to return back to its natural state.
Help Save Our Hatteras Island Trees
Walking the Nettie Peele path
Walking toward the nettie peele path
Nettie Peele, a sweet little lady, lived at the end of this path in a small Hatteras box-type house. She never did anything that the world might take time to honor her for. However, she was a person that I will always remember. Every day Miss Nettie walked this path to the Old Gray House to visit with my grandmother Gray. The path at that time was like a tunnel due to the dense under-brush and vine-covered trees. You have to also know that back then this area was all woods. There where no other houses in the entire area except Miss Nettie's, and The Old Gray House. Probably the one thing I remember most about Miss Nettie was that when I would come running up the Dark Ridge path after school to say Hi to Grandma she was always there ready to give me a hug and kiss. She would tease me by puckering up her mouth like a dried prune before planting that kiss on my cheek.
Now that I am older as I look back I realize that it was people like Miss Nettie, full of love for the children around her, that molded my life and helped me form my present value structure. The older I get the more I realize it is not all of the material gifts that we give children that count. It is just taking the time to listen to them, and let them know we love them. I have come to the conclusion that the greatest mistake we make after our children grow up is we as parents won't let go. We cannot live their lives. Our only job after they move on is to continue to love them regardless of the mistakes they might make as they walk the path of life.
The world may never remember the many mothers who struggled, all alone, like Miss Nettie to raise her children in a little house in the Buxton woods. To me she is a shinning symbol of a mother devoted to her children.
Walking back toward the old gray house
Buxton Sand Road In the 1930’s
Sand roads wound through trees under a canopy of vines wide enough
for a Model T Ford to chug down the road.
The original name of the road in front of the Old Gray House was the Dark Ridge Road. It was called the Dark Ridge because even during the daytime it was dark and dreary, due to the intense growth of trees covered with vines. The trees and vines reached across and the bushes were so thick on each side that it created a tunnel effect. Even though it was called a road it was more like a wide sand path that went to the Buxton School. This was the sand path I used everyday after school to see what kind of goodies Grandmother Gray had waiting for me.
Dark Ridge Road and Gray House Garden
This is a picture of my classroom in the Old Buxton School House that was at the end of the Dark Ridge Road. Can you guess which one is me? Clue I am wearing a Montgomery Ward Catalog outfit. I despised that outfit, but Mom made me wear it for dress up.
It is interesting to note that Old Gray House was the only house located on the Dark Ridge Road at that time with the exception of the old Miller home where my buddy Ray lived.
Across the Dark Ridge Road directly in front of the Gray House was the Gray family garden. The garden tapered down to the muddy marsh ditch which made it convenient for obtaining water for the garden. Back then we did not have any electricity or irrigation system so we hauled our water or pumped it to water our gardens. During severe storms the lower end of the garden would flood from the sound water.
The garden rewarded the Gray family members with beautiful vegetables, especially root crops. A small root cellar made by using logs and then covering it with sand was located at the upper end of the garden. The root cellar along with the family oyster bed, fish fowl, crabs, clams, and animals from the Buxton woods kept the family supplied all winter with an abundance of food.
The Garden Spot is now owned by the Buxton Electric Company. When I was a child you could stand in front of the Old Gray House and look toward the south and see nothing but trees and the sky. Progress brought the parking lot and wire jungle you now see. The name of the road has been changed from Dark Ridge Road to Light Plant Road.
The Bead Tree
the bead tree
The Chinaberries at the Top of This Forty Foot Tree at the
Old Gray House Are Ready To Be Fashioned Into Necklaces
One of my favorite trees is the Chinaberry Tree (Melia azedarach) or commonly called the Bead Tree. It was brought to America from China sometime in the 1800’s. It is a rapidly growing drought resistant tree that has purplish flowers in the spring. I found you can vigorously trim it and it will sprout right back. After flowering it develops green smooth hard berries that yellow and swivel up with age. At one time people used it as an ornamental shade tree but it became unpopular because of the mess its shedding leaves and berries make. It is an invasive tree due to the birds spreading its seeds.
The reason I call it the Bead Tree is that its seeds can be fashioned into necklaces and bracelets. When the seeds dry they have little ridges and woodsy look.
To begin to making your chinaberry creation, you will need to collect about 100 or more Chinaberries and add them to a pot of boiling water. Boil them until hulls come loose. Drain the water and pour the berries out on old newspaper. This will make it easier for you to discard the hulls. Let them cool enough to peel the hulls off the seeds. Remove the remaining hulls from the seeds and drop them back into the pot with clean water. Boil again for a few minutes to remove the remainder of hulls.
Thread a needle with 20-pound test or whatever fishing line you have. The old timers used cat gut. Look close at the end of the seeds and you will see a hole in which to insert the needle. Thread the line through the seeds until you have the desired length of a necklace or bracelet.
Hint: When I am threading the line through the seeds, I use a pair of pliers to pull the needle through the seed. You will probably break the point off your needle, but it does save your finger from being stuck. .
After you have completed this task tie the two ends of your necklace, bracelet or garland together and hang up to dry. It will dry with a woodsy look. If you prefer you can color your creation with food coloring or use authentic natural coloring. I have found it is easier to color them before you let them dry. The islanders colored the seeds by dipping them in crushed beet or pokeberry juice. When using pokeberry juice, exercise caution. It has been determined that the seeds and roots of pokeweed are toxic if taken internally.
This is a picture of a Chinaberry Necklace I made for Mary.
When you give someone Chinaberry Jewelry you have made yourself, it is a true labor of love. You will understand this better after you make a necklace and bracelet because of the time and effort it takes.
As you walk along my garden path you will notice a number of deep green bushes that have popped up here and there over the years. Some look as if they have been well pruned. Others are straggly reaching to a height of about seven feet. You will notice that most of them are at the base of larger trees. These bushes are evergreens with deep dark green glossy leaves. A sturdy leaf structure is of great importance in the harsh Hatteras weather. If you look closely at the leaves of the vegetation that seems to survive here you will notice that many of the leaves on the trees differ from those of the same species inland. Over the years our shrubs and trees have adapted their leaves to withstand days and days of blowing wind and severe storms that can strip the leaves off of plants. Our oak tree leaves are a good example. When people from off the Island ask me what kind of tree is that, and I say an oak tree, they look at me in amazement. They say the oaks back home don’t look like that. That is when I go into my adaptation theory that supersedes the evolution theory. People as well as plants adapt to environmental or physical changes. My ears are a good example. They are getting bigger because of my hearing loss. My body is adapting by growing bigger ears so that it can channel the sounds inside my head. That’s not evolution. That is adaptation.
How did the Bird Bush get here? The answer is a result of the birds. In the spring small white flowers appear on the Bird Bush. After the blooms drop off small green seeds begin to appear. Over the winter they turn black. Every spring my garden becomes a stopping off place for Black Birds that strip the black seeds off of the Bird Bush. They grab seeds and fly up in the trees to eat them. As they do they drop seeds here and there, mostly around the trunks of the trees on which they are sitting. Those seeds take root and soon a new Bird Bush appears. That is why we call it the Bird Bush. Somebody told me it was a Legustrum. Probably is, but the leaves and structure of the plant seems to be sturdier. You call it what you will, but I will continue to call it the Bird Bush.
Here is something for you to think about. If you dig a pond in an open field and never stock it with fish, how can you account for fish appearing in your pond? Talk to the birds. I bet they can tell you. I would call the fish in that pond Bird Fish.
Path Ponderings: Legend of the Dooms Day Spider
Legend of the Dooms Day Spider
As you walk the Old Gray House Garden Path Often you come upon a large spider web clinging to the branches of the under brush. They are more prominent in the fall than in mid summer. The spider on the web has very distinctive colors. It is decorated with marking of black and yellow. As a result of the story told me about this spider in my early childhood on the Island, I never tamper with this old spider. I was told this was the Dooms Day or the Alphabet Spider and that if I looked in his web and saw my initials there my time had come. When I first heard this story I would creep slowly and very cautiously peek at the Dooms Day Spiders web to see if my name was written there. My suggestion to you is do not tamper with the spider webs you see in my garden for who knows you might cause the old spider to start spinning your initials in his web. Now I don't profess to be superstitious, but why tempt fate to find out. Should you see your initials written in the Doom Days Spiders web I urge you to get your house in order for your days could be numbered.
Clarence Looking At The Dooms Day Spider
Even Though I am Older Today I Still Take Time To Look
To See If My Initials Are Written There
To the Islanders this was not just having fun with the kids it was a teaching tool. They used stories to provide instructions on how to live properly. The number one lesson they were tying to get across to us was not to mess with Mother Nature. They wanted us to understand that every living organism had a purpose for living, including such an insignificant things as a spider. If nothing else, they view spiders valuable for they ate mosquitoes. The adults feared the black widow and the brown recluse spider. They knew how the brown recluse in particular could do you serious damage such as literally cause your flesh to rot. By telling us this story we learned to leave all spider webs alone and not destroy them as well as all forms of life.
The other lesson they where trying to get across to us is that we need to realize life is short at its best and that we needed to make the best of it while we had it. They also wanted us to be mindful that we need to live good clean lives so that when our time did come we would be ready to go. Are you ready?
The Dooms Day spider or Writing Spider is a big garden spider that is not considered toxic to humans. It as most spiders has a sting that paralyzes it's prey. When you look at its web you see a mass of zig zaggin of the threads in the center , which it uses to strengthen its web and conceal the spider behind it. It is in this area you look to see what the Writing Spider has written. You will probably see the spider concealed behind this clump of threads. . It is said they eat the center portion of the web and rebuild it daily. This spider spins a web strong enough to hold large size insects and even small green frogs.
If it is a large spider it is probably a female for they are much bigger than the males. The males are skinner than the females. Males are only about ¾ in. compared to the female who grows to 1and ¾ in. They only breed once a year which results in the male's death. The female wraps her babies to be in a neat little sack and attaches them to her web or some near by twig and watches over them before she dies in the late fall. The babies emerge from their little brown sack by the hundreds and the life cycle of the Dooms Day Spider repeats itself. It is said they eat the center portion of the web and rebuild it daily. This spider spins a web strong enough to hold large size insects. I have seen even small size green frogs entangled in their webs.
When you walk the Old Gray House Garden Path you will see Spanish-moss (Tillandsia usneoides) hanging from the trees. In the early history of Hatteras it was plentiful. You saw oak trees loaded with moss. For some reason it prefers oak trees, but I have noticed that is also grows well on tall crepe myrtle branches.
Island children, me included, used it in playing. We would pretend we were old men by tucking it under our caps for hair and then draping it from to ear to ear to form a beard. I guess that is why in some places it is known as the old mans beard.
I am often asked by visitors why they do not see much Spanish moss on other parts of the Island. It is due to all the needless clearing of the trees. When the building boom first came there was little regard for the trees. The first thing they did was bull-doze everything from the property before they began to build. Builders took the path of least resistance, rather than attempt to work around the trees. As a result the entire Island suffered. There was no longer any place left for anything to grow and what was left was exposed to the fierce winds of the storms and the scorching sun. It was an accepted fact to the earlier settlers that once you cleared a piece of property and exposed it to what they called the boiling sun and blowing wind you could not easily reclaim it. Islanders cherished their oak trees like they were members of their families. To them the oak tree was sign of security. You will find that many of the old deeds name oak trees as their property markers.
Things You Might Like to Know about Spanish moss
What is it?
Spanish moss is an air plant.
It is a member of the pineapple family.
Will it hurt the trees No! It is not a parasite. It does not derive its nutrients by extracting it through roots embedded into the trees. The only danger it presents to the trees is that it deprives the trees leaves of sunlight. This means the leaves cannot manufacture the chlorophyll needed to sustain growth. It also can be responsible for weighing down the limbs of the tree so they break easier.
What are its requirements for growth? It likes sunlight, partial shade, and moisture. It does have the ability to store moisture which will carry it through dry periods. It derives its nutrients from the dust in the air
How is it used? Today it is mostly used as a decorative item in the production of crafts. Gardeners and florist use it around the base of plants. In times past it was treated and used in mattresses and even stuffing for automobile seats. Some people purportedly brewed a tea out of it thinking it had medicinal purposes.
Why should it be treated before using?
In its natural state as you see it in the Gray House garden it collects insects, such as spiders, and bird drippings, that could be harmful. I have also seen tree snakes concealing themselves in it as they lie in wait for birds or other prey. It is for this reason I advise our guests to refrain from pulling it out of the trees. The Moss you buy in craft stores has been cleaned and treated.
Will it grow back home? It is very doubtful unless you live in the Southern States along the coastal areas. It requires a warm climate, but can stand short periods of cold weather.
Spanish-moss has long been associated with the Deep South and conjures up visions of swamp areas where crocodiles and snakes dwell. At the Gray House you will find the moss we have left stands as a reminder of past laid-back peaceful way of life on Hatteras Island.
As you walk my garden path you will see coconuts collected from the beach.
At The Old Gray House, “We Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts”
Coconuts Collected From Hatteras Beach
I have always had a fascination with Coconuts. I guess this fascination was borne out of my early adventures on the Hatteras beach. After storms it was the custom of all the Islanders to head to the beach to see what washed ashore. The currents coming from the Caribbean brought us many gifts by way of the Gulf Stream. Often there would be coconuts, pieces of bamboo, and exotic types of plants washed up onto the beach. The coconuts were of a particular interest to me. I would imagine monkeys swinging by their tails in the coconut trees. I also thought of the natives, on some island far away, climbing the coconut trees and cutting the coconuts and tossing them to the ground to use for food and drink.
Sometimes I would find coconuts with holes in them. There would be the remains of small colored tropical fish, and even unusual shells, lodged inside of them. My first impulse when I found a coconut on the beach was to shake it and listen to the coconut milk swish back and forth. I could picture the natives in the Islands drinking from the coconuts.
In some places they call the coconut palm the “tree of life”. It is said that if you were marooned on an island where coconuts grew that you could survive on the fruit from the tree and use the tree to provide you with shelter.
It was fun for me to see to see how many different things I could make from the coconuts. Some of the broken ones made great containers for plants and others were easily fashioned into bird houses or small bowls.
During World War II my father was in the Pacific Islands. When he came back from the war he brought me a coconut and small hand carved outrigger canoe. I kept both of them for many years. They not only reminded me of my father but the many stories he told me about what life was like on tropical Islands.
In the tropics they have a crab called the coconut crab. It is different from our crab in that it lives on land even though it has its beginning in the water. From claw to claw it grows to almost three feet. Now that is a big crab. It has very powerful pinchers. It can break open a coconut and even cut dents into metal. Over the years the coconut crab earned the reputation of being a pest that damaged or took things that that did not belong to him. Islanders claimed that they stole their pots and pans and chewed up everything in sight. This is why it became know as the Robber Crab.
During the war when soldiers would lay their boots outside at night by their huts the coconut crab would carry them off or chew them up. They soon learned to keep everything secure from the pesky night crawler. To the soldiers the coconut crab became know as the Pest of the Pacific.
This little crab did itself an injustice by becoming such a pest. Mankind has gotten back at the Coconut Crab for his mischievous behavior. Today this pesky little crab is almost extinct because of being so bothersome. In many areas its meat is considered a delicacy and it is hunted for food to such a degree that over harvesting has almost caused its extinction.
I keep a preserved coconut crab on my desk as an example of what can happen to any species that becomes a pest in our society. Having witnessed first hand from my teaching experience, I can attest to the fact that children who become know as pests can bring a lot of trouble to themselves. Parents need to remind their children that if they taunt and tease other children it will lead to trouble for the entire family as well as themselves.
I keep a coconut crab on my desk as a reminder how the world reacts to pests.
My fascination with coconuts remains as prominent today as it did when I was a child running to the beach after storms to collect them. Today what fascinates me most are the many crafts created from coconuts. When you visit the Old Gray House take time to see the many different ways coconuts are used.
If you are walking the beach and find a coconut and you don’t have anything to do with it I would welcome having it to put in the Old Gray House Garden.
Dewey “Sonny” Parr
Holding Coconuts He Collected From The Beach
My garden path has many things to ponder, one of which is the significance of Beach Bricks. Some times when I am walking the beach I will notice small pieces of reddish or orange colored pieces of bricks. Occasionally I will find a good size brick that is rounded from rolling in the waves. Other times when I am reaching down to collect shells I will find very small pieces that resemble pebbles that makes me wonder how long did it take for the waves to grind a full size brick down to mere pebble. It has always fascinated me as to the power of the waves and mysteries of the ocean.
My fondest recollection of Hatteras Beach Bricks was in the cold winter months watching my mother and grandmother line them up on the edge of the wood burning stove. They had a special brick they had collected from the beach for each member of the family. You could tell it was getting near time for the children to go to bed for they would begin to take the bricks off the stove one by one and lovingly wrap them in a clean feed sack. When you saw your brick being removed from the stove you knew tucking in time was at hand for you soon would be headed for slumber land.
One by one they tucked in the children with a warm brick at their feet and covered them with a home made quilt. Many a Hatteras Island child was tucked in night after night with a Beach Brick at their feet. When I see a Hatteras Island Beach Brick in my heart I thank God for mother’s who not only warmed their children’s feet but also their hearts with their love and concern.
Note: Bricks or Rocks were not a common item to be found on Hatteras Island. Many of the pieces of bricks you see on the beach came from the building of the lighthouse.
Some Questions You Might Ask Yourself When You See a Beach Brick
- Where did the bricks come from in the lighthouse?
- How did they transport the bricks to the location where the lighthouse was?
- Where any bricks lost at sea on the way?
- Are the bricks in the lighthouse different from the bricks made today?
- How many bricks are in the lighthouse?
When you find the answers come by the Old Gray House and share your them with me so we both will know. Ask a Park Ranger.
These are pictures I took of different gas sign boards on the Island. As small an area as our Island is it is interesting to notice the difference in prices and how they change from day to day. Also notice the use of 9/10 cents. Guess by doing this it makes us feel we are paying less.
Probably the most talked about subject these days by the visitors to the Old Gray House is the price of gasoline. Over and over men in particular mention what it cost them to fill up on the way down to the Island. From what I am hearing I have concluded gas prices are like watching the floor indicator on an elevator. The numbers go up and down. Nobody knows for sure where it will finally stop.
To help you see the escalation in gas prices over the years I have posted this picture and chart along the Old Gray House Garden Path that gives a true picture of what we are in for in the future. One thing you can rest assured we will never see inexpensive gas in America again.
This chart has brought me a lot of enjoyment. Sometimes I see the ladies looking around to see if anyone is watching before they point to the year they were born. Ladies I promise, should I see you pointing to the year you were born I will not divulge your age. I am not ashamed of my age so I will tell you gas was .17 cents a gallon the year I was born. This is your chance to check the price of gas the year you were born without anyone knowing your age.
Photo from Standard Oil of N.J. Collection.
Photographic Archives, University of Louisville
Hydrangeas or Mop Heads
One of the most interesting flowering plants along the garden path at the Old Gray House is Grandmothers Gray’s Hydrangea Bush. To best of my knowledge it would be approaching one hundred years old. I am not sure of the longevity of a hydrangea bush, but I know there has been one in that spot for that period of time or longer. It is located facing southwest and gets water that drops from the eaves of the roof, and less than a half day sun. The blooms on it are not as large as they used to be mostly due to lack of sunlight because of the growth of surrounding trees. In times past the blooms were about a foot wide and the colors ranged from deep blue to pink and then slowly changed to different shades of pink and blue until they became the color of an old fashioned cloth mop. When you cut a long stem and hold it upside down it would resemble a mop. I guess that is why they came up with the term Mop Heads.
They tell me that if you can change the colors by adding aluminum to the soil to make them blue or remove the aluminum to make them pink. Somebody else told me that to change the colors you add lime or sulfur to the soil. I have done neither for I am like the past Islanders. I let things grow naturally in our barren soil. Over the years I can not recall islanders doing anything to the soil. In fact I do not recall them doing much of anything to their yards. They just went with what was naturally there. If they did anything it was to remove the briars and wild cactus that popped up here and there. A good example was my back yard that was full of briars. You could not walk across it without getting stuck. My father worked constantly trying to remove them and the job was passed on to me after he crossed over. It was years before I finally succeeded in getting rid of them. Most island yards were nothing more than sand with wild flox covering them throughout the summer months. The introduction of grass lawns on the island did not appear until the late forties and early fifties. I can recall my father transporting Bermuda grass from Norfolk Virginia every time he went to visit my sister and planting it in our yard. It was considered a real accomplishment to have a green lawn. In fact it still is. I have observed that after severe storms and hurricanes the composition of the soil seems to change. Some things that grew well in one spot no longer thrive while in other areas they seem to do ok. I also notice that the blooms on the some hydrangea bushes in a stationary location can be blue one year and the next year they are pink. I guess it is a result of an excessive amount of salt and other things being deposited in the soil from the storms that cross the Island.
It is over one
hundred years old
I decided to go modern and learn from the Master Gardeners so I took a start from grandmother Grays Mop Heads, by layering, and planting it so that it gets the morning sun for half day, and the water off the roof. Another thing I will no longer do is to trim it back. I learned that Mop Heads are like Azaleas. They set their blooms early in the fall months for the next year. I never recall anyone pruning except to cut the blooms that you can do at anytime.
I have never been much on fertilizing. It seems to be a useless adventure on Hatteras due to sandy soil. You put the fertilizer down and the rains wash it away so fast the roots of the plants don’t get a chance to absorb it. Mulching also has seemed like a waste of time. In the dry season when the wind blows constantly for a couple of weeks without any rain, the dry mulch blows away and all you have is bare sand. I have decided to put into practice what I learn from others about fertilizing Hydrangeas. I am experimenting to see what will happen. They said to fertilize them twice a year, once in August and the other time in May. This August I am applying some fertilizer and I will do it again in May. Some of my blooms now measure a foot across. Colors on the blooms fluctuate between pink and blue. Just for fun I might try changing the soil composition by adding aluminum. I can hardly wait to see what will happen. Hope it doesn’t kill the bush.
As Grandmother Gray's Hydrangea blooms
age they take on hues of green and gray.
Hydrangea makes a great cut flower for decorating the house. I have deep blue blooms sitting in a vase that have been there for well over two weeks. The blooms are just now starting to slowly fade. It is a lot of enjoyment to watch the colors slowly change. I have never succeeded in learning to dry them to use in arrangements. I can remember seeing dried mop heads in homes on the Island. But as I recall there was nothing fancy about the way they did it. I had heard all you had to do is cut them off and hang them upside down so I tried that. They definitely did not resemble a mop. They became long strings of an ugly nothing. I was told by an Islander to cut the blooms early in the day when they are at their peak. Put the booms into a large vase of water. Let them stay there until the water is completely gone. Do not add more water. When the water is completely gone the blooms will be dry, and keep most of their color. Living on Hatteras it is hard to find a place where there is not a high humidity. They say you can dye or spray paint them. That is something that I will begin to experiment with. I can imagine the enjoyment it would be to have Mop Heads to look at during the winter months. Of course the real enjoyment would be to know you dried them yourself.
If you have a secret you would like to share with me about how to care for Hydrangeas I would like to hear from you. E-mail me at OuterBanksShells.com
This hydrangea cutting looks like a rag mop
ready to mop the floor. Can you see why
Hydrangeas became known as Mop Heads?
"> By the way if you are really interested in how to grow and care for Hydrangeas you might want to check out this web site I ran across. It will tell you all you need to know about Mop Heads. www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com
Herbs and Hurricanes
Herbs and Hurricanes
As you walk the Garden Path you will notice new beds of mints. At one time I had many different types of mints and herbs to enjoy and share with those who visited the Gray House Garden. Many of the them were gifts from visitors who were kind enough to share plants with me. I had worked for hours making tags on shingles for all of my mints and herbs listing their scientific names and providing their uses throughout history. All of my efforts were lost as the result of a Hurricane in September of 1993 called Emily. Emily not only devastated my garden but did severe damage to the village of Buxton. Water came up to the shrubs in front of the Old Gray House and we lost all of our pine trees. Our only damage to the Old Gray House structure was a piece of the tin roof was upturned. The news media said Hurricane Emily “brushed Buxton”. It didn’t just brush us, it almost swept us clean. After Hurricane Emily I was unable to get anything to grow. I assume it was due to the extreme amount of salt that was deposited in the soil. Once again after 16 years I am attempting to restore herbs back to the Old Gray House Garden. I decided to start with mints since my friend Bill from over at the Pines Motel brought me a start of Peppermint.
I am inserting a portion of the article from the Wikipedia free encyclopedia to give you some idea of how much damage was done to Buxton as a result of Hurricane Emily. Many of you ask me often what happened to the pine trees on the Island. Emily snapped them and then the Pine Beetles took over. I had six huge pine trees fall in the Old Gray House Garden. I am indebted to the National Guard for helping me remove them.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Hurricane Emily (1993)
Hurricane Emily was a Category 3 hurricane during the 1993 Atlantic hurricane season. On September 1, the storm brushed the Outer Banks of North Carolina before heading back out to sea. Despite coming within miles of North Carolina as a major hurricane, the storm caused only three deaths and $50 million (2004 US dollars) in damages.
In Cape Hatteras, Emily damaged 553 homes beyond repair from its near-direct hit and strong winds. In addition, officials cut power to Hatteras Island fearing that downed power lines could start a fire. The area most affected by Hurricane Emily was Buxton, North Carolina, where a 10.2-foot (3.1 m) storm surge and a maximum of 7.5 inches (190 mm) of rain occurred. On Highway 12, there were reports of sinkholes caused by heavy rains, some of which swallowed up three four-wheel-drive vehicles. Because Emily hit during Labor Day weekend, the tourism industry suffered after Emily, losing $10 million when 160,000 were evacuated from northeastern North Carolina.  Storm surge and flooding left 25% of the population of Cape Hatteras homeless, causing Dare County to issue a federal disaster declaration.  Emily's high winds uprooted trees, downed power lines, tore off roofs, and, combined with its heavy flooding, caused $35 million (1993 US dollars) in damage, a lesser total than expected. In addition, Emily's limited effects only caused two deaths in North Carolina when two swimmers in Nags Head drowned.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Click here to read the whole article
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Mint Myths is the latest posting you will find on the Garden Path.
Mint has been a pleasure and fascination for the Islanders for many years. As a child, roaming the woods of our maritime forest, I do not recall mint growing wild. Mint likes moist, rich soil, an item that was a scarce item on the island. It was a lucky Islander who had a pot of mint to share with others.
In mythology, Menthe was a young girl who caught the eye of Pluto, ruler of the underworld. Pluto's wife, Persephone, in a jealous rage, trod Menthe underfoot. In order to please his wife, Pluto, changed Menthe into the delightful little herb called Mint, to be trod upon forever.
Mints have been used for centuries as antiseptics to aid digestion. The ancient Greeks and Romans crowned themselves with peppermint during their feasting and rubbed it on their tables before seating guests. In India many still scent their rooms by hanging fresh bunches of mint in front of an open window or door. In America we use mint as a garnish, flavoring for candies, and toothpaste. It is also used as a floral centerpiece on picnic tables to ward off flies.
Many deprive themselves of the joy of mint because of the myth that you don't dare plant mint in your garden because you cannot control it. True it is invasive, but it is well worth the effort. An easy way to control it is to plant it in tiles or pots buried in the ground so that the roots will not run.
Mint makes a great learning experience for children. Line up different types of mint for the children to observe. Let the children rub and smell the leaves. Ask them to describe the smell and give it a name. Share with them how mint is used in our world today: such things as flavoring for candy, tooth paste and etc. It will help the child to develop a deep appreciation for nature.
Friends of The Old Gray House: If you have any comments you can contact us at OuterBanksShells.com