January 11 – Thanks and farewell (for now)

And now, having posted all of those seasonal mashup photos, the time has come for me to draw the curtain on this incarnation of ObserVA.  My year of observing the cycle of life in rural central Virginia has come to a close, and having done what I set out to do, I am–at least temporarily–considering this a finished project.

In reaching the end, I want to extend sincere appreciation and gratitude to the folks who have taken the time to read this, who have expressed their support in person or who have written supportive comments.  It’s a wonderful part of doing a project like this in 2013 that you don’t have to work in a vacuum, that you can get more or less instant feedback from the folks who are reading what you write.

I am looking forward to going back and reading the entries.  For the past year, I have been so focused on writing and moving forward, that I’ve done almost literally no re-reading of past days, so I’m excited about doing that.

I still intend to keep taking photos and writing when I can.  If I’ve learned anything this past year, it’s that there’s always something new and interesting to see, and that there’s pretty much nothing I’d rather do than to spend my waking hours wandering around in the outdoors observing whatever plants, animals, and fungus I come across (actually, I kind of already knew that last bit, but it certainly hasn’t changed).  Over the upcoming weeks/months/years, I may continue to post updates in ObserVA, but I will no longer be pushing myself to post weekly or several times each week, as I have been for the past year.  It was a good writing discipline, and I am proud that I made myself do it, but I am also ready to shift to a more relaxed gear.  I will also be doing more writing for the Twin Oaks blog–Running in ZK , which is a fun blog about various aspects of life at Twin Oaks Community.  You should check it out if you’re interested in what it’s like to live in a modern intentional community.   I’ve been thinking about writing an irregular “nature of Twin Oaks” feature for Running in ZK, which would draw upon some of what I’ve learned and observed over the past year with this journal.  Certainly if I write anything that seems appropriate to OberVA,, I will cross post in both blogs.

And, finally, I’m thinking about putting together a Shutterfly photo book, with my favorite photographs from each month.  If I go ahead and do that, I will post something here to show people what it looks like and see if anyone wants to order one (at cost of course, I certainly don’t need to make any extra $).  I will probably do that sometime during the cold dark days of winter and let y’all know when it’s done.

And with that, I’ll sign off.  Thanks again for following along, it’s been quite the educational experience.   And if you’re ever out here in Central Virginia, drop me a line and come for a visit.  ‘Till then…


January 10 — photo montages part two

On with the photo montages!  Thanks everyone for your warm response to yesterdays posting.  Here’s the second half of the year.

Starting with this photo of the meadow at High South.  The first one is from early July, and the second was from yesterday.


This one’s pretty amazing.  It’s kind of hard to believe that these two photos are from the same spot– the flowing creek and little orange chanterelles from July are quite a contrast with the barren icy bleakness of January.


Another photo from the pond– not much left from July’s lillies.


I’m not sure which of these two pairs of photos I like better, so I’ll post them both.  The contrast of colors at this one particular spot in the creek are striking!Image


The first photo in each of these pairs was from back in August, when the garden was in full swing.  Not much growing there in mid-January.



Although not in the same exact spot, both of these photos were taken in the graveyard.  The first was also from August.Image

Quite a difference in the Kaweah backyard orchard between late August and now.


Some more pond photos.  Again, the first photo in both of these pairs was taken in late August.


It’s nice to look at all the dead gray vegetation and know that in a few months, there will be flowers blooming.Image

Three photos of the flowform– the first was from August, right after I cleaned them.  The second was in November, after we’d had a few killing frosts, and the third was taken yesterday.Image


I especially like this pair.  In the first photo from September, you see the limit of the annual growth of our banana tree.  At this point, we were about a month away from our first frost.  Not much of the tree is left in January, but the roots and base of the stump survive to grow again in the spring.


Three views of the pasture above the pond; September, November, and January.


In Septemer, masses of yellow Goldenrod lined the roads.  If you look closely, you can still see the dried up flowerheads.Image

Which is more than you can see in the more tended flowerbeds.  I remember being impressed that there were still so many September flowers in bloom in the MT garden (first set of photos) and the triangle garden at the end of the driveway (second set of photos).  Nothing is blooming this time of year.



One last set of photos from September, showing the courtyard as seen from the cow pasture below.  It was hard to get this photo in January, since if you’re looking to the South, everything is so backlit with low winter light.


October and November gave us some beautiful displays of leaf color.  Here are the trees out in front of my house in late October, and again yesterday.Image

And here’s a fairly striking view of the backyard orchard.  In the top photo, the first frost had killed the leaves on the fig trees less than a week earlier.  In the lower photo, several days of single-digit cold may have killed most of the figs’ above-ground branches as well.


Well into November, there were places in the community where the leaves were pretty spectacular.


This Japanese Maple was in full color a couple of months ago.  It’s hard to believe it’s the same tree now.


And that’s all I’ve got for photo mash-ups.  I was planning on writing some sort of tearful eloquent farewell and calling it a year, but the hour is getting late, and I’m not ready to “pull the plug” just yet.  So I guess I’ll have to keep ol ObserVA alive for at least one more post.  Thanks for all the positive feedback on the last group of photos that I posted yesterday.  Till next time…

Jan 9 2014– A new year! And photo montages: part one

And now dear readers, it’s 2014, and the ObserVA project is getting very near the end.  The wheel has come full-circle, from the dead of winter back to the dead of winter, which means that I too will be rolling along to new projects.  As 2013 was nearing its end, I was thinking about the best way to wrap up the journal, and I thought about re-shooting landscape photos that I’d shot throughout the year, and posting them side-by side in order to really accentuate the change of the seasons.  I had planned to accomplish this very early in the new year, maybe on the first or second day of January.

But, as always, you have your plans for life, and life has its plans for you.  After a delightful New Years eve party, I was playing some vigorous Ultimate Frisbee on a pleasantly warm New Years Day when I suffered a sports-type injury (I’ll spare you the details), which has left me laid up for most of the past week.  During that time, we had our first snowfall of the year (about an inch, and it lasted for a couple of days), and experienced a few days of the “arctic” cold that has hit so much of the country.  Today was my first day that I’ve felt fully recovere, and have had time for walking all around the community taking photos (then fussing with the photos on the computer).  So now without further ado I give you: photo mashups part one!

We’ll start with a triple shot– the Kaweah back yard during last March’s snowstorm, the same view a month later in April, and the same view this afternoon.Image

Here’s a tree at the end of the driveway, in March and this afternoon.Image

On that day in March, we had a frisbee game despite the blizzard. Image

Here’s Vigor Road during the peak of the snow, and again today.Image

Another triple photo– the view from my room in March, in June, and this afternoon.Image

Last April, the cover crops were a delighful green on the garden.  Today it’s just all brown!Image

Three views of the pond:  One from last March, a view during the springtime months, and the same view of the pond today, still frozen solid from all the cold weather we’ve been having.Image

Peach blossoms in the MT orchard in April, and the same branch today.  If you look at the angled cut where the tree was pruned, you can see how much it’s grown this year.Image

Our most dramatic cherry tree, in the full blossom of late April, and again in early JanuaryImage

This first photo was from that part of April when the blossoms had dropped off and the leaves had just begun to sprout.Image

Springtime and winter views of the High South pasture.Image

Sami’s fig tree from early May, just as it was beginning to grow leaves.  In the photo from this afternoon, you can see how much growth it put on over the course of the summer.Image

It’s amazing to think that these photos–the first from a May thunderstorm– are of the same location.Image

Big oak trees down by the pond, in May and in JanuaryImage

This view of the pond shows some of the extreme contrast between leafy spring and icy winter.Image

Our onion drying barn, top photo in mid-May, bottom photo from today.Image

It’s amazing to look at the bare sticks in the Morningstar orchard and think that 7 months ago (and 5 months from now), they were covered in delicious bush cherries.Image

In this photo from early June, the inside of the greenhouse is just one small aspect of the almost tropical profusion of vegetation.  In early January, the lettuces and kale inside is pretty much the only greenery you’re going to see.Image

Both of these photos are from the sewer line path between Tupelo and the warehouse.  Although they aren’t the exact same vantage point, they’re pretty close to the same spot.Image

Way back in June, my son Sami was able to walk these woods wearing practically nothing.  It wouldn’t be nearly so comfortable today!Image

Here’s a dramatic contrast– our kiwi arbor in June and this afternoon.Image

Again, I wasn’t able to get exactly the same vantage point of the pond, but it’s close enough to see the amazing contrast between June and January.Image

The top photo is from this past June.  The bottom one is actually from December of 2008.  In the years in-between, the shed at the end of the driveway burned down and was replaced with the smaller wellhouse in the above photo, plus several of the non-productive apple trees in the orchard have been removed.Image

That gets me to the end of June.  I’m hoping to post another whole mess of these photos in the next day or two, at which time I will consider ObserVA to be finished and wish everyone a tearful farewell.  Until then, enjoy these pics!

December 30– getting near the end

Aw heck, once again it’s been a week since I’ve  had the chance to sit down and update the ol ObserVA.  As  you might expect, the past week has been full of family and holiday cheer, and not a whole lot of obervating.  In fact, all of these photos are from last Tuesday, which in addition to being  a gorgeous, (relatively) warm winter day, was also the day in which my trusty Canon Elph camera crapped out on me😦

But I digress– let’s go in the wayback machine to last Tuesday, December 24, Xmas eve.  The day started, as so many Tuesdays do, with a tofu delivery run to Charlottesville.  It was a pretty short delivery, as several places were closed, and once I was done, I did a quick hike in the Monticello woods to check out a couple of places where I had previously found oyster mushrooms.  As the photos below show, it was a nice walk on a pleasant early winter day, but as I didn’t find any mushrooms, I didn’t tarry for too long.Image

Nice view of C’ville from the mountains just south of town.Image

I got home with lots of afternoon to spare.  On the radio, I had been listening to a doctor talking about seasonal affective disorder, who claimed that the best way to combat the condition was to soak up as much natural daylight as possible, to take maximum advantage of every bit of every sunny day at this time of year.  Well I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to take his advice to heart, and spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors.

As I was turning into the driveway, I encountered Free Willy, the rebel rooster.  About a month ago, we decided to cull our entire flock of chickens, turn them into meat.  As it turned out, about 5 or 6 of them escaped the axe, including of course everyone’s favorite survivor rooster.  In the next couple of weeks (due to insufficient oversight on the part of the chicken team), the hens that avoided the slaughter became food for hungry wildlife.  That is, all but ol’ Reb, the ultimate survivor.  I hear that these days he’s moved into the dairy barn at night, and spends his lonely days at the compost pile.  Long may he live!Image

Although there weren’t any oyster mushrooms around C’ville, a quick walk through the Twin Oaks woods revealed that there were a whole bunch in our forest.  For the first time this fall/winter, I was able to pick a whole plastic bag full of ’em!  Image


lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

After unloading the tofu truck, I spent a couple of hours gathering up mycelium-infused logs from several spots in the woods (always being careful to leave more logs than I took from any one spot) and gathering them together in a pile in the woods right outside of my house.  I was going to document the process, but this was the exact moment when my trusty camera, my companion for the year, kicked the bucket.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow my son’s camera for the day (which is actually much nicer than mine), but I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one now.  Alas.

So now I’ve got a big ol’ pile of oyster logs just a few steps from my kitchen that I hope will provide me with a steady supply of wild mushrooms for years to come.Image

Here’s one of the logs that I filled with oyster plugs this spring, just bursting with baby mushrooms.  I don’t know if the stump project was successful, but I am optimistic about the logs that I seeded.Image

Once I was done with that, there was still an hour or so of daylight, so I took a bike and went for a ride.  What a gorgeous sky!  What a gorgeous day!Image

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

I think I’ve probably posted several photos of this sycamore tree in the Twin Oaks courtyard, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it looks all lit up in the late afternoon winter sunshine.Image

reflection of sauna and trees in the pond, turned 180 degrees.  Wooo, artistic!Image

Took a bike for a ride around the half block right around sunset, determined to enjoy every bit of sunshine this afternoon.  Got a very nice series of photos along Old Mountain Road right as the sun was going down and everything was all turning red.Image

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

Trespassed on a neighbor’s field in order to find the spot where I could see clear to the southwest horizon, in order to enjoy every possible second of the sunset.Image

Dramatic cloud colors just after the sun went down, as I sped back home on my bike.Image

So those photos were all from last Tuesday, Xmas eve.  Since then, there hasn’t been much change.  A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of frost.  No snow, nothing dramatic.  All around, nature seems to be settling down into winter dormancy, getting ready for a new year.  And I’m feeling a mixture of emotions– satisfaction and a bit of pride that I was able to keep up the journal for the year without getting overly distracted/discouraged/just plain lazy; relieved that I will no longer have the self-imposed pressure of keeping it up; and more than a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.  I suppose I’ll put up one more post to finish out the year, then it’s on to the next project, whatever it may be.  I’ll spare the emotional farewell for now, but just want to finish this post by thanking everyone who’s read along so far.  Look for one more post early in January, once I’ve recovered from tomorrow night’s NYE debauch.

December 23 – merry solstice!

And just like that, the Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year and official beginning of winter, has come and gone.  It’s been a wet, blustery, decidedly un-winterlike few days.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s go back a few days…

to Saturday afternoon, just after lunch.  With a free hour before ultimate frisbee, I was going to take a little walk to explore the woods over on the river side of the property.  At this point, we’d had over 48 hours without frost, for the first time in weeks, and I was curious to see if this spell of near-tropical weather had made any difference in the landscape.  At the time I took this photo, it was just past one in the afternoon, but as you can see, the shadows were already long on the shortest day of the year.  I was, if you can believe it, dressed in shorts and a thin cotton long-sleeve t-shirt; the temperature (on the first day of winter) was close to 70 degrees!


Not much green in the forest, save for these rhododendrons.


On a damp, north-facing slope, I came across the best-looking oyster mushrooms I’d seen in weeks.  I’ve been trying to complain too much about the scarcity of oysters this fall, but by comparison, I had filled grocery bags with oysters on multiple occasions last November and December.  These were the first oysters this fall I’ve found that were worth picking.Image

pretty, pretty oyster mushroom.


Another nearby stump had a whole cluster of beautiful orange shelf mushrooms growing on it.  Very striking color of shelf fungus. Image

I walked for a while through the riparian forest, traveling fairly easily through forest that would have been very unpleasant and difficult to navigate a few months back.  Eventually, I came to a waterlogged part of the woods looked to be quite the muddy, quicksand-y quagmire, and I turned back towards higher ground.


With a few days of warm weather, I’m starting to see a few mushrooms that haven’t come out for quite some time.  These orange ones are most likely deadly poisonous, but I thought they looked cool.Image

Sunny winter solstice landscape.


At one point, I was examining some large crow feathers I found on the ground, and next to them was this stick that looked like it had some weird alien message carved into it.Image

Passing through the beefy field.  Already this season, we’ve turned a couple of the steers into meat, and these guys probably won’t last the winter.Image

It was such a delightful change of pace to really enjoy the warmth and sunshine; I didn’t even mind the incongruity of walking around in shorts on the first day of winter.Image

About a week ago, we slaughtered our first steer of the season here on the farm.  Although we do save some of the organs (liver, heart, tongue), there’s still a lot of cow innards that we don’t use.  Mostly, we dig a great big pit and spend the winter filling it with offal, then cover it up in the spring when we’re done slaughtering.  Quite a sight to come across!Image

By the time the afternoon frisbee game got underway, clouds had begun to roll in, darkening what had been a ridiculously lovely solstice day.  It was still the warmest frisbee game we’d had in the past six weeks.Image

The first oysters I’d harvested in weeks.  Not a huge quantity, but I was pretty pleased just to have these few.Image

I also came across several logs in the woods full of oyster mycelium, with tiny mushrooms just starting to grow.  I have been stacking these logs in a pile in the woods just a few steps from my back yard, hoping to create a little oyster patch that is easily accessible from my kitchen.  Here are a couple of baby wild oysters growing alongside some little ones growing from a log that I inoculated this spring. Image

Another shot of basically the same thing, taken from a different angle.


Sunday was forecast to be even warmer, sunny with temps in the mid-70’s!  I was looking forward to an unbelievable day.  As it turned out, we got torrential rain in the morning– a weird line of thunderstorms that looked and felt just like a summer shower.  Definitely weird weather for the first day of winter.  Well over an inch of rain by noon, when I took this photo of the back yard.Image

The rain and over-freezing temperatures continued all day and overnight.  This morning, I figured the conditions were as good for oyster mushrooms as they were likely to be, so I put on my raincoat and stepped out into the wet.  Here’s the streambed just off of my back yard, which is often dry but was full of water this rainy morning.


 As expected, I came across several logs sprouting abundant young oysters.  Many of them were too small to be worth harvesting, but I did take careful note of where they were growing, and I hope to come back and pick them before the next frost, forecast for Tuesday night (and just about every night after that for the rest of the season).


I also carried more logs back to my mushroom pile, which has been growing by the hour.


Here’s the current state of my wild oyster mushroom project.  I’ll probably sterilize a bunch of sawdust and dump it in-between all the gaps in the logs.Image

Afterward, I took a walk through an area of our forest that had recently been thinned by the forestry team, just to see if there were any oysters growing on the trunks or stumps that were being harvested (there weren’t).  Out in the woods, I came across this very cool sight, where a dead standing tree had been cut at from both sides, leaving an eight-foot high wooden spike pointing into the sky.Image


Here’s the same thing, photo taken from the side.  I hope they leave it in place, as it’s very cool looking.


I also spent some time examining some logs that have been stacked for cutting and splitting, noticing all the brand new fungal growth that’s sprouted up just in the past week.  All sorts of cool colors and shapes in the warm wet conditions.  I haven’t seen any cut pieces with oysters growing on them this year, but I have noticed them in the past. I figure that such pieces are too valuable to simply burn for warmth, instead it would make more sense to put them in the mushroom pile I’m growing.  I’ll keep looking as the forestry season progresses.


a close-up.  Lots of fungal growth just in the past 24 hours or so.


December 19 – farewell frigid fall; welcome warm winter

We’re getting close to what, technically, should be the last day of autumn (the day before the solstice), but it hasn’t felt much like fall for the past month.  This year, it seemed like winter moved in early and decided to stick around; we have had frost nearly every night for the past month, and the past few days have been gray, breezy, and raw.  This morning was no exception; the leaves that I’m using to mulch the garden (and the one chard plant that has inexplicably survived the fall) were covered in a layer of frost.  As they have been most days this month. Image

here’s a closer photo.Image

But, oddly enough, today was also  first day of what is forecast to be a fairly dramatic warm spell.   This afternoon was the warmest it’s been in months, and the next few days (including the first day of winter) are supposed to be even more pleasant– temps in the 70s with no frost this weekend!  It messes up the narrative somewhat, but after so much cold weather so early in the season, I’m happy to take some sunshine and warmth.

Just after lunchtime, it was warm enough to walk around comfortably in just a long sleeve shirt, so I took advantage of some free time to do some exploratin’ in the sun-drenched, leafless, forest.Image

Not much color out in the woods today, just the brown of leaves on the ground, the gray of tree trunks, and the gray of this old cabin on our property.Image

We had a bit of freezing rain a couple of nights back, just enough to put a tiny trickle of water in this creekbed.  A chain of tiny pools in the forest, linked by tiny cascades and waterfalls.Image

At one point, I came across a tree that had fallen sometime in the past year, that was being devoured by some sort of orange fungus, lit up all dramatic in the late fall sunlight.Image

Here’s a closer photo of the fungus.  It really was that color!Image

As the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s been nice to once again see and appreciate the revealed shapes of the trees themselves.  This is especially true of the beech trees, and this open bit of woods is the greatest concentration of beech trees on the land.Image

Just a pretty shot of beech trees all contrast-y against a bright blue late fall sky.Image

I crossed over the creek right at this spot where, years ago, one beech tree fell into another one.  Somehow, they both lived, and joined together into a single trunk.Image

And, across the creek, a spot where a single birch fell or was knocked over, but managed to survive and turn three of its lower branches into trunks.Image

I saw some sort of bird fly out of this hole, but it was gone before I could get close or figure out what it was.  It was a small bird of some sort.Image

A spot where it seems like two trees grew together, wrapped their branches around one another, and went on growing.Image

A fallen log with the remnants of some polypore, which has probably been there for months, rotting away.Image

On closer inspection, I think that it may have at one point been an enormous chicken of the woods, which has turned white after months of exposure and frost.Image

Further along, I walked through a depression that holds an intermittent stream, one which runs during and immediately after storms, but most of the time is just muddy.  I came across several spots where pine needles had been picked up by the runoff from recent rains and deposited in ‘liquid-y’ shapes and patterns as the water receded.  It made for some very interesting patterns on the forest floor.Image

Not too far off, an old stump in a state of advanced decomposition, covered with unusual dark brown fungi.Image

And inside of  the equally-decomposed trunk of the tree, a pile of curiously round gray pellets that could be some sort of animal crap, but looked more mineral-y and less organic-y than one would expect.Image

At this time of year, even close to mid-day, the sun is low on the horizon in the south, which creates interesting light effects whichever way you turn.  It’s harder to photograph the way things are lit up when you’re facing into the sun, but this captures some of the effect.Image

A close-up of the same scene, dramatic backlighting bringing out unexpected color.Image

After kicking about on the other side of the creek for an hour or so, I jumped back over to the ‘civilized’ side at this crossing, trying without success to keep my feet dry.  A pleasant enough walk to mark the end of frigid fall and the beginning of  our curious winter warm spell.Image

December 15 – sun in a dark time

Been nearly a week since I last wrote down to write– how fast the time flies! In fact, the combination of ample work and cruddy weather has mostly kept me inside for the past six days.  Lots of rain, some sleet, and an ever so tiny bit of snow.  Central Virginia sits right on that line between North and South, so when big winter storms pass through the area, and Pennsylvania, MD, and even northern Virginia get plastered with snow and ice, we seem to get lots of what we’ve taken to calling “Oobleck,” a cold messy something that’s not quite rain, snow, or ice, but a bit of each.

This morning was sunny and warm, our first really pleasant day in what seems like weeks, so of course I took a little walk.  My path at first took me through the Morningstar orchard, where this year’s firewood is sitting in piles, waiting to be split. Image

Looking back up across the orchard, look at that blue sky!Image

Although the temps have been a bit warmer, we’re still getting frost most every night, so I didn’t expect to find many oysters.  I did encounter a few, most of which had been destroyed by frost, but one small fruiting looked nice.Image

I don’t know if the turkey tail mushrooms are more colorful this time of year, or whether I notice them more because there’s so much less color and distraction.  These certainly seemed to be thriving.  I think they don’t mind the frost so much, and like all the moisture we’ve been having.Image

You know how good that first sunny day after a week (or more) of grey skies feels?  That’s how this morning felt.Image


Passing through the field and past the graveyard, dropping down to “STP creek,” which was running less vigorously than I would imagine, given all the recent wet.  I think that these little creeks go up pretty fast when it rains, then drop back down pretty fast afterwards.  I thought the reflections in the water were pretty. Image

Oak roots, holding it all together.Image

Shelf mushrooms on a downed branch, angled just right to catch the sun.  They really were glowing like this.Image

Passing through a relatively unfamiliar bit of woods, I came across the graveyard of old Maypoles, discarded in a pile when they could no longer support peoples’ weight.  As with everything that gets dumped into the woods, the polypro ropes are slowly being reclaimed by nature.Image

This close to the solstice, the shadows are long even close to noon, and on a sunny day like today, the light on anything south-facing is always dramatic.Image

I especially liked the way this lone arcing sycamore was all lit up.Image

Twin Oaks’ premier sledding hill.  I was hoping we’d get to do some sledding (we’ve had snow in the forecast three times already this month), but we haven’t even come close.Image

Heading back down across the pond outlet, still enjoying being out on a sunny day.Image

The bamboo is still bent over from the weight of all that ice, but a few days like today should perk it up.  Big pine tree looked especially majestic today.Image

And for what seems like the first time this month, we’re getting some power out of this guy.Image

(for comparison’s sake, this is what it looked like a week ago)