Monthly Archives: January 2013

Jan 31–solar clearings and alt orchards

It’s the last day of January, and my first day working on the journal in a few days.  For the past 48 hours, I’ve been once again laid low by the flu– being this sick twice in one month is basically unprecedented for me, and I very much hope for my sake, and yours, dear reader, that that’s the last of that.  

In the past few years, Twin Oaks has become more serious about solar clearings; that is, cutting back the forests on the south side of our residences so that the buildings themselves are not shaded by tall trees.  This allows more sunlight to reach the buildings, with the ultimate goal of mitigating the outbreaks of mold that render some of our residences near-uninhabitable during the warmer months.  Rather than leave expanses of empty grass and weeds, enterprising Oakers have filled these solar clearings with perennial fruit-bearing shrubs and (short of stature) trees.  These permaculture-style plantings are of course not “nature” in the sense that they were put here by human hands, but they certainly form part of the natural landscape, and I will be noting the seasonal changes in these “alt-orchards” throughout the year.

And to notice change, you have to start by noticing nothing.  And nothing is what is going on in these orchards and gardens these days–just about as dormant as dormant can be.  In these bleak midwinter days, I sit on my sick-bed, look out my window at the plantings in the back yard and think about all the tasty fruits and berries that my kids and I will enjoy this year, if only I live that long!

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Come September and October, this arch will be laden with delicious kiwi fruit

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Raspberry vines in the Morningstar orchard.  We’ll be munching on those in May and June!Image

Tupelo orchard looks pretty bleak now, but that will change this spring.Image

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Jan 28– spring in winter

Yesterday, the cold snap broke– balmy and 40 degrees.  I wanted to explore the woods but I had to cook.  Last night,  we got some some icy slush for a few hours, then it rained, then it did something sort of in-between. By the time I had taken care of my morning duties, the rain had stopped and the morning was warm and very moist.  So I walked down into the woods below Tupelo and saw:

Oysters are growing again.  It seems like as soon as the temperature gets above freezing, they start fruiting.  The brown one below was growing upside down, cup-shaped, and was frozen solid, filled with snow when I found it.

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The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but this blowdown rootball looked extra spooky with the roots all hanging down with water dripping off of them.Image

Although the trees are still bare, parts of the forest floor are quite verdant.  This moss-covered log was loving the damp day and seemed to glow in the non-sunlight.   The ground cedar provided a bright green understory in places.  Years ago, someone told me that the ground cedar, although plentiful at Twin Oaks, was endangered in the area.  I have since grown skeptical of that claim, but I do see a greater concentration of ground cedar in the woods of Twin Oaks than I have seen anywhere else in Virginia.

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Most interesting, I found what I’m pretty sure is a spring (and I’ve seen a few).  In a low, boggy area below Tupelo, I came across cold, clear water pushing out of some sand.  I think the the ground was so saturated with water, then was frozen for a few days, and now that the ground is thawing out it’s releasing a bunch of water.  So it would make sense that there would be springs like these that only flowed when the ground was really wet.  Now that I know it’s there, I’ll check to see when it’s flowing and when it’s dry.  Not quite the Itchnetucknee, I guess I’ll call it Tupelo Spring.

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Jan 26- buzzards at the compost

Jan 26- buzzards at the compost

As I drove past the compost on my way to Louisa this morning, I spotted dozens of buzzards covering the compost pile. I don’t know if they like it there because the rotting compost puts out warmth, if they find something to eat there, or if they just enjoy the stench. They are impressive birds, despite being kind of disgusting, and this was about as many of them as I’ve ever seen in one place on our land.

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Jan 26– frost on the river

Jan 26-- frost on the river

The afternoon I first showed up at Twin Oaks, late December of 2000, I took a walk on the frozen-solid South Anna River. I figured that that was typical for that time of year. As it turns out, the river has only frozen solid enough to walk on a few times in the 12 years since then. This morning, on a day that eventually reached the balmy temperature of 40 degrees, the river was about as frozen as it is likely to get this year. Frosty, but not even close to having enough ice to walk on.

Jan 25– baby it’s cold outside

Cold, of course, is a relative thing. This past week, I have had FB friends from Maine post about daytime highs of -5. I have read in the news of lake effect snowfalls measured in feet rather than inches. Jack London, in To Build a Fire, writes of the crackle of spit freezing before it hits the ground. We haven’t had any of that, so I can’t really complain. A cold day, by central Virginia standards, is a day where the temperature never quite hits freezing. And that we’ve had. It’s Friday now, and we haven’t had temperatures over 35 degrees since Monday, which, ’round here, makes for a pretty significant cold snap. This morning, when at dawn I left my warm bed with great reluctance to let the chickens out, we were sitting right around 10 degrees, which is about the coldest daytime temperature that you’re likely to see in Louisa County.

It’s been snowing again today, an unenthusiastic on-and-off crushed ice sort of drizzle that doesn’t hold much promise of accumulation, just enough to maintain an appropriately bleak wintery landscape. I snapped the picture below as I walked down to collect eggs, during a brief moment where the snow was falling hard enough to look as though it might possibly amount to something:

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Closer to the chicken yard, there were literally hundreds of small black birds (which I believe were grackles), covering the compost, perched in the apple trees, massed in the field, and in the chicken yard itself.  They all took flight as I approached, but I was able to get a couple photos that give some idea of the avian abundance I encountered:ImageImage

 

On the way back, I stopped to check on the pond again.  The ice was thicker than it had been yesterday, but I still wasn’t feeling confident enough to walk out onto it.  As I was walking around the water’s edge, I noticed these bulbs (daffodils? tulips?) beginning to poke their way out of the snow.  A nice reminder that, even during the coldest days of winter, the earth is preparing for the floral displays of springtime.

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And finally, a birdfeeder update.  Today, in addition to all of the bird species I have listed before, I spotted this morning a red-headed woodpecker, and also this brightly-colored male cardinal (which I had seen before but wasn’t able to get a picture of) I also saw a bluebird at the feeder a couple of days ago, which was surprising, given the time of year.  ImageImageImage

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Jan 24–chilly oaks

Jan 24--chilly oaks

leafless oak trees, glowing under a winter sun that provides light but, on a day like today, not a whole lot of warmth. If one can speak of the ‘dog days’ of winter, then we are certainly in their midst.

Jan 24– not quite cold enough…

Well, it snowed again last night.  Once again, not quite enough snow to do anything fun, just enough for a thin white smear over the frozen ground.  When I woke up this AM, this was my first sight outside my back door window:

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Maybe it’s just the mood I’m in, but I wasn’t even able to find much aesthetic delight in this snowfall.  Rather than ‘winter wonderland,’ the overall effect seems to simply be ‘cold & bleak.’  Given that the temperature has stayed below freezing for the past few days, I wandered down to the pond to see if there would be enough ice to walk out on the frozen surface.  This never happened last year, but in past years when we’ve had good solid thick ice on the pond, it’s been a lot of fun for old and young alike.  Here’s how the pond looked this afternoon, topped with a thin sheet of ice and snow:

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I walked out onto the dock and tested the ice, fishing a chunk off of the surface to see how thick it was, and discovered that it it had only frozen about an inch or so, not nearly enough to safely hold me up.  I enjoyed bobbing up and down on the dock, listening to the bizzare snapping and cracking noises rocketing around the pond as the ice shifted and broke.

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Icicles forming off of the roof of the sauna, glinting in the sunlight, a classic winter sight:

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It was still early, so I wandered aimlessly around the woods for a while, hoping for some sort of inspiration, something to catch my eye or imagination.  Truly, if there was any time where there isn’t much of anything going on in the Virginia forest, it’s the last week of January.  Still, just walking in the woods filled me with the realization that, even in this season of stillness and emptiness, even when the birds are silent, the trees and bushes have all gone dormant, and there are no mushrooms to be found, our forests are quite lovely and I am fortunate to live in the midst of them:

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As I turned to walk back home, I made this interesting observation– no matter where I was today, whenever I looked to the north, it appeared that there was very little snow on the ground, and whenever I looked to the south, there seemed to be a continuous snow cover.  I realized that the unevenness of the forest floor creates miniature ridges and ranges, allowing the sun to melt the southern-facing ‘slopes,’ and preserving the snow on the ‘north face.’  I took a couple of photos from a random spot, really could have been anywhere on the hike, that shows the view north and south from the same spot.  It looked something like this:

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