Monthly Archives: February 2013

Feb 24- walkin’ Monoccan, pt. 1

Years before I moved to Twin Oaks, the community bought an 80-acre parcel of wooded land south of Old Mountain Road, and named it Monoccan woods, after the native inhabitants of central Virginia.  It’s a good place to go if you don’t want to see anyone.  There’s no buildings of any sort on the property, and not even any proper hiking trails, just a confusing web of tractor paths.  The forest, for the most part, consists of young to medium-sized trees; because it gets thinned pretty regularly by the forestry crew, there aren’t many large blowdowns or standing dead trees.  I’ve wandered around there a few times in the years that I’ve lived here, but without many recognizable landmarks and with tractor paths running every which way, it’s pretty easy to get turned around and disoriented.  The picture below shows Monoccan woods, along with neighboring forested land:


The view looking west on Old Mtn Road.  Twin Oaks property is on both sides, but Monoccan woods is to the left.  Note the blueness of the sky.  After several long days of fog and drizzle, we finally got some sunshine and (relative) warmth, for which I was feeling pretty thankful.Image

From the road, it’s pretty easy to see the boundary of Twin Oaks property, since over the past few years, they’ve cleared all the trees right up to the edge of our land.  Image

Since I often get turned around back there, I decided to walk along the easy-to-follow eastern boundary of the property and figure out how far back I could go.  Past the edge of the field, it was wooded on both sides of the boundary, but a barbed wire fence marked the line.  In this photo, you can see the difference between the neighbor’s more open woods to the left, and Twin Oaks’ more overgrown land to the right.Image

As I walked further south, I was able to follow this tractor trail that more or less paralleled the property line, and made for easier walking.Image

Along the way, I came across these “kissing trees.” Cute.Image

There was nothing marking the southern boundary of Twin Oaks land, but at a certain point, the forest changed, with more large stumps of an even level of decomposition, as though most of the big trees had been logged out at once.  I figured I was on a neighbor’s land at that point, but pushed on for a few minutes more until I came to this field, which I’m guessing is the one visible at the bottom left of the aerial photo above.  It would have been possible to skirt the field and continue walking south through the woods, but I had to head back to cook dinner for the community, so I left it at that.  Image


On the way back, I intended to parallel the property line while staying a few hundred yards away, in order to keep my eyes open for anything I hadn’t spotted on the way in, but eventually I gave in to the convenience of walking on a trail.  So much easier, and to be honest, I didn’t really see much of anything new in the forest.  I think that I am going to change my focus over the next couple of weeks, searching for signs of oncoming spring in the fields, orchards, and ornamental gardens of Twin Oaks, because there really doesn’t seem to be any new developments in the woods; as much as I keep looking, I’m not seeing any swelling of bud, sprouting of new vegetation, or flushes of fungi.

Feb 23- grayer day

It was, if possible, even grayer today than yesterday.  As I walked down to the courtyard to do my regular Saturday AM trip to town, it was pretty clear that the gray was here to stay:Image


I took a few photos from the car on the way into town.  Twin Oaks is in a pleasant enough part of rural Virginia.  While there’s not much in the way of wilderness or large protected tracts of land in the area, the trip to town mostly passes through small farms and forests.


Although it’s hard to see from here, there’s even a little waterfall over the mill dam on the South Anna River.   It can be pretty impressive when we’ve had a lot of rain, but it’s just kind of middling these days.Image

As I got closer to town, the fog started getting thicker.Image

Seems like fog normally burns off throughout the course of the day, but as I did my shopping and errands, the fog kept getting thicker, and by the time I started home, everything looked all ghostly.  The drive reminded me of another morning I was driving in the fog, just last fall.

I was doing a tofu delivery on an extremely foggy morning, couldn’t see more than 100 feet in front of me.  As I started slowly driving away from Twin Oaks, I saw ahead of me that the road was closed, with some sort of emergency vehicle flashing its lights, and a guy re-directing traffic to a side road.  I pulled up alongside the guy and asked what was going on?

“The faaaaaaugh,” he replied, in a thick Virginia accent.

“Excuse me?”

“The faaaaauugh.”

At this point, I’m thinking he’s saying “the fog,” that it’s so thick up ahead that they’re not letting traffic through, or that there’s a 15-car pileup just ahead caused by the fog, or that Steven King-inspired creatures are slinking about out of sight pulling people from their cars and eating them.  Yikes!  Then I looked into the faaaaaugh, and saw, far off through the mist (maybe a couple hundred feet away), a neighbor’s house which had turned into a burned-out shell, emitting copious clouds of smoke.  Ah-ha!  The “faaaaaugh” was actually the “fire!”  Mystery solved, I turned off onto the detour; but to this day whenever it’s all foggy out, I think of the faaaaaugh!  I’ll finish with a couple photos from my drive home, on a gray faaaaaaaugghy morning.



Feb 22– gray day

Another day, cold & grey, as February rolls on.  I took the kids to Charlottesville for their homeschool ‘class’ this morning, then got breakfast and ate it on the bank of the Rivanna River.  As befitting the season, everything looked a bit grey– river, trees, sky, but it was pleasant to watch the birds, fly past, flitting up and down the river.  I didn’t have the time to walk more than a few hundred yards on the trail, but would like to come back some day and do a longer walk– as you can see below, it’s quite a beckoning trail…



When I went back to pick up the kids, I saw this planting outside of the building: “Eco-tulips,”  and indeed the tulips appear to be coming up.  It’s still going to be a while before the Eco-tulip blooms, but the little green tops have broken through the half-frozen soil, and on a cold & grey late February day, you take what you can find.


Feb 20- February daze

And February drags on, with little change in the weather or landscape.  When I was conceptualizing this project, I was a bit worried about this time of year, when it seems like nothing is changing or growing around here, just a monotonous succession of winter days.   And I must confess, it’s easier to fantasize about friends in Florida, or the trip to California that I booked this morning, than it is to continue to find novelty and beauty in the inertness of central Virginia nature in mid-February.

At the birdfeeder, I saw my first finches of the year, which is a little surprising; in past years, goldfinches and purple finches were the most common visitors, and I was noticing their lack.  Even the male finches are still wearing their drab winter plumage, as you can see below.


And I saw my first yellow crocuses at Twin Oaks– I had seen some on the neighbor’s land, but these are the first I’ve seen here, out in front of Nashoba.Image

After lunch today, I spent a couple hours splitting wood.  Here’s the stack of freshly-split wood as I got started, now the piles are even bigger.Image

A lot of the logs were full of life, assorted bugs and grubs and molds.  Splitting this piece was a rude awakening for this colony of ants living within.  The other side of the same piece was covered with freshly hatched ant babies; I tried to photograph them, but it came out all blurry.Image

This one had a pattern that looked like some sort of abstract modern art:Image

And this piece, a chunk of old, grizzled, half rotten trunk, was filled with impressive mycelium, cottony white fungal flowers. Image


Freaky yellow, orange, and green molds have colonized the inside of this log, along with the puffy white mycelial mat.  Image

After finishing my wood splitting shift, I had some spare time to walk in the woods, which seemed unusually quiet, still, and oddly lifeless today.  There was hardly even any birdsong’ the loudest sound in the forest was the roar of the train whistle, 7 miles to the north in Louisa.  Eventually, I found myself wandering through our neighbor’s property, the “Purcell land.”  This property was clearcut shortly before I moved to Twin Oaks 12 years ago.  These days, it’s a thick forest of young skinny trees, with the occasional large, impressively rotted stump.  Not the easiest terrain to navigate, and, quite frankly, there’s not much to see in there.


A couple of the interesting things I found were this bleached out old turtle shell that looked like a dinosaur-era fossil, and this beautifully decomposed stump, which reminded me of some sort of cliff-dweller’s homes, carved into a rock wall.  One thing I didn’t find was any evidence that the seasons are turning, or that winter is loosening its dreary grip.



Feb 19- oh the wind and rain



Oh it was a yukky one today.  “Wintry mix,” cold rain, just a few degrees above freezing all day.  Not the sort of day one would want to voluntarily spend a lot of time outside.  Doing tofu delivery, I was involuntarily forced to spend some time outside, and I can’t say I much enjoyed it.  After finishing delivery in Crozet, I briefly thought about toughing out a walk in the woods, but I really wasn’t dressed for it and didn’t want to make myself sick.  So instead I took a picture out the window of the hills of Shenandoah Nat’l park under leaden winter skies:



On the way back through C’ville, there was a hint of clearing, and I thought I might get out some, but by the time I got back home to Twin Oaks, it was windy and drizzling again, and I just went back to bed, project be damned.  My enthusiasm for tramping around in the sodden woods resembled the crocuses below.  Hopefully I’ll be back out tomorrow. Image


Feb 18- just another winter day

Just another winter day.  Walking up to Tupelo, I took the ‘scenic path’ along the creek.  Thin crust of ice under the forest litter crunched satisfyingly as I walked.  Looking in the water for signs of life, and found minnows.  Not the most inspiring of fish, but that’s what’s there.  Sometimes, during the summer, the creek dries to almost nothing– I wonder if they sense it and swim down to the river in time, or find puddles to hole up in until the next rains come.

Forest was still quiet enough to hear individual bird calls, bracketed by silence.  Heard the taptap of woodpeckers reverberating through the trees several times, and the angry hiss of a squirrel once.  Tiny ground plants (ground pine, ground cedar, moss) still providing the only greenery to be found, but I was happy for even that little bit of color: Image


Interesting little side channel to the creek– it’s dry now, but looks like it cuts quite a channel during storms.  It reminded me a bit of a glacier of leaves, pushing downhill.Image

Eventually, I found my way back to “Tupelo Spring,” which is still flowing, sweetly surrounded by ground cedar, moss, and some sort of other delicate leafy green plant that I haven’t been seeing elsewhere in the woods. Image

Normally, I don’t see any other people in the woods, and today was no exception.  I did run across one of our dogs, Skinny Minnie, dashing around, nose to the ground, barking happily.  Ran up to say hello, then was off in a flash.  She is a recent adoptee who came in out of the woods a couple of months ago, scrawny to the point of starvation, but so sweet and friendly that she melted hearts and found a home at Twin Oaks.  Today she was bounding about full of energy, following the myriad of scent trails which, invisible to us humans, criss-cross the forest all around.

Feb 17- Reishi, all right

Sunny and cold today, midday temperatures not much above freezing, chilly wind making it feel even colder. Yesterday, I tried doing some research on Reishi life cycles. Some polypores grow for years, adding growth rings like trees, and I hadn’t wanted to harvest the ones I found until I learned more about them. Not surprisingly, it is easy to find a lot of information on the mushroom’s alleged health benefits (which include everything from laxative and sleep aid to cure for cancer and chronic bronchitis– is a particularly enthusiastic article), and difficult to find information about the life cycles of wild-growing individuals. From what I could figure out, the mushrooms are annuals, putting out new ones each year, and the individuals I found yesterday were at the end of their life cycles, having already performed their spory duties. So I rode back out to harvest a few.

Two nice red ones.  The nicer-looking one on the right turned out to be all rotted out and hollow, so I had to discard it. Image

This one was too old and broken-down to be worth harvesting, but it sure was pretty!Image

I found this one already broken off at the stem, and sitting upside-down on the ground.  When I brushed it off,  it retained some of the varnished look of younger mushrooms, and the ‘top’ was covered in white mycelium.  It turned out to be the best preserved of all the Reishi I found.Image

In the end, I harvested three of them.  Here they are at home, all washed off.  Lovely-looking mushrooms!Image

I cut some up for tea right away, then cut up the rest to freeze for later use.  This one (lower right in the photo above) was in markedly better shape than the others, as this cross-section shows.  Looks chock full of health benefit…Image

I gave these another rinse to get rid of dirt, crumbly bits, and worms.  Then I’ll leave them outside to dry for a little while, then freeze them for an ongoing supply of health tea!Image


And after 2 hours of boiling and some more steeping, I had four cups of Reishi tea, ready to drink (it’s frothy because I put some honey in it and shook it all up).  It’s pretty bitter, not all that pleasant to drink, but I’m sure it will put me on the path to infinite health and whatnot.