Monthly Archives: March 2013

March 13- March flowers

What was that quote about Frebruary showers?..

We’re starting to get a pretty nice floral display at Twin Oaks, one which will keep getting better over the next couple months.  The crocuses continue to bloom, and I’m spotting new patches, some that are just starting to flower and some that I’m just seeing for the first time.  The daffodils are starting to bloom all around the community, although it will still be a while before they peak.  The ground-smothering periwinkle ivy has started opening up into delicate purple flowers.  And, in a sure sign that spring is arriving, the cherry trees and bushes are starting to blossom.  The bush cherries in the Morningstar orchard opened just this morning, the first of the fruit trees and bushes at Twin Oaks to flower!Image

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March 12- along the Rivanna

Rained all night, and it was still dumping down rain when I woke up before dawn (the downside of daylight savings time) to load the tofu truck, in the rain.  Drove to Charlottesville in the rain, and made my delivery rounds in the rain.  Then, just before lunchtime, it all blew away, ushering in the most sunny pleasant late winter/early spring day one could hope for.  So I parked the truck behind a strip mall and climbed down through the woods to the Rivanna Trail, which follows the river along its east side.  The river was muddy brown, running fast, swollen with all that rain on top of all the snowmelt of the past week.Image

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Numerous branches and chunks of trees were floating down the river, a couple times I spotted entire trunks.  Definitely not a day for a nice dip!Image

The trail passed over many small creeks flowing in from the side; when I hiked this trail before (in early Jan– one of my first entries of the year), they were just trickling along; today they were impressive muddy torrents.  Fortunately the trail was well-maintained, with sturdy footbridges over the creeks, otherwise it would have made for some dicey fords!Image

As in the forests of Twin Oaks, there was plenty of bright green moss all over, ecstatic with warmer temperatures and abundant moisture. Image

I especially enjoyed the green blanket-like covering on these sunny rocks just above the river.

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Most of the trail passed through mature hardwood forest, but there were a number of small clearings, mostly in places where power transmission lines passed overhead.  In these spots there was an abundance of newly-grown mullein, also known as the “toilet paper plant.”  I even had an opportunity to use some, but I’m sure no one wants to know the details!Image

There were also signs that the fungal drought of late winter may be ending.  I found another patch of wood ear fungus, which I discovered has a pretty fascinating Wikipedia page (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auricularia_auricula-judae) and is definitely edible.  I took it home, but haven’t tried it yet.  I also came across some baby oysters, the first fresh ones I’ve seen in over a month.  They seemed too small to pick, and they were so cute growing out of the top of a tree stump that had snapped off that I left ’em to grow some more.

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Further along, I came across this spring erupting rather copiously from the top of a small rock face and splashing joyfully down the rock, watering a hanging garden of little green weeds of some type.  It was an extremely spring-like scene, not the sort of thing you would see in early January!Image

Just a few steps further, some steps led down to another rock outcropping with a nice view across the river.  It seemed as good a place as any to rest for a few minutes, declare a successful outing, and walk back to the truck.

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In other non-related seasonal news, I spotted yesterday my first wasp, an ominous sign; and today I heard spring peeper frogs for the first time, a much more auspicious “first.”

March 11- up Tupelo creek

There can be no clearer metaphor for the retreat of winter and the advance of spring than the scene playing itself out all around the community.  The snowbanks of winter are quite literally retreating before the advancing tide of tender young shoots.Image

Although the daffodils have begun to flower, it is still the season of the crocus.  They mostly occur in small patches here and there; masses like the one below are generally the exception.

 

Took a walk along the creek that I have started thinking of as “Tupelo Creek,” a seasonal waterway that in wet times of year is a tributary of Tofu Creek.  It branches off in the woods below Tupelo house, and parallels the path from Tupelo to our warehouse.  Most of the snow in the woods is already melted.  All that remained was tiny patches here and there, mostly on the north side of trees. The creek itself had a nice little trickle, the ground saturated with recent snowmelt.

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There was even a little waterfall.  When I see little cascades like this one, I like to imagine that the size scale is all off, and I am looking at a mighty cascade plunging into a deep pool in some far-off mountain range.

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Further upstream, the channel of the creek deepened into what is, for a seasonal rivulet that’s usually not much more than a trickle, a pretty impressive “canyon.”

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Another spot where the “canyon” walls are held close together by four parallel roots bridging the gap.

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At the head of the little “gorge” was this “headwall,” which is probably pretty impressive during or immediately after a storm.  It is a scooped-out area where the flow of water has undercut and washed away the banks, leaving a network of roots hanging down, reaching for the moisture of the pool.IMG_2461 IMG_2466

I continued upstream, past a few pretty little pools like this one, to the spot where Tupelo creek begins, in a flat marshy bit of the woods. IMG_2469

I pumped up the saturation on this photo to make a point, but in fact the moss all over the woods is thick and bright green, clearly thankful for the moist conditions.  Still no leaves on the trees, but the abundant moss certainly gives a verdant tinge to the forest.

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Passing by the place where we are putting in a new fruit orchard– the fruit trees and bushes have been laid out but not yet put in the ground.IMG_2474

During the three-day blackout, we moved our generators around in order to give a few hours of power at a time to the different places in the community that needed it.  Our wellhouse was one of those places; periodically powering our pump allowed us to have a mostly uninterrupted supply of fresh water.  The grassy field beside the wellhouse was, unfortunately, a casualty of the blackout.  IMG_2477

Just before noon, I took a whole cartload of expired veggies down to the newly free-range chickens.  They are truly lords of the compost heap these days.  IMG_2481

Despite their successful foraging, they do come running when they see me pulling up that cart o’ produce!Image

Now don’t that look dee-licious?  Those chickens certainly think so!IMG_2476

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March 9- two seasons in one day

 

Too warm to be winter, too much snow on the ground to be spring.  A bit of frost early in the morning, but soon it was all sorts of sunny and warm.  Outside in the sun this afternoon, people wearing t-shirts, people wearing no shirts, as the leftover snow continues to melt.  It says something about just how much snow fell on Wednesday that even after two warm sunny days there’s still pretty substantial snow cover, especially in the woods.  But the way it’s been lately, that surely won’t last long.

The daffodils have begun blooming around the community, even as the surrounding patches of snow disappear.  The crocuses are still going strong, having been only mildly inconvenienced by the snowstorm.Image

In my back yard, the green shoots of spring (I think these are irises) poke their heads through the lingering snows of winter…Image

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March 8- the big melt, day one

Freezing again temperatures again in the morning, which made for a pleasant dawn trip to let out the chickens.  Easy to get up early today, since the lack of electricity has led to generally early bedtimes and wake-up times.  As I walked down, I saw that the pond had a thin coating of ice, funny that it should be frozen in March when it spent so much of December-February not frozen over.Image

It was actually quite lovely down at the chicken yard, with the sun rising and nice crusty hard-frozen snow not soaking my boots.Image

It didn’t take long for the temperatures to rise above freezing, and when they did, we experienced some fairly extreme melting and MUD!  As it was my chicken day, I had to make several trips down to the chicken yard, which, this time of year, requires walking past the compost piles.  The melting snow and thawing compost had combined into a foul nasty mess, a moat of disgustingness that I had to cross several times today.  Each time I passed, the air was warmer, the rivers of snowmelt were faster, and the horrible mud was deeper.

Here’s how things looked in the early afternoon– still a lot of snow on the ground, but it’s melting fast!Image

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rivers of snowmelt running out of the cow pastures and through the horrid compost.  In a weird way, all the melting snow reminded me of hiking through the Sierra Nevada in California in June many years ago, sheets of cold, clear water running across the landscape, puddles and ponds of snowmelt everywhere you look.  Although much less scenery and more compost around here…Image

A couple weeks ago, we decided to open up the fence around the chicken yard and let them be free range down in their bit of the farm.  The result has been much happier chickens, who generally spend their day picking through the compost and hunting bugs in the brush.  I’ve been feeding them thrown-away produce from our local supermarket dumpster, and they sure do love it.  I’ve been enjoying my time with the chickens much more now that they’ve been let out of their enclosed yard (which was getting pretty muddy, entirely free of grass and vegetation, and pretty disgusting).Image

And, yes, Free Willy, AKA the Rebel Rooster, is still kicking.  He has joined the flock, without apparent resistance  from or conflict with the other roosters.  He’s been roosting in the henhouse with all the other chickens, and seems to be quite happy as part of the flock, no longer the lone rooster.Image

March 7- white stuff

 

 

Despite the rain and warmer temperatures yesterday afternoon, the snow remained thick and deep this morning. As soon as I could get the kids fed and out the door, I went for a nice long walk to enjoy the snowy landscape before the afternoon warmth turned everything back into slush.   First, I made for the sledding hill, which I hadn’t had a chance to visit yet this year.  Here’s one photo looking down from the top, and another one looking up from the bottom.

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Then I tromped up to the top of high south, the highest point on our land, to take  this panorama photo.  The temperature was a little bit below freezing, and it was an absolutely delightful day for a walk in the woods.

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I spent the next hour or so just wandering here and there, enjoying the crunch of snow under my feet and the unusual visual novelty of this wintry morning, a week into the month of March.

Holly leaves, bright green against the snow:Image

Many many trees, mostly pine and cedar, came down in the storm, mostly because they weren’t able to shed the heavy wet snow as fast as it came down.  This tree must have uprooted just a day or so ago.Image

Bright orange fungus peeking out from under the snowImage

Eventually I made my way down to the creek, which I expected to be full from snowmelt, but as the temperatures were still just a couple degrees above freezing, it wasn’t running very high at this point.Image

Found some wood ear fungi on a dead branch.  Apparently they’re edible, but I didn’t know that when I was out there.  Next time I come across some, I’ll try cooking them up and see how they taste.Image

This one really did look like an ear.Image

I walked home through the Morningstar orchard, where, despite the recent snowstorm, the fruit trees are definitely starting to bud.  Just a few short weeks until they start flowering and leafing out!Image

Later in the afternoon, the roads were plowed and I drove to Louisa.  The road was semi-blocked in several places by downed trees.  It was quite a dramatic drive.  All over the county, hundreds (thousands?) of trees, again mostly pine and cedar trees were down.  It must have been terrifying to be out on the roads while all this was going on– it was crazy enough just driving to town a day later!Image

March 6- finally…snow!

 

Well, we’ve been hearing about it for at least a week, and it looks like “they” were right this time– we finally got some snow!  When I went to bed around midnight last night, I looked out and saw that the snow was just beginning to accumulate– when I woke up and looked out the window, this is what I saw:Image

The snow continued to fall through the morning, sometimes quite hard.  The power had gone out during the night, so there was no telling how widespread the storm was, but it seemed like we were definitely getting hit pretty hard.  Needless to say, I was thrilled!  The boys and I wasted little time getting suited up and going outside, into a world transformed overnight. Image

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Before long, I was heading out into the community to survey the scene.  All around, I could hear the crack and crash of branches and trees, overloaded with heavy wet snow, dropping to the ground.  Not five minutes from my house, I had to jump back to avoid being mushed by a thick overhanging branch crashing to the ground.  Definitely more excitement than I usually experience on that bit of the trail!  The coniferous trees, the pines and cedars, seemed to be getting the worst of it, as they could not shed their weighy loads as fast as the snow was coming down, and many of them were bent nearly double.  Image

Walked out past the courtyard through the garden in near-blizzard conditions.  Although in this photo, the buildings of the courtyard are no more than a couple hundred yards away, they looked almost like a distant mirage through the heavy snowfall.  Image

Passing through the apple orchard…Image

…to the field where I typically play ultimate frisbee on Wednesday mornings with some friends.  As it turned out, a bunch of people actually showed up, and we spent a good hour throwing the frisbee around, diving into the snow, and generally wrestling and horsing around while the inches of accumulation continued to pile up.Image

Here’s a photo of Vigor Rd., the little traveled and rarely-plowed county road in front of Twin Oaks community.Image

Once I was sufficiently thoroughly soaked and tired, I headed back towards home, where I saw this incongruous sight of the willow tree, colorful with spring buds and white with snow.  Image

The bamboo, in particular, was pretty well devastated by the weight of all the snow, and I’m not at all sure it will recover.  Many trees, like the pine below, had lost limbs.Image

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My driveway, snowed in and littered with twigs and branches.  Image

By noon, the inevitable had started.  The temperatures warmed up to a few degrees above freezing.  The snow began to taper off, then turn into a nasty rain/slush mixture that soaked the snow into wet spongy nastiness.  The wind picked up and blew all the snow from the trees.  The rest of the day was wet, windy, and utterly unappealing, making me feel thankful that I had made the time to go out and play on this most delightful of snowy mornings.