Monthly Archives: August 2013

August 29 – on the road

This will probably be a long post, but it’s been a long day, so here goes…

Last night, I left Twin Oaks right around 6, with the idea that I’d cover some ground and wake up in the mountains, rather then spending the first morning driving out of central Virginia.  So I drove into the night, and wound up in the George Washington National Forest, near Covington VA.  I found some out of the way spot, in a pull-off off of an old logging road, where it was flat and dark and quiet.  It rained overnight, but as I was sleeping in the back of the car, it didn’t much matter.

In the morning, I finally got a look at my ‘inspiring’ campsite.  Oh well, it did the trick.


I took a slightly meandering route through the National Forest back to the highway, which was a bit more scenic.Image


Now this is a sight that I haven’t seen yet this year.  I mean, ever since early July, I’ve seen a red or yellow leaf here and there, on a tree or on the ground.  But this is the first time I’ve seen an entire tree (or part of a tree I guess) lit up with autumn colors.  I guess fall comes early to this part of the mountains!Image

As I was leaving the National Forest, I came across this sublime view of early morning sun, and distant clouds and rain.  I had to stop for a bit to appreciate it.Image

The landscape in this part of Virginia reminded me a bit of northern California, with green fields in the valleys, and thickly forested hills with mist rising off of them.  A really beautiful morning!Image

Kind of randomly, I came across the “Humpback Bridge wayside,” a little park with a covered bridge (in Virginia?!), a clear mountain stream, and this awesome ‘LOVE’ sculpture.Image

Standing in the creek– off to the right, it actually gets kind of deep, but it was still early in the morning, quite cool, and I didn’t want to be wet for the rest of the day, so I satisfied myself with a ‘splash bath,’ rather than a full dip.


Just before passing into West VA, I came across a sign for the Allagheny Trail, a 300 mile western alternative to the AT through Virginia and West Virginia.  I’d heard of this trail, but never seen it; it has always been appealing to me (in my opinion, the AT is situated too far to the east), so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to walk a little ways up it.  As I was approaching the trailhead, I came across a family of wild turkey, which ran into the woods as I got near.


pretty jewelweed flowers right at the trailhead sign.  These plants are so common that it’s easy to overlook just how gorgeous their flowers are.Image

This spectacular purple and white wildflower was growing just s few steps down the trail, many flowers growing on each spike.Image

I only managed to get a few hundred yards down the trail, with rumbling thunder and intermittent light rain keeping me close to the car.  The woods in this area are, unsurprisingly, full of a wide variety of mushrooms, some familiar and other species that I don’t see in Louisa County.  Like this cracked-cap bolete, which I’ve read about, but this was the first one I’ve ever seen myself.  It’s not a choice edible, but it sure is a pretty mushroom.


here’s another one


These tiny purple mushrooms were spread all across the forest floor like little amethysts scattered on the ground.Image

Eventually, I made my way into West Virginia, eschewing the monotony of I-64 in favor of local roads.  A little ways down, I stretched my legs at a little roadside park, which had the most spectacularly moss-covered picnic shelters I’ve ever seen


The grassy lawn was covered with red leaves recently fallen from the tree.  How can this be happening in August?!?


My next stop was the New River Gorge, where I somehow managed to entirely miss the visitor center, and instead found myself driving on this narrow one-way road all the way down down down into the gorge.  It was quite a pretty road, and a relief to know that I wouldn’t be running into any traffic driving back up the other way!Image

The road bottomed out at a one-lane bridge with a wooden surface that crossed close to the level of the river.  It was a good vantage point to look up at the modern highway bridge passing nearly 800 feet overhead.


From there, it was a short distance to the public river access, with a boat launch and a gravel ‘beach.’  By this point, it was a little bit after noon, and a perfect time and place for a midday swim!


I saw this old guy fishing from the rocks, and assumed that there was a path to where he was.  Then, as I watched, I realized that the only way to get out there was to climb on the rocks.  West Virginia geezers are hardcore!


A short distance further, I pulled over at a trailhead forto get out of the car and do a spot of hiking.  The first bit of the trail took me through this awesome rhododendron jungleImage

and crossed over the creek just below this little waterfall, framed with enormous moss-covered boulders.Image

The next section of trail followed an old railroad grade up to an abandoned coal mine.  This clear, cold waterfall plunging into a concrete trough was a scenic high point of the trail (and another opportunity to cool off)


The day had become pretty hot and humid by this point, and the dense green vegetation felt tropical to me.  The occasional views across the gorge of thick green forest helped maintain the feeling of hiking through the jungle…


…as did coming across this leaf dropped across the trail, one of the largest leaves I’ve ever seen!  Photographed with my foot to show just how big it was.Image

The trail passed several old ventilation shafts leading into the abandoned coal mine.  They were all blocked off with thick metal grating to stop people from exploring inside.  This one had a crystal-clear stream flowing from the innards of the mountain.  It was hard to get a good picture, this was the best I could do.Image

Standing at the mouth of the mine shafts, you could feel the tunnels ‘breathing’ cool damp air, at least 20 degrees cooler than in the sun.  This shaft, amazingly, had ghostly wisps of water vapor gently floating from its mouth, an ideal place to stop for lunch.


afterwards, I continued up the trail, steeply up to what I thought would be more abandoned ‘ruins,’ but was actually a trailhead at the edge of a modern, very much occupied, town.  Along the edge of the road, an overhanging apple tree had dropped dozens of apples, some of which were actually quite sweet and tasty.Image

Rather than retrace my steps, I was able to figure out a way to continue on and loop back to the car, although it meant several more miles of hiking.  Going forward, the trail wound through woods whose fungal abundance made up for its lack of views.  Once again, I was surrounded by an unbelievable bounty of mushrooms, both familiar and unfamiliar.  The oddest thing I saw along the trail was this weird orange mass– I’m not even sure if it’s animal, vegetable, or fungal in origin– I don’t know what the hell it was, and I certainly didn’t want to touch it!Image

Just a photo showing off some of the amazing colors of mushrooms in the woods these days.  To the right, an inedible “Peck’s milky,”  and to the right, some sort of bright yellow bolete.Image

don’t know what these are, probably something horribly toxic, but I just thought they were quite pretty.Image

The entire loop was probably six or seven miles, and by the time I got back to the car, I was all muddy and sweaty.  Fortunately, I was parked right next to a stream with this delightful swimming hole, perfect for one last dip before getting back into the car and actually trying to cover some mileage.


The remainder of today’s drive started out pleasant enough, driving mile after mile along the northeastern bank of the New River.Image

Further along, I passed these enormous mountains of coal, ready to be loaded onto trains.  I haven’t seen any signs of coal mining on this trip– flattened mountains, strip mines or the like.  Although I know all that environmental devastation is out there, I managed on this trip to pass all the way through West Virginia without seeing much besides farms, forests, cute little towns, and general loveliness.


Soon afterwards, I was back on the placeless highway, spinning my wheels while the world turned beneath me.  And now I’m in a McDonalds parking lot in eastern Kentucky, grateful that they let you use their wifi without actually having to eat their disgusting food.  Tonight, I’ll find a place to stealth camp in the Daniel Boone national forest, and then I’ll be on my way once more.

August 28 – wet woods walk

More rain overnight, more rain in the morning, and when I went out to take a walk in the drizzly wet woods in the late morning, the forest looked like this:Image

Mushrooms, mushrooms, everywhere!  Every size, shape, and color.  It would be impossible to try to photograph or identify them all, here are a few of the noteworthy ones:

I saw these early on in the walk, three Reishi mushrooms sprouting from the same log.  I’ve been seeing a lot of them, and think I want to start making tinctures from ’em.Image

I’m not sure what these are, but they were by far the most numerous out there.  They were sprouting from beneath the fallen leaves by the dozens, all over the forest.  When I look through my various guidebooks, I’m overwhelmed by the number of Russulas, Milkcaps, and Clitocybes.  The all look kind of the same, and several of them look kind of like the ones growing here.  I definitely found myself longing for the company of a true mushroom ID expert, someone who could help me put a name to the incredible variety of mushrooms around me.Image

Another photo of a random bit of the forest floor, showing the density of mushrooms that have come up over the past 24 hours or so.Image

Here’s an interesting one, shiny, slimy, and deep purple.  Image

And here’s the bottom of the same one.  I’m guessing it’s a Viscid Violet Cort, which is technically edible, I guess, but I wasn’t too tempted.  It was a pretty awesome looking fungus, however.ImageLots of puffballs as well, in all sizes and shapes.  Here are a few that I found growing on a dead tree, just the smallest fraction of the hundreds that I saw this morning.Image

Now here’s an ugly mushroom, some sort of warty white amanita, just about as ugly as a mushroom can be.Image

And a pretty one, some sort of purple russula, I think.  Another possibly edible species that I most likely won’t be experimenting with.  Kind of crazy the way the profusion of species at this time of year completely overwhelms my ability to identify them.Image

And here are just a couple pictures of the forest, all green and damp and pretty on a cool drizzly late August morning.Image

By the time I crossed back over the creek to walk out of the woods, the drizzle had increased to a steady light rain, and the low areas (like the creekbed) were starting to fill with fog.Image

I just wanted to make a quick mention of these flowers, which I’ve just started noticing all around the farm in the past few days.  I’m not sure what they are, but I really like the way they look. Image

For the remainder of the month, I’ll be travelling.  Starting this evening, I’ll be spending a few days driving to Louisville, then staying with friends in Kentucky for the weekend, then driving home along with my family.   I intend to do some camping and hiking, and post updates from the road, which should be interesting.

August 27 – just another summer day…

A hot and humid late summer day, the sort of afternoon I’m not overfond of,.   I did my normal Tuesday tofu delivery, and arrived home in the early afternoon, taking my accustomed “scenic route” through the community to see what’s changed in the past couple of weeks.

Roma tomatoes in the garden– I’ve been told that this summer, with its dearth of hot sunny days, hasn’t been the greatest year for tomatoes, and already the crop looks to be past its peak. Image

Even the ivy growing over the haybales seems to be on its way out, looking all brown and withered on a hot dry day.Image

As I walked up from the courtyard, I took a bit of a tour through some of our cowfields, thinking about the meadow mushrooms that I had seen in the neighbor’s field the day before.  Had an idea that I might encounter some of them on our own fields, but, alas, they were not to be found this afternoon. Image

I did find a lot of this pretty purple wildflower, which looked vaguely like an aster, but probably isn’t.Image

Here’s a close-up of the flower.  Quite pretty.Image

From the fields, I made my way through the woods near the cemetery, dry leaves crackling underfoot.  I wasn’t running, or even walking especially fast, but before long I found myself drenched with sweat; it was a humid, oppressive day with a steely gray sky, not quite overcast and not quite sunny.  It definitely felt like we could use a good thunderstorm.

Here’s an interesting mushroom I found, which I can’t seem to identify with any of my guidebooks.  The darkish gills rule out an Amanita variety, and it looks like it might be one of the various edible Argarics, but I’m not quite sure.  Here’s what it looks like on top…Image

…and here’s the bottom of the same mushroom.  I’ll just have to do a bit more research, as I’ve found a few of them, and they seem like they might be good edibles.Image

The view from the top of the field.  Although we’re reaching the end of August, and we’ve had a few cool days this month, this particular day definitely looked and felt like summertime.Image

As I made my way home through the woods, I encountered several of these cute, orange-capped boletes poking through the leaves.  I’m not sure if they are just small mushrooms, or if they are just young and going to grow larger, but all the ones I saw seemed to be this size.Image

Boletes and chanterelles, familiar forest friends.  I thought about picking more, but the idea of turning on the stove seemed unappealing, so I decided against picking mushrooms that I probably wouldn’t get around to eating.Image

Not far from my house, I came across this enormous bolete, which I at first mistook for a turtle, as it was quite turtle-like in size and shape.   This is a species of bolete that is quite common around here, and has been frustratingly hard to identify.  It is somewhat similar in color to the bicolor bolete, although the pores are large and angular, and the whole thing turns blue immediately when you crack it open.  I haven’t found in any of my guidebooks a description that exactly matches this one.Image

As I reached my house, I thought to check in on the jack-o-lantern mushrooms that I had seen before my trip to New York.  I smelled them before I saw them, and they smelled nasty!  Then I saw them, and they looked so nasty too. Image

Disgusting!  Just looking at these pictures makes me remember the smell and makes me a bit queasy.Image

After that, I had to get a better taste in my mouth, so I went to check on our fig trees.  And I am pleased to say that fig season has officially begun.  There were many figs beginning to ripen, and it wasn’t hard to find a handful of choice ones that had come along far enough to be good eating.  We’ve got two enormous fig trees laden with fruit this year, and about four more that, although a bit smaller than their neighbors, are also bearing well.  I believe that I will be eating a lot of these over the next month.Image

I had been up late on Monday night, and working early; once I got home, I found myself able to catch a quick afternoon nap.  I awoke an hour later to the sound of heavy rainfall–we appeared to be getting the storm that we needed.  I checked the weather map and saw that we were in the midst of a small cell of heavy rain that passed directly over Twin Oaks, most of the rest of the county was dry, but right outside of my back door it looked like this:Image

The rain was pretty much just what we needed, and the rest of the day was a good 15 degrees cooler.  Hopefully I’ll get a chance to do a little hike on Wednesday and see what the rain has pushed up…


August 26 – walk ’round the block

Been quite a week for your humble author!  Last Friday, I went with my Klezmer band up to New York City, where I spent the weekend playing music, listening to music, and drinking too much.  Not much nature to observe up there, nor time to observe it.  I got home on Sunday night totally spent, and slept long and well.

This afternoon, I was scheduled to do my monthly road clean, leading a group of visitors halfway around the block to pick up trash.  I was curious to see how things had come along since the last time did this job, so on a sunny and hot–but not too terribly humid– afternoon, we set out, trash bags in hand, to clean some road.  On a neighbor’s field, just past the boundaries of Twin Oaks community, I saw a ‘fairy ring’ of meadow mushrooms.  I’ve been looking forward to the appearance of these mushrooms all summer.  I know they are considered quite common, and are one of the most frequently collected species.  And it was cool to see them all growing in a ring, just as I’ve read about (but never seen myself).Imagehere are the same ‘shrooms, a bit closer….Image

and a bit closer still.  If it hadn’t been the very beginning of my walk, I might have just hopped the fence and picked a bagful of them (if I had a bag).  Image

Here’s an interesting sight– jewel weed and poison ivy, growing right together. I’ve heard that Jewel weed is a good preventative for poison ivy, as long as you rub it against your skin immediately after touching the ivy.  Fortunately, they often grow together, making it convenient to find the one if you happen to brush against the other.Image

Lots of late summer wildflowers along the side of the road today.  Sometime soon, I will do a post just on all the late summer wildflowers.  I should have taken more photos, but I got distracted by the work and conversation.Image

There were also many many mushrooms along the road, as you would expect from this season.  Many boletes, although most of the ones I saw were dried out and inedible.  This bicolor bolete was a nice find, and one of the few that I actually took home for the pot. Image

One new type of mushroom that I’m just starting to see now is the parasol mushroom, another common late summer/fall species.  This particular mushroom is considered one of the finest edibles, but because it can be confused with some other species (like the deadly Aminitas), it is not recommended for casual mushroom collectors.  I didn’t eat this one, but did find a couple more later in the afternoon, and after doing a bit more internet research, I’m starting to feel confident enough to try it out.  It is apparently one of the most delicious of wild edible mushrooms, for those who are sure of their identification.  I’ll try eating some in the next couple of days and let you know what I think.Image

Another bicolor bolete– although there were a couple brown spots below, the inside of this one was clean and bug-free. ImageAnd, last of all, one of the oddest mushrooms around, the beefsteak  polypore, a moist, bloody-looking specimen that looks like a living organ growing out of the base of a dead tree.   My favorite mushroom guide, “Edible Wid Mushrooms of North America,” by David Fisher, has an interesting bit on the culinary properties of this mushroom.  It’s worth a read.Image

August 20 -21 – canoodling!

On Tuesday afternoon, as I wrote in the previous post, it took most of the day to get free of the FDA, finish packing the car, and get to the river.  We had to re-plan the trip, since instead of a full two days, we had more like a few hours in the afternoon and another full day.  So we decided to canoe the Rivanna river instead, which is closer and meant we would be on the river a full hour sooner than the Rappahannock.  It was about 5 by the time we finally were at the boat launch with the canoes fully packed, ready for some paddling.  Despite the delays, spirits were definitely high as we hit the river.Image

Setting off down the Rivanna, looking downstream…Image

…and back upstream to the boat launch. Image

The Rivanna river flows along the edge of Charlottesville, underneath a couple of major highways, and close to shopping malls and neighborhoods.  However, from the river, you can’t see many buildings or roads, just a couple of bridges, and a few places where you can see houses through the trees.  We did see lots of water birds that first day, including several great blue herons, one of which I managed to get a decent photo of.Image

Before long, the river passed underneath the Highway 64 bridge, covered with booming semi trucks and stop and to traffic (oh how thankful I was to be on the river in a canoe and not in a car on the highway!) and we were out of the city.   Along the way, I was able to spot a few mushrooms growing on the waterlogged trunks strewn along the bank; the oysters below were the best of the lot, and they made a tasty addition to dinner that night.Image

I’ve done a fair amount of canoeing in my time, although the vast majority of it has either been in Maine, on lakes and ponds, or in Florida, on swampy flatwater rivers.  I hadn’t done a lot of paddling on rivers that actually had rocks and rapids, and during that first day, I had to do some fast learning.  The rapids on the Rivanna aren’t anything too terrible, mostly class I and II, with one drop that was rated class III (although my more experienced friend in the other canoe was skeptical of that rating).  Whatever the rating, there were definitely some thrilling moments, as I tried–sometimes successfully– to navigate our canoe between and over the rocks and through the frothy bits.  The rapids in the picture below weren’t the most impressive ones we encountered, just the ones I managed to take a picture of (mostly, I was far too focused on not sinking the canoe to take pictures). Image

And as the afternoon wore on into late afternoon, we started looking for a decent sandbar or bank to pull up on and camp, only we weren’t finding anything but steep, muddy banks, covered with thick vegetation.  As the sun started to set, we began looking for anything that would serve as a camp, even an uncomfortable gravelly one.  Fortunately, just as I was starting to worry that we would have to spend a wet night in the canoes, we came across a perfect campsite, a bar of soft dry sand with plenty of driftwood for a fire.  It was clear that we weren’t the first people to have camped there, and we were very thankful to find it.  Fortunately, there was a full moon, so we had no problem making camp and cooking dinner at night.

The next morning, after a sandy night of drifting in and out of sleep, I got up soon after dawn to the sight of mist rising off of the river, and the delightful knowledge that we had a full day of paddling ahead of us.  Image

With a bit more light, I took a few photos of our fortuitous campsite.Image

The tent wasn’t entirely necessary, as it didn’t rain, but it kept the bugs out while we slept.Image

The sandbar provided plenty of space for sleeping and morning meditation.  I’m not sure what the ground cover plant was– it looked like cucumber plants, and had scratchy stems that would catch at your skin or clothes, but wasn’t actually thorny.Image

This is my preferred morning meditation– delicious sausages roasting over an open fire, could any breakfast be better?!?Image

And then we were back on the river.  Most of the time, both banks were forested, with occasional fields and even more occasional houses, ridiculous mansions spread out over acres of lawn.  For most of the way, the banks were pretty low on both sides, but occasionally (as in the photo below) one side or the other would rise in wooded hillsides.Image

Along those sections, the banks of the river were often steep, with rocky, ivy-covered bluffs.Image


I think this is the most massive chunk of white quartz I’ve ever seen.Image

The day passed as through in a dream, lovely and warm.  During the middle of the day, it was hot enough to enjoy frequent dips in the river, but never so hot that paddling was uncomfortable.  Puffy clouds alternated sun and shade, and a gentle breeze stirred the air, making for near-perfect canoeing conditions.  By the middle of the day we had all achieved a state of complete relaxation and contentment.Image

We saw plenty of critters, mostly birds.  There were a surprising lot of raptors along the river, hawks, eagles, and what I believe to be osprey.  Several times we saw the flash of white feathers that made me think we were seeing bald eagles.  Then we came across this individual in a treetop, its unmistakable profile confirming that we were indeed seeing bald eagles.  It was hard to tell when we were seeing different individuals, or the same one flying up and down the river, but it seemed like we were seeing lots of different hawks and eagles; for much of the trip we were coming across one or more of them at nearly every bend of the river.   Image

On several occasions, we saw birds diving from the trees to catch fish, and came upon one successful hunter with a large fish in its talons.  As we drifted closer, I tried to take a photo, only the zoom on my camera could only do so much.  This bird looked like an osprey to me, it definitely wasn’t a bald eagle (wrong profile, too small), and it was quite pleased with itself.Image

Here’s another picture, which I took from almost directly underneath the bird.Image

Other animal encounters on the river included many many dozen turtles, sunning themselves on logs.  Some of them were quite big, and we also saw a number of cute baby turtles, no bigger than a silver dollar, sometimes perched on the backs of the bigger ones.Image

And a family of geese, which for the better part of the day stayed just downstream from us.  They would float on the river until we had almost caught up, then loudly fly away for a half mile or so, then start floating again until we were nearby.   They repeated this for most of the day, then just before our pull-out point, they gave up on the game and calmly let us pass them.Image

The pull-out point at Palmyra came all too soon, and I was sad to see the boat ramp.  In total, it was about 25 miles on the river, from Darden Towe park to Palmyra.  There’s already talk about doing a day trip this fall on the remaining 17 miles of the Rivanna to where it empties into the James river.  Hopefully, I’ll be part of that trip.  I’m pretty convinced that observations of Virginia nature and wildlife, when done from a canoe floating gently down the river, are the most pleasant observations of all!Image

August 20 – prettifyin’ the pond

Here’s how it was meant to go:  I, along with three other friends, were going to spend Tuesday and Thursday canoeing and camping along the Rappahannock River, my reward for all the long days of shutting myself inside in front of an index last week.  At 9:00 Tuesday morning, with the canoes on top of the car and all of our food and camping gear packed, the FDA showed up for a surprise inspection of the community’s tofu hut.  One of my friends, in fact who had been organizing the trip, is an essential part of our tofu business, and wouldn’t be able to leave until the guv’mint was satisfied.  So I found myself with six hours to kill, waiting around for the feds to do their thing.

There were  a couple of jobs at the pond which I had been neglecting, since I had been so busy with indexing.  A previous pond manager once mentioned that the hardest and most frustrating part of the job involved staying on top of the waves of unwanted vegetation that spilled forth every summer, and she’s right.  The plants grow and spread, fighting any attempt to create any semblance of order down there.  Here’s the pond as I found it on Tuesday, pretty but over grown.  Image

My tasks were twofold; first I had to cut back the brambles, ivy, and trees from where they were growing up, around, and over the solar hot water tank that needed to be exposed to the sun so that people could take hot showers when they stepped out of the pond.  This was accomplished with a lot of cursing, sweating, and getting scratched up by brambles.  The second task, which was a bit more well-documented, had to to with our flow forms.

In order to provide flow and aeration to the pond water, the folks who originally built the pond installed a system which pumps water out of the pond, into a ‘bio pool’ above, where it flows through a gravel field, then down a series of ‘flow forms,’ where the water gets sloshed back and forth as through it were flowing through a cascading mountain stream.  It is quite a pretty sight, although if no one is on top of the forms, they can get so overgrown that there is no back and forth sloshing action, just straight down through a tunnel of algae, ferns, slime, and ivy.  Here’s what it looked like when I started working on it:Image

You can hardly see the flow forms, as they’re so crowded with vegetation.Image

Here’s one of the forms, bits of concrete emerging from the mess.Image

Look at all that nasty brown slime!Image

Here’s the same photo, minutes later, after the top form had been cleaned out.Image

And here’s the whole cascading lot of them, all clean and pretty, with the water sloshing back and forth as it was meant to.Image

At about 2:00, my friend came to tell me that the FDA’s departure was imminent, so I went back to the house to change and get a couple of things for the trip.  On the ancient beech tree just outside of my door, I noticed these crazy orange mushrooms growing in a mass.  Like the other ones I saw earlier, I think they are poisonous jack-o-lantern mushrooms, beautiful to look at, but terribly poisonous.  Image

They sure do look cool, though.Image

Half an hour later, we were all back at the car, with the canoes up top and the camping gear packed, ready to head out, six hours later than we had initially planned, but still in high spirits.  Just before we started out, I noticed this bright yellow goldfinch among the mature sunflowers, chomping away at their seeds.  Quite a lovely sight.Image

Hanging upside down to get at the seeds.ImageThen, moments later, we were off, on our way to the river!  But that’s a different post for a different day…


Well, I’ve gotta say, August hasn’t been the best month for the ol’ ObserVA blog, nor for it’s humble author.  A month which started out with me throwing my back out, then saw me getting swamped with indexing work, to … Continue reading