Category Archives: Fall

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)


December 9 – Icepocalypse!


Well, I suppose I may have spoken a bit too soon in dismissing this storm.  Last night, as I was writing about how the ice storm had been a bit of a dud, the world outside of my window was slowly being coated with a fresh layer of ice.  I realized that something was going on in the middle of the night, when the big beech tree outside of my house dropped a large dead limb onto the roof directly above me.  In my fully-asleep state, it sounded like an explosion.


I woke up just after 7, and looked out the window to see everything coated with a thin layer of ice.  I wasn’t sure how long the ice would last, so I stepped out into the cold to take some photos in the back yard.  Image

ice, ice, everywhereImage

more pics from the back yard at about 7:30 this morning.Image


One of those backyard aster-looking plants that was all blooming in November, quite pretty all covered in ice.Image

Kaweah backyard on an icy morningImage

Here’s the view of icy forest looking out my back door.Image

ice-covered tree branches against a colorless late fall skyImage

After breakfast, I walked down to the courtyard– I had to drive to a friend’s house to do some work, and I was hoping the roads would be driveable (which they were).  Here’s the Morningstar orchard, all covered in ice.Image

another photo taken on the way down to the courtyard.Image

After ascertaining that the roads weren’t too ice-covered, I then proceeded to open a porthole-sized hole in the ice covering the car’s windshield.  Driving wasn’t too treacherous, just took it nice and slow.  It was a really pretty morning, with the trees all arching over Vigor road creating an icy tunnel.Image

The South Anna River, running high but not quite at flood stage.  I think that once all the ice melts, we’ll see some flooding.Image

All the icy pine trees along Yanceyville road made for quite a sight.Image

After so many days that all pretty much looked like the day before, the ice storm was pretty aesthetically satisfying, bringing an unfamiliar aspect to everyday sights.Image

Just before noon, I drove back to Twin Oaks.  The temperature had warmed up to a few degrees above freezing, and water was dripping down everywhere.  For the most part, the landscape was still entirely covered with a layer of ice.Image

Back at Twin Oaks, just before lunchtime.Image

The bamboo definitely does not like being covered with ice.Image

More ice-covered forest at noon.  Although there wasn’t any rain falling from the sky, there was lots of water and ice coming off of the trees, and walking in the forest would get you good and wet in no time.Image

One final photo of Twin Oaks, in the terrifying aftermath of ICEPOCALYPSE!Image

December 8 – Icepocalypse?

Well, the first winter storm of the season has come and gone.  Icepocalypse has done its worst, and at the time of this writing, it’s been a bit underwhelming.  It was wet and icy day out there to be sure, but we didn’t lose power or suffer much inconvenience.

This pic was from first thing this morning– bit of icy rain/slush over the night covering everything in a thin layer of ice.Image

At one point in the mid-afternoon, the ice pellets actually began to accumulate a little bit.Image

Icicles– nothing terribly impressive, but I think they’re the first icicles I’ve seen since last winter.Image

Even at the height of the “storm,” it was mostly just wet and gray out there.Image

I don’t think these solar panels are going to be providing much power on this particular afternoon.Image

I liked this combination of colors– green lamb’s-ear, hanging on as long as it can, reddish leaves dropped from the tree overhead, and a sprinkling of icy white.Image

Later in the afternoon, it actually warmed up a bit, and whatever ice had accumulated earlier pretty much just turned into cold mud.  The rain/ice picked up again this evening, but it doesn’t look like we’re in for anything serious; it’s just going to be really muddy and unpleasant outside over the next few days.Image

December 7 – the calm before the storm

For the past few days, there have been lots of warnings about the “Icepocalypse” that was coming for us late Saturday night.  The handful of days immediately preceding the wintry disaster, however, couldn’t have been more different.  The past week, after all that unseasonably frosty weather at the end of November and early December, has been an 180 degree turn into a spell of unusually warm moist days, lasting all the way through until Saturday the 7th.

For most of this past week, I’ve been busy with work/family obligations; plus, quite frankly, I’ve been having a harder  time discovering new and novel images or manifestations of the season.  We’re in the home stretch of the year, and for the most part, the natural world has shut down for the winter.  There hasn’t been much new vegetative or fungal growth, but it hasn’t been cold enough for snow or ice, just a gradual shutting down and withering away of all of the growth that has accumulated throughout the year.  Like these withered figs, killed by frost before they had a chance to ripen and be eaten.Image

Although the past week has been a little damp, Friday morning was the big storm day.  Although it only rained for a couple of hours, it was quite the torrential storm, with thunder and lightning as though we were back in the summer.  The next day, many spots in the garden had standing water.Image

All in all, Saturday was pretty pleasant, cold but not oppressively so, a good day to get outside sandwiched between two days of wet and/or icy storm.  Took this photo on Saturday afternoon while I made my way down to the weekly ultimate frisbee game.Image

I had a few minutes to spare before the game started, so I took a quick walk through the woods near the river, to see what effect a few days of abundant rain and above-freezing temperatures had made.Image

I saw a few oysters, the first I’d seen in over a month.  These little guys probably won’t grow all that big before they get killed by the upcoming ice storm.Image

And a big downed tree covered with puffballs, riddled with stringy puffball mycelium.Image

Like the garden, the forest down by the river had a lot of standing water from Friday’s storm.Image

The South Anna River itself was running fairly high, but well below flood stage.  The forecast is for several days of rain/ice/snow/mix, so I wouldn’t be too surprised if we got some flooding between now and Wednesday.Image

Saturday’s frisbee game was the first we’ve played on the upper field, our “winter lot.”  Our normal frisbee field is a patch of flat down at the bottom of a hollow, with a creek along one side.  This makes it pretty good in hot, dry weather, as it stays moist and green even when we haven’t had much rain.  It’s also nice that when we’re playing in late afternoon and evening, there’s plenty of shade.  But during the winter months, the lower field never fully dries out, and if we play on the field when its cold and wet, it’s easy to strip away all the grass, leaving a horrible mud pit.  So from December through March, we play on the field up at the top of the hill, which is much better suited to winter activity.  It’s also much more open and (to me, at least) more scenic, with a row of large trees along the north side and a nice view of the community to the south.Image

On this afternoon, we played on into the afternoon until the sun started to go down.  At this time of year, so close to the winter solstice, the sun begins to set around 5 in the afternoon.  This photo, one of our largest oak trees holding onto just a last few dried up leaves, was taken about 15 minutes before the sun began to set.Image

I wound up skipping the post-frisbee sauna this afternoon, but took this “late afternoon in late fall” shot as I headed home.Image

Looking off to the southwest, where most of our storms come from.  The forecast is for an “icepocalypse,” which is predicted to shut down roads, cause power outages, and generally make life miserable for the next few days.  I’ll keep you posted (depending on the durability of our power and internet).Image

December 2 – into the final month

Quick walk through the woods late this afternoon.  The past couple of days have been a little bit warmer, at least compared to the previous week.  We’re still having frost every night, but the low predicted for tonight is a balmy 33 degrees, and it looks like it’s going to actually get quite warm during the rest of the week.

Just a few feet from my house into the forest, I began to hear the tap tap of pileated woodpeckers in the trees.  I followed the sound through the forest until I came to this tree, with a bird pecking away high up in the branches.  In this light, with the camera I have, I’m not going to get a great shot, but at least you can see the shape and a tiny bit of red.Image

As I was watching the one woodpecker, I then realized that it was two birds in the same tree.  I moved around to a place I could see both of them, and took this picture.  I circled the woodpeckers in red.  I wonder if they’re a breeding pair.  I think I may have seen another one just a couple of trees over, but it could have been one of these that changed trees.Image

Walking through the woods, I was thinking about how, visually, the year has pretty much come full circle.  I’m not sure what sorts of aesthetic or biological change I am going to encounter in the next month.  Last year, as I was walking around in December thinking about this project, I was able to keep finding a few species of mushrooms, mostly late-fall oysters and brick caps, all the way up to the end of the year.  This year, after a fall in which we’ve had hard frost immediately after every rainfall, there appears to be nothing out there save for dried up old shelf mushrooms.  I did notice some evidence that the forestry crew has begun working in the woods for the winter, a definite sign of the season. Image

In addition to newly opened tractor paths and piles of logs ready to drag out, I’m also coming across recently cut trunks.Image

This interestingly colored spider caught my eye, as it was the most dramatically colored thing in the forest this afternoon.Image

At one point, I was walking along a path I hadn’t been on in a couple of months, and was surprised that I could see Tupelo off in the distance through the trees.  I think that when the leaves are all on the trees and shrubs, a piece of land can seem bigger.  When I can suddenly see off in the distance, I realize that I’m not as far from the buildings as I believed myself to be last time I was out here. Image

Last time I walked along this creek, it was hard to see more than 20 feet in any direction, as the area was so choked with vegetation and young trees.  Definitely looks different now.Image

The “Beech Forest” part of our land, even during the summer, is notable for feeling open and spacious.  Now that all the leaves are down and the forest is clad in winter gray and brown, it feels even more open.Image


Just a few pics from this morning.  It was another cold one last night, don’t know the exact temp., but well below freezing.  Just before 9, I was walking down to the courtyard for my town trip, and the garden … Continue reading