Category Archives: Winter

Jan 9 2014– A new year! And photo montages: part one

And now dear readers, it’s 2014, and the ObserVA project is getting very near the end.  The wheel has come full-circle, from the dead of winter back to the dead of winter, which means that I too will be rolling along to new projects.  As 2013 was nearing its end, I was thinking about the best way to wrap up the journal, and I thought about re-shooting landscape photos that I’d shot throughout the year, and posting them side-by side in order to really accentuate the change of the seasons.  I had planned to accomplish this very early in the new year, maybe on the first or second day of January.

But, as always, you have your plans for life, and life has its plans for you.  After a delightful New Years eve party, I was playing some vigorous Ultimate Frisbee on a pleasantly warm New Years Day when I suffered a sports-type injury (I’ll spare you the details), which has left me laid up for most of the past week.  During that time, we had our first snowfall of the year (about an inch, and it lasted for a couple of days), and experienced a few days of the “arctic” cold that has hit so much of the country.  Today was my first day that I’ve felt fully recovere, and have had time for walking all around the community taking photos (then fussing with the photos on the computer).  So now without further ado I give you: photo mashups part one!

We’ll start with a triple shot– the Kaweah back yard during last March’s snowstorm, the same view a month later in April, and the same view this afternoon.Image

Here’s a tree at the end of the driveway, in March and this afternoon.Image

On that day in March, we had a frisbee game despite the blizzard. Image

Here’s Vigor Road during the peak of the snow, and again today.Image

Another triple photo– the view from my room in March, in June, and this afternoon.Image

Last April, the cover crops were a delighful green on the garden.  Today it’s just all brown!Image

Three views of the pond:  One from last March, a view during the springtime months, and the same view of the pond today, still frozen solid from all the cold weather we’ve been having.Image

Peach blossoms in the MT orchard in April, and the same branch today.  If you look at the angled cut where the tree was pruned, you can see how much it’s grown this year.Image

Our most dramatic cherry tree, in the full blossom of late April, and again in early JanuaryImage

This first photo was from that part of April when the blossoms had dropped off and the leaves had just begun to sprout.Image

Springtime and winter views of the High South pasture.Image

Sami’s fig tree from early May, just as it was beginning to grow leaves.  In the photo from this afternoon, you can see how much growth it put on over the course of the summer.Image

It’s amazing to think that these photos–the first from a May thunderstorm– are of the same location.Image

Big oak trees down by the pond, in May and in JanuaryImage

This view of the pond shows some of the extreme contrast between leafy spring and icy winter.Image

Our onion drying barn, top photo in mid-May, bottom photo from today.Image

It’s amazing to look at the bare sticks in the Morningstar orchard and think that 7 months ago (and 5 months from now), they were covered in delicious bush cherries.Image

In this photo from early June, the inside of the greenhouse is just one small aspect of the almost tropical profusion of vegetation.  In early January, the lettuces and kale inside is pretty much the only greenery you’re going to see.Image

Both of these photos are from the sewer line path between Tupelo and the warehouse.  Although they aren’t the exact same vantage point, they’re pretty close to the same spot.Image

Way back in June, my son Sami was able to walk these woods wearing practically nothing.  It wouldn’t be nearly so comfortable today!Image

Here’s a dramatic contrast– our kiwi arbor in June and this afternoon.Image

Again, I wasn’t able to get exactly the same vantage point of the pond, but it’s close enough to see the amazing contrast between June and January.Image

The top photo is from this past June.  The bottom one is actually from December of 2008.  In the years in-between, the shed at the end of the driveway burned down and was replaced with the smaller wellhouse in the above photo, plus several of the non-productive apple trees in the orchard have been removed.Image

That gets me to the end of June.  I’m hoping to post another whole mess of these photos in the next day or two, at which time I will consider ObserVA to be finished and wish everyone a tearful farewell.  Until then, enjoy these pics!


December 30– getting near the end

Aw heck, once again it’s been a week since I’ve  had the chance to sit down and update the ol ObserVA.  As  you might expect, the past week has been full of family and holiday cheer, and not a whole lot of obervating.  In fact, all of these photos are from last Tuesday, which in addition to being  a gorgeous, (relatively) warm winter day, was also the day in which my trusty Canon Elph camera crapped out on me 😦

But I digress– let’s go in the wayback machine to last Tuesday, December 24, Xmas eve.  The day started, as so many Tuesdays do, with a tofu delivery run to Charlottesville.  It was a pretty short delivery, as several places were closed, and once I was done, I did a quick hike in the Monticello woods to check out a couple of places where I had previously found oyster mushrooms.  As the photos below show, it was a nice walk on a pleasant early winter day, but as I didn’t find any mushrooms, I didn’t tarry for too long.Image

Nice view of C’ville from the mountains just south of town.Image

I got home with lots of afternoon to spare.  On the radio, I had been listening to a doctor talking about seasonal affective disorder, who claimed that the best way to combat the condition was to soak up as much natural daylight as possible, to take maximum advantage of every bit of every sunny day at this time of year.  Well I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, so I decided to take his advice to heart, and spend the rest of the afternoon outdoors.

As I was turning into the driveway, I encountered Free Willy, the rebel rooster.  About a month ago, we decided to cull our entire flock of chickens, turn them into meat.  As it turned out, about 5 or 6 of them escaped the axe, including of course everyone’s favorite survivor rooster.  In the next couple of weeks (due to insufficient oversight on the part of the chicken team), the hens that avoided the slaughter became food for hungry wildlife.  That is, all but ol’ Reb, the ultimate survivor.  I hear that these days he’s moved into the dairy barn at night, and spends his lonely days at the compost pile.  Long may he live!Image

Although there weren’t any oyster mushrooms around C’ville, a quick walk through the Twin Oaks woods revealed that there were a whole bunch in our forest.  For the first time this fall/winter, I was able to pick a whole plastic bag full of ’em!  Image


lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

After unloading the tofu truck, I spent a couple of hours gathering up mycelium-infused logs from several spots in the woods (always being careful to leave more logs than I took from any one spot) and gathering them together in a pile in the woods right outside of my house.  I was going to document the process, but this was the exact moment when my trusty camera, my companion for the year, kicked the bucket.  Fortunately, I was able to borrow my son’s camera for the day (which is actually much nicer than mine), but I suppose I’ll have to buy a new one now.  Alas.

So now I’ve got a big ol’ pile of oyster logs just a few steps from my kitchen that I hope will provide me with a steady supply of wild mushrooms for years to come.Image

Here’s one of the logs that I filled with oyster plugs this spring, just bursting with baby mushrooms.  I don’t know if the stump project was successful, but I am optimistic about the logs that I seeded.Image

Once I was done with that, there was still an hour or so of daylight, so I took a bike and went for a ride.  What a gorgeous sky!  What a gorgeous day!Image

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

I think I’ve probably posted several photos of this sycamore tree in the Twin Oaks courtyard, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it looks all lit up in the late afternoon winter sunshine.Image

reflection of sauna and trees in the pond, turned 180 degrees.  Wooo, artistic!Image

Took a bike for a ride around the half block right around sunset, determined to enjoy every bit of sunshine this afternoon.  Got a very nice series of photos along Old Mountain Road right as the sun was going down and everything was all turning red.Image

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

Trespassed on a neighbor’s field in order to find the spot where I could see clear to the southwest horizon, in order to enjoy every possible second of the sunset.Image

Dramatic cloud colors just after the sun went down, as I sped back home on my bike.Image

So those photos were all from last Tuesday, Xmas eve.  Since then, there hasn’t been much change.  A bit of sun, a bit of rain, a bit of frost.  No snow, nothing dramatic.  All around, nature seems to be settling down into winter dormancy, getting ready for a new year.  And I’m feeling a mixture of emotions– satisfaction and a bit of pride that I was able to keep up the journal for the year without getting overly distracted/discouraged/just plain lazy; relieved that I will no longer have the self-imposed pressure of keeping it up; and more than a bit sad that it’s coming to an end.  I suppose I’ll put up one more post to finish out the year, then it’s on to the next project, whatever it may be.  I’ll spare the emotional farewell for now, but just want to finish this post by thanking everyone who’s read along so far.  Look for one more post early in January, once I’ve recovered from tomorrow night’s NYE debauch.

March 16– thunderstorm, rainbow, and fog…

Today we had our first spring thunderstorm of the year– lightning, thunder, heavy rain, the whole bit.  As you can see in the photo below, a thunderstorm is a difficult thing to photograph in a way that gives any sense of what it feels like to actually be in it; the smells, the contrast between the warm air and cold rain, the look of a sky that is dark gray on one side, while still sunny on the other.Image

The storm swiftly passed overhead, west to east, clouds sliding away and revealing a low, late-afternoon sun, perfect rainbow conditions.  I ran outside with my camera and didn’t have to look long to see a full 180-degree double rainbow.  Getting a decent photo was a different thing, and by the time I made it to a clearing where you could actually see the sky, half of it had disappeared.  Still, it was quite a sight.  My youngest kid, who turns four on the 17th, commented that although he’s seen rainbows in books and movies and whatnot, it’s the first time he has really been aware of seeing a real one in person.  Image


The day ended with the sun lighting up water dripping from the leaves and trees,  and eerie tendrils of wispy fog gathering in the woods, collecting in low spots and drainages, the kind of fog that you might see in a horror movie but rarely in real life.  I guess that between the thunder and lightning, the rainbow, and the fog, the entire afternoon had a kind of otherworldly feeling.Image

March 15– beware the Ides


Over the past couple days, I had occasion to travel up to Baltimore to speak in a couple of classes at Goucher college.  So I didn’t get to observe much in the way of central Virginia nature.  I did observe a couple things– first, that Baltimore, although not all that far north of Virginia, is certainly a lot colder than around here, or at least it was yesterday!   And on the campus of Goucher, I saw a couple of enormous shelf mushrooms that looked like something out of a Paul Stamets book (I don’t know what sort they were, but they looked kind of like this:

I was quite happy to get back to sunny central Virginia yesterday afternoon.  Today wasn’t quite as sunny, but I took a stroll around the community to see how things have been going in my absence.

The ground has dried out a bit from the crazy snow and rain of last week, but there are still places where the forest floor bears the imprint of the cascades of water that must have been moving along at the height of the storm.  Image

All over one part of the forest, this little plant was starting to poke its way up through the leaves.  I’m not sure what it is, but there certainly was a lot of it.Image

I got to thinking about how, once the leaves come out, it will be a bit sad that all of the vegetative growth of the warm season will obscure the shape of the trees, especially the smooth-barked birch trees that are so abundant in our woods.  This intertwined pair is growing just a couple hundred feet from my house (which you can see in the lower left). Image

Walking along the edge of high south field, it is plain to see that the tender green grass of spring is beginning to poke up over the dead yellow thatch of winter, although it hasn’t completely broken through yet.IMG_2600

A few years ago, a frequent visitor to Twin Oaks from North Carolina was planning on moving to Colorado.  He was growing pitcher plants, carnivorous plants that are native to North Carolina swamps.  He figured that they might do well here (and certainly wouldn’t in Colorado), so he planted a couple on the edge of our pond’s biopool.  This afternoon, I went up to see how they lasted the winter, and to weed them, which I try to do a couple times a year.  I saw that they are still alive, although in rough shape (as might be expected in mid-March), and that someone had already weeded them earlier this winter, or perhaps last fall.  I’ll check back in on them when it warms up and they grow their pitchers, maybe even see them catch some bugs.Image


And that’s the Ides of March at Twin Oaks, with the early signs of spring poking through everywhere you look, but the general look and feel of the landscape is still pretty late-wintery, still more yellow, gray, and brown in the color scheme than green, but a feeling in the air that things will change soon.Image

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







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


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.


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 ( 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.



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.


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.


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