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

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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

Aside

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 (and everything else) was covered in a thick layer of icy frost that looked almost like snow on the ground.

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A few months back, this blackberry was covered with fruit.  Now it’s covered in ice.

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Late November seems kind of early for the pond to be freezing over, but when I looked through the woods, it was indeed covered in a layer of ice.  I walked down to the edge of the water to confirm.  Yup, it’s November 30 and there’s ice on the pond.  Thin ice, but ice nonetheless.

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Another view of the frozen pond.

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And a closer look, at the spot where the beachy sands of summer meet the frosty ice of winter.

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November 29 – chilly Thanksgiving

It’s Friday morning now, and I’ve got a bit of time to catch up on the past few days.  It’s been chilly and wet all right; it might be that we’re just getting a week-long cold snap, but right now it’s definitely feeling like winter’s come early this year.

Rained Tuesday during tofu delivery.  Tuesday afternoon and evening was more of the same, mostly rain mixed in with some slushy snow/sleety stuff.  By Wednesday morning, it had dropped back down to persistent drizzle, but the ground (and everything outside, really) was fully soaked.  By the afternoon, the temperatures were enough above freezing that I made a quick trip to town for some wine and pre-thanksgiving treats.  Along the way, I shot this picture of the South Anna River, where it goes over the dam.  The low-lying fields near the river were covered with a shallow layer of standing water, and the dam was no more than a ripple beneath the swollen river.

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When I was in town, we got a few minutes of real snow, big puffy white flakes blowing through the air, but the ground was too warm and wet for any accumulation.

Back at the Oax, I took these photos of our garden, where little is still growing except nearly indestructible kale and white ground cover cloth, which can give some of our cold-hardy crops just a few degrees of extra warmth.  Although it looked like the sun was about to set, it actually wasn’t any later than 2 in the afternoon– it was just that kind of a day.  Image

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late November in Virginia– bare branches against a colorless sky.

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Arriving home, I was pleased to see that someone had been stoking the fire.  It’s unusual this time of year to keep a fire going all through the day and night, but it’s been necessary this year.  Looking at this website for Charlottesville, it says that the average temperatures for this time of year are about 57 high and 37 low.  Since last Sunday, we’ve been averaging about 40 degrees high, getting down into the high teens every night.

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Thursday–Thanksgiving day–was no warmer, but at least the sun was shining.  Mostly I was too busy with the holiday to do much observatin’, but I took this one photo of the trees just out in front of my house in the late afternoon, just to have some sort of reminder of the kind of day it was.

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Last night was another cold one, and when went downstairs in the AM, the entire back yard was covered in frost.  The way the morning light caught the frozen ground made it twinkle in a lovely manner, but I was unable to capture that particular effect in a photo.

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With a bit of spare time, I went out for a quick morning walk, to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  I actually really enjoy walking outside on mornings like this one, the sun bright in the sky and air cold enough to tromp around in a sweater and long undies and not get overheated.  Now that the leaves have all fallen, I am back to enjoying the smooth graceful trunk curves of the big de-foliated beech trees around the property.

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A few weeks back, I discovered a spot in the woods where an oak had fallen and splintered into many chunks.  Each of the pieces was alive with oyster mycelium, and it seemed like as soon as we got decent conditions, there would be a big flush of oyster mushrooms.  I was curious whether all the recent rain had brought any out, or whether it had been too cold.  As it turned out, there was a bit of both.  There were lots of shriveled frozen mushrooms, looking like they had tried to grow in the wet conditions, but the daily hard frosts have just been too much for them. Image

Despite the cold, the field up by the cemetery remains bright green.  In fact, if I remember right from the early days of this journal, it stays pretty much that color all winter long.Image

A couple of weeks ago, the oldest member of Twin Oaks community died during the night.  It was at once sad in that “someone we know and love has died” kind of way, and a relief in that “she had lived a long and full life and died swiftly without suffering” kind of way.  I had to work during her funeral, so this was the first time I had seen her grave up at the cemetery.  The ground all around the grave had been disturbed, and there was a lot of this effect, where slender pillars of ice push tiny clods of dirt an inch or so out of the ground.  I first noticed this phenomenon years ago while walking the Appalachian Trail in Maine, and it never fails to impress me.  I don’t really understand it (something about water expanding as it freezes), or understand why it happens in some places but not others, but it sure is cool looking.  Image

A close-up of the tiny ice pillars

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Walking on home, through the late November forest, long shadows pointing north despite the fact that it’s past 10:30 in the morning.  We’re only a few weeks away from Winter Solstice, and you can definitely see that the sun isn’t getting all that high in the sky, even at noon.

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And finally, returning to my back yard, where the ground remained frost-covered wherever it was still in the shade.  It would be cool to do a time-lapse photo of the frost retreating as the sun climbs higher in the sky throughout the morning.

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November 26 – cold snapped

According to the weather forecast, last Saturday was predicted to be our last pleasant day for a long  while.  It’s Tuesday night now, and so far that forecast has been pretty much spot on.  This past Sunday, we got slapped with our first real cold weather of the season, hard frost at night, temperatures in the 30’s all day, raw and windy.  On Sunday night, I went to a friend’s house to watch an evening football game, which lasted until well after midnight.  (The game was being played in New England, which was quite a bit colder; everyone on the field and sidelines looked utterly miserable, and I was glad to be in a warm house.)  Walking back to my car after the game, the air was bitterly cold and clear, the stars crackled and sparkled in the sky above, and each breath felt like I was frosting my lungs.  I was later told that it got down to 10 degrees that night, which was about what it felt like.

Monday was more of the same.  I had plenty of work to keep me inside; and frankly I wasn’t all that tempted to go out exploring.  Here’s what Monday looked like.  What it felt like was fall swiftly (and a bit prematurely) turning into winter.Image

On Monday night, we got our first rain of the month, and it kept on drizzling this morning (and all afternoon, too).  I did my normal Tofu delivery rounds in Charlottesville, a damp, chilly task on a day that never got much above freezing.  Years ago, when I happened to be in Seattle during late December, I came to the conclusion that rain, combined with temperatures just a few degrees above freezing (which soaks right through your clothes), is actually much colder and more uncomfortable than snow combined with sub-freezing temperatures (which often bounces off).  By the time I got back from my delivery rounds, I was well chilled.  Here are a few pictures of the neighborhood near to Twin Oaks, taken out the window of the Tofu Truck.  Just rolling down the window was about as close to the elements as I wanted to get today.Image

A couple photos of the South Anna river, the old mill, and the dam.  During the summer, there is so much thick annual vegetation that you can’t even see the river from the road.  This is not the case this time of year.Image

Eventually, I think that all the rain is going to push the water level up higher in the river.  But it’s been so dry this month, that the first couple of inches of rain will most likely be absorbed into the ground before there is a whole lot of runoff.Image

Driving up the road to Twin Oaks.  It looks bleak out there because it was bleak out there. Image

At the time I’m writing this–10 PM–we’ve had about an inch and a half and it’s still coming down.  I’m curious to see what effect the rain, our first in about a month, will have on whatever is still alive out there, whether it will bring out any mushrooms, or whether it’s all just done for the season.  We’ll see what tomorrow looks like.