Tag Archives: Charlottesville

November 13 – cold days, chilly nights

Looking at the calendar, it’s still the first half of November, so it’s not quite winter yet, but given the temperatures of the past few days, you would think otherwise.  The pleasant warmth of early November has definitely come to an end, replaced by frost nearly every night and days topping out in the 40’s.  We even got a tiny bit of snow yesterday!  check it out:



Given the cold dry weather (still no measurable rainfall this month), and the lack of free time I’ve been experiencing over the past few days, I haven’t had much of a chance to go out walking in the woods, but I’ve been taking some photos here and there as I go about my daily rounds.  Here are a few:

This lot of pictures is from Monday’s drive up to western Maryland, where I dropped off a truckload of tofu at a distributor’s warehouse.  As you can see, there is still a bit of fall color out there, although it has continued to fade day by day, with the rusty reds of the oak trees the predominant color.  There are still a few maple trees holding onto their brightly-colored leaves, as here just outside of the town of Mineral.Image

The large cemetery outside of Mineral still has some nice foliage.Image

As does this home, in the town of Mineral.Image

and this church, in the same town.Image

Routh 522 between Mineral and Culpepper passes through some pretty rural scenery, lots of working farms and a minimum of ugly sprawl.  There is one short stretch of the road where it swings to the west for half a mile, giving a good view of the Shenandoah mountains.  Image

much of the route on this tofu delivery takes me through attractive rural highways, with a minimum of interstate.  The sections through Virginia and Maryland are quite pretty, although, oddly, the section through the West Virginia panhandle passes through probably the least scenic section of that state.Image

Most of the sycamore trees have lost their leaves, and their trunks glow ghostly white in the bright autumn sunshine.Image

Driving alongside Sky Meadows State Park, the dip in the ridge is where my route crosses paths with the Appalachian Trail.  I would have stopped for a bit of exploration, but I was running late, and was also listening to a fascinating book on tape, so I pressed on.Image

Along the highway median in western Maryland, it seemed as though they planted trees specifically chosen for their attractive foliage.  I imagine this would have been a spectacular stretch of road a couple weeks back.Image

Close to the warehouse where I deliver the tofu.  At this point, I’m a couple hundred miles north and a little farther inland than Louisa County, and the season seems a bit advanced, with more bare trees and less color.Image

Just more pretty western Maryland scenery.Image

Coming into the town of Clear Springs Maryland, a cute little town that looks almost like it could be a place in rural New England.Image

About to cross back over the Appalachian Trail on my way back home.Image

Now, here are a few photos from Tuesday, when I did yet another tofu delivery run, this time on my usual Charlottesville route.  This photo is of one of our cow pastures at Twin Oaks.Image

In Louisa County, there are still a few patches where the foliage colors are striking, especially the deep rust reds of the oak trees.Image

Over the course of the day on Tuesday, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up, filling the sky with dead leaves off of the trees.  There was even a chance of snow on Tuesday.  I didn’t see any snow in C’ville, although it certainly felt cold enough to snow.  I heard that there were a few minutes of flurries at Twin Oaks, which I sadly missed.  Even though it didn’t stick at all, November 12 is an unusually early date for the first snowfall.  This photo shows the dramatic gray sky which I enjoyed during the middle of the day in Charlottesville.Image

Back at home, I was impressed with this Japanese maple tree, which turns bright red after all of the other maples have lost their leaves.Image

Familiar view out over the pond, showing the general aspect of the season.Image

Another sign of the season– in the Morningstar orchard, folks are hard at work raking up leaves and piling them around the bases of the leafless fruit trees, in order to insulate their root stems and keep them alive over the next few months.  You can also see a bit of smoke coming out of the chimney– we’ve started lighting fires in all of the Twin Oaks fireplaces nearly every day, which makes me think we’re in for a long, cold winter.Image



November 5 – tootlin’ around Charlottesville

On Tuesday, I drove to C’ville for my usual tofu delivery rounds.  I remembered to bring a camera this time, and although the fall colors are somewhat muted from last week, things are still looking pretty nice out there.  Not much narrative today, just some photos from my drive to and around Charlottesville.

first, a couple of shots from I-64 on the way to the city.  The colors along the highway are really just a shadow of what they were a week ago, but these shots at least give an idea.Image




now we’re in town.  I think that the season in Louisa is about a week ahead of Charlottesville.  I’m not sure if it’s an “urban heat pocket” thing, or an elevation thing, but you can still see some green in the city, along with some trees that are just starting to change color.Image

here are a few photos taken along Main Street as it passes through the University of Virginia.Image



and this next lot is heading west out of Charlottesville, driving to the town of Crozet, which is right at the foot of the mountains.Image





These trees are right next to the grocery store in Crozet.  I remember way back in April, they were some of the first trees that I noticed the leaf buds beginning to open.  I think I even posted photos of them.  Here are the same trees at the end of the leafy season.Image

Passing back through Charlottesville, I couldn’t help but notice this brightly colored maple tree.  The maples at Twin Oaks have all lost their leaves, but there are still a few hanging on in C’ville.Image


And now we’re back in rural Louisa County, along Old Mountain Road just a few miles from Twin Oaks.  Image

Still quite pretty, although the colors are much more muted than last week.Image

The yard in front of a neighbor’s house, along Yanceyville road.  Image

So that’s how things are looking in C’ville and the larger region.  In future posts, I’ll be back to my wanderings in the woods around Twin Oaks.

October 31 – autumn colors and honey mushrooms

It seems like, in Central Virginia, the last week of October is the peak of fall foliage season.  On Tuesday, I drove the tofu truck to Charlottesville for my weekly delivery, and the entire way there and back, the interstate was a corridor of spectacular reds and yellows and oranges.  I’ve had this experience in previous years, being surprised that for a couple of weeks in the year, a 40 minute drive along a usually fairly nondescript stretch of highway could be so spectacular.  On Wednesday, I was once again going to C’ville, to spend the afternoon in town with the boys, and I took a few photos of the fall colors, but they hardly match the experience of driving past mile after mile of brightly colored trees, glowing with bright warm autumn sunshine.  Here’s some of what I’ve been looking at over the past couple of days:

Here’s the forest edge, photographed from my back yard.  For some reason, the fall colors haven’t been quite as spectacular at Twin Oaks as they seem to be in town or along the roads and highways around here, but it’s still pretty scenic.  Image

and this is the view from my front door.Image

More fall colors, looking out across the Morningstar orchard.  These photos are all from Wednesday morning.Image

That morning, as I was eating breakfast, one of my housemates mentioned finding a honey mushroom in the Morningstar yard.  I asked if she had seen a whole bunch or just a few.  Although she said she had only seen one, I have learned from past experience that if you see one, then there are likely to be hundreds coming up.  I had some free time in the morning, so I headed over with a bowl and a knife, and discovered that the lower half of the orchard was absolutely covered in honey mushrooms!  The area had been mature woods, and was cleared about four years ago to make a solar clearing for the building (which was having mold issues, partly because it never received direct sunlight).  I’m thinking that down under the ground, there are lots of great big roots rotting, because a few times each year, the yard explodes with hundreds and hundreds of honey mushrooms.  Too often, I don’t discover them until they are getting old and unappealing, but this time I was able to get harvesting just as they were coming up.Image

In addition to many many honey mushrooms (I actually wound up filling three bowls), I came across a flush of oysters growing from a stump that had been cut flush with the ground.  When the woods were cleared four years ago, the stumps were all inoculated with oyster mushroom spawn, I wonder if these came from that inoculation, or whether they’re just growing there naturally.  Either way, I’ll pick ’em!Image

More honey mushrooms– they were truly coming up all over the place.Image

Here’s the morning’s harvest, with all the grass and debris rinsed off– not bad for an hour’s picking.Image

And here they are spread out on a big tray to dry off.  They all wound up being served for community dinner on Wednesday night, and they were a big hit.Image

These are all from Wednesday afternoon.  Here’s another shot of the trees out in front of my house.Image

As I was going to town on Wednesday, I tried to take a couple photos of the foliage along the interstate, but none of the shots really conveyed what a beautiful drive it is at this time of year.  This gives a bit of an idea, I guess.Image

Lots of bright fall colors in Charlottesville.Image

We met up with one of my son’s friends at his school.  This colorful maple was right out in front.Image

More brightly colored trees, just off of the downtown mall.Image

Later, as we were all walking through the city, I came across a fence covered with these bright purple beans.  I don’t think they are edible, but the colors are so striking that I had to take a picture.  I don’t know what they are, but they look pretty amazing.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

July 8-9 – random rambles and summer wildflowers

And summer continues, each day much like the last.  We’ve had some overnight sprinkles, but none of the drenching storms that were an everyday event just a couple of weeks ago.  Sunday was a trip to Gainesville (Virginia not Florida) where my Klezmer band played at a farm just outside the DC sprawl, but unfortunately I neglected to bring a functional camera.  Monday morning was a stint in the garden, weeding tiny broccoli and less tiny leeks, uncovering full-grown onions from a bed fully overgrown with weeds, marking straight rows in the just-tilled loam in preparation for the late corn planting.

Monday afternoon, in between various commitments, I managed to slip away for a while.  I wanted to get a better photo of the daylilly explosion down at the pond, as I was unsatisfied with the previous one.Image

Alongside the daylillies was this pink compound-type flower, which was a favorite of several species and many individual butterflies.Image


Walking through the field, noting that the horse nettle is in flower.  This plant is for the most part a terrible pest, inedible to animals, unwelcome in hayfields (where it turns the hay prickly and painful to work with), and a bane to barefoot walkers.  If I could, I would eliminate it from our fields, but since I can’t, I will appreciate its delicate light purple flowers.Image

In the woods, the time of the puffball has begun.  I saw the first ones about a week ago, and day by day I’m seeing more and more of them, sometimes singly and sometimes in groups.  The boys especially like finding them and checking the middle to see if they’re white and edible, or if they’re turned gray or black.Image

Today, I was able to finish my tofu delivery before lunch, allowing a couple hours for further exploration in the woods park below Monticello.  It was an odd day, the sky cloudy but more blank and colorless than grey and ominous.  It wasn’t especially hot, but extremely humid and muggy, the air thick and unmoving.  I walked a couple of miles, and though I was mostly in the shade and not exerting myself too strenuously, I was instantly soaked with sweat.   It seemed like it had rained more recently in Charlottesville, as the ground was pretty wet today and the forest smelled like rain.  Here’s the little monument and the view right from the parking area.Image

Similar to the last time I hiked in this area, I had my most interesting fungal encounter just a few minutes from the car.  This odd orange bulbous protrusion was growing from the base of a pine tree right next to the path.Image

Here’s a close-up of it.  I’m not quite sure what it is!  It was soft and squishy, and bruised dark orange in the spot where I touched. it.  My closest guess is an immature Berkeley’s polypore, although that usually only grows from deciduous trees.  Just another one I have to try to ID when I have time to get on it.  Image

Oddly, that was the only mushroom of note I discovered all afternoon.  I’m not sure what in particular causes the dearth of “charismatic fungus” in this particular patch of mature deciduous forest, if it something in the soil or what, but it certainly is odd, especially in comparison with the relatively fungus-filled woods around Twin Oaks.  One thing that I did find, in great and glorious abundance, was Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius), a nonnative berry which was growing all over the place today.Image

Or, I should say, I’ve been watching this particular plant all year, noting its abundance in the Monticello woods, wondering what it was, and waiting for it to fruit to see if it’s any good.  And I have to say, it is quite good.  The berries are much like raspberries (in fact, another name for it is wine raspberry), but the flavor is milder, both less sweet and less tart.   On this trip, the berries were ripe and growing by the hundreds and thousands all along the trail, all through the woods.Image

This is what my hands looked like for most of the time I was out today.  I think I ate several hundred berries this afternoon.  By the time I got back to the truck, my stomach hurt from eating so many berries.Image

This is an interesting spot.  Last winter, in December, I encountered a chunk of dead tree covered with oyster mushrooms on this very spot.  I had to negotiate a couple of vines to get to them, but it wasn’t too difficult.  Today, it was impossible to even see the piece of stump for all the thick vegetation, such a contrast between the seasons here in Virginia.Image

The trail, as always in this area, was pleasant enough, but without finding any mushrooms, I found myself moving pretty fast, allowing my mind to drift as I cruised along the red clay path.Image

Mostly, as I hiked, I thought about the distribution of species within their range.  Clearly, there are a lot of plants and fungus that can grow anywhere in mid-Atlantic deciduous woods.  But that doesn’t mean that in any particular patch of deciduous forest you’re equally likely to find any or all of the species that could be growing there.  Is it a matter of microclimates, land use history, soil type, or just chance that causes particular species to be abundant in one bit of woods, and absent in a (at least superficially) similar bit of woods.  Fueling this train of thought was my observation of at least three species of wildflower that grew abundantly in patches here and there in the woods today, that I never see in the woods around Twin Oaks.  The first was this five-petaled light purple flower (ID unknown), which I saw first growing under a stand of pine close to the road, then again further back in some deciduous woods.Image

The second was a spike of orchidlike flowers on a leafless stem, which was similarly abundant in one small section of the forest, but I didn’t see them anywhere else (nor have I seen them in the woods anywhere else in Virginia).Image

Here’s a close-up.  It’s quite a pretty plant.Image

The third was a plant that greeted me as soon as I stepped out of the woods into one of the meadows scattered throughout the park.  It looks like some sort of tiger lily, although not one I’ve ever quite seen before.  There were many of these plants in the meadow, and the flowers were really quite stunning.Image


Even the tightly twisted unopened buds of this flower were amazing-looking.Image

When I saw “meadow” on the map, I thought I might do some off-trail exploring, but what meadow actually means, this time of year, is a mass of waist-high greenery crawling with ticks and underlaid with a solid layer of poison ivy.  Not the sort of place you’d want to step off-trail.Image

Looking up at the mountain atop which Monticello sits, in the humid Virginia haze, another view that seems like it could be straight out of a tropical rainforest.


In a corner of the meadow was a small stand of milkweeds, covered with flowers.  Although it only covered a few square feet, the patch of milkweed was swarming with butterflies and other insects, far more than the larger, more showy flowers.Image

As I watched and photographed the butterflies, I was startled to discover this odd bug.  It’s larger than any bee I’ve ever seen, but not quite large enough to be a hummingbird.  It looked to me not unlike a flying black and yellow crayfish.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.Image

Seriously, if anyone’s ever seen this bug before, I’d appreciate some info on what it is. Image

Did I mention the wineberries?  They were ridiculously abundant, and did I ever eat a lot!Image

Just before heading back to the truck, I passed a stand of thistle plants in full flower.  Like the horse nettle, the thistle, is a thoroughly unpleasant and nasty sort of plant that just happens to have a really cool looking flower.Image

Here’s a close up.  I hate stepping on these plants, but do appreciate their “bad-ass” aesthetic.Image

The last wildflower that I encountered in abundance was a patch of Queen Anne’s lace– I’ve been seeing plenty of it around Louisa county and central Virginia, but for some reason, it only was growing here in one spot, and there was a lot of it growing in that one spot.  Image

And those are today’s unsolved questions of the day– why was there so much Queen Anne’s lace here, and not in any other part of the meadow?  Why are there so many mushrooms in the relatively young forests of Twin Oaks and so few in the far older woods near Monticello?  Why is the understory in one particular acre of woods thick with a particular wildflower, which appears nowhere else along the hike?  I’ll probably never figure it out, but now it’s late and I’m going to bed.Image

July 2- tropic of Virginia

While I was in town delivering tofu on Tuesday, I was, as always, listening to NPR all day.  Every few minutes, they would give some dire weather report– “showers and thunderstorms throughout the entire listening area, some of them may contain heavy rain and damaging hail…flash flood warning throughout the listening area…” and the like.  I wasn’t sure if I should stick with my initial plan of visiting Mint Springs park after finishing the last delivery, but I figured what the hell if I get soaked I’ll just get soaked.

As I drove west out of Crozet, it definitely looked like I was headin’ for a soakin’.Image

That’s Shenandoah NP somewhere up in the clouds.Image

Another view of the mountains, right at the edge of Mint Springs park.Image

I parked the truck, took off everything but my boxers and shoes, and headed out with a basket for mushrooms, my camera, and a plastic bag to put it in when the rain started.  All day it had rained off and on, never very hard, and I set off in a hard drizzle/light rain.  The air was warm and moist, the vegetation thick and overgrown–it felt so much like the times I’ve hiked in tropical rain forests.  All day I felt like I was walking through a jungle, it really was the most tropical-feeling hike I think I’ve ever done in Virginia.Image

In the field, about 20 steps from the truck, I came across this cute guy.  It seems like I see at least one box turtle (or maybe it’s the same one over and over) nearly every time I go for a walk.  They’re such beautiful animals, although not too terribly well camouflaged. Image

Soon after entering the woods, the trail climbed steadily up and up through dense Virginia jungle.Image

Look– the wild raspberries are starting to ripen!  Actually, these berries were kind of seedy and not too sweet, definitely not Maine wild berries.  Still, they were nice to snack on as I walked.Image

Here’s a fascinating/disgusting sight:  an egg-like mushroomy kind of thing with a slug slurping its way into it.  Serious wild kingdom stuff…Image

About half a mile up the trail, I started to encounter some enormous boletes.  When I saw this one, my initial thought was– “I’m gonna eat good tonight!,”  but when I picked it and broke it open…Image


There was another patch with three enormous boletes just about 25 feet further up the trail.  Man I wish I had reached these beauties about 24 hours earlier!Image

I followed the highest-elevation trail in the park, the one that came closest to its boundary with Shenandoah.  As I climbed up into the mist, I kept feeling more and more like I was in a tropical cloud forest.Image

Eventually, the trail topped out, and there was a side trail to a power line cut where you could get a view.  This is looking down into the valley that I had just hiked out of…Image

…and this is looking further up the mountain.Image

Along the edge of the power lines was this enormous-leaved plant, which only added to the tropical feel of the whole afternoon, alongside a mullein (toilet paper plant), that is just starting to flower. Image

Leaving the power line, the trail contoured around the mountain for a while.  Just a few steps back into the woods, I encountered this enormous polypore mushroom.  I think that it may be a maitake (hen of the woods), which is a prize choice edible.  The overlapping rosettes don’t look exactly like maitakes that I’ve seen before, but it also doesn’t really look like anything else in any of my guidebooks.  I was hoping that it would be good eating, but when I got it home and cooked it, it was too tough and stringy to be really palatable.   According to Wikipedia, “The fungus becomes inedible like all polypores when they are older, because it is too tough to eat.”  I guess I really should have taken this walk a couple days ago.Image

I’ve continued to see lots of Indian pipe plants growing here and there, and for the most part they are now common enough that I don’t bother photographing them.  But I’ve never seen as many coming up in one place as I saw here, and in a couple other locations, in Mint Springs park.Image

In this season, as I’ve discovered the delights of eating boletes and chanterelles, I have mostly been ignoring the “lowly” platterful mushroom.  I’m still seeing them here and there, although not as abundantly as earlier in the year.  Still, I had to take a photo of this large, well preserved specimen, lording over its little corner of the forest.Image

Eventually, the trail dropped back down down down into the valley.  I followed a route called the “Hollow Trail” back to the truck which dropped from a saddle down along the creek.  At the head of the creek was the hollow that I guess the trail was named after.  It was an especially pretty bit of woods, damp, fern-covered clearing at the head of a little valley, a very peaceful spot in the light rain and solitude.  This park is full of the remains of old homesteads; I could see wanting to build a little shack in this spot right here.Image

At higher elevations, I hadn’t seen any chanterelles, but as I got closer to the truck, I started to see some.  By far, the most abundant groups of them were growing in the compacted soil right in the middle of the trail, lots of little clusters growing in the moss and rocks.  Several others had been mashed to bits, trod upon by hikers who clearly need to be paying a bit more attention to their surroundings.Image

I saw several individuals of this majestic-looking mushroom.  I didn’t have my guide with me, but I picked some anyways, just in case they were a good edible.  They certainly looked marvelous, and they were in perfect shape.   When I got back to the truck, I learned that they are Velvet-footed Pax, and that they aren’t edible, although some people do insist on eating them, just because they look like they should be.Image

As I was almost all the way back at the truck, I came across an odd sight– two red and yellow boletes that looked as if they had been picked and discarded in the middle of the trail, or kicked over.  Strange…Image

I examined the smaller of the two, and found it to be a bi-color bolete in quite good shape; despite some scuffing on the outside, the inside was bug free, and as of this writing, it’s now inside of me! Image

The other one was huge, and would have made quite a meal, but it was riddled with insects.  It was quite a curious thing to find right in the middle of the trail on a day when I didn’t see another soul the entire time I was out of the parking lot.Image

By the time I got back, the rain had mostly stopped, although wisps of cloud cover continued to blow across the mountains.  It was actually pretty ideal conditions for a hike, and despite some fairly strenuous climbs, I hardly broke a sweat and got back to the truck feeling cool and refreshed.   Of course, it stormed like crazy as I was driving back to Twin Oaks, but I was glad that it held off until I was back under cover.Image

June 26 – oh the wind and rain

Wednesday afternoon was forecast to be all hot and muggy; I had the boys all afternoon and a free ride to Charlottesville.  So I figured it would be a good day for the “sprayground” splash park.  These water spritzing parks are fairly new to me, we certainly never had them when I was a kid, and they are just perfect for young kids on a hot summer day.

The first hour at the crowded splash park passed enjoyably and relatively uneventfully.  Then the sky darkened, and weather conditions took a turn for the ominous.  By the time the western sky looked like this (below), about half the families had packed up and split.Image

A few more minutes passed, and the sky looked even more ominous.  By this point, anyone with any sense had already left the park.Image

No one left at the “sprayground” but the brave and the stupid.Image

The sky grew ever darker, the wind picked up, the trees thrashed about crazily…Image

…lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, and the sky ripped open with yet another furious early summer downpour.  My word can it ever rain in Virginia!Image

By now, the park was empty save for us, another single dad with his two kids, and some teenagers smoking a joint, all of us huddled under the picnic pavilion’s ever-shrinking circle of dryness.  We had a van, but no where in particular to go, and the kids (including big “poppa” kid) were actually quite thrilled to tear around in the rain.  There’s something delightfully surreal about running around at a spray park while it’s pouring down rain.  I mean, once you’re totally soaked, you can’t get any more soaked, so you might as well run around crazy in the thunderstorm and hope you don’t get hit by lightning, right?Image

Making the most of a summer storm…..Image