Tag Archives: flower

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

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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

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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.

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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

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June 20 – farewell spring, hello summer!

On this, the last day of spring, I finally had a bit of free time to get out and about.    In the morning, I was finishing the shittake log inoculation, but before that, I  spent an hour walking through the woods “across the creek,” and here’s some of what I saw:

The first thing to point out is something that I mostly didn’t see or hear.  The 17-year cicadas, which emerged at the beginning of May and have sharing our woods by the billion over the past six weeks, are nearly gone.  Mostly, you can’t hear them, although there are still a few small pockets of cicada buzz.  I only saw one of them today, and soon won’t see any.  I actually quite enjoyed having the cute little buggers around, and am a bit sad that I have to wait another 17 years to hear their sweet buzz and taste their crunchy flesh!

The boletes are beginning to come up, which I find somewhat exciting.  In past years, I wasn’t quite knowledgeable or confident enough to eat them, but this year, I’m ready (cautiously of course).  This spotted bolete looked good from a distance…Image

and it looked good close up (actually, this is a different one, growing a couple feet from the first)Image

but when I cut them open, they had already been discovered by WORMS!  So I let it be.  Alas, no bolete for me this morning.Image

Found what I believe to be a funnel clitocybe , which is an edible species, but I’m going to play it safe until I’m 100% sure I know what it is.Image

Up near the border to the neighbor’s woods, I came across this unfortunate beast, which has been reduced to no more than a pile of bones, a stain on the leaves, and a lingering unpleasant odor.Image

I crossed the fence over onto the neighbor’s woods, where a perimeter path made the walking much easier.  It was turning into a pretty hot day out in the sunshine, but the forest remained shady and pretty cool.Image

This week, for the first time, I’m seeing many many species of unfamiliar mushroom in the woods and lawns.  I spent way too much time yesterday afternoon trying to ID the species I found in the morning, some successfully, and some unsuccessfully.  This one had free gills, a ring, a white cap, and chocolate brown gills.  The only matches I could find in my field guide were ones that grow on lawns in late summer.  I’m totally confounded, and I think that now that it’s summertime, I am just going to have to accept that I won’t be able to ID most of the mushrooms I encounter– maybe I can focus on learning just one new one every few days.  Image

Crossing back into Twin Oaks’ forest, an unusually pretty stand of oak treesImage

In this stand of forest, I was startled by what at first I thought was an egg on the ground.  On closer inspection, it is a large white mushroom just beginning to emerge.Image

Once I saw the first one, I noticed that they were coming up all over this one part of the forest.  I’m guessing that it is one of a whole bunch of deadly white amanitas.  Not the sort of ‘shrooms that you would want to nibble on…Image

Here’s another bunch that I was totally unable to identify.  Check out the big ol’ slug crawling down the one on the right.Image

Along the creek, I encountered a cute scene of bright green moss and cute little boletes, about 10 of them clustered together.Image

Then, just a few steps away, I found my choice prize of the morning, the reward for a mostly fruitless hour of tramping around the woods.  I harvested this handsome specimen and brought it to the kitchen, where it was served up as part of a veggie stir fry for dinner.  Yum!Image

In the afternoon, I was up at the warehouse doing some shipping, and on the way home, I took a meandering route through the forest, where, among other things, I encountered several bunches of this little guy, which I’m guessing is a “fading scarlet waxy cap” or “vermilion waxy sap”, which various guides describe as edible, but without flavor. Image

One thing that I’m just starting to notice, as I scan the forest floor looking for anything unusual, is that the tulip poplars, specifically, are beginning to lose their leaves.  I started noticing a few yellow leaves on the ground about a week ago, and saw enough of them today that I think it’s an actual “thing.”  So there you have it, the last day of spring, and I’m already starting to see fall colors.Image

Closer to home, I encountered this colorful polypore growing from a stump.  I actually photographed this one a couple of weeks ago– it’s interesting to see how it’s grown.  As it is close to my house, I think I’ll wait another two weeks then see what it looks like.Image

Along with the mushroom above, there were two other little stalks growing from the same stump– it will be interesting to see how they all grow over the course of the summer.Image

Just before I got home, my younger son came out to meet me, and we wandered around together, finding more mushrooms (mostly red Russulas) and also a turtle.  It’s great to see how he’s growing up to be such a forest child. Image

 

We also came across more of these forest flowers, which I’m still unable to identify (which is starting to make me a little crazy).Image

In the Backyard

In addition to my wanderings in the woods, I spent some time on Thursday looking around the back yard, as the last day of spring turned into the first day of summer.  Here’s some of what I observed: 

This purple flower has just come into bloom over the past few days, and the butterflies are loving it! Image

These orange lilies are growing everywhere– in Charlottesville, in all of our ornamental gardens, and in this one enthusiastic cluster in our backyard.  The flower buds, if you pick them just before they open, are good to eat, sweet and tart.Image

Several of our blueberry bushes have yet to ripen, but for some reason, the one right next to the house has loads of ripe berries on it.  I think it’s a different variety, as they berries are much small than the other bushes.  Nice & tasty, though!Image

The gooseberries as well are nice and dark and ready to eat.  As I was picking and enjoying them, I came across another, less welcome sight…Image

Japanese beetles!  These pests flared up a few years ago and denuded everything in the back yard.  My housemates and I responded by going through the yard every morning with a cup of soapy water and picking off as many as we could find.  I think we might have to start doing it again this year, lest we lose all of our precious fruit bushes and trees.Image

ooo how I hate them!Image

Aaaah, how I love raspberries.   This particular variety has unbelievably sweet berries that turn a lovely light pink when ripe.  The berries on this bush lasted about 30 seconds after I took this shot before the children were on them like a swarm of locusts and stripped the bush clean.Image

Our kiwi vine is looking as lush and vigorous as I’ve ever seen it.  We’ve had this vine for about 4 years, and we’ve only been getting fruit for the past two years.  Each year, we’re getting more and more fruit, and this year looks to be another bumper crop.Image

The kiwis on this vine aren’t enormous and fuzzy like the ones you see in the supermarket, but small and green.  When they get soft and wrinkly (usually in September), they’re ready to eat.  The flavor is like an entire supermarket kiwi condensed into one bite–can’t wait to sink my teeth into these!Image

June 14 – assorted wandering and cicada eatin’

Lots of random little threads today– I’ll just jump in and see where it goes…

Yet another perfect day– sunny but not too hot, low humidity– we’ve been so lucky with the weather this month! I had a free hour in the morning, and given my recent success at locating chicken of the woods, I decided to stomp around Monoccan woods to see if I could find some more.

Monoccan is an 80-acre patch of mostly youngish forest that Twin Oaks owns, across Old Mountain Road from the main property.  There are no buildings on the land, and a confusing jumble of tractor paths weave through the property.

In this photo, Monoccan forest on the right, main TO property on the left.Image

I’ve walked through this area a few times before, and I inevitably get lost and turned around.  There aren’t really any landmarks, the forest for the most part looks the same wherever you are, and the paths squiggle every which way, so I wind up wandering randomly until I come to a fence or back out to the road.  It all pretty much looks like this:

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I didn’t find any chicken of the woods this morning, but noticed a few things.  For the most part, there aren’t any more spring wildflowers in the woods.  Although I’m still seeing roadside and field flowers, it seems like the closing of the canopy marks the end of forest wildflower season.  This cute purple flower (which I think may be some sort of Lobelia) was a common and attractive exception, and I found lots of it growing in the woods this morning.Image

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In the fungal family, I mostly encountered the same mushrooms that have been common in our woods over the past couple of weeks.  Lots of what I now believe to be wood clitocybes:Image

and the ever-common edible platterful mushroom.  It’s a shame that these are only so-so for eating, as I sure have found a lot of them this month! Image

I also found what I believe to be a red chanterelle, or some other form of chanterelle.  I was a bit suspicious, since it’s kind of early in the year for chanterelles, but it sure does look like one.Image

I also came across a lot of indian pipe.  I first spotted this about a week ago, and now I’m seeing it everywhere.  This is definitely the time of year for indian pipe!  I was especially impressed with the way it looked when bunches of them would burst out of the ground all together, pushing up leaves, dirt, and wood.  I just was online reading articles about indian pipe, and learning some fascinating things.  In the unlikely event that anyone reading this is interested in learning all about this fascinating plant, I would recommend clicking here or here.Imagelots of this in the woods today

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Eventually, as always happens in Monoccan woods, I got completely disoriented, and wandered randomly until I came across the fence dividing our property from the neighbors.  In this photo, it’s pretty easy to tell the neighbor’s clean, orderly land from the dense forest on the Twin Oaks side of the fence.Image

On the way back, I encountered even more of these guys, which go by the appetizing name of “hairy rubber cup.”  I first started seeing them a month or so ago, and have been noticing them ever since– they are quite common in the woods around here, and according to Wikipedia, they are consumed in Malaysia, although generally considered inedible in North America.  Curious…Image

When I was down in the chicken yard today, I noticed that the apples are starting to turn red.  There’s an old-timey song about june apples, which has been going through my head all day.Image

Still green, but the apples will be good eatin’ soon enough…Image

On the way up from the chicken yard, I came across a patch of milkweed in full flower.  Sure enough, the milkweed flowers had attracted a whole bunch of butterflies and other insects.  I tried taking a bunch of photos, this one came out the best.Image

Late in the afternoon, I went with the family over to Living Energy Farm, a community started by friends of ours nearby in Louisa County.  They were able to purchase a large tract of land, mostly because it had just been clearcut.  Now they’ve lived there a couple of years, and the forest is just starting to grow back.  It was interesting walking around their property, so close to Twin Oaks, but so different in feel. Image

There were many species of plant and flower that you just don’t really see much of at Twin Oaks– I guess recent clearcuts isn’t an ecological zone that we have a lot of.  I also haven’t seen any black-eye Susan flowers at Twin Oaks, but there were a bunch of them here.Image

This wildflower, which I associate very much with summer in Maine, is one of my favorite summer wildflowers, I guess mostly because of the positive associations, although it is also quite a pretty flower.Image

but enough about the flowers– let’s get to the real reason we were over at LEF:  to eat fried cicadas!  In the background, you can see the birthday “cake” of chocolate-covered cicadas, and the rest of them were served up as appetizers in this lovely colorful bowl.  They were actually pretty good, crispy and salty, although I think I would have liked them even better with some lime and chili, served with salsa in a warm corn tortilla…Image

Yours truly, chowing down on a crispy fried cicada…Image

Sunset over the garden at Living Energy Farm, marking the end of another lovely late spring day in ol’ Virginny…Image

June 7 – Andrea and the platterful

Over the last 48 hours, we got a near miss from Tropical Storm Andrea.  Which isn’t to say that we stayed dry– in fact we’ve had nearly three inches of rain over the past two days, but that we’ve managed to avoid major flooding.  But man it’s pretty soggy and boggy out there.

Here’s the view this morning at about 6:30, when I went down to the chicken yard to let the little beasties out for the day.  Image

And here’s the road out in front of Twin Oaks.  Honestly, I can’t believe how wet and green it is ’round here these days.  I know I keep saying it, but early June in Virginia can really feel a lot like living in a tropical rainforest.

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After letting the chickens out, I went back to bed.  When I woke up an hour later, it was pouring down rain, a long drenching soaker that lasted throughout the morning and well into the afternoon.  Here’s a view of the backyard looking out of my bedroom window, looking out onto the fruit trees and bushes, and the grass which my downstairs neighbor mowed during one of the rare moments when the ground has actually been dry.Image

In the hour before dinner, after the rain had stopped for a couple of hours, I took a meandering walk in the woods behind my house and over to the graveyard.  This creekbed (more of a slight depression in the land, really) is dry most of the time, and only has water right after a hard rain.  After 24 hours of precipitation, it was looking pretty full. Image

The tractor path leading from my backyard up to the cemetery was looking lush and extra-green this afternoon.Image

And the platterful mushrooms (tricholomopsis platyphylla) were oh so abundant.  This particular species is, according to the various sources I have been using, an edible but not very highly prized variety.  I’ve been picking and eating them, and would rate them all right, but not especially choice.  But boy oh boy were they out this afternoon.  This enormous specimen was the first I found this afternoon, just a few steps from my back door, but certainly not the lastImage

another one, in unusually good shape.Image

Each of these photos is of a different flush of platterful mushrooms (not just the same group taken from different angles).  And I didn’t photograph half of what I found today.  They were just everywhere!Image

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Moving along to the vegetable kingdom, I came across my first indian pipe of the year.  This odd saprophytic plant is quite common in the woods later in the year, but this is the first time I’ve seen one this year.  Image

And, as I finished up my walk by the pond, I observed that the milkweed is beginning to flower.  Although there are just a few flowerheads starting to open, the plant is very plentiful on the shore of the pond, and I imagine it will look quite impressive in a week or so when all of them start to flower.Image

close-up of the blooming milkweed flowersImage

June 4- lost and found

Today was one of those rare gifts that Virginia sometimes bestows in late spring/early summer, sunny and pleasantly warm, with low humidity. I know that at this time of year, each day like this may be our last for some time, so I was determined to spend some time outside exploring and observing.

It was a C’ville tofu delivery day, and I thought about doing a nice long hike in one of my normal spots around town, but decided to head home immediately after finishing up and head out for some previously unexplored area on or near our land at Twin Oaks. Before leaving Charlottesville, I did take one photo, of a large artist’s conk, one of a bunch of them that I discovered growing on elm(?) trees on a lawn in town.  These are cool mushrooms in that you can draw on their bottom edge with a fingernail or stick, and the image will stay.  I used to take them off when I found them as gifts for the boys, then I learned that they take many years to grow, so now I leave them where I find ’em.

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When I got home, I finished off my accounting and whatnot, and headed off for some exploration.  First thing I noticed, before I even got out of the courtyard, was this morning glory vine, covered with extravagant purple flowers

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Then I headed up to the field at high south, covered with deep green grass, a result of all the wet weather we’ve been having.Image

at the edge of the woods, I came across this unusual edible mushroom, a “rooted oudemansiella,” an edible species that I’d read about but never found in person.

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this particular mushroom is interesting in that it’s got a long taproot.  I tried to harvest it in a way that showed the whole root, but unfortunately it snapped off an inch or so below the ground.  I haven’t had a chance to cook and eat it yet, but I will let you know how it tastes once I get the chance.

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Not far off, I came across a flush of platterful mushrooms, the most abundant find I’ve yet encountered of these tasty edibles this year.  This was as many as I could fit into one photograph, but there were several more scattered around in the nearby woods:

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This was the largest of them, and the biggest one of this type I have seen so far:

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I made my way down to polecat creek, one of the two creeks that form the rough border of Twin Oaks (the one on the west side).  I decided to spend the afternoon following it upstream as far as I could, to see where it starts.  I’ve walked the half block around Twin Oaks and not come across this creek, so I figure it starts somewhere in the woods to the west of the community.  So I set off through trail-less forest, some of which was thick and swampy, and some of which was quite pretty and easier to walk through:

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One of the things I saw was this tree absolutely covered in cicada shells.  It’s funny with the cicadas these days– when I was reading about them, I thought it would be more of a wave, a tsunami of insects that covered every surface.  It’s more like clusters here and there– in some places there are so many you can hardly hear the birds or anything, and some places there really aren’t any.  Overall, it’s been less unpleasant and generally more interesting than I thought it might be to share the woods with billions of cicadas this month.

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Following the creek took me along the edge of a neighbor’s fenced-in cowfield.  I saw several cows wallowing in the creek, which I’m sure doesn’t do a whole lot for water quality.  In this photo, it’s pretty easy to distinguish the lush greenery of the cow-free side from the brown, trampled bovine side.

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At the bottom corner of the neighbor’s property, I came across a cow graveyard.  Even though I know it’s only cows, it’s still oddly unsettling to come across a massive pile of bones in a remote corner of the forest.

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Once I got past the edge of the field, I followed the creek through more of an open, attractive forest, which made for easy walking and good views, and I found myself enjoying being in a bit of the woods where I’ve  never explored (and from the looks of it, very few other people ever come out this way) on such a sunny pleasant, not-too-humid day.Image

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There was one strange tree with roots that wove above and below the ground.  In the places that the roots came above the ground, they formed into small round “holes” that became shallow pools.  I’m not sure how to best describe it (look at the photos).   It was odd to see this strange occurrence twice on the same tree.

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In one spot, there was a hillside along the creek that appeared to have been terraced at some point in the past.  It is so interesting to walk through the woods and come across signs of earlier human projects in the woods.  Was this an agricultural undertaking?  Something having to do with mining?  It’s clear that this forest hasn’t always looked the way it does now, and that generations past have left their mark in mysterious ways.

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Sone time later, I came to what appeard to be a property boundary.  On one side was the mature forest that I had been enjoying walking through.  On the other side was a mix of overgrown clearcut land interspersed with patches of uncut forest.  The trees marked with pink tape seemed to indicate the boundary.Image

Just for the hell of it, I continued following the creek onto the cut over land.  The walking became much more difficult, and I found myself sometimes rock hopping in the creek bed itself because it was the only place to walk.  Along the way, I came across this cool-looking beech tree holding up a whole section of the bank.

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and this orange coral mushroom, the first of its type that I’ve seen this year

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Eventually, the going just became ridiculous– both sides of the creek were totally overgrown, and it became clear that I was just following it deeper into this uninspiring, cut-over land.  I took this photo at the spot where I decided I’d had enough, and I was going to try to bushwhack my way to a road or something.

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The sun was low enough in the sky to clearly indicate west.  I figured that if I just kept heading south (with the sun on my right), I’d eventually come across Old Mountain road.  The next 20 minutes or so were not the most pleasant of the day, pushing through thick masses of young trees and brambles.  When I found an old logging path, I followed it, hoping that it would make for easier walking, but after a short while, this path, too, ended in a mess of bramble.

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Eventually, I saw a clearing through the woods.  The final obstacle was a 20-foot moat of poison ivy that I had to pick my way through (we’ll see in the next few days how successful I was in avoiding it) in order to come out at the edge of this recently-mowed field.  At first, I was totally disoriented, but then saw the telephone pole that indicated that I was, indeed, near the road.Image

I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to be walking along Old Mountain Road.  Bushwhacking through an overgrown clearcut tends to have that effect.Image

As I walked the road home, I noticed that the roadside wildflowers have definitely changed from springtime to summer.  The daisies, which I totally associate with summer in Maine, are growing all along the roadside.

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Almost back at Twin Oaks, with an impressive bloom of wildflowers along the north side of the road, lots of white asters and daisies, and a yellow flower that I haven’t yet identified.Image

Wuite a wildflower display.

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When I got back to Twin Oaks, I was happy to get off of the road and walk home along a convenient tractor path through the woods.  As much as I like bashing through the forest off-trail, it definitely makes you appreciate the ease of strolling along an established path.

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May 31– back to the berries and the bugs

Been home for a few days, but I’ve finally got a bit of time to write.

Flew into to Virginia on Tuesday night, and it took the better part of a day to get back to Twin Oaks.  My initial impression of coming home after a week away were– first– surprise that central Virginia felt hotter and drier than south Texas.  (dry being a relative term, of course– in this case it means it hasn’t rained for about a week.)  The other first impression was “damn those cicadas are LOUD!”  Their pulsating metallic drone can be heard pretty much everywhere outside these days, and while they haven’t started stripping the leaves off of the trees yet, they can be seen and heard every time you step outside.  At least they’re cute:

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I’ve been pretty busy both Thursday and Friday, but each day I had a few minutes here and there to explore, observe, and take a few photos.  And here’s what I’m seeing, after having been gone for a week:

The honeysuckle, which had just started blooming when I left, is flowering all over the place.  Its odor is pretty subtle from a distance, but when you put your face all up in it, it smells so good!

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Some of the berries in our backyard are finally starting to ripen.  I think that the relatively cold wet weather in May has pushed back their season a bit– it seems like in previous years we were eating cherries, etc. earlier in May.  The first berries to ripen each year are the Goumi berries, which are somewhat tart and astringent (not the tastiest berries), but make up for it by being ripe where there isn’t much else fresh to eat.Image

Plus, when they are ready to eat, there are thousands and thousands of them ripe at once, so they are a favorite of the kids, at least until there are tastier options.Image

The mulberries are also starting to ripen.  They are much more difficult to photograph than the goumis, as despite their great abundance this time of year, they are also delicious and highly prized by just about everyone.  Pretty much as soon as a mulberry ripens anywhere on the farm (especially on our prized Illinois Everbearing tree), there is someone there to eat it within hours.  This particular berry didn’t last more than a couple seconds after I took this photo.Image

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There are also a bunch of gooseberries, blueberries, and raspberries in the backyard, but none of them are quite ready to eat yet.  

I’ve been doing a fair amount of work down by the pond, which has become increasingly popular as spring turns to summer and the weather heats up.  The children, in particular, have practically set up residence there; it is where they prefer to spend as much of the day as possible, and I can hardly blame them!

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On Friday afternoon after the heat of midday passed, I took a short walk through the woods, just to see how things had progressed in the week that I’ve been gone.  Along the way, I noticed the profusion of foxglove (I think) flowers along the side of the road at the community’s entrance:

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Walking through the cow pastures as I approached the cicada-filled forest, it’s amazing to see the waist-high grass and think about how just a few months ago it was all just a dried up ankle-high brown crust.Image

In contrast to earlier this spring, there weren’t a lot of wildflowers blooming in the pastures.  Lots of white and purple clover, plus a profusion of this pretty purple 5-leaved flower. (Identification to come)Image

There were also great masses of purple vetch growing along the fencelines.Image

The cows, who always seem perfectly content during the coldest part of the winter, even when they are being snowed on, seem utterly miserable in the heat, when they are pestered by clouds of flies and roll around in the mud for relief.Image

The forest was loud with cicada buzzing and full of mosquitoes.  I noticed a couple of small flushes of oyster mushrooms, but they were all full of bugs.  Image

When I saw this one, I was sure that I had got to it in time…Image

…until I turned it over and saw that I was too late.  I think that it might be difficult this time of year to harvest oysters before the insects make them inedible.Image

I also came across this weird growth on a dead log, which looks vaguely fungal, although I have no idea what it is.  When I stroke it, it gave off clouds of dusty looking spores (or seeds).  Odd.Image

May 29 – bikin’ around Austin

This morning, after getting more than 5 hours of sleep for the first time all week, I had a few hours to kill.  My friend had a spare bicycle, so I took a self-guided “bike tour” through bits of the city.  Here’s some of what I saw:

Just a couple of blocks from the house I was staying, I came across an amazing plant/greenhouse store that took up most of an entire city block. Image

Their sections on cacti and succulents were particularly impressive, and I found myself wishing I could take plants on the plane (unfortunately I don’t think you can do that these days).  These aloe plants reminded me of my childhood in north Florida.

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These ones even more so.  My dad used to grow a whole row of aloe plants along the edge of the house; we’d cut off leaves on the many occasions that we got too much sun and smear the cool soothing aloe slime all over our arms and shoulders.

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A top-down view of one of the many impressive aloe plants they were selling.

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Succulents!

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On my way down to the river, I rode by this cool “underpass park,” with swings hanging from the concrete.  You can still see puddles here and there from the ferocious rains of this past weekend.Image

Another view of the underpass park, with little palmettos also reminding me of north Florida.

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I rode along the Austin greenway, a winding path that follows, more or less, along (and occasionally over) the Colorado River, which for some reason is called Lady Bird Lake in the city limits.  You can ride the whole trail for a 12 mile loop, and I alternated between riding on the trail and exploring the city zigzagging through the city streets.Image

Brighly-blooming lupine, against the backdrop of Lady Bird Lake

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Parts of the trail rode out on causeways over the bends and inlets of the river.  It was a lovely day to be out kayaking, with the city skyline in the background.Image

So I’m riding along the south side of the river, and all the sudden, the trail turns left to follow a clear blue spring-fed river.  Suddenly, it looks like I’m at Blue Springs in north Florida or something.  Right in the middle of this big city!  Image

Rode alongside the blue waters of the spring-filled creek all the way to Barton Springs park, which was fenced in with a big man-made pool and cost a few $ to get in.  This swimmin’ hole just below the fenced-off area was free to swim in, and that’s where I took a nice long mid-day dip.  So refreshing!Image

Where the water flowed out of the developed pool part of the springs, there was a cute little waterfall.  It was extremely refreshing to sit back against the edge of it and let the water pound over your head. Image

Amazing to find such an idyllic spot in the middle of a big city.  I could have spent all day here, but I had more riding to do and a plane to catch.Image

Farewell Barton springs, ’till next time I’m in Austin (which hopefully won’t be too long– I’m definitely going back to this part of the country, and will bring the boys next time)Image

Along the ride home, I came across a drainage ditch filled with the sort of roadside flowers I’ve been seeing out in the countryside all week.  It looked like it had been entirely full of water a few days ago, but had drained, and the wildflowers were in serious bloom.  I was glad to get a chance to examine them at a speed less than 60 mph.Image

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I’ll leave you with this one final photo of wildflowers in an Austin drainage ditch.  Goodbye Austin, goodbye Texas, time to board a plane back to ol’ Virginny.Image