Tag Archives: forest

December 30– getting near the end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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lots and lots of pretty oysters!Image

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

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

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

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

Beautiful sky and clouds on a pleasant winter afternoon.Image

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

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

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

Xmas eve sunset.Image

Another leafless tree all lit up with sunset colors.Image

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

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

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

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December 19 – farewell frigid fall; welcome warm winter

We’re getting close to what, technically, should be the last day of autumn (the day before the solstice), but it hasn’t felt much like fall for the past month.  This year, it seemed like winter moved in early and decided to stick around; we have had frost nearly every night for the past month, and the past few days have been gray, breezy, and raw.  This morning was no exception; the leaves that I’m using to mulch the garden (and the one chard plant that has inexplicably survived the fall) were covered in a layer of frost.  As they have been most days this month. Image

here’s a closer photo.Image

But, oddly enough, today was also  first day of what is forecast to be a fairly dramatic warm spell.   This afternoon was the warmest it’s been in months, and the next few days (including the first day of winter) are supposed to be even more pleasant– temps in the 70s with no frost this weekend!  It messes up the narrative somewhat, but after so much cold weather so early in the season, I’m happy to take some sunshine and warmth.

Just after lunchtime, it was warm enough to walk around comfortably in just a long sleeve shirt, so I took advantage of some free time to do some exploratin’ in the sun-drenched, leafless, forest.Image

Not much color out in the woods today, just the brown of leaves on the ground, the gray of tree trunks, and the gray of this old cabin on our property.Image

We had a bit of freezing rain a couple of nights back, just enough to put a tiny trickle of water in this creekbed.  A chain of tiny pools in the forest, linked by tiny cascades and waterfalls.Image

At one point, I came across a tree that had fallen sometime in the past year, that was being devoured by some sort of orange fungus, lit up all dramatic in the late fall sunlight.Image

Here’s a closer photo of the fungus.  It really was that color!Image

As the leaves have fallen from the trees, it’s been nice to once again see and appreciate the revealed shapes of the trees themselves.  This is especially true of the beech trees, and this open bit of woods is the greatest concentration of beech trees on the land.Image

Just a pretty shot of beech trees all contrast-y against a bright blue late fall sky.Image

I crossed over the creek right at this spot where, years ago, one beech tree fell into another one.  Somehow, they both lived, and joined together into a single trunk.Image

And, across the creek, a spot where a single birch fell or was knocked over, but managed to survive and turn three of its lower branches into trunks.Image

I saw some sort of bird fly out of this hole, but it was gone before I could get close or figure out what it was.  It was a small bird of some sort.Image

A spot where it seems like two trees grew together, wrapped their branches around one another, and went on growing.Image

A fallen log with the remnants of some polypore, which has probably been there for months, rotting away.Image

On closer inspection, I think that it may have at one point been an enormous chicken of the woods, which has turned white after months of exposure and frost.Image

Further along, I walked through a depression that holds an intermittent stream, one which runs during and immediately after storms, but most of the time is just muddy.  I came across several spots where pine needles had been picked up by the runoff from recent rains and deposited in ‘liquid-y’ shapes and patterns as the water receded.  It made for some very interesting patterns on the forest floor.Image

Not too far off, an old stump in a state of advanced decomposition, covered with unusual dark brown fungi.Image

And inside of  the equally-decomposed trunk of the tree, a pile of curiously round gray pellets that could be some sort of animal crap, but looked more mineral-y and less organic-y than one would expect.Image

At this time of year, even close to mid-day, the sun is low on the horizon in the south, which creates interesting light effects whichever way you turn.  It’s harder to photograph the way things are lit up when you’re facing into the sun, but this captures some of the effect.Image

A close-up of the same scene, dramatic backlighting bringing out unexpected color.Image

After kicking about on the other side of the creek for an hour or so, I jumped back over to the ‘civilized’ side at this crossing, trying without success to keep my feet dry.  A pleasant enough walk to mark the end of frigid fall and the beginning of  our curious winter warm spell.Image

December 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 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

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 23 – coming home, looking ’round

Last Wednesday, I flew back from to Richmond, then drove back to Twin Oaks. Despite having a lot of indexing work that’s been keeping me indoors, I have managed over the past couple of days to get out and about here and there, to take a look around and see how the season is unfolding.

During the week I was in Maine, the forest trees around Twin Oaks lost pretty much all of their leaves and fall colors.  The woods here have taken on a very wintry aspect, which is pretty much they way they’re going to look until next April.  There was no rain at all during the week I was gone, and at this point, we’ve gone about a month without any measurable precipitation.   I’m not expecting that there will be any mushrooms around, although I’m not entirely ruling out a flush of late-season oysters if and when we ever get rain again.

Here’s how the woods are looking these days.Image

Friday was an unusually warm and humid day, despite being overcast and windy, it was actually warm enough to walk around in a thin cotton shirt and still be completely comfortable.  I liked the look of the naked gray sycamore tree against the gray sky.  The intricate architecture of trunk and branch is much more noticeable now that nearly all the leaves are gone.Image

A couple of photos from my back yard on Friday afternoon.  Some of the fruit trees and bushes are still hanging on to a little bit of leafy foliage.Image

and the blueberry bushes, in particular, have turned a lovely bright red color.  Notice the fig tree next to the blueberry bush, completely bare and leafless.Image

Saturday was another beautiful day, sunny, cool, and comfortable.  There is a major cold front moving in, so Saturday was the last really pleasant day we’re going to have for a while.  The day’s ultimate frisbee game was well-attended, and the late afternoon sun on the line of sycamore trees was quite dramatic.Image

Another shot of the treeline, all lit up with slanty late afternoon sunlight.Image

I left the game a little early to stoke the sauna; as I came to the top of the hill, I saw the trees all along the edge of the forest lit up all dramatic-like.  Image

Just a few minutes before sunset.Image

Sometimes the most dramatic sunset colors aren’t of the setting sun at all, but the intense color and light effects created by the few moments of sunlight.Image

Heading down to the sauna, I was particularly impressed with the reflection of trees and sky in the mirror-still pond.Image

All in all, it was a very pretty end of a very pleasant day.Image

I stoked up the wood stove in the sauna.  As I waited for the fire to heat it up to a proper sweaty temperature, I sat on the front deck of the sauna and watched the sunset colors in the sky, the reflection of trees and sky in the pond.  I particularly like this “mirror image” shot.Image

November 21 – escape from New England

A bit of a “grab bag” post covering the second half of my trip to Maine.  For the last few days, I was more occupied with cleaning and packing the house and socializing with friends,  and wasn’t able to do as much outdoor exploration.   Still, I wasn’t exactly “full-time” busy, and I managed to get out some.  On Monday morning, I went on a very interesting and educational walk with the local logger who has been working on our property, discussing past, present, and future forest thinning projects, looking at areas that had been cut in the past couple of years and areas he would work on this winter. I thought to take my camera, but as it was raining for most of our walk, I didn’t take it out.

In the afternoon, after the rain stopped, I thought I might do some walking through the part of our property on the far side of the creek– nearly half of our total acreage–which hadn’t seen any cutting since before I was born.  First, I had to get across the creek, which was actually running kind of high.Image

The rocks in central Maine, like this sharp shale, are so very different from those in the mid-Atlantic.Image

I walked up and down the banks for a while trying to find a place to cross without getting my feet wet.  At this point, it was just a few degrees above freezing, so I was hoping to stay dry.Image

Another view of my family’s “swimming hole,” where I was able to walk across the stream on the top of the rock dam.Image

So here’s the dumb part.  I got across the creek, and started walking through the pleasant, open forest on that side.  Then, I saw a hunter off in the distance through the trees.  I realized that I had neglected to put on my neon orange cap and vest, quite important this time of year– in fact, I was dressed mostly in earthy grays and browns.  And I really didn’t feel like getting shot the day before I was supposed to fly home, so I turned around and walked home. Image

When I had been in town over the weekend, I bought a bag of birdseed and spread it out around the yard, just to see what happened.  What happened is that a bunch of big blue jays moved in and spent the rest of the week eating the seed.  On the last day I was there, a flock of juncoes showed up to share the bounty with the jays.Image

Tuesday was the last day we would be in Maine, and it was the coldest and windiest day of the week.  Just after I woke up, I looked out the front window and saw snow blowing through the air and a wild turkey in the front yard under the apple tree.  Just before leaving, I made a last-minute trip to a friend’s house.  Here’s a classic November view of West Athens, a hometown like no other.Image

A view of the power line that runs across our property.  Our land starts about three poles back from the “Hole In The Wall Road,” from where this photo was taken.Image

Dairy farm in West Athens.  Green grass, green pines, and 50 shades of gray.Image

Just another mid-fall scene along the “Hole in the Wall Road.”Image

during the week I was in Maine, I came across many apple trees still holding onto some of their withered frost-damaged fruit, long after they had lost their leaves.  I wanted to include a photo of one example of these trees, as it seems like a real sign of the season.Image

I got back to our house on Tuesday morning about 30 minutes before we were going to head down to Portland.  Off to the north, it was clear that something was blowing in.  Just as we were bringing our bags out to the car, it began to snow.Image

It’s difficult to get good photos of snowfall before it starts to accumulate on the ground, but the blustery wind and blowing snow definitely gave our escape from central Maine a bit of urgency.Image

easier to see the snow in this photo.Image

And here’s a couple more photos of our yard, with the white flakes blowing this way and that, as we headed off for points south.Image

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We got to Portland on Tuesday evening, and were on an airplane before dawn on Wednesday morning.  Just before 10 in the morning, I arrived at the Richmond airport, having successfully brought my mother out of Maine just in time.  After a week in northern New England, Richmond felt not quite tropical, but quite a welcome change nonetheless.  We sat out in the sun waiting for our ride home, enjoying the “greater-than-40-degree” warmth.  Driving around Richmond, it felt like we had gone back in time about a month.  Many of the trees in the city are still quite bright with color, even the dramatic red and orange maples that had lost their leaves weeks ago around Twin Oaks.

As we made our way back to Louisa County, the last vestiges of fall color fell away, and the woods here at Twin Oaks look not all that different than the forests of central Maine, in that the trees are mostly all bare of leaves, and the landscape is looking pretty much like winter.  Hopefully I will have time to do some exploring and photographing in the next few days; I came home to a big pile of indexing work which promises to cut somewhat into my time for exploration/observating, but I hope to set aside more time to work on this journal sometime in the next few days.